Press release: About 35,000 ELCA youth, adults and volunteers build a community of love

Here's press release from the ELCA News Service about the Gathering that explains even more about what we all experienced during our week.

July 24, 2012
About 35,000 ELCA youth, adults and volunteers build a community of love

NEW ORLEANS (ELCA) - Dane Bakken wanted to know what it was like to haul a 41.5-pound jug of water on foot for 3.7 miles -- the average for what a woman or girl in Africa will walk to bring clean water for her family.

"You can read about (such statistics) as much as you want, but until you do it, that's what makes you realize just how hard that is. Otherwise, it's just numbers," said Bakken, a participant at the 2012 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's (ELCA) Youth Gathering in New Orleans, July 18-22.

"Here (in the United States) most of us can go to the kitchen to get a glass of water. The same is not true for many around the world," Bakken said.

It was a tough journey. With beads of sweat streaming down his cheeks and momentary rest stops, Bakken was determined to complete his task. It took him more than one hour or 37 turns around a track. Organizers of the activity were asking youth to walk one-tenth of a mile.

Bakken was cheered along the way, but no one beamed with more pride than his pastor, the Rev. Jeffrey D. Jacobs of Springdale Lutheran Church in Mount Horeb, Wis.

"Dane just did it on his own initiative. He's that kind of kid. He does thoughtful things very quietly, and I have been very proud of him," Jacobs said.

The activity was part of the "100 Wells Challenge," where a goal was to raise $250,000 to support the water projects of ELCA World Hunger around the world. That amount could mean building 100 wells, each one with the potential of bringing clean water to 500 families at a time. ELCA youth and their congregations delivered their offerings at the 100 Wells Challenge exhibit. More than $406,000 has been collected as of July 24.

Such multi-sensory activities at the 2012 ELCA Youth Gathering were part of "practice peacemaking" held at the Ernest M. Morial Convention Center here.

Under the theme "citizens with the saints," about 35,000 ELCA youth, adults and volunteers engaged in practice peacemaking as part of the gathering's three core practices. The participants were also challenged to practice justice and practice discipleship.

The ELCA "has a long history of commitment to adolescent faith formation," said Heidi Hagstrom, director of the gathering.

"This generation, in particular, is a product of the ELCA's deepening understanding of and commitment to the connection between service learning and faith formation. I want young people to return to their congregations as leaders, demonstrating what they've learned here and possibly igniting the whole congregations' imagination for mission" in the world, she said.

Under the guidance of Lutheran Campus Ministry staff and students, ELCA youth also took part in starting the construction of three houses for three families in New Orleans.

As part of the project, "We talked about the realities of poverty, and why we need to get involved in these kinds of services," said the Rev. Christopher S. Heavner, an ELCA campus pastor at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C. To support the project, ELCA campus ministries from across the country raised close to $20,000.

Called "The Wall," ELCA youth heard stories of war and armed conflict, as well as stories of hope from young people and adults who came to the gathering from other parts of the world.

Other activities of practice peacemaking included artistic expressions, sports and more.

Practicing justice
For three of the five days of the gathering, about 11,000 ELCA youth and adults were dispersed throughout New Orleans, engaging in nearly 400 service opportunities that ranged from painting a high school to rebuilding community libraries.

Morgan Gates and Martha Chumchal, members of Peace Lutheran Church in College Station, Texas, visited Holt Cemetery in Pottersfield. Although rain prevented them from their assigned work of cleaning the cemetery grounds, they boarded buses with groups of other ELCA youth anyway.

"This cemetery is where all the poor people bury their loved ones because they can't afford a regular cemetery," said Chumchal.

"A lot of the graves were homemade," said Gates. "PVC pipes are used and headstones are made of plywood with names spray-painted on. We took the tour in the rain, in the wet and in the gross. But we learned more about the culture of New Orleans, and we saw that a lot of jazz musicians and military veterans are buried here."

"People (in New Orleans) are into honoring the dead, and there is so much heart in what they do -- the commentaries and compassion people have for one another here are so inspiring," said Chumchal.

Another significant project of the gathering was collecting and distributing 1 million books in 25 book fairs across New Orleans, hosted in part by the city's recreation department and other local organizations. The city's educators, primarily from the Jefferson and Orleans parishes, offered book titles.

ELCA youth were also inspired by worship and Bible study led by 60 of the ELCA's 65 synod bishops. As part of practice discipleship, ELCA youth learned to take their relationship with Jesus Christ to a deeper level.

Every evening, all ELCA youth and adults participants gathered at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for music, dance, speakers and more.

They were moved and inspired by the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, pastor of House for All Saints and Sinners in Denver, who shared her personal story of overcoming addiction and her love for the ELCA. Leymah Gbowee, a 2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Lutheran Liberian peace activist, and Shane Claiborne, an author and activist from Philadelphia, also spoke.

The Rev. Andrena Ingram, pastor of St. Michael Lutheran Church in Philadelphia, and AIDS activist, shared her story of living with HIV, and anti-bullying activist Jamie Nabozny asked youth to think about the things they say in their everyday lives that might have an effect on others. ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson spoke at the gathering's open, preached and led closing worship. "At the table Jesus sets, we are all welcome. We are one community in Christ," Hanson told ELCA youth at the close.

Nicole Reeves, of Love of Christ Lutheran Church in Mesa, Ariz., said she's proud to be an ELCA member.

Reflecting on how her experience at the gathering might impact her life as she returns home, "I kind of want to go on a mission trip," she said. One evening at the gathering "I was sitting in the hallway and thinking about the meaning of life and, I was like, 'I should probably just go help people.'"

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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with 4.2 million members in 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of "God's work. Our hands," the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.
For information contact:
Melissa Ramirez Cooper
773-380-2956 or Melissa.RamirezCooper@ELCA.org
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Lutherans
Living Lutheran: http://www.livinglutheran.com

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