It was another good night of sleep and a late-start morning (the last one of the trip for us!) on Thursday.
It was blue day – all twenty-six of us gathering for breakfast in our matching “Caribbean blue” t-shirts and heading across town from the Superdome area (where our hotel is) to the Convention Center for our Practice Peacemaking day.
It was humid and gray as we walked. With about three blocks to go, we noticed a few raindrops. With about two and a half blocks to go, the skies opened and we shuffled our way through a downpour the rest of the way to the Convention Center, where we shivered in the air conditioning and regrouped, looking wet, disheveled, and yet happy!
Our time in the Convention Center began in the auditorium with worship. We sang and prayed with a couple thousand other Gathering youth, led by a gospel-jazz worship team. We listened to a message about how God not only tears down walls, but that in Christ, there ARE NO WALLS. Powerful stuff.
Then it was down to the main floor to kick off our activity time in the Interaction Center. Kevin, Erik, and Sam made a beeline for the Blood Donation area, while the other split into groups and spent all afternoon painting leaves in a mural, making bracelets, playing ping-pong and dodge ball, visiting goofy photo booths, checking out displays by Lutheran colleges and universities, listening to bands play at different stages around the room, carrying jugs of water through an obstacle coure to learn about malaria and all those people who have to walk great distances to find clean water....and that was just a teensy bit of the first floor!
Upstairs, we had groups who walked the labyrinth, groups that checked out a really beautiful art exhibit on themes of peace, discipleship, and justice. Some groups explored prayer stations, other groups spent time in a meditation room, some groups looked around at workshops on bullying, immigration, advocacy, and justice.
The Convention Center is HUGE. It takes you more than 15 minutes to walk from the entrance of the building to the far end of the Interaction Center. We scratched the surface and hope to return there on Saturday afternoon.
We gathered back at the hotel for a dinner of really delicious pizza from a local indie pizza joint right around the corner, and then it was onward to our second night in the Superdome!
Tonight’s Superdome gathering was intense. Focused on the theme of “practicing discipleship,” it centered on the idea that following Jesus – being a disciple – is risky. It is challenging. It makes your life messier and more unpredictable. It was a challenge to let our faith lead us, even into uncharted waters.
The night included a spoken word piece by Elijah Furquan, and a performance by Tony Memmel, a singer and songwriter who, despite being born missing his left forearm, plays guitar, piano, and harmonica. His songs were great and his courage inspiring. “Valerie Rivas shared a moving story about her call to serve in South Africa for a year after college through the Young Adults in Global Mission program, and 18-year-old Megan Subbs shared her story of being part of a missionary family serving in Tanzania.
The keynote speaker was Shane Claiborne, who got us all riled up with his passionate words about crossing boundaries, crossing injustice, and even crossing the legal system for the sake of following Jesus. I would encourage you to head over to the ELCA website (www.elca.org), follow the link to the Youth Gathering page, and click the purple button sending you to videos from the week – and listen to his talk for yourself.
The Superdome gathering ended with a group of youth sharing stories about being different and being bullied. Moving moving monologues. Presiding Bishop Hanson wrapped up the conversation with a challenge and a prayer. A challenge to stop the bullying, to take care of the bullied, to help the bullies find grace, and a challenge to all of us to take a stand instead of staying silent, taking the risk to stand up for one another and protect our brothers and sisters in Christ – fellow children of God.
Our St. Timothy group took some time back at the hotel to talk about what we had seen and heard in the dome. You have to know that this is an exceptional group of high schoolers, and St. Timothy needs to be so proud of them. The depth and integrity of faith that shone through in our group conversation was staggering. These are some pretty incredible young people. We as a congregation are blessed by them and have much we can learn from them.
Today was a great day. Positive vibes all around, great experiences, lots of laughter, lots of love. Here’s looking to another great day tomorrow!