ReconcilingWorks to provide education for 35,000 youth to practice peacemaking at the ELCA National Youth Gathering

ReconcilingWorks to provide education for 35,000 youth to practice peacemaking at the ELCA National Youth Gathering

For the second time, ReconcilingWorks has been officially invited to participate in the National Youth Gathering of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), to be held July 18-22 in New Orleans. ReconcilingWorks will engage youth in support of the gathering’s theme: “Citizens of the saints.”

With the expected participation of 35,000 teenagers and their adult chaperones, the National Youth Gathering is the largest event organized by the 4.2 million-member church and is meant to help in the faith formation of its younger members.

ReconcilingWorks staff members Tim Feiertag, Kurt Neumann, Emily Hamilton, and Travis Van Horn will represent the organization at the gathering. They will host two anti-bullying workshops and staff an interactive booth in the convention center hall, where gathering participants can learn about how faith compels believers to speak out, bringing their Lutheran voices to bear on societal problems and exercising their faith through witness, education, and action.

As part of the gathering’s “Practice Peacemaking” sub-theme, ReconcilingWorks will facilitate two workshops developed and conducted by the Pacific Violence Prevention Institute, called “The Ally Inside You.” These workshops will use video, facilitated discussion, and role-playing exercises to prepare participants to change from bystanders into effective allies by teaching them the skills to intervene effectively in acts of bullying and harassment that they witness. 

Travis Van Horn, serving a summer internship with ReconcilingWorks, attended the previous youth gathering as a high-school student and said he feels he can relate well to this gathering’s participants.

“I want to get across that there is a place for people of all sexual orientations and gender identifications in this church,” said Van Horn.

He explained that youth gatherings help young people see that their voice in the church is more powerful than they realize. This can allow them to take a leadership role in changing attitudes. “When they say something, it gets listened to a lot more than the average church-goer,” he said.

Held every three years, Youth Gatherings bring together ELCA teenage members, adults, volunteers, and other Lutherans from around the world for leadership development, faith formation, service opportunities and more.

“I want young people to return to their congregations as leaders, demonstrating what they’ve learned and possibly igniting the whole congregation’s imagination” for mission, Heidi Hagstrom, director of the gatherings, told the ELCA news service. She added that that this gathering is also about justice and love.

The Rev. Mark Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, is one of the gathering’s keynote speakers. His address to the youth will come soon after his July 7 keynote speech to the ReconcilingWorks assembly in Washington, D.C., a historic first. In that speech, Bishop Hanson commended the organization for “providing essential leadership in the ELCA’s anti-bullying commitment, helping us to make sure that commitment is more than just words in a resolution, but occasion for awareness and action, repentance and healing.”