Special guest blog by: Rev. Paul Amlin
Today is Paul Amlin’s last day in his role as Program Director for Youth Ministry in our ELCA Churchwide Offices. Over the last four years, Paul has worked tirelessly to support adults working with youth, and leadership development for young people. Paul begins a new call March 1 as the pastor at Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Dubuque, Iowa. We’re grateful for Paul’s work and his support. And we’re grateful that he’s sharing these final thoughts with us as he leaves his position. You can continue to follow Paul’s ministry on Twitter: @lordoflifedbq and http://www.facebook.com/lordoflifedbq.
I’ve spent the last four years traveling across this church. As I prepare to take my leave from service at the churchwide expression of the ELCA, I want to take a moment to share with you why I have hope for the church (and why I think you should too!). This won’t be one of those “9 reasons” or “10 ways” kind of blog posts, rather, just some observations and takeaways after spending a LOT of quality time with folks from the Carolinas to California, from Oregon to Florida and a lot in between. So here we go…
I’ll start with a moment I shared with Lyle Griner in Detroit as we watched the ballroom from the doors during the Extravaganza. The room was literally pulsing as music blasted and a thousand+ ministry friends jumped and danced and high fived each other. Lyle and I couldn’t help but smile and I don’t remember if it was Lyle or me who said, “I wish people who think the church is dying could be here now!” Detroit was the high point for attendance at the E, the high point for membership in the Network, and a major high point for the board of directors as we realized the goals set forth in a strategic plan years before.
Speaking of Detroit… The ELCA Youth Gathering was a major high point for me. I had the unique opportunity to split time between the convention center team I served and traveling around working the ELCA Youth Twitter and Facebook accounts. I have been blessed to be a part of four Gathering planning teams and I have attended every Gathering since 1997 (River of Hope, woot-woot). Detroit felt different. The young people I engaged were fired up to be there, that’s normal for this event after all, but they were also engaged in the theme, in service, in wanting to make a difference, in caring about how their church was present in Detroit and what that might look like back at home. I am more and more convinced that the Gathering has become the “Lutheran Big Tent” revival the church needs every three years to inspire and empower young leaders to rise up and model radical faith in Jesus Christ that inspires loving our neighbors wherever we are planted.
I have been blessed to sit with planners for events like Invitation to Service, Leadership Lab, AFFIRM, The Disciple Project and Camp Hope Training, multiple synod youth events and to spend time being present on behalf of the ELCA to learn about and share the amazing work that is happening across this church. The young people I meet at these events are there because they love Jesus and the church, and because they want to make a difference. The leaders who give selflessly and tirelessly of themselves to make these events happen are there because they, too, believe in the transformative power of Jesus’ love and that we are stronger and more effective together than we are apart.
I have been blessed to work with some of the best people the church has to offer. A few of those people have shared my same passion for equipping and empowering young leaders through the Youth Core Leadership Team. Lisa, Chris, Darcy, Rachel, Erik, and now a new Eric have spent time and energy to equip high school youth through this program of leadership development and faith formation. I’m proud of our work and of the young people whom have passed through our lives in the past four years. I look forward to hearing the stories of their lives as instruments of hope and love in Jesus Christ through our church and as they lean into God’s calling for them as leaders in the world through vocation and service.
Speaking of amazing events… The ELCA Youth Leadership Summit will happen for the fourth time this November in Houston, Texas. I have been blown away by the young leaders and their adult travel companions from the majority of the synods of our church. These people show up in love with Jesus, excited by how the Spirit will move in and through them as they learn what it means to be a part of the ELCA and be a church that speaks and acts out in love for the world and our neighbor. I have told this story several times, but I will always be moved by a story from our inaugural event in Detroit. Tia Upchurch-Freelove had finished speaking about ELCA Advocacy and we asked youth to share what they were thinking. A young lady stood up and said, “I never knew our church did this, I didn’t know what it was called, but this is what I want to do with my life.” (See, I just got goosebumps again!).
I am also proud of all the people who work so hard in congregations, synods and here at churchwide to live into what it means to be the church for the world. I wish that you could have just a glimpse of what I’ve seen! Too often we are all detached from each other, not understanding how incredibly important we all are to each other. Together we feed the hungry, give clean water to the thirsty, give hope to the hopeless, give care and respite to those who suffer, teach and evangelize around the globe, welcome the stranger and humbly serve the other without telling each other how God has worked through us to be Good News. Perhaps we can get better at this? I encourage you to bring your youth groups for a tour of the Lutheran Center in Chicago, take your synod staff to lunch, make a phone call to tell someone you are praying for them, write a note of encouragement for the hard days in ministry we all have. You would be amazed at how powerful these things can be! I keep a file folder filled with cards and notes.
Our church is still becoming what it needs to be. Remember that. We are once and always reforming, being made new as the slogan says, and being the hands of God at work in our world, together. Together. Together. None of us is alone and none of us is stronger in the absence of the other. I have hope for this church because I have met enough of you to know that Jesus is not dead, but very much alive in God’s people. I have hope for this church because I know enough young leaders who love Jesus and this church that I am sure God is at work in all of this. I have hope because I cannot do anything else, thanks be to God! Now it’s time for all of us to name and claim how God is at work and on the loose around us bringing Good News to the world.
So there you have it. Thanks for reading along. Thanks for your ministry and for your passion for the Good News we share. Remember that you are God’s beloved child and nothing can separate you from God’s love.
Guest Blog: Rev. Paul Amlin, who serves as the Program Director for Youth Ministries in the churchwide offices of the ELCA, wanted to share this story of service and gratitude with the Network.
I had a recent experience that demonstrated the value of the Network, and I feel the need to share it in a public way because of what it says about this group of peers and belonging to something larger than ourselves. I’d also like to publicly thank a Network member who dropped everything to help me handle a crisis. Two weekends ago I was blessed to host the Youth Core Leadership Team in Chicago at the churchwide offices. This is a fantastic group. Seriously. But that’s not the story here.
The story began with a flight home, an inexperienced flyer, a snowstorm and Chris Okey who serves at Woodlake Lutheran Church in Richfield, MN. After a great weekend of learning, I sent the participants on their way to O’Hare with the other adult sponsors who were flying home. The young lady got on her flight and jetted off to Minneapolis only to find out that her flight to Fargo had been canceled and that there would be no other flights out until the following day and even then, not until late that evening. She called me with the kind of concern you might imagine and I was able to work with her, the airline and the phone line for stranded travelers needing hotel rooms and we found her a room.
Because she was pretty upset, I decided to post something on the Network Facebook page to see if anyone was close by who might help out in case it was necessary. In a matter of moments, Chris Okey responded to me via a private message AND I had another offer in the comments section of the post with a phone number from Ian McConnell.
Chris gave me his phone number and let me know that he could be at the airport in five minutes if needed. What a gift and what a relief! I called the young lady back and she asked if it would be okay for Chris to come and pick her up to take her to the hotel. Chris loaded the family up and went off to the airport, then texted me to let me know that all was well and that she had been safely delivered. The young lady called me after she got into her room, in tears, and thankful that someone would be as kind as Chris and help someone that he didn’t know (and so quickly!).
That would be a nice ending, right? The next morning I got the call I asked for from the young lady to let me know that she was alright and that she had a plan for the day and her return to the airport. I was surprised to find out that she had been invited to the Mall of America to shop and have lunch with Chris and his family. “Seriously?” I thought to myself, “this is way beyond the call of duty” and “wow!” I got a phone call as she boarded the plane and she couldn’t stop talking about how great Chris was, even as I thought to myself how right she was. Later I received a text along with a really funny photo of her crashed on the floor of her home with her parents in the background to let me know she’d made it. The next day her mom called to sing the praises of the mystery person she’d never met in Minneapolis, and to say thank you for the care and concern the ELCA had for her child.
This is a beautiful example, to me, of the value of being connected with each other. I’d like to think that if there were a crisis close to me, I’d respond in the same way as Ian and Chris. We are all connected, after all, in our faith and in our ministries. Each of us works together for the good of the other and because we take seriously what it means to be community, we are able to see God at work in, with and through each other. So, publicly and with a big smile I say thank you Chris Okey and thank you ELCA Youth Ministry Network for being my community.
And thank you for sharing this story Paul!