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Keeping youth where they belong

September 10, 2010 No Comment

by Ian Adnams

In July I attended by my sixth Lutheran Church–Canada National Youth Gathering, this time in Edmonton. The first for me was in 1995 at Prairie Bible Institute in Three Hills, Alberta, not so fondly remembered by many for its hourly fire alarms beginning at midnight. Then there was Waterloo, Ontario; Vancouver; Brandon, Manitoba and Ottawa.

Each gathering seems to have its own personality. And when you think of it, holding this kind of event every three years means encountering teens for whom the world is different from previous gatherings. Social media was nowhere near as popular in 2007 as it is now. Neither was texting! What doesn’t change, however, is the ongoing need of teens to feel connected to their Lord Jesus Christ, their faith and to their church.

Gathering committee chairman Deacon Michael Gillingham and his team created an event in Edmonton focused clearly on the theme belong&believe>> believe&belong, even in little things. This wasn’t a “high tech” event. Sure, there was big screen Powerpoint and video clips to help illustrate the messages, but there was no video projection of speakers; the sound was not overpowering; but the energy and enthusiasm from a room full of teenagers was still there. The simplicity built an intimacy, a sense of belonging. The messages were clear, strongly Scriptural and authentically Lutheran.

Each session was built around a Scripture passage and included a Bible study. After Friday night’s opening, everyone was asked to bring their Bibles with them to the plenary sessions. Sure enough, Bible-toting Lutherans showed up the next day—and many of those Bibles showed signs of wear and tear! (Our next Synod Convention in June 2011 is also a BYOB—bring your own Bible—occasion!)

At events like this I look for unique stories. I found one in the attendance statistics. The largest delegation from any congregation was from La Ronge Lutheran Fellowship in northern Saskatchewan. Thirty-four youth and their leaders travelled 12 hours by bus. To keep expenses down, they slept on the floor at Grace Lutheran Church. I talked with a young lady who was really enjoying the gathering, her first time attending something like this. It reminded me of a conversation I had at a previous gathering with a young man from a small rural congregation who was thrilled to be among so many people his age who believed the same things he did! That’s the beauty of a youth gathering. It’s a time of great encouragement and spiritual challenge and resulting growth.

During a cool, drizzly afternoon the entire gathering split into groups to serve the Edmonton community. More than 150 spent three hours in a downtown neighbourhood picking up litter. It wasn’t just pieces of paper and cigarette butts either! Suffice it to say some later descriptions of items cleaned up used the adjective “gross.” These young people were learning firsthand what it means to “serve your neighbour.”

The gathering is also a place to meet new people and hear their stories. During dinner one evening, a pastor told me that being part of a youth gathering “back in the day” cemented his decision to attend seminary and become a pastor. Not only that, he told me of two others for whom the Lord used a youth gathering to lead them in the same direction.

I drew encouragement from an afternoon schedule that included eleven breakout sessions, most aimed at developing gifts and talents youth could take back to their congregations. Imagine spending 90 minutes under the direction of a nationally recognized choral director learning about vocal production and conducting! Or discovering how you can use your photography skills in the service of your congregation and church body. And the next day, spent at Concordia University College of Alberta, there were another 20 similar opportunities.

What we adults need to do when our youth return from a national gathering is help them keep developing their God-given skills and talents and involve them in the areas of service for which they are trained and equipped. It’s not enough to have a “youth Sunday.” Our youth should be integrated into every church activity. They are not the church of the future. They are the church today! They may be tomorrow’s leaders if we take the time to mentor them.

As the gathering sessions kept reinforcing, they already belong to Jesus and to His family through their baptism. By asking them to participate—just as all the other baptized members of the family do—we affirm their place in the church, where they belong.

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