Thursday morning (July 23) dawned bright and clear, and I joined Chaplain Tim and Ute White, along with Tim’s commanding officer, Capt. James Tunstall of the U.S. Coast Guard for an early morning breakfast at a great breakfast café, Stanley’s. Though a member of the Navy, Chaplain White is “billeted” for now to the Coast Guard’s 8th District, headquartered here in New Orleans. The 8th District is a huge area, along part of the Gulf Coast and as far northward as North Dakota (the Red River is a Coast Guard-supervised waterway—did you know that?)
It was fascinating for me to receive this “up close” look at what a Coast Guard chaplain does (most everything a parish pastor does) and who he serves (mainly young adults, ages 18-26). We reflected together on how military chaplains are in the front lines of mission and ministry with young adults. I also learned that, though it is organized along military lines, the Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security. They do great work on behalf of all of us, patrolling our water-borders and spearheading search, rescue and recovery efforts.
My afternoon was spent in the Interaction Center in the Morial Convention Center—a huge area dedicated to providing learning activities, games, art projects, simulation experiences, etc. I helped staff the Vocation and Education unit of the ELCA area for a couple of hours, and had some neat conversations with ELCA college admissions staffers, seminary reps, and outdoor ministry directors (including our own Laura Morlock from Pathways Bible Camps). The Old Lutheran Store was doing land-office business selling all sorts of Gathering memorabilia, music CDs, t-shirts, you name it. This is the first year that this Moorhead-based enterprise, operated by former NW MN Synod youth ministry leader David Hunstad, has been in charge of the Gathering “store” (formerly operated by Augsburg Fortress publishers).
Other bishops and I enjoyed a delicious supper in the SuperDome, hosted by SYMBOL—the Synod Youth Ministry Band of Leaders, a network of youth ministers who serve on synod staffs. They challenged us bishops to support an initiative at the upcoming Churchwide Assembly that will mandate having young people fill at least 10% of the members of churchwide assemblies, the Church Council and ELCA boards and committees.
Thursday evening’s mass gathering in the SuperDome was even more energy-filled than Wednesday’s event. Opening speaker, Jay Bakker (son of former televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Baker) looked out over the multi-colored sea of t-shirts in the Dome and said that we looked “like a bunch of Dippin’ Dots.” He spoke eloquently of God’s call to love all persons, regardless of religious differences, and at several points it was clear that this young pastor (who was reared in the Assemblies of God) understands the “Lutheran thing” about grace. Perhaps the most well-received speaker of the evening was Viola Vaughn, an American who moved to the African nation Senegal in 2000 and started a remarkable ministry of empowerment for at young girls who have failed in the school system. She was followed by Pr. Becca Stevens, an Episcopal priest and founder of Thistle Farms and Magdalene—ministries that help women get out of drug abuse and prostitution. Three “graduates” of the Magdalene program were guests with us in the Dome.
Solo performer Celia Whitler sang a thrilling song, “Live Christ, love Christ, share Christ, be Christ. All these things do, today; all these things along your way.” The evening ended with the music of an amazing Christian hip-hop group, Group1Crew—two guys and a young woman who met in a Bible study!
I spent some time with my daughter Kristen and her fiancé Aaron, and the youth they are leading from First Luthearn Church of Sioux Falls, enjoying “night life” in a hotel in the French Quarter, just off Bourbon Street.
My day ended at 11 p.m., sharing some get-acquainted time, “stump the bishop” questions, a photo shoot and prayer with the ten youth and adults attending the Gathering from Our Savior’s, Warren. Sweet kids and two great adult leaders….a neat way to “wind down” before bedtme.