Special Guest Blogger: Ian McConnell; Student at Luther Seminary in St. Paul.
It was in a hotel ballroom in Anaheim maybe a decade ago that I heard for the first time, “Use this time however you need it. For renewal. For networking. For napping. For being away from a hectic work environment. For fun, for Pete’s sake!” I was in my early 20s, just recently “back in church” after a period of spiritual drifting—a statistical “none,” I suppose—and at the Extravaganza as a youth ministry volunteer from my home church. And I was hooked; while laying concrete blocks with the high school kids I had come to love for a trip to Ciudád Juárez in Mexico later that year, I decided to say “yes” to become the interim youth director for that congregation.
And in the dead of winter every year until this past winter, I have loved coming to the Extravaganza. Some years, I’ve come for networking, finding new ideas for Sunday School curriculums and games to fill time with notoriously bored teenagers. Other years, it’s felt like a warm family reunion filled with trips to restaurants and bars within walking distance. And at least once, the E has been a place to escape from a seriously, seriously dark work environment to be with people who could hear my pain. I will forever be grateful for who this network is, and what the Extravaganza continues to be.
Last winter, during my pastoral internship at Grace Lutheran in Wenatchee, Washington, the tasks were piling up. Funerals, meetings, limited budget and vacation days, and honestly, there was a bit of exhaustion. And for the first time in 10 years, I didn’t come to the ELCA Youth Ministry Network Extravaganza. I had plenty of excuses, commitments, and reasons to justify missing out on the most helpful and encouraging network of ministry professionals I have come to know and love.
And let me tell you: I missed you all terribly.
This year is a big one, because like every third year, the E and the ELCA Youth Gathering are in the same city, and we find ourselves with the opportunity to take the edge off of our nerves about things like learning the best walking routes from hotel-to-dome-to-convention-center or finding relatively inexpensive places to eat with a group of young people (including that kid who “forgot” that he had a budget and blew his money on WHAT?!).
This year is a big one, because while we all know that young people are in a particularly exciting and haunted time in life anyways, there have been conversations continuing and amplifying on the news, in schools, on social media, and at dinner tables about serious and seriously difficult topics: sexual assault and violence against women, systemic racism and violence against our brothers and sisters of color, how to be a part of a society that would oftentimes rather put its head in the sand than learn how to best accompany young people learning about their own gender and sexual identities… Whether we like it or not, these are real issues for the families we have been called to serve. These are real issues for many of you already. I can’t speak for you, but I know that I need to work this stuff out in community. And the Extravaganza has always been a place where it’s been safe for me to do so.
If ever there were a time to commit to Finding Forward, this seems to be it, friends. We are living in this reality, and so we ask: now what? Where do we go from here? What does it mean to be disciples in this particular time and this particular reality?
You may be in the same boat as I have been in, wondering if you’ll be able to make it work to come to the E this year. And I sincerely hope to see you in Houston this upcoming January. I need to gather with you to worship and sing and pray. I need your help finding a way forward, seeking for ways to participate in what, exactly, God is calling us to be in year 501 and beyond of the Reformation. We need time to rest, to rejuvenate, to learn, to dream, to laugh, to cry, to share our stories for the sake of materializing God’s kingdom here on earth.
But first, a brief confession: I have not yet registered. So, I’ll wrap this up, open a new tab in my browser, and secure my spot at this year’s Extravaganza! Don’t tell the early bird folks, I don’t want to catch too much flack.
See y’all in Houston, I hope!