Monthly Archives: July 2015

ELCA Youth Gathering 2015: Media Coverage and Heitz-Squad Posts

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Want to read up on the ELCA Youth Gathering 2015 in Detroit?  Below are links to all of the ECT (Edgewater Congregations Together) Daily Blog Posts during the trip, a link to the ELCA Youth Gathering youtube channel with videos of speakers, worship, etc. from the Youth Gathering, and some media coverage of the Youth Gathering.

ECT blog posts from the ELCA Youth Gathering 2015:

Travel Day: Meet the Heitz-Squad

Day 1: Intro to Detroit and the Youth Gathering

Day 2: Proclaim Community

Day 3: Proclaim Justice

Day 4: Proclaim Story

Final Day

Here is the youtube channel for the ELCA Youth Gathering with highlights from the event (speakers, music, etc):
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLD2BE6D47D7169CB5

News Coverage on the ELCA Youth Gathering:

Wondering about the hundreds of buses in and around Downtown Detroit Starting Today: Crain’s Detroit

Why Downtown Detroit ‘Looks like a skittles factory exploded’: Deadline Detroit

How Our Reader’s Quip Became a Lutheran Event Hashtag: Deadline Detroit

Detroiters Embrace Visiting Lutheran Teens for ‘Your Good Work for Our Area’: Deadline Detroit

30,000 Lutheran volunteers spread positivity through Downtown Detroit: The Michigan Chronicle

Focus: HOPE leads massive effort to clean blight from Detroit neighborhoods, volunteers needed: WXYZ News

Lutheran Teens Help With Large Diaper Drive: Detroit News

30,000 Lutherans Blanket Detroit to Volunteer, Worship: USA Today

American Christianity Has Been Hijacked: Huffington Post

5 Things We Learn About Lutherans From their Youth Event: Deadline Detroit

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Guest post at Presbyterian Outlook: “It’s Time to Talk with Youth in the Church about Racism”

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Today I am guest blogging over at Presbyterian Outlook: “It’s Time to Talk with Youth in the Church About Racism”

“Last October, I returned home to Chicago after marching with hundreds of other clergy and community members in Ferguson, Missouri, and sat down with my youth (who are mostly youth of color) to discuss what was going on in Ferguson and around the country.

Toward the end of the discussion, I asked if any of them had experienced racial profiling or knew someone who had. Whether it was a story about how a family member gets pulled over in his car even when he isn’t speeding, how a neighbor was stopped and frisked while she walked to the soccer field, or how a mom begs her son not to wear a hoodie on his head when he leaves the house – almost every youth of color in the group had something to say.

While it was difficult to listen as they shared their experiences and fears, these stories are not new to me. As a youth pastor in Chicago, I’ve heard many like them throughout the past several years…”

To read the rest, click here.

Final Day at the ELCA Youth Gathering: Heitz-Squad Style

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Today was our final day at the ELCA Youth Gathering in Detroit. We had breakfast and then checked out of our hotel before we headed to the Ford Field for our closing worship.  And we FINALLY got the chance to sit on the floor for a mass gathering!

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During worship we sat with our friends from Luther Memorial Church (which is in Lincoln Square in Chicago).  We participated in a powerful worship service led by an amazing gospel choir and the presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton.  The theme for today was Rise Up to Bring Hope.  Ending the service with communion with 30,000 teenagers from all across the world and from many different backgrounds and walks of life who are inspired to rise up to proclaim good news to the world definitely brings me hope!

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After the service, we got to try Detroit’s famous Coney dog at Coney Island…

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And we cooled down with a little gelado.

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Then we headed back to the hotel and took a nap before we got on our Amtrak train.  The trip home was much more quiet than the trip to Detroit on Tuesday!

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The ECT youth had an incredible time in Detroit this week!  They were pleasantly surprised to find out that Detroit was not the city they had heard about in the news and had expected it to be.  Rather, they had encountered God there and found the city to be full of wonderful people, so many great things to do and see, and so much hope.

This week, the Heitz-Squad had the opportunity to get out of the city and neighborhoods they are familiar with and experience a new city, new culture, and new food. They met new friends from around the country and (some even across the world) and saw old ones from the synod.  They developed very close relationships with one another, worshiped in new meaningful ways, and learned about systemic injustice that is still oppressing so many people around our country and across the world.  They went out of their way to care for one another, they had deep and thoughtful conversations about important issues of injustice, they rose up together to lead hundreds of their peers in proclaiming Jesus’ good news, and they talked about how they wanted to continue rising up to proclaim justice when they return to Chicago.

On our Proclaim Story Day yesterday, we were asked to think about and write down the people who have helped us encounter God.  I very honestly wrote down each of these youth.  They are such a blessing to me, to one another, to our congregations and neighborhoods, and to the world!

Here is a reflection by Val from Ebenezer Lutheran Church:

My experience in Detroit was very unique and interesting. Seeing about 35,000 Lutherans together made this trip unforgettable. I have never been to Detroit before, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect while we were driving there. Another thing that was unforgettable was some of the neighborhoods. Abandoned houses, abandoned buildings, and abandoned lots. It was very interesting learning the history as to why these areas and buildings were the way they were. I didn’t see what I thought I would see: the “bad” side of Detroit. I saw the new, hopeful and good side of Detroit. I hope and plan to visit again sometime.

Here is an update from Ngbarazere from Unity Lutheran Church:

This trip gave me a synopsis of the providence radiating everywhere. I realized that ignorance to your surroundings contribute to power imbalances which ultimately leads to poverty, violence; sin. But even within the chaotic catastrophes, I realized that God helps motivate and guide those who recognizes unfortunate events only as obstacles to overcome. Detroit resonates a virtue of hope. It reeks of the smell of vitality, and contagiously affects all in it’s perimeter. If I’m ever searching for a deep sense of hope, I will flip through the recollection of memories experienced in Detroit.

Here is an update from John from Immanuel Lutheran Church:

Detroit: it was one of the best weeks in my life. I met loads of people and heard and saw some of the most inspiring things in my life. The speeches brought people to tears and the music brought people to their feet.  Hearing the stories of the speakers and the people we were helping out encouraged me to want to help out loads more in Chicago when I get home. Also, just being able to have fun with my friends and play around in the COBO center was great.  It was all an amazing experience, and I could not imagine being the same person in the future without this event being in my life. I can’t wait for Houston in 2018!

And here is a reflection from Maku from Unity Lutheran Church:

Detroit was an amazing experience and I can proudly say it was one of the most amazing experiences in my young life. We got to meet cool people, eat great food, see new sites, and meet in mass gatherings on the nightly basis. And I believe Detroit has given our group and the whole ELCA a deep bond with one another. I believe people were motivated to do God’s work as well back in their hometown. And most importantly, we’ve learned that in order to exceed in God’s work, we have to bear burdens, build bridges, break chains, and bring hope. The ELCA has been amazing and without it I think I would be a completely empty person without the feeling of God’s love.

Day 4 of the ELCA Youth Gathering: Proclaiming Story – Heitz-Squad Style

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The theme for day 4 of the ELCA Youth Gathering was Rise Up to Break the Chains that keep us from being reconciled with God and reconciled with our neighbors.  This day was also our Proclaim Story day, where we gathered with the rest of the Metro-Chicago synod to explore how God is in our story and how God is in the stories of others.

Before our Proclaim Story event, the Heitz-Squad began the day with our “first 15” discussion and prayer time and had a little free time in the Cobo Center.  At 10:30am, we met up with Luther Memorial Church from Lincoln Square neighborhood in Chicago and made posters and prepared for a rally.  After posters were made and parts of the rally were assigned and practiced, we headed to Hart Plaza to gather others in our synod for the rally.

At 11:30am, ECT (Edgewater Congregations Together) youth Boyosa and Ngbarazere began gathering the group by playing their djembe drums.

At 11:45am, Ngbarazere (ECT youth) and Noah (Luther Memorial youth) started the rally by leading the group in singing Wade in the Waters.

Then Ngbarazere and Noah continued:

“We come together this afternoon as followers of Jesus and as members of the human race to find, with one another the strength to join our God in bringing reconciliation, peace, and justice in this world.  We come here this afternoon as a response to our call from the prophet Micah to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.  We come here this afternoon because Jesus – our God – who came into this world in the flesh as a brown-skinned refugee, came proclaiming good news to the poor, bringing release to the captives, giving sight to the blind, and letting the oppressed go free, and he calls ALL of his followers to do so, as well.

Today, the Klu Klux Klan is participating in a rally in South Carolina, protesting the removal of the Confederate flag – a symbol of hate and inequality.  However, while the KKK is brining about a message of hate this afternoon, we are here raising our voices with thousands of others around our country who are participating in counter-rallies today, bringing about a message of love.

And not only are we gathering together today for this rally to counter the hateful message of the KKK, but we are also rallying together because the KKK rally is connected to a greater problem in our country.

From the multiple incidences of racialized police brutality in Ferguson, Baltimore, Cleveland, McKinney, Texas, Detroit…. to the high numbers of people of color being imprisoned throughout our country for small offenses, to the horrific shooting of nine of our black brothers and sisters during a prayer meeting at mother Emanuel AME Church because of the color of their skin, to the intentional burning down of at least four black churches since the shooting: we are reminded that the sin of racism still prevails throughout the systems of our country.

On June 23, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood in front of almost 30,000 people just a few steps from here at the Cobo Center.  There, he proclaimed: “I have a dream: that one day all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing with the Negroes in the spiritual of old: Free at last!  Free at last!  Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

So today, we come together as the body of Christ to confess of this sin of systemic racism and to confess of our own participation in and benefits from it.  We come here to denounce this evil sin and to repent of it, asking God to help us turn away from it.  We come here mourning the loss of the nine beloved children of God whose lives were taken away from them during a prayer meeting and we come here mourning with ALL of our brothers and sisters of color who live in fear today because racism still exists.

We are rallying together today because what hate burns down, love builds up.  And no matter the message we hear from others around our country, we are here to boldly proclaim that black lives DO matter to God and they DO matter to us.”

They read scripture and led us in confession and prayer, and then we sang “We Shall Overcome,” ending with the verse “We’ll walk hand in hand” as we held hands.

Then everyone processed to the Masonic Temple following the cross. There were at least 200-300 people.  During this 45 minute march, Ngbarazere and Noah led the group in chants and Kalleb (ECT youth) led the group in singing freedom songs.

This was such a powerful action.  People we passed by during our march honked at us, nodded at us, or cheered, and some people even sang along with us.  After the action, a few youth who participated in the march thanked our group for providing them with an opportunity to participate in this march.  They even expressed interest in organizing with our youth around issues of injustice in Chicago.

I am so darn proud of these youth for rising up and leading hundreds of their peers in this action of proclaiming justice!  I am so blessed to experience God incarnate through their witness!  They are such an inspiration to me.

During Proclaim Story Day at Masonic Temple, we heard people’s stories and explored and shared our’s with one another.

Then we treated ourselves to a great meal at Rub BBQ Pub.

 After our meal, we went on a walking tour of downtown Detroit led by Kingdom Detroit.

 And then we headed back to Ford Field for our evening mass gathering.  There, we heard inspiring stories about breaking the chains of depression from Rozella White – the ELCA program director for Young Adult ministry, of breaking the chains of homelessness from Veronika Scott – the founder of the Empowerment Plan in Detroit, and of breaking the chains of child poverty from Civil Rights Activist Marian Wright Edelman.


 

Here is an update from Maku, an eighth grader from Unity Lutheran Church:

Our theme of the day is to break chains.
As we entered Saturday of the ELCA youth gathering, we had more of a slow paced day. We did a lot of speaking with God and with one another, and we had loads of great food. Starting in the morning, we left our hotel around 7:55 and gathered in the Cobo center to eat a casual breakfast, such as muffins, orange juice, and breakfast sandwiches.  We then broke off and had a little bit of free time followed by a counter rally to proclaim racial justice and equality. And the rally was great!  There was music, speeches, and loads of marching. We then finished our rally and met with our Chicago synod to gather and do faithful interactive activities. We left the synod around 3:00 PM. Then we went to a restaurant that was famous for their signature slim shady burger. As we finished the meal we headed to the Hart plaza and went on a walking tour of Detroit. We then went to the mass gathering where we worshiped and I witnessed very powerful speakers, mind blowing performances and got to see Skillet perform live!!

So God’s lesson to break chains has been a powerful message because it allows us to go and understand one another and in a sense it reminds me of breaking restrictions from temptations and sins and allow us to be close to each other.

And here is a reflection from Katie, a freshman from Ebenezer Lutheran:

Today we experienced Jesus in our midst through protest. We marched across Detroit; signs, cross and bullhorn in hand, we proclaimed God’s love for every man, woman and child, regardless of the color of their skin or the content of their character. It was a very hot day and some of us marched having forgotten to bring water or not having eaten enough. However, we were paid back for our hard work and dedication after arriving to a well air conditioned mosque and experiencing God through worship. And, for those of us who were hungry, we were rewarded with a nice lunch at a barbecue restaurant where we connected with our friends from Luther Memorial. God rewarded us for proclaiming his love and faith today and I consider that to be the highlight of my day.

Day 3 at the ELCA Youth Gathering: Proclaim Justice – Heitz-Squad Style

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Salaam. Peace be with you.

The theme for day 3 at the ELCA Youth Gathering was: Rise up and Build Bridges.  We talked about how bridges help bring those who have been disconnected (because of differences, inequality, ignorance, or fear of the “unknown”) together.

This was also our day to Rise up and Proclaim Justice, and we were assigned to painting and cleaning a congregation in the city.

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The Heitz-Squad found this to be a very powerful day.  During our reflection time after the project, many of our youth said it was really neat to get to know our hosts at the church and learn from them. Our youth thought the church was doing great work in the neighborhood, but they were also very sad to hear the church didn’t have much money to continue running a food pantry or do other outreach projects they wanted to do for the numbers of homeless in the community. As we drove through Detroit, our youth were also shocked and sad to see so many abandoned houses and even some boarded up homes that were clearly being occupied.  As one youth, Boyosa, said: “It made me really appreciate what I do have and helped me realize I don’t need all the things that I sometimes wish I had.  I feel like I need to give back to others more… because I can.  And that is why I worked so hard while we were at the church.  I wanted to give back.”

After our final project, we went to the Renaissance Center for some free time (and of course more dancing) and then we headed to New Parthenon in Greektown, where we enjoyed a wonderful Greek meal, which included flaming cheese!

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The mass gathering had incredible speakers, including Rev. Rani Abdulmasih, who talked about how “God – through the Gospel – has given us the ability to act” and Sarah Funkhouser, who talked about her time as a volunteer working with Palestinian children in the West Bank.  Rev. Steve Jerbi, the final speaker, addressed racial injustice and said: “we claim Jesus because he is the one who can eradicate racism and bring us to the place where we can join in that work… Jesus’ holy love is not just sitting back and allowing others to do something.”

A Motown group (which included two of the Temptations) brought the house down.  It was fun to see 30,000 Lutheran teens getting down to Motown in the Ford Field in downtown Detroit!

Throughout the night, the Heitz-Squad stood and cheered, whooped and danced.

They were brought to tears about the injustice they heard and brought to inspiration to rise up with others to address it.  I am so very proud of each and every one of them as they continue to process and discuss what they hear and how this is going to lead them to take action when we get back to Chicago!

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The final song was incredibly powerful: Ford Field was filled with the sounds of youth singing together and lights twinkling from their phones that they were waving in the air:

“Love can build a bridge.  Between your heart and mine.  Love can build a bridge.  Don’t you think it’s time?  Don’t you think it’s time?”  This brought me to tears, as I sat there next to the youth I care so deeply about in the midst of 30,000 youth from around the country and world.  It was there where I experienced resurrection: while this world is full of so much hate, this generation of youth coming together to rise up and condemn systemic evils of hunger, racism, and inequality, and proclaim justice gives me hope that we will one to break down those walls of injustice.


Praise be to God!


Here is a reflection from Steve, a ninth grader from Immanuel Lutheran Church:

“Today was a great day. It was a day of service and justice work and of building bridges. Building bridges is where we help one another and bear another’s burdens and help build bridges between people to stop racism, sexism, and all sorts of other things. Today we did lots of service work throughout the neighborhoods of Detroit.  We did lots of work with a Baptist church in Detroit with not lots of money and only 25 members. We helped paint the outside and inside walls and we helped clear out debree (which there was a lot of) to help make the church better and cleaner.

We learned that there are some great people in Detroit who really need our partnership to help make Detroit a better community. After the service work and justice day we had our mass gathering. This was probably the best one we had yet. The speakers were terrific especially this one pastor at the end who told a story about one of his youth being shot and killed. It was very emotional and it almost made me cry. At the final song everyone was very energetic and motivated and it was the best song of the gathering. Overall today was a great day of building bridges, service work, and rising up.”

And here is an update from Boyosa, a senior from Unity Lutheran Church:

“The ECT youth gathering never ceases to amaze me. Sadly, I had arrived two days late and I was told that I had missed the fun days and the rest was not going to be as exciting, but I beg to differ. Today was really a terrific day and a night to remember. I have met so many wonderful people. Each individual had a different background and a different story to tell. Though different we may be, I have never felt so much love in my entire life. I am having a fantastic time and I really can’t wait to see what these next couple of days have in store for me.”

Day 2 of the ELCA Youth Gathering: Proclaim Community Heitz-Squad Style

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Day 2 of the ELCA Youth Gathering was a wonderfully informative day. We began with our “first 15,” which included a Bible study and discussion, exploring the theme for the day: “Rise up and Bear Burdens.”  The rest of the afternoon, we proclaimed community in the interactive center at Cobo.

There, we visited the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service center, where we learned what life is currently like for the 65,000 children and youth from Central America who have sought refuge in the U.S. and wrote post-cards to them.

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We learned what it is like to be a refugee from South Sudan at the Lutheran Disaster Response center.

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When visiting the Peace not Walls center, we met our new friend, David, a Palestinian high school senior from the West Bank, who talked to us about the plight of Palestinians and shared with us personal stories.

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And we learned a little about race in the U.S. and made commitments to work for racial justice.

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Along the way, we ran into a few people…

ELCA Metro-Chicago Synod Bishop Wayne Miller

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ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton

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Ngbarezere and Kalleb were even interviewed by someone from The Lutheran magazine!

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We had some fun, too.

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We went back to the Renaissance Center this evening to do more dancing. Then we headed to Ford Field for our mass gathering, where we rocked out to some awesome music and were inspired by spoken word.  We heard from Luther Seminary professor, Eric Barreto, who talked about how God created and loves our differences and how diversity is the place where God acts most powerfully.  And we heard from Alexia Salvatierra, who talked about the unjust American immigration system and shared powerful stories about the child/youth refugees from Central America. We also had a fun surprise: where Maku and John were featured on the big screen at the mass gathering!

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Here is a reflection from Kalleb, a senior from Immanuel Lutheran Church:

“Day 2 was amazing. We learned about burdens and how burdens should be shared and not kept in. We came to realize that if burdens are shared with others, they will be lightened.
I enjoyed the dance today, where Val and I danced in front of many of the youths. It was great meeting so many people from different parts of the country and world.  At ford field, it was amazing listening to spoken word, music, and inspirational speeches. I look forward to tomorrow and I’m loving Detroit. #RISE UP”
And here is a reflection from John, a ninth grader from Immanuel Lutheran Church:
“Today was the day we learned about bearing burdens. We were told burdens are basically like carrying a heavy weight on your back but instead it’s carried in your heart.  And we heard a few stories on how those burdens came into people’s lives: like when four citizens destroyed the roof above them to get the paralyzed man to Jesus or when some guys were trying to immigrate to America. But then one got very ill, which made him more of a burden for the other people. He was thirsty, he was tired, and he just could not keep up, so they left him. He was slowly dying: his dehydration was killing him until he found a small puddle. He decided to drink from it, and it turned out the water was filled with bacteria.  And he got more sick, and he just laid there to die.  Until a group of four people picked him up and carried him to a highway where an emergency car got him.  But then the immigration people got those four who helped the man, and they were deported.   But before they left, a reporter asked: “why would you risk this and turn yourselves in like that?” They said: “cause we are Christian, and Christians carry each other.”
That all ties together with what we did today: finding out what to bring if we were brought to a refugee camp and when we found out about all the kids from Central America and about people who died from the acts of violence toward people because of race.
We also heard some great music at the mass gathering, met new people, and played fun games at the cobo center. Over all, it was fun.”

Day 1 at the ELCA Youth Gathering – Heitz-Squad Style

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Day 1 at the Youth Gathering was an introduction to the city of Detroit and our week at the Youth Gathering.

We started the morning with a lesson and discussion about Detroit and its current struggles, which are symptoms of a long history of deep rooted systemic racism. We discussed how we are called to be theologians of the cross and name the reality of the evils of racism and inequality. 

I was so impressed with and proud of my youth for being incredibly thoughtful and engaged in the conversation, angry at the injustice they learned about, and passionate about having the courage when we return home to rise up together and denounce the evil sins of systemic racism and inequality in Chicago and work for justice.  

  

 The rest of the day we explored Detroit. 

               

We hung out. 

      

We did some dancing…

 And more dancing…  

And even more dancing…  

And we attended our first evening mass gathering.  

  
          

Here’s what Ngbarezere, a junior from Unity Lutheran Church, had to say:

It’s only been one day in Detroit and I am highly impressed with today’s adventure. I woke up to the delight of the prepared breakfast awaiting me and my companions. I am embarrassed to say, however, that I was glaring at the food as Emily was greeting and instructing us. 

After thirty minutes (it really felt like five minutes), we gathered on the shuttle and departed downtown. The view I witnessed was exhilarating! Canada was approximately a mile across from Detroit, the spectacular view from both sides illuminated our nervousness as soon as we stepped off of the shuttle. 

People were friendly, residents were excited, and workers were especially cheerful as the ELCA visitors swarmed their city. We visited the Cobo center, the renaissance center, and curiously peeked at the gateway to freedom slave statue. All these views were amazing and rich with memories. 

At 7:30 PM we entered the Ford Field along with 30,000 other participants from across the entire country! It was uplifting to see such a large group gather together. We sang songs, heard speakers, and learned dances throughout the entire performance. 

Afterwards we arrived back at the hotel to finish our day with pizza and a warm conversation on today’s experience. Thank you for making this all possible for us, I really enjoyed today! 

And here is a reflection from Sam, a junior from Immanuel Lutheran Church.

Today, following the first day at the youth gathering, I am simply amazed at the community and outreach of the ELCA network. There are people here from seemingly everywhere- something I was expecting, but something that’s still very impressive and, I guess, real. And they’re friendly too! The fact that just so many others are here, brings with it a real sense of purpose and capability. Because of the sheer vastness of the crowd here, I feel weirdly powerful – I feel the holy spirit. 

Regardless of what exactly is on the itenerary for each day, I’ve come to understand that we as individuals, youth groups, congregations, and churches are here together with Detroit and its people, that we are here with God to strive for social justice in all places. 

And I’m excited about that. This trip is an educational experience of an environment that is suffering, that is in need of resurrection. A place where the spirit is already present, a place where we are “waiting to catch up with the doings of Jesus,” as the keynote speaker said earlier this evening. And its great to be a part of this upbringing.

Meet the Heitz Squad: ELCA Youth Gathering Travel Day

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Meet the Heitz Squad: 10 E.C.T (Edgewater Congregations Together) youth, 2 pastors, and 2 parents from Unity, Ebenezer, and Immanuel Lutheran churches in the Edgewater neighborhood in Chicago who are attending the ELCA Youth Gathering in Detroit this week. 

 
The ELCA Youth Gathering is a 5 day event that takes place once every three years and brings 30,000 9th-12th graders from across the world together for a common purpose: to worship together, to grow in faith, and to put our faith into practice. 

The theme this year is “Rise Up Together.”  In Detroit youth will explore how we – as the body of Christ – can rise up together to proclaim the good news Jesus proclaimed to the world.  This week, we will take time to proclaim community, to proclaim justice, and to proclaim God’s story: how God is in our story, how God is in the story of others, and how those stories inter-connect. 

  
Today, before the Heitz Squad got on an Amtrak to head to Detroit, we gathered together for a commissioning service (which was developed by the ELCA Youth Gathering team.) 

During the service, we were reminded that: “At our baptism, we were claimed by God, and promises were made on our behalf. At confirmation, we claimed our faith as our own and made promises to ourselves: 

– to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper

– to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through words and deed

– to serve all people, following the example of Jesus

– to strive for justice and peace in all the earth”

As we were commisioned, we were sent out to “live out our baptism and live out these promises [in Detroit]… To go forth on our journey to experience Christ beyond [our current] place… [and that we might] return with a new commitment to serve all God’s people, follow the example of Jesus, and with new skills to be able to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.”

This is my hope for the Heitz Squad this week. 

   
 Throughout our journey, the Heitz Squad would like to share our reflections and experiences with you. Each night a few of our youth will share their reflections from their day here. 

Tonight, we begin with a reflection from Pastor Monte Johnson (from Immanuel Lutheran Church.)

“After months of preparation, planning, fundraisers and hard work, ECT youth were so excited today had finally arrived. We stood in a circle on the sidewalk outside Unity Lutheran for prayers and to be commissioned as servants of God before piling into vans to Union Station. Thanks to Rick Gustafson and Blaine Boogert for driving downtown.  

 At Union Station, we met up with youth groups from other local ELCA congregations in Evanston and Palatine. There were 38 of us in all. We nearly filled an entire Amtrack car ourselves.    

 Our hotel is right near the Amtrack station in Detroit. Already, we’ve seen lots of other youth from around the country arriving. We begin tomorrow as the Gathering opens up with all community events, including a street fair, live music, climbing wall, learning experiences, information booths, and of course, the big opening convocation at Ford Field (where the Detroit Lions play). More than 30,000 youth will worship and praise God together.

 At our “final fifteen” (that is our last few minutes together before heading to our rooms for the night), enthusiasm and expectations are already running high. We’re going to have such a good week. ECT youth will grow in faith and deepen their connections with one another. We’ve already adopted a new nick-name for ourselves. We’re the Heitz-squad, named for our leader, Pastor Emily Heitzman who has poured her heart and soul into making this trip meaningful for all of us.”

  

     

“Racism, Repentance, and a Commission that Leads to Opposition” – Sermon on Mark 6:1-13

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He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. – Mark 6:1-13

I’ve always loved homecomings. When I was in high school, I looked forward to homecoming games – where I would reunite with my classmates who had already graduated and had moved away. When I – myself – moved away for college, homecomings were exciting times when I got to return to my hometown and would be welcomed by my family, former teachers, and friends as if nothing had ever changed. I especially loved homecomings while I was in seminary, when I would go back to my home church to preach and would receive so much encouragement and love from my church family.

Homecomings have always been positive and loving experiences for me.

This is not – however – the case for Jesus in our Gospel text for today.

Here in Mark, Jesus has returned to his hometown – along with his disciples – and has begun teaching in his home synagogue. And yet, while this synagogue is filled with people who knew Jesus’ family, had played games with Jesus when he was a boy, or had watched him grow up, they did not exactly respond to his homecoming with welcoming arms.

When the Nazarenes hear him teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath day, many soon become astounded… And if there was any good sense of this word, it doesn’t last very long… as the Nazarenes soon take offense at him. “Where did this man get all of this?” They soon cry out.

“Isn’t this the poor carpenter we’ve known all these years? Isn’t he the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Aren’t these his sisters sitting right here? Isn’t he the son of Mary?” they sneer as they remind each other of Jesus’ shameful origin: that he had been conceived by an unwed teenager. “How could this guy – this poor, carpenter with ordinary siblings and a mother with a disgraceful past teach us with authority? How could his teachings and his actions have any sort of power at all?”

Now our text does not say what it was about Jesus and his teachings that offended this crowd in his hometown synagogue so much that they discredited and insulted him. However, if we look back at the preceding chapters in Mark, we could probably take a wild guess.

In the first several chapters of Mark’s gospel, we see that even from the very beginning, Jesus’ ministry is not what would have been seen as ordinary.

He’s cast out demons and stilled a storm. He’s performed miracles… on the Sabbath day. He’s touched and healed the “untouchables”: the sick, a leper, a haemorraging woman. He’s called twelve disciples to follow him – most of whom are just common fishermen and one who is a tax collector. He proclaims that the kingdom of God has come near and tells those who follow him not to keep anything hidden, but to bring all their dark secrets into the light. He eats with the sinners and the tax collectors and then tells the religious – the righteous ones – to confess and repent of their sins.

He was already seen as such an offensive radical rule-breaker that by the time we get to Mark chapter 3, many of his followers say he is “out of his mind,” some of the religious leaders accuse him of being in line with Satan, himself, and even his very own family questions his abilities and rush to where he is teaching and try to restrain him.

And now here we are a few chapters and several radical teachings, actions, and miracles later. Jesus has definitely shaken things up a bit, and it’s only the sixth chapter in Mark.

And here in our text for today, after all the backlash he’s already gotten, Jesus has the nerve to come back to his hometown and to his home synagogue. And here – in the midst of the ones who’ve watched him grow up, he comes preaching this same kind of message. This same message that treats the outcasts and the untouchables as if they are equals and calls the religious and righteous to bring their dark secrets to light and confess and repent of their sins. This same message that Jesus proclaims at the beginning of his ministry in the Gospel of Luke: “I have come to bring good news to the poor, to bring release to the captives, to give sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free.”

And then he says he is a prophet!? One who speaks for God… And some say he even claims he is the Son of God? Who does this ordinary carpenter with a shameful family past think he is?

But the insults don’t stop Jesus. “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, among their kin, and in their own house,” he boldly proclaims. Then he lays his hands on a few more of the untouchables and cures them.

And then – as he and his disciples leave Nazareth and go out into the villages, he gives his disciples authority and commissions them to go out into the world vulnerably – two by two – with nothing but a staff, the clothes on their backs, and the sandals on their feet. They must rely on the people they meet to feed them and to provide them with a place to sleep. And yet Jesus tells them they must go out boldly, proclaiming that all should repent, and they must cast out demons, anoint the untouchables with oil, and heal the sick.

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Now, I don’t know about you, but if I were one of the disciples – who had just watched Jesus get opposed, insulted, and publicly shamed in his hometown synagogue, I would have probably thought quite hard about picking up all of my belongings and running in the opposite direction.

Because I’m sure it would have been very difficult for these disciples to give up their food and clothing and social status – the things they were privileged to have and could rely on for their safety, comfort, and well being. And it would have been very difficult for them to go out vulnerability and proclaim Jesus’ radical good news, with no confirmation that they could find people who would accept them and provide for them.

And I’m sure these disciples knew this event in Jesus’ hometown was not the only time this ministry of proclaiming the good news Jesus proclaimed would lead to rejection and opposition.

Because the good news Jesus brings – that God’s love, healing, and justice is for ALL, especially the most vulnerable and the outcasts – is not always good news to everyone.

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Sometimes I wonder how these disciples had the courage to follow Jesus and to go out risking so much, when it would have been much easier for them to just turn away when Jesus calls out to them, ignore the cries of those around them, and just go on living their normal every day lives, without having to face the suffering and injustice around them.

I think I wonder this about the disciples because sometimes I wonder this about myself. To be quite honest, there have been many times – particularly as I have recently become more aware of how much systemic racism still prevails throughout our country today – when I just want to pick up all of my belongings and hold tight to my own privilege. There have been many times lately when I have wanted to turn away when I hear Jesus calling me to boldly proclaim his good news and the repentance of the evil sins of racism and just pretend that it doesn’t exist.

Because this is the easier way. Because this way allows me to live in my comfortable bubble that I have the privilege of living in, it allows me to avoid any kind of shaming and opposition that those who speak out often face, it allows me to deny my own participation in and benefits from the racialized systems in our country that still privilege those who look like me while deeming those who don’t as “less than.”

Because as a white, educated, middleclass woman, I have the privilege of being able to just shut everything around me out and to live my life without fear… I can just go to my safe home – without ever being pulled over in my car and without ever being stopped and frisked on my walk home because of the color of my skin. I can come to church without fear because there isn’t a 400 year old history of people terrorizing others with my color of skin in places of worship. I have the privilege of just getting to turn off the news and going about living my own comfortable life without having to think about those around this country who have to live in fear every day.

And yet, this is not a privilege I get to have when I follow Jesus. Because this is not Jesus’ way.

Because just as Jesus called out to the twelve disciples and commissioned them to denounce their privilege and go out into the world boldly, he commissions ALL of his disciples to do so, as well. He commissions each one of us to proclaim repentance of the evil sins of systemic racism and to confess and repent of our own participation in and benefits from it. He commissions each one of us to cast out the demons of these unjust systems that privilege some while marginalizing others and to provide care for and offer healing to those who are victims of these racist systems by standing with them in solidarity.

Because those nine people who lost their lives in the middle of a prayer service at Mother Emanuel AME church on June 17th are not just any nine people who live on the other side of the country. They are nine beloved children of God, and they are nine of OUR brothers and sisters. And those members of at least 4 historic black churches that were burnt down and have been deemed victims of arson since the shooting two weeks ago, are not just those “other” church members who live across the country. They are part of the same body of Christ we are a part of. They are members of OUR church family, and we are members of THEIRS. And those black and brown children and youth in Baltimore, Cleveland, McKinney, Texas, right here in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago who get stopped and frisked and incarcerated at higher rates, who get shot and killed in a park while playing with a toy gun or violently pushed to the ground and sat on by a police officer during a pool party are not just those “other” kids and teens. They are beloved children of God and they are OUR children and youth.

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Many of you have probably already read or heard the statement from the ELCA’s presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton in response to the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church. However, no matter how many times we may have read or heard it, I think all of us need to hear this message over and over again. And so – while it is a long letter, I want to read it in it’s entirety. Bishop Easton says:

“It has been a long season of disquiet in our country. From Ferguson to Baltimore, simmering racial tensions have boiled over into violence. But this … the fatal shooting of nine African Americans in a church is a stark, raw manifestation of the sin that is racism. The church was desecrated. The people of that congregation were desecrated. The aspiration voiced in the Pledge of Allegiance that we are “one nation under God” was desecrated.

Mother Emanuel AME’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, was a graduate of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, as was the Rev. Daniel Simmons, associate pastor at Mother Emanuel. The suspected shooter is a member of an ELCA congregation. All of a sudden and for all of us, this is an intensely personal tragedy. One of our own is alleged to have shot and killed two who adopted us as their own.

We might say that this was an isolated act by a deeply disturbed man. But we know that is not the whole truth. It is not an isolated event. And even if the shooter was unstable, the framework upon which he built his vision of race is not. Racism is a fact in American culture.

Denial and avoidance of this fact are deadly. The Rev. Mr. Pinckney leaves a wife and children. The other eight victims leave grieving families. The family of the suspected killer and two congregations are broken. When will this end?

The nine dead in Charleston are not the first innocent victims killed by violence. Our only hope rests in the innocent One, who was violently executed on Good Friday. Emmanuel, God with us, carried our grief and sorrow – the grief and sorrow of Mother Emanuel AME church – and he was wounded for our transgressions – the deadly sin of racism.

I urge all of us to spend a day in repentance and mourning. And then we need to get to work. Each of us and all of us need to examine ourselves, our church and our communities. We need to be honest about the reality of racism within us and around us. We need to talk and we need to listen, but we also need to act. No stereotype or racial slur is justified. Speak out against inequity. Look with newly opened eyes at the many subtle and overt ways that we and our communities see people of color as being of less worth. Above all pray – for insight, for forgiveness, for courage. Kyrie Eleison.”

As followers of Jesus, we are all commissioned to go out spreading Jesus’ good news boldly, denouncing the evil around us and within us, and proclaiming the repentance of systemic sins until our country does in fact provide liberty and justice for ALL of our brothers, sisters, and children: Whether rich or poor. Whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or atheist. Whether white, black, or brown.

And we are all commissioned to do this even though in doing so, we will face opposition.

While following Jesus in this liberative and prophetic work is not easy, the good news is that even when we face opposition, Jesus will not leave us alone.

This season of Pentecost reminds us that we have been gifted with the Holy Spirit, who is with us always, comforting us and guiding us along the way. And that no matter what, when others – even those who are closest to us – take offense at Jesus’ good news and shame and hurl even the harshest of insults at us, we are not left without a family. We have a family right here in the body of Christ. One who will hold us, who will listen to us, who will encourage us, and who will walk alongside us as we discern how Jesus is calling us to go out boldly into the world.

So, may we have the courage to be the body of Christ. May we follow Jesus together, proclaiming his good news for ALL of our brothers, sisters, children and youth.

Amen.