Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Youth Gatherings - I love them.

There are lots of things I've come to love about the Lutheran church. My top favourite is youth gatherings. The first time I heard the term I was decidedly not interested - that was waaay back in like, 2000-ish and I hadn't been Lutheran very long, so I didn't know what I was missing!

Then in 2004, our church worker, Susan, who was in charge of youth, went on maternity leave, and so the youth needed chaperones to take them to this National Youth Gathering in Brandon, Manitoba, of all places. Of course I was in - I'll do pretty much anything for my youth - and I was pretty overwhelmed when we got there. I've never functioned well on little sleep, and after spending two days on a bus with minimal sleep on a church floor en route, I was not at the top of my game. I remember at one point during the weekend actually falling asleep on a floor in a hallway while waiting for the group to get organized...

Scott and Trevor jamming with some youth at a late night spot at the Brandon NYG.

But sleep deprivation aside, I was hooked. Here were Lutheran youth and leaders from all over Canada coming together for four days, and the sense of community and fellowship was incredible. There were so many thing to see and do and learn and experience - it was amazing. National Youth Gatherings are once every three years, and also once every three years there's a district level gathering (Alberta/British Columbia, Central, and East). Then one year is a sabbath year with no gathering. 

Next up was a District Youth Gathering in Three Hills, Alberta, in 2007,  and I was asked to help by putting together the gathering book, which was a handbook of all of the important information, like schedules, maps, etc. I was really flattered to be asked to be a part of the gathering team, and it sort of snowballed from there...

The adults accompanying our youth group from my church to the DYG.

Three Hills a sleepy little town, and there isn't much there other than the college we stayed in. We went to Drumheller and saw the Passion Play, which is an incredible experience that I highly recommend. One of my most distinct memories is of a session that was just for the leaders, where a school counsellor came in and talked about the trend of 'cutting' in such graphic terms that I had to leave the room. :P Running on lack of sleep is a common theme at gatherings, because there's so much to squeeze in during just a few days, that the best way to do that is to spend a minimum amount of time sleeping. :)

One of my favourite gatherings so far was the NYG in Ottawa in 2007. We had a really big group - our youth group was at its peak size - and we had so much fun together. Ottawa is a beautiful city, and we were able to do some sightseeing. The Parliament, the war museum, the Museum of Man (I know it's called something else now...), the Byward Market...it was all very lush and unlike brown Calgary!

Our Calgary group, all dressed up in Ottawa.

I was a little bit more involved in this one - they asked me to coordinate the 'cabana', which was basically the exhibit hall, but more fun than your average exhibit hall. It was in a gym, and half of it was reserved for the leaders, with a spa and snacks (my friend Chris met the woman he married there...gatherings are good for that, too!) and the other half was full of exhibitors with interactive displays and games for the kids. It was a stinking lot of work to coordinate, and it wasn't helped by the fact that it was very, very far away from the dorms. I did more walking that weekend then I did in my entire life, until I went to Jerusalem. And I really don't think I'm exaggerating!

Update: I just remembered another reason why I loved Ottawa so much...I helped plan the sessions! I didn't have any responsibilites during the weekend - I was on the brainstorming team that met months and months beforehand to map out what the sessions would contain, and then during the gathering I got to sit back and see the results of my ideas come to fruition. It was very satisfying!

Then in 2009 we were back to a district gathering, and I was asked to be on the committee. I jumped at the chance, and we ended up having it in Kelowna, at UBCO. I love being on the gathering planning committee. The only drawback is that because I'm 'on duty' so much I don't get to spend much time with my kids.

My group in Kelowna in 2009.

The major drama leading into that gathering was the massive forest fires burning near Kelowna. UBCO was on the opposite side of the lake from the fires, but the smoke was filling the whole valley. But it wasn't bad enough to call off the gathering, and it got under control the day the committee arrived to prep things. The weather was beautiful - I love the Okanagan - and I even got to spend some time at the beach once things were all done.

Then in 2010 we were off to Edmonton for an NYG. In a bit of a change, I had no responsibilities other than being in charge of a very large youth group with only one other leader - Trevor - to help. That actually turned out to be more stressful than being part of a planning team! We had 13 youth, and I drove myself crazy head-counting all the time. The dorms were quite far from the theatre were the sessions were, and trying to round everyone up to leave on time and together was like herding cats...

Safely arriving in Calgary after the NYG. See how relieved I look? Also, I'm wearing my shirt from the 2007 DYG!

The biggest saving grace to my sanity at that gathering was the fact that there was a Tim Hortons on the ground floor of the dorms. Hooray for steeped tea!

And this year, in Calgary, I co-chaired the DYG. I'm still trying to recover and process everything that happened - and I'm beyond exhausted - but it's a good, job-well-done kind of exhausted. Tracy, my co-chair, and I pulled it off in nine months, when these things are usually two years in the works. Also, she had a baby part way through planning, and I was dealing with my first full-time year of post-secondary school. Fun, hey? :) Actually, it was - it was also stressful, but the rewards of planning an event like this are so worth it. We had 105 people, some of whom I'd never met before, but all of whom I love dearly and would give my life for. And for whom I gave up my perfectionist GPA goal. :)

The whole group at the Calgary NYG.

I love gatherings because they bring together all sorts of different people of all different walks of life and ages, but we all have Jesus in common. For me, the joy in that 'teachable moment' when something a youth has heard maybe from the cradle clicks and you see that light of true understanding - those moments are solid gold, and I would give up more than just a perfect GPA any day to see that happen. Even if that happens for only one kid who comes, it's worth it, because who knows what other nuggets of truth get buried deep to pop up later in life when needed most?

And the afternoon it ended we were already talking plans for 2015. Not to mention that I'm on (and have been since about 2001) the local Calgary-area gathering committee, where we have a retreat every fall, except for a couple of years when we took a hiatus. We're well into planning for that one and I'm so excited for it. We're going to be tackling the Nicene Creed and why it's important and I just can't wait for all of the teachable moments we'll encounter.

I'm very thankful for the grace of God and the gift of mad administrative skills, and as long as I have any say in the matter whatsoever, I will be involved in a youth gathering of one kind or another. I firmly believe that they are one of the most valuable tools available to youth ministry, because they are so unique from anything else the kids encounter in their day-to-day lives.

This song kind of became the unoffical theme song for the weekend, and it's one of my favourites, so I'll leave you with that and haul my aching carcass off to bed. :)

What mercy was revealed
What selflessness and peace
My fate was surely sealed
Until He rescued me
His pardon for my sin
His bounty for my need
From slavery and shame
I am redeemed

And Heaven can't contain
The glory of the Son
Jesus is the Christ, the saving One
His love has made a way
The grave is overcome
Jesus is the Christ, the saving One

No fear can hold me down
Nor darkness steal my joy
For blood has been poured out
The enemy destroyed
Death could not hold Him down
The cross was not enough
To steal away His throne
For He is God

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