Real. Present. God.
2019 LCMS Youth Gathering
Six youth and two adults from Our Shepherd Lutheran Church attended the National Youth Gathering (NYG2019) in Minneapolis, MN. The theme for the gathering was Real. Present. God. based on Psalm 46.
We left the parking lot of OSLC on July 10. We arrived back to the parking lot on July 16. Throughout the days we were gone, God reminded us that He is the Real. Present. God.
We spent the night at Peace Lutheran church in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. It was a great place to stay with a teen room full of couches and a gymnasium to play basketball.
On July 11, we pulled out of the parking lot while the teens from Peace were arriving to the parking lot. This moment of two youth groups in a parking lot greeting each other with head nods and smiles gave us a taste of how so many different groups were flowing toward Minneapolis from around the country.
Thursday - July 11 Arrival
In the morning we went to the convention center. We registered. We received our purple backpacks, which were filled with a t-shirt, Bible, and a guide book. In the past the guide book was essential to navigate the activities of the gathering. This year the guide book was barely opened by most in our group because the mobile app was updated frequently and was always handy on a phone.
After registering, we went to the Como Park Zoo and the Como Park Pool. Even at these two local haunts we started to see many teenagers wearing matching t-shirts and Gathering wrist bands. The purple backpack nation was taking over the Twin Cities.
After our relaxing time at the pool, we went to the Hampton Inn and Suites in Downtown St. Paul to check-in. Our hotel was far away from the convention center so the gathering planners gave us some extra benefits. We received free parking next to the convention center, and also we had preferred seating in the Medtronic Club Level for all the events at US Bank Stadium. The irony is that the trip from our hotel to Minneapolis was usually less than 20 minutes. Some people were placed in hotels that required shuttle buses or riding the light rail system. The people placed in those hotels usually had a longer commute than we did.
Thursday evening we had dinner at Cosetta, which was across the street from our hotel. It is a nice Italian restaurant that serves food in a cafeteria style. This method of choosing food provided many options for our team to find something to eat. Bonus moment: my brother and sister-in-law drove in from Wisconsin and joined us for dinner.
Thursday night we experienced our first Mass Event. This is the name for each of the evening activities that took place at the US Bank Stadium. We were introduced to the Emcees, Rev. Jake Allstaedt, Emilie Stooksbury, and AJ Vega. During the event we watched Thomas Clark quickly paint a huge wall with the gathering theme. Harrison Grimes shared his struggle of asking God, "Why?" after his brother and father died. Throughout the night the event helped us pivot from asking "why?" toward looking at our moments with God's promises. God does not just provide one time answers to difficult questions, but He promises to be our refuge and strength in all moments for eternity.
The Mass Event Plus for Thursday was the TobyMac concert. He has been writing and performing it seems forever. The concert was loud, and I was reminded how I am old. We witnessed outstanding production quality and a tight set of songs mostly from his new album Elements.
Friday - July 12 - Real
We started the day with our Morning Session at 10:30am. Each day started with a Morning Session, which is a Bible study about the day's theme. The Morning Sessions and Mass Events provide bookends to full days of sectionals, recreation, servant events, and discovery. The 22,000 youth attending the gathering are broken into different groups for the morning sessions. Our slot was at 10:30am in the auditorium of the convention center. The room every morning was filled with about 3,000 youth and adults hearing a great walk through Psalm 46.
After our morning session we stayed in the room to have seats for the next event, 321 Improv. These guys were an in demand sectional everyday. Their show was hilarious, and provided our group a positive way to imagine the other sectionals being offered at the Gathering. We then went to our van to have lunch. Every day we packed a lunch, which we usually kept cold in a cooler in our van. We had been told that no outside food was allowed in the convention center. We followed the rules the first day; we ate our lunch at the parking garage. The other days we loosely followed this rule.
Each day after the morning session we determined how many sectionals our teens would attend that day and a rally point and time when we would depart for supper. The teens had lots of freedom to discover what interested them. The only boundaries to their afternoons were how many sectionals, when to meet for supper, and to stay in groups of two or more.
Dinner on Friday was at The Old Malt Shop. This a cute restaurant in St. Paul that served diner food with delicious desserts. One highlight of the menu was fried cheese curds.
The Mass Event for Friday focused on the word "Real." Ashley Paavola talked about her experience at a church plant in the inner belt of metro St. Louis. Throughout the event there was a contrast developed between the filtered world we may show people and the reality that all our lives have moments of being a broken mess. God has come to deliver us into His mercy because He knows our real lives. He is the real God we need for our real lives. Our group did not attend the Mass Event Plus concert with I am They. We were spent. I missed this mass event because one of our teens needed to visit the emergency room. All turned out well, but it was definitely a night when we were happy to be reunited as a full group at the end of the night.
Saturday - July 13 - Present
Our morning session was accomplished by podcast as we drove to the warehouse for Feed My Starving Children. At this site we packed boxes of meals that will be distributed in Haiti through Convoy of Hope. After our servant event, we ate our lunches in the van and traveled back to the convention center.
The time at the convention center for most of the teens included at least one sectional and lots of time in the recreation hall.
Our dinner on Saturday as "State Fair Food." The Gathering planners arranged for some companies that provide food at Minnesota State Fair to provide for food. Earlier in the summer we purchased tickets for the food. We had been told by some the lines were long for the food, but we found no problems walking up and getting our boxed dinners. The food was good, but not so sure it was worth $18 for a boxed dinner.
The Mass Event for Saturday night featured James Seaman and Dawit Bokre. Mr Seaman is a middle school teacher in Noblesville that was able to stop a mass shooting at his school. Our group was inspired by Mr. Seaman's story of how his faith supported him during this challenging time, along with the challenges he faced during football injuries in high school and college. Pastor Bokre shared his story of growing up in Eritrea and arriving in America as an immigrant. He is now a pastor in the San Fransisco area. He spoke of how the promises of God are present in our lives in all circumstances. No matter what is going on around us, God's presence is our refuge and strength.
July 14 - Sunday - God
The rhythm of the Gathering was becoming routine for our group. Each day we met in the leaders' room, we made lunches, wrote in our journals, and talked about the plan for the day. We then departed for the convention center for our morning session, sectionals, recreation, and strolling through the interactive center.
Our rally time for the evening activities was earlier on Sunday because we had some in our group running the 5k and some in our group traveling to Concordia University St. Paul for the Michigan District Lumberjack Experience. I drove the van of people going to the district event to the US Bank Stadium light rail station, which was also the finish line for the 5k. I then ran back to the starting line of the 5k at the convention center. Throughout the gathering I renewed friendships with people I have not seen in some time. This renewal even happened while in the queue for the race to start. I ended up standing next to Rev. Wayne Puls, my vicarage supervisor in 1999-2000. I had not seen him since our time together on Long Island at Trinity, Hicksville.
The district event included a great dinner of barbecue, ax throwing, log rolling, and a demonstration of lumberjack skills by a group of professional competitors. After the district event, we went back to the hotel to enjoy some cooling off time in the hotel pool.
The Mass Event on Sunday night impacted a number of people because of Kristin Decker's inspirational talk about surviving her experiences being bullied from 7th-12th grade. Jeff Mallinson (D. Phil., Oxford) is a professor of philosophy at Concordia University Irvine. He provided a wonderful wild ride through his exploration of the question, "Why? God? Why?" We stayed for the Mass Event Plus on Sunday evening to watch the Skit Guys.
This Mass Event delivered in a dramatic fashion the promise of the resurrection of Jesus Christ to bring life into this world. There was a dramatic presentation of Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. At the end of the scene the resurrected Christ gave hugs to people on stage whose clothing turned into radiant colors after the hug.
A meme of the Gathering also developed at the Sunday Mass Event. We were introduced to Carl so that all the teens were given the promise that God is for them and not simply for the amazing and inspirational speakers that were on the stage. There was a very dramatic voice over scenes of creation. A spotlight then appeared on "Carl," that represented a very ordinary kid. Please take a moment to watch the video of Carl.
Sunday was the last full day of Gathering events. Our buckets of joy were getting full, but we also prepared ourselves to say goodbye to this great experience.
Monday - July 15 - Sending
We checked out of our hotel and traveled to US Bank Stadium. We arrived early so that our communion distribution team could go to the orientation for how we would help in the worship service. Henry and I sat on the main floor of the stadium, and we helped lead station 19 with two people from Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church, Bronx.
The Divine Service was the same liturgy that we have at Our Shepherd. We celebrated with the words of Divine Service 4 that is in the Lutheran Service Book. God delivered His goods through the Word and the Sacraments.
The Old Testament and Epistle readings were creatively done with videos.
1 John 4:15-19 - Read by students and staff of Martin Luther High School in Milwaukee.
The Gathering Symphony and Choir did an outstanding job leading us in sacred music. President Matthew Harrison preached a sermon that encouraged us to have confidence in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. Over 28,000 people received the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ at US Bank Stadium.
After the Divine Service, we stayed in the stadium for some recap time and singing some of the Gathering's songs. The time concluded with a recap video and a reminder that we have a Real. Present. God.
We said goodbye to the convention center and stadium to make our way back to Michigan, but first we stopped at Mall of America for lunch. The two food courts at the mall provided many options for our group. This mall is massive.
On the way home we stopped for the night at Immanuel Lutheran in Valparaiso, Indiana. It was wonderful to be welcomed by our brothers and sisters in Christ on the way to the Gathering and on the way home. We experienced throughout the trip tremendous demonstrations of hospitality.
During the drive home our group completed their journals.
The list of top moments by our group at the Gathering includes:
- hanging with friends,
- Pool Noodle Hockey,
- Speakers during Mass Events,
- Escape Rooms,
- Servant Event,
- Arrow Soft,
- Getting High Fives from a guy who was handicapped,
- Session with Pastor Yonker,
- Session with Sam Dekker,
- Lumberjack Event,
- Winning $100 (great job Adam), Meeting people,
- Communion Service with Liturgy,
- Paint On White Clothes Drama at Mass Event,
- Random Encounters with Friends,
- Secretly sharing putting spoons and clothes pins
- Time with our group walking, waiting, eating, and praying
We thank God for everyone that prayed for us and for those who financially supported us on this trip. We are thankful for all the people that planned and led this Gathering. We are a stronger group because our God is Real. Present. God.