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Houston, we had a gathering!

by Janet Renick
SWCA Synod Coordinator for Youth, Children, and Family Ministries

From June 27 to July 1, 31,000+ youth and their adult leaders gathered in the city of Houston, TX for the ELCA Youth Gathering, which happens every three years. It literally takes three years to plan such a gathering. We arrived by planes, trains, and automobiles. Many attended an Astros game, went to the beach, and explored NASA, as well as eating some incredible Texas barbecue!

Our theme was “This Changes Everything,” based on Ephesians 2:8. Daily themes were: God’s call changes everything, love changes everything, Grace changes everything, hope changes everything, Jesus changes everything. It was an amazing gathering!

I am so proud of Southwest California Synod and their strong leadership as part of the gathering. We were shining brightly! Tyra Dennis, Pastor Jonathan Hemphill, Estelita Jernigan, and Anthony Eder were all a part of the house band and they did a phenomenal job. Kristal Shipp and Bishop Guy Erwin lead our Synod day, where 185 of us along with Pacifica Synod youth came together to worship, meet in small groups, commune, pray, and praise. It was an amazing day with many taking part in leadership of that day.

We served the city well (see the info graphic below)! Through the gathering, over 40,000 books were collected to restore libraries in Houston after last year‘s devastating Hurricane Harvey, 437 hair donations were made to children with hair loss, 1248 units of blood given, $260,000 collected for the ELCA Global Farm Challenge. We worked in thrift stores, started working on an easement/gardening area to provide 150 miles worth of dog parks and hiking and biking trails, helped provide bicycles for refugee children, painted murals and worked in schools and churches, to name a few. Our bishop was by our side on this amazing journey.

We had 26 youth and adult leaders from our Synod attend the MYLE event (MultiCultural Youth Leadership Event), which was a pre-Gathering event attended by 700 people.

We learned about many issues facing youth, the church, and the world today. Topics were on eating disorders, suicide, depression, addiction, transgender youth, and we heard so many wonderful stories of faith from speakers such as Nadia Bolz-Weber, and Tuhina Rasche. We had representation from Lutheran camps and colleges, learned about ELCA world hunger, immigration, acceptance, and so much more. We are changed because of our time together.

I had the honor of serving as your Gathering Synod Coordinator, leading training events, doing problem-solving, making special arrangements, and walking side by side with our youth leaders.

Churches attending from the Southwest California Synod included:

American, Burbank; Another Level, Gardena; Ascension, Los Angeles; Ascension, Thousand Oaks; Bethania, Solvang; Bethel, Encino; Bethlehem, Granada Hills; Christ, Long Beach; Christ, West Covina; First, Carson; Holy Trinity, Thousand Oaks; Hope, Atascadero Mount Cross, Camarillo; New Hope, Agoura Hills; Prince of Peace, Covina; Rock of the Foothills, La Verne; Salem, Glendale; Shepherd of the Valley, Simi Valley; St. Luke’s, Long Beach; St. Mark’s, Los Angeles; St. Paul’s, Santa Monica; and Trinity, Ventura.

The next ELCA Youth Gathering will happen in the summer of 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Can’t wait!