Thursday, July 23, 2009

Blogging from the Big Easy: Day 1

ELCA National Youth Gathering
Day 1
Blogging From the Big Easy: DAY ONE

In a slight departure from my normal approach to this blog (which is mainly a public archive of my preaching and writing), I’m going to try my hand at some “live blogging” while here in the Big Easy for the ELCA Youth Gathering. This is the first of what I hope will be several reports from the Gathering, and I invite comments from readers who “tune in.”

I flew into New Orleans yesterday (Wednesday, July 22) and was greeted at the Louis Armstrong Terminal by Cmdr. Timothy White and his wife Ute, who warmly welcomed me with a “military escort” to my hotel. Tim and Ute have been great, and in my next posting I’ll share a bit on a wonderful breakfast we enjoyed this morning. Tim is an ELCA pastor, a Navy chaplain, currently billeted to the U.S. Coast Guard 8th District here in New Orleans.

Most of the 38 bishops (with some spouses) met for a superb supper at Café Reconcile in the warehouse district of the city. The café is a real working restaurant that is also a ministry of development and entrepreneurship, training city youth in what it means to work in the hospitality industry. A wonderful Christian ministry, doing its part in the rebuilding of the human lives of New Orleans’ residents. Learn more about them at
After supper we were taken to the SuperDome where some 37,000 youth and adults were already raising a ruckus of praise and worship. Stunning—the music was so overpowering that I “felt” it in my stomach.

The first evening Mass Gathering was an action-packed 90 minutes of singing, clapping, praying and hearing speakers. The Dome is an amazing venue for so many Lutherans crammed into one place.

Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson met us first via a video “road trip”—as if he had traveled on a bus with youth from Illinois down to New Orleans, complete with mission experiences and recreational activities along the way. By the end of the road trip even the perspiring bishop was getting a little “rank” and needed a shower….but when he finally had time for that shower, it was time for him to come on stage in the Dome. So picture our presiding bishop, clad in shower cap and terry-cloth robe, DRIVING into the dome in a battery-powered bathtub (don’t worry, he was fully clothed under the robe). The crowd loved it…..and as Bishop Mark stepped onto the stage he effortlessly connected his “shower” with the baptismal grace that calls us all into humble service in God’s world. Once again we experienced Bishop Mark’s wonderful willingness to “play” with God’s people and lead them in gospel service….in a way that participants will not soon forget.

Speakers on the program included Liz McCartney and the Kielburger brothers. Liz has spearheaded a volunteer home-rebuilding effort in New Orleans that has brought 200 families back into livable housing. She was named CNN’s Hero of the Year in 2008—plainspoken, humble, genuine to the core. She reminded us that there are still 15,000 New Orleans households who need to have their homes restored. The Kielburgers started up Free the Children in 1995, a ministry that builds school in marginalized regions worldwide. The “quote of the night” came from their message. Marc Kielburger talked about being so frustrated with the “bad news” on the front page that he stopped reading newspapers for a time—until he met Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa who said: “College boy….what do you see there? I see all that ‘bad news” and call it ‘God’s to do list.’” A turnaround moment for us all.

The music was rich and engaging, with Peter Mayer and the house band and a Christian rapper, Agape (Dave Scherer) who had us all on our feet. A Dixieland jazz group featured a trumpeter whose cheeks puff out the way Louis Armstrong’s cheeks puffed out….along with a pint-sized trombonist who brought the house down. The evening closed with a STOMP-STOMP-CLAP chant that rocked the stadium, as several hundred red-tee-shirted participants (carrying red glow sticks) converged on the stage, preparing the whole Gathering for the Servant Life activities that will send out all 37,000 participants into mission projects across the city today, tomorrow and Saturday. We moved from “We Will Rock You” to “We Will LOVE You” in a perfect coda to the day.

Fun fact: I found out from youth director Kathy Hunstad that Trinity Lutheran Church of Moorhead, MN—with 92 participants at the Gathering—is the largest single congregational youth group here. Over the next few days I look forward to connecting with a number of our NWMN Synod groups, along with other friends from across the church. Please keep this Gathering and the city of New Orleans in your prayers…and check back for further updates this week.


  1. Bishop Larry, this is great. As I read your blog this afternoon, I truly felt like I was a part of the gathering there. I am sad that I am not there but glad that three of the youth from Dilworth are! Thank you for making me feel connected to the Gathering!

  2. Wish I were with you. I have attended several youth gatherings. They all were all creative and inspirational events that fed us with rich and full grace of God so we were energized and mobilized to share that grace with the world around us. Thanks for your reporting.
    David Eggebraten

  3. Hey Bishop Larry! Great stuff. Great Gathering. One correction. Louis Armstrong didn't puff his cheeks. It was Dizzy Gillespie.

    Peace Out.

  4. Hello,
    I'm wondering if you have contact information for Tim and Ute White? Tim was pastor at my childhood church in Kelliher, MN, and my sister is traveling to New Orleans and wants to connect with him. Your blog came up in a google search, so I thought I would check.

  5. Responding to Peder H: Just go to the website of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America ( and scroll down to the bottom right hand side of the opening page. Go to "Site Tools," then scroll down to "Find a Person." Open up that link and follow the instructions to get contact information for Chaplain White. One can find information on any ELCA pastor or rostered lay leader on this site.