I was talking with a friend who serves in a different congregation in a different state earlier in the week. He said that he was looking
forward to the next couple of weeks with a sense of dread. “Why is that?” I asked. “Because it’s all going to be about the ELCA Youth Gathering. The Facebook posts, the Twitter feed…it seems like I’ve heard a ton already this spring and it’s just going to get worse.”
He had made the decision (for his own reasons…I disagreed with him, but they are his own reasons…) not to bring young people to the Gathering this year. That’s fine. That is his and his congregation’s choice.
“But the whole world seems to revolve around the gathering as it gets closer.” he said.
I reached deep down into my bag of pastoral care tricks:
“Suck it up, buttercup.”
On one level, I get his complaints. The Gathering is a big deal. A really, really big deal. There will be 35,000 people gathered there this year. And it’s almost all done by volunteers (with a healthy dose of the Holy Spirit). That’s huge. And he’s right: it’s been active on the twitter feeds…active on the facebook pages…it’s what a lot of our congregations have poured time and resources into. So for those who are choosing not to go, I totally understand your frustration if this is what you’re hearing about right now more than anything else.
But here’s the deal: I can’t do much to make you feel any better.
For whatever reason (again, let’s give some credit to the Holy Spirit) the Gathering has, going back to the 1950’s, crossed a tipping point in the life of the church. This event has traction. This event has legs. I find it remarkable that the Gathering doesn’t even have to promote who the speakers or musicians are. They don’t do that until a couple of months before the young people board buses. But without knowing the program, without knowing what’s going to happen, people come. It’s breathtaking, when you think about it.
People become because as an event, the Gathering is life-changing. People come because as an event, the Gathering is community-changing. People come because as an event, a relationship between a community of pilgrims and an entire city is formed. People come because faith is formed throughout the event.
But there is a challenge ahead of us: How do we make this less of an event, and more of an ongoing ministry that continues to form faith, form relationships and transform lives?
We’re doing some thinking about that. In upcoming months you are going to hear more about “Practice Discipleship Phase 2” which will hopefully build on the infrastructure that has been built for this Gathering. I think it’s going to be really exciting.
And in a couple of ways, it is going to answer the objections of my friend. If the Gathering becomes a catalyst for a renewal of faith formation for young people, families and congregations, then it is less about event, and more about long-term ministry. Hopefully the buzz around the Gathering doesn’t fade, and the energy is chanelled in new directions. I really believe that this year, there is the potential for a whole new thing to come out of the Gathering.
Please join me in praying for the Gathering. Please join me in praying for the Gathering, for the young people and their leaders who travel there, for the teams, and for the city of New Orleans. And pray for these new directions that might arise out of this experience.
And in the worst case, my friend will have about 2.5 years ahead of him before the Twitter and Facebook streams really heat up again for the next Gathering!
See most of you in New Orleans!
PS – On Twitter, follow the hashtag #cwts12 for an up to the minute feed on the event!