Texas-Youth Gathering

ELCA Youth Gathering 2018

On Monday, June 25th five Peace youth and their leader loaded a synod bus in Platteville with three other churches and headed for Houston! Anna Chase (12th), Josh Kieckhafer (11th), Abby Wackershauser (11th), Connor Chase (9th) and Rileigh Fansler (9th), and Kathryn Kieckhafer (youth volunteer and Wartburg Seminary Student) joined groups from First English (Platteville), Faith (Cuba City), and Argyle (Argyle). After an overnight in Little Rock, Arkansas, the South Central Synod of Wisconsin’s bus caravan of 10 coach buses (approx. 560 people) arrived at their hotels in Houston late afternoon on Tuesday. Some friends from our synod found other ways to travel to the Lone Star State, but the 724 people (59 congregations) from SCSW stayed together only three miles from the Gathering epi-center: NRG Park. During the daytime on Wednesday churches mostly used the time to explore the area. Our group decided to visit something we wouldn’t see anywhere else – the Houston Space Center. Although it was pretty crowded (staff there said they had only seen it that busy around Christmas and Easter breaks), we were able to see some cool things, like the inside of a space shuttle, the astronaut preparation areas, and the Saturn V rocket, which is one of three surviving vehicles built to launch American astronauts to the moon during the Apollo program of the 1960s and early 1970s. Wednesday evening was the official opening of the Gathering, which had 31,000 people participating. Wednesday – Saturday evenings were called the “Mass Gatherings,” where everyone came together under one roof. The huge stage on one end was the center of activity, which included speakers, video, music, poets, dance, and highlights from the day’s events. During the day on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, synods are divided up among three main activities/spaces. Thursday was our Synod Day, where we got together with the rest of SCSW participants in an assigned space in NRG Center for the afternoon to participate in faith-building experiential and worship activities. We even had our own band, made up of youth in our synod! Bishop Vivianne was a big part of that time as well, and we discovered we really love her and are excited for what her leadership will bring! Friday was our Service Day. Our bus group was assigned with another bus to a place that traditionally provided space for services and housing in an area that has been poor and struggling for its whole history due to the lack of resources and advocacy. We painted the inside of a senior center, as well as picnic tables and railings in the outside gathering areas, and cleaned up a ball field on the property for use by the community. After lunch we headed back to NRG Park to NRG Arena, where we had the opportunity to relax, have some fun, and participate in countless experiential activities. There was so much to learn and do! We were pretty tired that day after working, but got re-energized at the Mass Gathering that night. Saturday was our Interactive Learning Day. We spent the morning and early afternoon in NRG Center, where we visited various sponsored activity areas to learn about countless things the ELCA is involved in around the United States and the world. We participated in this year’s Global Hunger Challenge sponsored by ELCA World Hunger. The theme this year is the Global Farm, and we learned about how the organization works with people to establish small farms to sustain their families and benefit their communities. After some great experiential learning, our students donated $300 from our fundraising activities toward the challenge. The total amount raised at the Gathering was being matched as well. We visited more theme areas as well, then went back to our hotel for a relaxing meal, rest and swimming before the Mass Gathering. On Sunday morning, the final day, we participated with 31,000 people for worship, including communion and offering! Our offerings were divided equally between three ministries: the Southeastern Coastal Synod, who was hosting the Gathering (and has hosted quite a few of the recent Gatherings (twice in New Orleans), a prison congregations ministry, and global church starts. Keep an eye out for details on an event in August or September that our youth will be hosting to share pictures and more details about the trip at the Gathering and the faith formation they underwent during this life-changing, mountain-top church-wide experience. We want to extend a HUGE thanks for all the support we received from all of you at Peace – donations of funds, job opportunities to earn money and interact with the congregation, prayers, and words of encouragement. Thank you for making this experience possible for us! So, what's next? Planning for the 2021 ELCA Youth Gathering being held in Minneapolis has already begun and will continue over the next year as a theme is developed and planning teams are assembled. There have only been two Gatherings in the north since its beginning, 2015 in Detroit and Minneapolis in three years! You can follow the Gathering Facebook page and our synod’s website for all the details for our next Gathering beginning in 2019!