This past June 26-July 2, 15 youth and 4 adults from St. John’s joined over 30,000 other Lutheran youth from across the country as they participated in the ELCA’s Triennial Youth Gathering in Houston, Texas. The Gathering’s theme was “This Changes Everything” based on Ephesians 2:8. St. John’s disciple Elizabeth Barkley, a senior at Springfield High School, shares some of her experiences with us. St. John’s youth are already making plans for the next Gathering in Minneapolis in 2021!
My name is Elizabeth Barkley and I was one of the youth who had the amazing opportunity to go to Houston this summer for the ELCA youth gathering. Not only did I get to go this year but I was also one of the few who were lucky enough to be going a second time because I went to Detroit three summers ago. Since I had already experienced a youth gathering I was extremely excited to fundraise and prepare for the trip. Even though it is an amazing trip and experience, I will admit that I was a bit uncertain going in because of the lack of youth close to my age. I did have an extremely close friend, Meghan, so we decided to go for it, have fun, and make new friends while learning more about Jesus and how to serve him in the world we live in today.
The youth gathering is an event occurring every three years traveling to different cities in America. Every three years over 30,000 youth accompanied by their chaperones gather in one city to worship, learn, serve, and grow closer together as a family. The main theme for this year was “This Changes Everything” and this was broken down into individual daily themes--Day 1- God’s Call Changes Everything, Day 2- God’s Love Changes Everything, Day 3- God’s Grace Changes Everything, Day 4- God’s Hope Changes Everything, and Day 5- Jesus Changes Everything.
Each day, groups would get involved in different activities then each night everyone would gather in the arena for mass gathering involving inspirational speakers and music that had the power to move everyone in the room. One of the days was Synod Day where we gathered with everyone from our Synod, had our own service, and got a chance to meet people from our area through games. Two other days were Interactive Learning and Community Life where there was time set aside to play games with people from all over, listen to music and bible studies, and participate in or learn about organizations advocating to help people. For our Service Day we organized and packaged books to be sent to schools for kids who could not afford them and the extra books were also being donated to community libraries aimed to help the churches and schools recover after the hurricane. Each day about 15,000 books were packaged. Finally, the last day was a mass worship service in the arena.
All of the speakers throughout the trip were amazing but a few main points really stuck with me. One was from Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber who spoke about how she was alienated and bullied as a child which led to substance abuse but then spoke about how amazing God’s Grace is and that ‘There’s Grace for that’ which became a quote frequently used amongst our group whenever someone would forget something or make a mistake. Another was when a speaker taught that each of us have a spark of God’s hope in us and made a wave of hope using the flashlights on our phones which lit up the entire stadium and showed just how much we can accomplish when we work together to be God’s hands and feet. One more thing that I will mention is more of a general memory with our own group. Throughout this entire week I got to grow closer with each and every one of them whether it be through dancing and singing, walking from place to place, or our nightly talks over pizza. I learned that it is important to always go into something with an open mind and not feel reluctant about meeting new people.
I will be a senior in high school this year which means I have been making big decisions involving college and future plans. This trip is perfect for anyone who needs a life-changing, eye-opening, and awe-inspiring experience. It teaches youth how to serve God in our daily lives, how to be a leader, how to spread God’s love and hope, and how to live and stand up for what we believe in. These lessons and memories will stick with me for the rest of my life because “This Changes Everything”. Thank you all for supporting the youth and chaperones and making this trip possible.