Among the 315 voting members at the 2017 Synod Assembly, 17 were youth voting members.
This was the first Synod Assembly for Matthias Letsche, member of Redeemer Lutheran in Waverly. It was a very positive experience for him. “It was a very unifying experience,” observes Letsche, who plans to become a pastor. “All the best role models of the church are here and I feel like I’ve really seen the church at its best.”
The sense of community and emphasis on loving and serving your neighbor are what stands out for recent high school graduate Elysa Hampton, member of St. John, Sumner. This was her 5th synod assembly.
“These experiences have shown me how I can be an influence in the church. Even though I will be leaving for college soon, I know the church will always play an important role in my life.”
The Northeastern Iowa Synod was the first synod in the ELCA to allow every congregation to send a youth voting member in addition to the two (or more depending upon size of congregation) voting members each congregation sends.
Bishop Steven Ullestad was in on making this policy back when he was on the transition team in the formation of the new synod when the ELCA was formed in 1988. Through the years, he has seen the positive effects of this policy for the youth involved and the whole synod.
“By expecting their full participation with both voice and vote, we respect the insights and faith of our youth. This experience strengthens and develops their leadership skills and the assembly is enriched by their participation,” he notes. “The generational mix of voting members benefits each of us.”
Assistant to the Bishop, Pastor Mark Anderson, has observed over the years how the experience changes and expands a youth’s view of the church and the world. “This is a transformational experience for the youth here.
They see the church in broader terms than their own congregation and what a difference they can make in the world.”
The experience is a time to make new friends and become part of a community beyond their own church and towns. All the youth are housed together. Special activities are planned, including orientation and ice breakers. They have time together to process and discuss what they have been part of during the worship, plenary and educational opportunities during the assembly.
Pastor Jenna Couch was a youth voting member several years ago. She remembers it as the experience that got her involved in the wider church and put her on the path to become a pastor. She went through the candidacy process in the Northeastern Iowa Synod and her first call was in this synod. She is now a mission developer at a new mission church in Galina, Illinois.
“It was a life-changing experience for me.”