As I write this, Trinity’s group of 47 youth and adult leaders are traveling to the ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston, Texas. Right now they are somewhere in Oklahoma, and are about 5 driving hours away from their destination. I’m pretty certain that they are all looking forward to getting off of the bus, getting a shower and maybe a chance to take a nap in a real bed.
Meanwhile, I’m already in Houston. I’ll be doing some training of adult leaders during the Gathering. This afternoon I’m doing workshops for adult leaders at the “Multicultural Youth Leadership Event,” a pre-event to the Gathering. I’m really excited to see our group tonight after they arrive (and shower).
The city of Houston has no idea what’s about to happen. Over 30,000 young people and their adult leaders are going to descend on this place, all gathered around the theme, “This Changes Everything.” The central scripture passage for the Gathering is Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace you have been saved by faith. This is not your own doing, it is a gift from God.”
The moment of the resurrection is the pivotal moment in human history. It is the moment when everything changed. It is the moment when humans no longer had to depend on their own ability, or work, or struggle, to earn God’s love. Rather through Jesus, God’s love comes freely to all of God’s people.
It is the empty cross that changes everything. It is not the cross of Jesus crucified, but rather the cross of Jesus resurrected that brings the gifts of love and life. It is that cross that we carry with us every day. It is that cross that is a sign of God’s great promise.
It is the cross of the resurrected Jesus that changes everything.
Everything that happens at the Gathering this next week will revolve around these promises.
Every day at the Gathering will begin with the “First 15,” a quick morning devotion. Then all 30,000 people will be divided into 3 equal groups, and will spend 1 day in one of 3 activities:
- 10,000 will go out every day to serve in the community. Wearing their bright orange shirts, they will board buses and head into the Houston community, doing everything from painting homeless shelters, to reading to children.
- 10,000 will spend a day in a hotel ballroom with other young people from their synod, in worship, and then will learn together in smaller groups about that day’s theme. (As a side note, our synod, the Southeastern Minnesota Synod is one of the largest synods here, with over 1,000 young people in attendance. And when they gather, it will be the youth band from Trinity that will be leading music. How exciting is that?)
- 10,000 will spend day in the Interaction Center. It will be a holy playground, a space for participants to engage and be immersed in the life and breath of the community of God.
Every day, these groups of 10,000 will rotate to a different “day” activity.
In the evening, all the groups will gather in NRG Stadium, where the Houston Texans play. When we gather, the stadium will become a sanctuary, with powerful worship, music, speakers, video and much, much more. It’s kind of a “worship…meets concert…meets festival…” The energy is unbelievably high and 30,000 young people worshipping together is an amazing thing.
The event closes out on Sunday morning with worship and communion as a whole community.
This is my 11th ELCA Youth Gathering. I’ve brought young people, served on teams, served as a team leader and now here doing teaching and training. The Gathering has always been an incredibly powerful, transformative experience, for young people and the adult leaders.
Every evening, the mass gatherings in the stadium will be live streamed on the ELCA website at 7:30pm. I highly encourage you to watch and see what our young people will experience. The Sunday morning worship will also be live streamed, beginning at 9:30am. At Trinity, we will be showing the worship on the screen in Fellowship Hall until worship there begins at 10:45am. You can watch by going to www.elca.org/Gathering.
Please keep our group, and all 30,000 participants in your prayers for save travel and a deep and meaningful experience. We pray that we all remember the gifts of God…the gifts that change everything.