This Changes Everything – A Word about the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering

This last week in June, nearly 80 high school youth and adult leaders from Decorah made the long trek to Houston, Texas for the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering, themed, “This Changes Everything.”

We joined with 31,000 of our closest Lutheran friends from around the country and around the world to learn about how God’s call, God’s love, God’s grace, God’s hope, and God-in-Christ CHANGE EVERYTHING for us, our lives, and the world.

This Gathering pulled no punches.

We heard testimonies from survivors of eating disorders, self-harm, and substance abuse. We heard faith-filled and prophetic words of welcome for immigrants, refugees, and neighbors of all races. We heard stories of hope from transgender youth and from young adults who have learned to see their queerness as beloved (instead of as a source of shame or condemnation).

We used baptismal language of rejecting the powers of evil, the devil, and all his empty promises, and were challenged to say out loud “I renounce them!” to racism and white supremacy, to heteronormativity and homophobia, to family separation at the border, to the pressures of perfectionism that paralyze us.

Throughout the week, the Gathering lifted up the brokenness in our world, in ourselves, and in one another, and showed us that grace is offered to us, no matter how messy it gets. God’s love and welcome for all were preached and preached again.

The message was clear: Christ crucified is a Christ who takes unto himself all the pain of our world so that we can be assured that each of us is loved, forgiven, and included in God’s wide embrace of grace.

The honest truth is that our youth face many of these issues day after day, whether we realize it or not. Our Decorah youth are not immune from anxiety, self-harm, eating disorders, questions about their gender and their sexuality, surviving abuse or addiction.

But in this week, they heard, over and over again, no matter what their brokenness or fear: “There’s grace for that.”


So here is what I am asking of you, members and friends of First Lutheran Church:

As our youth and adults return to this place, energized by their experience, embrace them with the same radical grace that they experienced in Houston.

They are going to return empowered and curious. They are going to wonder whether this congregation is able and willing to offer the sort of welcome that was preached at the Gathering. They are going to talk about issues and ideas that might be uncomfortable or downright challenging to you.

They have encountered ideas that might stretch the boundaries of your worldview, your politics, or your faith itself. 

Embrace these conversations. Listen to our youth. Hear about God’s grace in a new way. Take to heart the challenge of radical inclusivity. Take to heart the radical wideness of God’s love. Don’t close your ears to the hard conversations. Don’t close your hearts to the witness of these young people, who really do believe that God’s love and grace change everything…and that they are called by this grace to go forth and change the world.

Throughout the next weeks, we will find ways to share videos of some of the speakers with you so that we can continue the conversation.

More than anything else, I think that these youth and this Gathering will help us, as a congregation, figure out how we are being called to live ever more deeply into our welcome statement, and how we are being called to be an ever more courageous witness to God’s grace in a particularly messy world.

If you have questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact Pastor Chad, Adrian, or me. If you run into any of our youth in these next days and weeks, make a point of asking them about their experience of the Gathering. I promise that they will have a good word to share.

Grace and peace,
Pastor Melissa

P.S. For much more information about everything that happened at this year’s Gathering, visit!