By Vicki Biggs
When participants converge on New Orleans in July 2016 for the LCMS National Youth Gathering, they will be meeting under the theme “In Christ Alone.”
Gathering planners met Jan. 20-21 in New Orleans — working in a hotel conference room under the shadow of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome that will host the Gathering’s group events — to begin the creative process that would lead to the development of the theme.
As the group approached their work, they “took some time to consider the LCMS ‘Stand’ triennial theme first,” said the Rev. Mark Kiessling, associate director of LCMS Youth Ministry and director of the Gathering program. “We also spent time in Scripture around the theme of ‘Stand,’ participated in a Bible study presented by the Rev. Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, the Gathering’s theological adviser, and reviewed Gathering history and trends in youth culture as we approached the work.”
(To read a Reporter story about the Synod’s triennial theme ‘Stand,’ click here.)
The theme sets the foundation for the Gathering, Kiessling said. “After looking at the ‘Stand’ theme, what stood out was how we stand in Christ only because of what He did for us. That’s the only way any Christian can stand.”
Planning for Gathering programs and activities will begin later this summer. Guiding that work will be a focus on what Gathering participants will learn and take away from the event.
“In a world which makes many statements about what we stand for or against, we hope Gathering participants will hear the clear proclamation that it is in Christ alone that we are able to stand,” said Kiessling.
Pointing out the significance of the Synod’s ‘Stand’ theme and the connection the Gathering theme has to it, Kiessling continued, “‘Stand’ certainly points to the Reformation and what we hold on to as Lutheran Christians in our everyday faith. As we reflect on the great blessing to the church that was the Reformation, we can rejoice that almost 500 years later, we are still gathering together as God’s people. We look forward to the Gathering connecting to other churchwide initiatives and activities planned for the milestone year of 2017.”
As is custom following development of the Gathering theme, a thematic and scriptural study will be produced. Lehenbauer, who is executive director of the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations, will oversee that work. When finalized, the study will be available for download on the Gathering website at lcmsgathering.com.
During the theme-planning meeting, Lehenbauer reminded participants “not to forget about Jesus — as obvious as that sounds. Jesus comes and ‘stands’ among us as our risen Lord and Redeemer (John 20). Because He stands, we stand — now and forever. Despite countless challenges, we confess with Job: ‘For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth’ (Job 19:25 ESV).”
Participants in the theme development included leaders from LCMS Youth Ministry, volunteers who have worked with the Gathering in the past, youth-ministry practitioners and four students and an adviser from Concordia University Nebraska, Seward, Neb.
Mary Elizabeth Leising, a sophomore at Concordia majoring in accounting with a minor in biblical languages, was one of the college students taking part in the theme development. She said, “I love the emphasis on the Gospel that it is Christ alone who is holding us up. This is phenomenal.”
The LCMS National Youth Gathering is set for July 16-20, 2016.
Vicki Biggs is director, Public Relations, for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.