by Rozella Haydée White, Creator/Consultant with LEAD
The ELCA Youth Gathering brings together over 30,000 people – youth and adults – for times of worship, learning, service, reflection, and community. This is not just an event. This is an experience that practices embodied faith. The Youth Gathering models what life would look like if we took discipleship seriously. It’s not just about the number of people gathered. It’s about what happens when they are together and how the Spirit moves them to live their faith out loud.
And this is the gift that the ELCA Youth Gathering offers us all, whether or not we attend. It provides a roadmap for what a life of faith could be, could look like, could feel like, if we practiced our faith in community.
I’ve attended the Youth Gathering since 2003. Every worship is carefully curated to take into account the faith we profess and the experience of those gathering. Styles of music, the usage of varying art forms, lighting, sounds, the sermon, and much more are thoughtfully crafted in order to create an unforgettable experience. Every participant is invited into holy space and the Holy Spirit shows up in ways that most congregations never experience.
The Youth Gathering takes seriously the reality that there are various learning styles. Each day and every experience presents a new opportunity for participants to learn stories of our faith, stories of people from the host city, and stories about how God has transformed the hearts of a community. The creativity used to craft learning experiences is breathtaking.
Using the model of accompaniment, of recognizing the gifts, talents, and skills in a community and beginning with listening to the stories of those who serve as partners, the Youth Gathering shifts perspectives on serving. No longer can participants boast about what they did for someone. They are invited to walk alongside a partner and learn the story of a city as they engage in service that is respectful of people.
At every turn, participants are asked to reflect on their experience. From what they did to what they heard to how they felt to what they saw, all aspects of the participants’ experience are used to uncover what God is up to. Time is given and taken to explore the meaning behind each moment and encounter.
The Youth Gathering nurtures community at every level. There is a community of leaders that plan the event. There is a community of volunteers that help execute the event. There is the host community that has been in relationship with the gathering staff for years prior to the event. Community is the glue that makes this whole thing work.
How might your congregation or community follow the example of the gathering? How are worship, learning, service, reflection, and community created in such a way in your context that people are drawn deeper into faith?
LEAD is a proponent of the ELCA Youth Gathering. Many of our staff and partners are volunteering this week because we believe in the ministry of the gathering and have experienced first hand the transformation that occurs. As an organization committed to empowering christian leaders and transforming faith communities, we believe that the Youth Gathering is a critical component of people’s formation. It has served as an entry point for many youth and adults seeking to dive deeper into the practice of faith.
We join with thousands of people praying for those traveling to Houston this week and for those who have been planning and preparing for this time. You can join in the fun by watching evening Mass Gathering events via live stream at