Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Serving’


The Value of the Network (in a crisis)

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.


Chris Okey

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.

Paul Amlin

Paul Amlin

And thank you for sharing this story Paul!


A Different Way to Live


Josh Graber

God is up to something new within our community, within our church.

The church talks a good game when it comes to community.  We focus on “being” together in congregations.  But the world is shifting.

Our very understanding of what community is changing as a relationships in a digital age are stretching our understanding of what it is to be together.  Communities are no longer exclusively geographic, but instead can be defined by interest, education or affinity.

At the same time, the church struggles with how to do ministry with young adults.  The number of blogs and videos that have popped up in the last two years explaining why or how the church has “lost” young adults is almost overwhelming; they describe the problem well.  And any time you gather a group of clergy, or congregational staff folk together, and you bring up the topic of young adults, the wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth is almost immediate.

No one really knows what to do about it.

Enter Rev. Josh Graber and the Living-Learning Initiative.

Drawing together young adults to live together in an intentional community for a “gap-year” experience.  The Living-Learning web site describes a communal experience that would center around faith practices, such as service projects (10-15 hours a week), theological reflection, bible study, spiritual exercise, prayer, worship leadership, and participation in local congregations and ministries. A skilled facilitator would lead and administer each community (half-time to full-time salary range), with help from local volunteers. A network of Christians, often through local congregations, would pledge to support these young adults in the experience, and in return the young adults would share their valuable perspectives, hours of service, and gifts with the communities that host them.

Visualize “The Real World” meets service-learning meets Jesus.

The church has a tradition of intentional community to draw on, (see Holden Village and the Highlander Folk School),we have a vibrant and lively theology of community and ecclesiology and we have a deep need to engage young adults for the sake of Christ’s mission in the world.

We also have Josh, one of the most passionate people I have encountered around this issue.  He is a gift to the church.

I am occasionally asked by young adults about ways that they can participate in mission after high school.  We’ll talk about seminary…we’ll talk about Lutheran Volunteer Corps or AmeriCorps…we’ll talk about Teach for America…we’ll talk about Holden…  I am very excited that there is something new to talk about.  I am excited that there is the possibility for community, reflection and service to be drawn together into an experience that is really about discerning meaning for individuals, communities and the world.

I’m excited about the Living-Learning Initiative and what it can mean for the life of those who participate and for the church.  The first pilot community is opening up in September in Toledo, Ohio.  We’ll be watching closely.  I hope you will be too!

You can also follow the initiative on Facebook.



Leadership Matters

leadership conceptual compassNominations open today for the Board of Directors of the ELCA Youth Ministry Network.  Two seats on the board will become available when the next term begins.  Those terms don’t begin until February 3, 2014, a long time from now.  So why are we already opening up the nomination process for terms that don’t begin for 10.5 months?

Because good leadership matters.

The Network occupies an important place in the life of the church, and this is an important time in the life of the Network.  Good, progressive, forward-thinking leadership is needed as we live into our strategic plan.  And finding good leadership is a process that needs to happen thoughtfully…deliberately.  The board of directors serves as the organization’s governing body, providing primary direction and leadership of the organization as it achieves its mission.

Specifically, the board of directors:

  • guides the vision and strategic planning of the network,
  • implements plans for the organization’s future,
  • directs the work of the executive director,
  • dictates policies to ensure efficient operations,
  • monitors the organization’s finances,
  • assists in financial resource development (fundraising), and
  • assesses the organization’s overall performance.
  • The board’s work is further described in ELCA Youth Ministry Network Bylaws and GoverningPolicy of the ELCA Youth Ministry Network (Sections 1 and 2).

While serving on the board of directors, members are expected to:

  • be members of the Network,
  • be active in their own ELCA community,
  • care for their own spiritual life,
  • view their role on the board as their primary volunteer priority,
  • actively engage each other in discussions and decision making, and
  • attend all board meetings and the Extravaganza. Complete expectations of board members are detailed in Governing Policy of the ELCA Youth Ministry Network (Section 3).

So do you feel gifted in these areas?  Do you know someone that you think can lead well?  Do you know someone who has demonstrated good leadership within the community of the Network, or their synod, or their congregation?

Take some time.  Think.  Pray.  And then nominate.  We are excited for the future of the Network.  And we know that this future lies in the hands of the Holy Spirit who so clearly blows through this community.

Help us find good leaders.



An Update from New Jersey…

Jason Reed is the synod staff person for youth ministry in the New Jersey Synod of the ELCA.  He lives in Mount Holly, New Jersey.  Jason is a member of the ELCAYMNet and the SYMBOL (Synod Youth Ministry Band of Leaders) Network, and a strong advocate for young people within the congregations of his synod.  He’s also an all-around great guy.   The New Jersey Synod was deeply affected by Hurricane Sandy.  Jason posted this update on the SYMBOL Facebook page.  With his permission, I’m sharing it with you.  Please keep these people in your prayers, and please work within your congregations to seek ways to support those who are beginning recovery.

Jason writes:

Jason Reed

Many friends and colleagues have written and texted me asking how I and my family are doing in New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy. The short answer is, we’re fine. I would like to give you a brief update (well, not very brief) about how we’re doing in the New Jersey Synod and to ask for your continued prayers. 

Here is a brief snapshot:

The morning after the storm, Tuesday, 2.7 million homes were out of power – about 1home in every 4 in New Jersey. As of today 1.2 million homes still are without power.

Only about half of the gas stations are operating, and in the northern half of the state there is now enforced rationing.

This coming Monday, a week after the storm hit, less than half of the school districts expect to be open. The ones in our town opened on Thursday. One of my daughter’s teacher was absent because downed trees still blocked the roads out of her town. Her other teacher dressed in the dark because the power was still out in her home. 

In New Jersey halloween has been officially moved to this Monday (October 36, as my son now calls it). Reformation Day had October 31 all to itself this year!

As of tonight, 6,500 people are still living in shelters, with countless more staying with relatives, friends and neighbors. Many are staying in homes with no power, sleeping in the cold and dark out of fear of thieves or because they have nowhere else to go.

The state and FEMA has set up massive feeding kitchens throughout the state. Churches, schools, power companies, businesses, and neighbors are also distributing food, clothing, fuel, health and baby supplies to those in need.

As for the New Jersey Synod, we are still assessing the situation. Of our 180 congregations, we’re still determining how many of them are damaged or without power. Many, many will certainly be without power for worship tomorrow. I spoke with Karen Astrom today, a youthworker at Messiah Lutheran Church in Parlin, NJ. Her pastor’s home is without power and had a tree branch fall through her bedroom window during the storm. Karen’s home is without power, and she has been told it will be two to four weeks before it is restored – this with the temperatures dipping into the 30s at night now. 80% of her town is without power. She and some others were at the church yesterday cutting up trees and cleaning away some of the debris. When others came this morning the discovered the church shed where the tools were kept had been broken into and the tools taken. I asked her if they were going to hold worship services tomorrow. She said, “Of course!” Some members are talking about trying to bring in a generator to help warm the sanctuary up a bit, and they’ll have to do their singing without the organ. They will be worshiping at Messiah, Parlin tomorrow.

Our wonderful outdoor ministry site, Cross Roads, expects to be without power for another couple of weeks. Hundreds of trees are down. The low ropes and high ropes courses are completely destroyed. Many buildings are damaged, though no major ones were severely hurt.

In other news, our Synod Jr High Retreat Among The Wolves is/was scheduled for the weekend of November 16-18 on Long Beach Island. As the bridge to the island is still closed and there is no telling when the power will come back on, we are making plans for an alternate youth ministry experience that weekend – one that will most likely send these young saints of the church out around the state serving those in need and trying to stay out of the way of the professionals! 

Please keep us in your prayers as we continue the joyful, hard work of being the church on this territory. We continue to keep the rest of you in ours – especially those in New York, the Caribbean and others affected by the storm. And more deeply still we hold in prayer all who have no safe shelter tonight, who won’t have enough to eat tomorrow, whose lives are dominated by violence, fear, loneliness, hopelessness. Our God is out there in this night, with all of us. Thanks be to God.

Jason Reed


Regional Facilitators – Looking for Nominations!

A Network is only as good as its communication links.  We put a lot of our time and energy into our web-based stuff.  So we’ve got an

The RF’s Meet a couple of years ago

active web site, a very active Facebook page, an e-mail newsletter, etc…etc…etc…

While these ways of linking people together are important, they can’t (and shouldn’t) replace the human component.

Welcome to the Regional Facilitators.

Each ELCA region (there are 9 of them) has a regional facilitator assigned to it.  Facilitators are elected by members of the region when they gather at the Extravaganza.

The Regional Facilitators (we like to call them RF’s for short) have a simple set of tasks:

  • Communicate to their regions, things that are going on in the life of the Network
  • Communicate back to the Network’s board and staff, what they’re hearing from their regions that we need to pay attention to
  • Help facilitate and communicate regional networking

Our RF’s work hard.  They are the ‘local expert’ in their region.  They become troubleshooters, communicators and leaders within their region.  They work to get to know the synod staff folks.  More information on our RF’s can be found on our RF home page.

The Regional Facilitators also meet twice a year (at the Extravaganza, and again in May) face to face, and have a monthly online meeting to keep in touch and keep their ministry moving.  RF’s terms run 3 years, and they can be renewed once for a total of 6 years.

Every year, there are 3 regions that are up for re-election.

This year, regions that will be electing new Regional Facilitators at the Extravaganza in Anaheim include Region 6 (currently represented by Julie Schussler Peralta);  Region 2 (currently represented by Janet Renick) and Region 8 (currently represnted by Barbara Harner.

Both Julie and Janet would be eligible for renewal for another term.  Barbara has completed 2 terms, and is not eligible to be elected again.

We are grateful to all of our RF’s.  If you are possibly interested in serving as an RF, or if you know someone who would be good, and you’d like to nominate them, please go to our online nomination form and submit the information.




Lookin’ for a Little Help

Occasionally someone will ask me the question “How do I help out with ____________ in the Network?”  The blank space might be “the

This is sort of what our display board looks like

Extravaganza”, or “with 3rdTuesday Conversations” or with “the Board of Directors.”  Whatever it is,  it is a great question that I always really appreciate being able to answer.

What I usually say is “we really try to focus on the gifts of the individuals.  What do you think you bring to the table that would be a good fit for what our needs are.”

Sometimes we’re able to figure that out.  Sometimes not right away.

Occasionally, there are tasks that need “doing” where we’re looking for folks “right away” and we seek out people with a particular set of gifts.

That’s what I’m looking for today.

The Network has two different display boards that we send out around the country to different synod assembly’s, youth gatherings, etc.  The displays are set up to promote membership in the Network.

We are in need of an individual who would be willing to take on the responsibility of coordinating these display boards.  What does this mean?

  • Shove them in a closet or someplace similar when they aren’t out “on tour.”
  • Pay attention to when they are needed somewhere.
  • Ship them there (FedEx)
  • Sometimes, set it up so that it goes from one event to the next, until it finally returns to you.
  • Receive it when it comes back to you.

My best guess is that the total amount of time involved in coordinating this display is 2-4 hours a month.  However, it is a vitally important task for the life and growth of the Network.

There are something like 130 people who share of their time and gifts to make this Network a reality.  Our whole comm

unity is deeply grateful to all of these folks.  Would you consider joining them?

For more information on this, you can visit our “volunteer opportunities” page on our web site, or call me directly at 612.564.2195.  I’d love to talk with you more about it.

Networked in Christ,



I had a “proud parent” moment this morning.  Please indulge me while I share:

Today, my wife Lori and our two boys, Nathan and Samuel, ages 8 and 10 were on a worship team, which meant that they were ushering and Lori was also reading the scriptures.

Our boys had ushered before.  They enjoy handing out the bulletins, welcoming people and helping to collect offering.

It is our practice that during the offeratory, one of the ushers carries the offering plates up the center aisle.  The pastor who is behind the altar comes down to the base of the chancel to meet the usher, and takes the plates up to the altar.

Today I stood behind the altar, raised my arms and asked the  congregation to stand.  As the offeratory  music started.  I looked to the back of the Sanctuary and there stood Nathan and Samuel, holding the offering plates.

  • The plates are the polished gold brass type plates.  They are heavy.
  • It’s kind of a long walk up there.
  • What if they trip?

These nervous thoughts all went through my mind.  But our lead usher this morning, Sandy, had briefed them well, and they carried the offerings up to the front to meet me, with big, proud smiles on their faces.

I bent over and whispered “thanks!” to them and received the offering, bringing it to the altar.  It was a proud parent moment.  But as I reflect, it was also more than that.  It was also a moment when two my boys were engaged in worship.  It was a moment when children carried the offerings of the people to present to God.  They had been coached and prepared.  It was a moment when children played a role in leadership.

(Broad, sweeping generalization alert here) There aren’t enough opportunities for young people to bring their offerings to God.  In the church culture in which we live, we don’t integrate, we segregate.  Young people don’t practice their faith as much as they “learn” about it.  Even though we know all that we know, we persist in following practices that we know aren’t effective.

Children and youth are rich with gifts to bring to the altar.  Their gifts don’t look like the gifts that you and I bring, but they are gifts nonetheless.  In the ministry to which we are called, we worry every day about how young people will remain engaged and embedded within our communities.

This morning reminded me:  Perhaps if we honor and use the gifts of young people, our congregations will be places where they will want to continue to use them.