Last weekend I added another single thread to a Network of 954 other threads. I’m not sure why or how the image of connected threads came about before the weekend, but it did. https://vmwishes.com/2018/01/24/a-single-flame-a-single-thread/ Over the course of 4 full days, 955 of us who are involved in children, youth, and family ministry gathered to “Renew, Educate, and Connect” at the annual ELCA Youth Ministry Network event known as Extravaganza. I know I did all of those things…renew, educate, and connect.
Renewal was emotional, spiritual, and physical. Yes, despite the late nights talking and the early starts to the day, it was physically renewing. When you are uplifted emotionally and your spirit is nourished, you feel better physically too…at least I do. Renewal happened in the laughter that made the cheeks hurt, in the tears that fell, in the quiet alone moments, in the high energy times we were all together, in the singing with heart and joy, in the recognition of the wisdom, service, and dedication of those ahead of me on this journey (I can earn my invisible hockey puck at the spritely age of 76), in times of prayer, and in times of sharing stories.
Learning was non-stop. Learning happened in asking questions, in listening to the words of those with years of experience, in sharing and listening to stories that were often the same stories person to person yet different, in being inspired by the stories of those who were bold and forward thinking, and in realizing that I know what I’m doing and yet, I don’t. This is not an area of knowing 2+3=5. No, it’s more like you take some of this and add a glob of that, mix it up, add more stuff, stir it, remove a scoop and add something else…and you get…something. This is constant lab work with not a lot of controls, so learning and asking about everyone else’s settings, successes, and failures is a good thing. Maybe there’s a nugget here and something there that just might be good to have in the back pocket.
Connecting is unavoidable just by the sake of having shown up along with 954 others. We are all connected to youth ministry somehow so that’s the starting point…now, go! We connected over stories, both each others and the big inspiring stories. And the silly ones that made us laugh so hard. We connected through tears of joy, frustration, and sorrow; in breaking bread together, in praying together and for each other, through various art forms, in sharing a glass of wine, and in catching up with classmates and teachers. And that “small world” connection…Kelsey whom I met on the Gathering tour bus, she was also on my shuttle back to the airport. She works with a group of youth at a church outside Philadelphia but they go into Center City for service work. When they stay over night, they stay at the Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion. We joined that church when we lived in Center City…we were the babies then at the ages of 25 and 22. So yes, we connected in different ways, on different levels. For some, it’s a family reunion. For me it was also a chance to connect better with those who were there from my local area and region.
Maybe one of the key take aways from this weekend is not to short change young people. And we do that when we offer them just games, or ask only the easy questions, or give them only quick answers, have no expectations of them…they see the shallowness of it. Theology (the study of God) is available to everyone of every age, it just looks different across the ages…and sometimes it doesn’t. Yeah, they’re looking for that which is bigger than themselves, that which is worth the passion…aren’t we all?
The Holy Spirit was stirring, pulling, nudging, and poking all weekend. YES! This is where I belong, however poorly or clumsily things come along for now. I’m keeping an eye on my “elders” who’ve been down, are down, the road further, and the ones willing to match my steps in this beautiful muddy mess when I need them next to me.
Jacksonville, FL next year…I’ll be there to continue intertwining that thread, to renew, educate, and connect.