Day 6: Service Learning Day at the ELCA Youth Gathering

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Yesterday was our service learning day for the ELCA Youth Gathering. So we got up (suuuper early), put our orange t-shirts on, and had our grocery bought breakfast.

But despite how early it was, we still managed to have a lot of fun!

Then we hopped on the train and headed to the NRG Center to catch our service learning bus. The train was a sea of orange!

We arrived at our service learning destination with one other church from the Metro-Chicago synod: Independence Heights Park, which is located in the national register of historic places Independence Heights, the first black municipality in Texas. We first heard about the history of the community.

Then we got to work. We repainted murals around the park.

Some of the kids attending the summer camp program at the park joined us.

When we finished our murals, we hung out and played games with the kids at the camp.

Our youth group did a fantastic job with the children! One girl, Nevaeh, had tried to make a basketball shot before but could never make it in the hoop. Our youth encouraged her and showed her what she needed to do. At one point, she said she could not do it. But our youth encouraged her, and she ended up making 15-20 baskets! Our group saw God in these children’s and encounters with them and realized that encouragement of others goes a very long way!

At the end of our service day, we headed back to the NRG Arena to have some fun at the community life center.

At dinner time, we had to walk a little ways so we could have some good Texan barbecue at Pappa’s BBQ.

Then we headed back to the NRG Stadium for our mass gathering.

The theme for this day was God’s Grace Changes Everything.

We first heard from Elizabeth Peter, who said: “No matter how you’ve been excluded, god brings you into the fold and says you matter. And there is no limit to God’s grace.”

Then we heard a powerful message from Michaela Shelley, who told her story about her own struggles and how she experienced God’s grace grace in and through them.

She said: “God’s grace isn’t just about forgiveness. It’s also about how God leads us into the person we will be. No matter how many times you may curse God, God will always love you and you will always matter. This is grace.”

We heard another powerful message from the Rev. Will Starkweather about his struggles with anxiety and depression. He said: “Our God is in business of makings beautiful people and things out of broken people and things. We are all recovering from something. There’s grace for that.

Whatever you’re carrying, you are what you: a beloved child of God.”

Finally we heard from the Rev. Nadia Bolz Weber, who explained:

“If your life really sucks right now, just know this is not your ultimate life long reality

Grace is way in which god is great heavenly composter making beautiful things out of feasies

Nobody ever becomes their ideal self. An ideal self is a lie. The truth is an ideal self doesn’t exist. The self God loves is your actual authentic self. The word for this is grace. God doesn’t wait for you to get a little better at or a little skinnier than or a little whatever before loving you. You are magnificently imperfect. And God loves this authentic you. God’s voice calls us worthy.”

She ended having the entire gathering of 30,000 youth and adults publicly renounce the Accuser… we publicly renounced ableism, heteronormativity, sexism, White Supremacy, perfectionism, and the lies we tell ourselves and hear from others.

What a powerful day! We look forward to sleeping in a bit tomorrow!

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