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Guest blogger Amanda Nelson reports from ELCA Youth Gathering

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Today we hear from guest blogger, Amanda Nelson.  Amanda is a member of Proclaim and lives in the Saratoga, CA area.

2012 ELCA Youth Gathering: Citizens with the Saints

Amanda NelsonThe first ELCA National Youth Gathering I attended as a young person was the 2003 National Gathering in Atlanta, Georgia. There are many things I remember about that week, especially the un-godly heat and humidity; but one memory that continues to stand out to me was the professional quality of the evening program at the Georgia Dome. I remember thinking: these are great musicians, these video clips look professionally done, these speakers are really impressive people, and so on. I thought to myself: “Wow, the ELCA must really care about us youth if they spent this much time and money to provide us with such an incredible experience.”

Attending that gathering was a highly influential event in my life and certainly played a part in my discernment of a call to ministry. There was something powerful about interacting with the church in the form of thousands of youth just like me. I finally felt like I saw myself reflected in the church.

Attending the 2012 National Youth Gathering this week in New Orleans has been no less of a magical experience. It’s certainly different experiencing the gathering as a seminarian and budding minister of the church. But there was another difference which was not present when I attended the gathering in 2003: the explicit welcome and intentional empowerment of young LGBT Lutherans.

I attended the National Gathering on behalf of my school, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary. The eight ELCA Seminaries have sponsored a “Hot Spot” at the New Orleans Convention Center where students engage in a number of different programs and activities as a part of their “Practice Peacemaking” experience. The significance of a queer woman representing an ELCA seminary has not passed me by. But, there is also a booth sponsored by Reconciling Works where the youth can make a pledge not to bully others. After making this pledge, they are given a dog-tag necklace with a Reconciling Works logo on it. I have seen that necklace on countless young people as they’ve passed by my station.

But that’s not all.

In the evenings, at the Superdome, I’ve been able to attend three of the evening programs which feature incredible musicians, professional-quality video clips, and inspirational speakers – like the ones that made such an impression on me in Atlanta. But this time it’s different too. Every night, there has been a speaker that has spoken to the need for the inclusion and empowerment of LGBT people. Persons such as Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, Shane Claiborne, Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee and openly-gay, anti-bullying advocate Jamie Nabozny have spoken to this affect from the main stage of the Superdome: the one time during the week when all of the youth are in the same place at the same time. Equally amazing is the response from the young people: 35,000 young people from around our diverse nation, erupting in applause and cheers at the mere mention of LGBT inclusion.

I’ve been speechless. I’ve had tears running down my face. I’ve sat back in awe. And I’ve been so incredibly grateful that, three years after the ELCA’s decision, I have finally experienced such an explicit and enthusiastic welcome. A welcome extended to every queer-identified person in that audience, and in some ways to me. Now, not only can youth see themselves reflected in the church as I did back in 2003, but LGBT youth can see their reflections in that same church.

As I look at the youth in the Superdome and watch as they walk by my station in the Convention Center, I’m reminded of how difficult a time in one’s life adolescence is: some boys have had their growth spurts and are too tall to know what to do with their lanky limbs; some boys haven’t quite gotten their spurt yet and are doing everything they can to look bigger and older; some girls have matured physically and try to show off their physical appearance while still others try to hide what they think makes them different; pimples plague some faces while some young people seem to never have known their evil ways. This is a tough time in your life physically, which reminds me all the more of how tough it is socially and emotionally.

For all the conversations and speeches that have been made about bullying and for all the pledges that have been made: I’m no fool, and I know that there is bullying happening here at this gathering. Afterall, we’re saints and sinners. But a seed has been planted here in New Orleans. As a city that is full of hope, rebirth, and restoration, I can’t help but think that the youth of the ELCA are walking away with a little bit of all of that. And, I couldn’t be more excited.

Amanda Nelson is a student at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and will be starting her internship this fall at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Saratoga, CA. Amanda is a Candidate for Ordained Ministry through the New England Synod of the ELCA.

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