I’m here in Detroit experiencing the 2015 Youth Gathering from a different perspective – as a Hotel Community Life Volunteer.

From this vantage point, I can see up close how many people it takes to put something of this magnitude of this,  and how hard everyone works and how committed they all are to make this an event that can provide life changing, faith growing opportunities.

Note we aren’t making the event life changing.  We aren’t trying to manipulate the attendees to react in a certain way or conjure up a certain set of emotions.  We are working together to provide the resources and create a space where young people (and their older chaperones) can come together in community, see Jesus in new ways and places and respond in joy and faith.

There are always going to be criticism of these events.  And they aren’t for everyone.  But they are for more than you think.  Don’t like crowds?  There’s space here for introverts.

But there is one criticism I will fervently dispute.

The ELCA Youth Gathering is most certainly NOT about a theology of glory.

We would not be here in Detroit if it were.  We’d be somewhere there are beaches and amusement parks.  We wouldn’t be dancing and singing and high-fiving strangers in colorful T-shirts through a nearly abandoned downtown.  We wouldn’t be standing in the sun waiting hours for buses to take us to work sites to do real work that people in Detroit have asked us to do.

It’s not about glory.  It’s not about mountaintop experiences.  It’s about rolling up our sleeves and walking in accompaniment with neighbors we don’t always see in our hometowns.

Theology of glory?  I don’t think so.  One of the best bible studies on the Theology of the Cross written for any age was part of the preparation materials.

Detroit is struggling to handle these many people.  There have been some real logistic issues.  Of course.  Detroit is not a wealthy city with a well-oiled mechanism to deal with big business and tourist conventions.  And that is why we are here.  We are here to serve, not to be served.

Theology of Glory?  Mountain top experience?  Not all.  But there are emotional moments.  But those come not just from the loud and dance-inducing music or inspiring speakers. My most emotional moment?  When the waitress at my hotel asked when we were picking up the donated diapers so she could bring some in to donate on her next shift.

Rise up ELCA.

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About The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson

The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson has been Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA for the Northeastern Iowa Synod since late 2013. Part of her job description is to help leaders and congregations use social media and other digital means for outreach and mission. She writes and edits this blog as well as runs the social media accounts for the synod.

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