It’s Sunday morning (July 26) and I’m enjoying beignets (pronounced ben-YAYS) at the Café du Monde in the French Quarter with Bishops David Zellmer (South Dakota Synod) and Julian Gordy (Southeastern Synod—headquartered in Atlana, GA). Remember, I did get to the hotel fitness room yesterday…which is a good thing because beignets are some of the tastiest, calorie-laden, foods in New Orleans (French deep-fried donuts covered with powdered sugar). Julian treats us to some local lore. For example, we learn that what tourists call the French Quarter is really the Old Quarter, and it was originally the Spanish Quarter. Alongside the Cathedral Julian points out the infamous Pirates’ Alley, where in the past privateers consummated nefarious deeds, presumably before making confession and going to mass!
If you’re bored in New Orleans, it’s YOUR problem!
The closing worship service in the Dome was splendid, Jesus showed up big time—Hallelujah!—in the singing, the liturgy, the wonderful sermon by Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson and in the Holy Communion. Mark made a nice connection between the gospel lesson (John 6:1-15) and the “power of one.” Just as one little boy stepped forward to offer his loaves and fishes to the hungry crowd, so also one young person can bear the light of Christ in loving service and costly love.
To illustrate this, Bishop Mark invited Isaiah Furquan (one of five young adult emcees for the Dome events) to lead the largest “Lutheran wave” on record. As Isaiah stood on the stage, he raised his hands, uttering the name of Jesus, and leading the “wave” to flow from the stage outward across the floor of the Dome and up into the three balconies---38,000 Lutheran youth and adults with arms lifted to Jesus…..and then as the wave “reversed” and we sat down, we uttered “Justice”….a wonderful blending of words-and-deeds.
Having shared a few concerns about the Gathering in previous posts, I want to conclude this blog entry with my own retrospective on why Gatherings like this one are so important in the life of Christ’s church:
1. Gatherings are times to experience the unity and diversity of our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Kids realize that they’re part of a much, much larger family of faith.
2. The 2009 Gathering put service on the map in an unprecedented way. Rather than making service projects “optional,” this Gathering opened the door for EVERY participant to spend a good part of one day in meaningful, useful service in the city of New Orleans and environs. This Gathering, no doubt, changed the DNA for future Gatherings—service will be front-and-center as we look to the 2012 Gathering and beyond.
3. Much of the value of attending a national youth gathering happens in the smaller-group settings, especially among the youth and adults who prepare, travel together, and hang out in counselor groups from our congregations. I’m confident that some of the Christian formation that I would have liked to see happen more openly at the Dome events WAS happening in the daily interchange among youth and adults from local congregations.
4. Although I would have liked to see ALL the evening speakers articulate a self-consciously Christian basis for their good work in God’s world, they did illustrate well the down-to-earth nature of the life that Christians are called to live. In a sense, there were hardly any “big name” speakers at this Gathering….but all of the speakers were “walking the walk” before they talked the talk in the Dome.
Looking ahead to future Gatherings, here are some of my hopes and dreams:
1. Name the name of Jesus at every turn. Tell the story of Jesus again and again. Center every word, every exhortation, every encouragement in the lavish, grace-filled life that Jesus brings. Raise up followers of Jesus who ground their justice-making, loving, serving discipleship in the life, death and resurrection of the Savior. Don’t assume that everybody already “gets” that.
2. Get the Bible back up on the stage at every evening mass-gathering. Crack open the Book of Faith at every opportunity. Marinate youth and adult leaders in the Word of God.
3. Respect young peoples’ desire to be challenged, not only to serve God and their neighbors….but also to realize why Christ-driven life is distinctive and appealing. Seize this golden opportunity to teach young people how to speak the gospel to their peers.
4. Look harder for Lutheran disciples who can speak at mass-gathering events. They’re out there—how hard are we looking?
Thanks for following these daily posts from New Orleans. Thanks be to God for this 2009 Youth Gathering and everyone who made it happen!