In September 2019, I took on the role of Synod Youth Director with the following goals:
- to give increased attention to racial equity in our synod youth ministries
- to strengthen connections between youth ministries in our synod
- to continue connecting youth ministries in our synod to opportunities in the wider ELCA
I began by doing youth-ministry-focused 1:1 meetings with youth workers, ministers, and pastors in most of our 9 conferences. I managed to connect with nearly all of our 9 conferences, from the urban ministry of my home LA Metro conference to the suburban ministry of the Conejo Valley to the rural ministry of Tehachapi Conference. I also talked with our Synod’s Latino Strategy Director and African Descent Strategy Director about how to most effectively support and reach out to their respective communities. I listened to what youth ministry was like in all of these contexts, and asked how the synod could be supportive.
I also tried to find at least one youth worker in each conference who could serve as a point person for that conference, and started to think about how we could build a team for synod youth ministry organizing – perhaps the future is not one synod youth director, but a team, with representation across communities. These were powerful conversations, and I’m grateful for them.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
In late spring, we started the train moving again. Every Friday in May, and monthly after that, I hosted Zoom calls for youth workers, to build connections, share information, and brainstorm collaboration. At some point, these Friday calls have included representation from nearly all of our 9 conferences, representation from all 3 California synods, and at least 1 ecumenical representative. Out of these Zoom calls, some collaboration has already borne fruit: a team of youth workers came together to plan and produce a Synod Baccalaureate service celebrating graduates of all ages in June.
After George Floyd was killed and protests erupted, we turned our attention even more intentionally to reckoning with racial justice. We shared resources on the Friday Zoom calls with adults, for use in their own youth groups. And we hosted two synod-wide conversations on race, for youth, by youth – one for BIPOC youth sponsored by New City Parish, and one for youth of all backgrounds throughout the synod. We are hoping to follow this up with some additional trainings and conversations offered for youth and adults in the coming months.
In late summer, we got news that the 2021 ELCA Youth Gathering – in Minneapolis – had been postponed until 2022. This is good news on a number of levels, not least because it will give us a longer runway to organize and prepare. I hope we can send our most diverse group of youth ever to the 2022 Youth Gathering. We’ve got work to do – let’s get to it.
Pastor Matt Keadle
SWCA Synod Youth Director