Tag Archives: #Youthmin

Day 8: ELCA Youth Gathering Closing Worship & Exploring Houston


Sunday, July 1 was our final full day in Houston for the ELCA Youth Gathering. (Yes, I’m a bit late at posting but took a much needed rest last week!)

We got up early and checked out of Wyndham Hotel.

Then we headed to the NRG Stadium for our closing worship.

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton preached and gave a big shout out on stage to our very own Lillian and Ngbarezere! They were two of six youth who met with her in early June for a text study to discuss the scripture she preached on at closing worship. In her sermon, she touched on many things these youth discussed with her. What an awesome experience for them and for her!

Then we participated in some powerful worship.

After closing worship, our group brought more beautiful energy, song, and joy to the other groups as we headed out of the NRG Stadium. I was so proud of them for this!

We had to stop and get a group photo with Kalleb, one of our young adults (and former youth group members) who was at the ELCA Youth Gathering as a volunteer for Valparaiso University. It was so great to worship with him this morning!

While most of the other groups dispersed and began their trips home, we had an extra day to hang out as a group and explore a little bit of Houston.

So we took the train downtown to grab some lunch.

Of course we received a few more Johnny and Maku selfies in our group text along the way.

And to make things even more fun, Maku started on our group chat a Holy Roast with your’s truly: Pastor Emily (PE.) I think we all know who won…

We finally made it to our lunch destination, a small local hot spot: Cajun Stop. It. Was. Delicious!

Some of us even tried new things like: fried pickles, fried gator, popcorn shrimp, crab legs, shrimp and hamburger po’boys, and gumbo.

After lunch, we stopped at the Graffiti Building and took some pics.

Then it was time for us to head to our hotel for the night, which was close to the airport. (We had to get up at 3am to make our 6am flight!)

At the hotel, we got to cool down and spend some more time with each other in the pool.

And because it was Jenny’s birthday the next day, we celebrated with a pizza party and surprised her with an ice-cream cake.

Finally, we crammed into Pastor Michael’s room and had our final check-in’s about the trip with each other. Throughout our trip and during tonight’s check ins, our youth showed love to one another and love and grace to me in so many incredible ways. Tonight was probably one of the most holy encounters I’ve experienced in my life, and it was because of these incredibly welcoming, loving young people who shared their lives and created a safe space for one another and for me to open up and share our stories and important parts of our lives with one another. Throughout this week and during our closing check-in tonight, these youth truly embodied the hands and feet of Christ as they shared, listened, encouraged, prayed, cried, sang to, hugged, held, and said “I gotchu” to one another and to me.

In a world and a country that is so full of suffering, heartbreak, and hate, it is these young people who are giving me hope for a better world and showing people like me how to follow Jesus and how to be the welcoming and loving people he calls us to be.

These young people are the Church. They are Jesus’ body in the world. As our theme for the ELCA Youth Gathering this week says: This Changes Everything!

THEY are my hope and THEY are changing everything.

I’m so incredibly grateful for and blessed by them and for/by my young adult leaders Jordan and Ngbarezere and colleague Pastor Michael Fick for accompanying me and these youth on this life-changing trip.

God’s presence has truly been made known.

May we open our eyes to see God in and through our youth, open our hearts to receive God’s grace that they share with us, and follow their lead in offering love to the world.

This Changes Everything!

Day 4: Final Day of the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event & First Day of the ELCA Youth Gathering


Today was our last day at the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event.

After breakfast, we packed our bags and headed to our closing worship.

There, Pastor Yehiel Curry from Shekinah Chapel in Chicago led us in a Libation Ceremony.

The theme for MYLE today was “ONE in Christ,” based on:

“For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it] 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.” – Ephesians 12:14-19

So Pastor Curry PREACHED about our oneness in Christ and reminded us that Christ brings down the walls of hostility that divide us.

“It is not black families alone affected by mass incarceration; we are affected by mass incarceration. Why? Because we are one in Christ.

The Virgin Islands, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Houston: ‘they’ didn’t have a hurricane; we had a hurricane. Why? Because we are one in Christ.

It is not just immigrant families being separated; we are being separated. Why?

Because we are one in Christ.”

He explained that if we want to create change, we need to start within us.

“When you change your heart, you can change your mind. When you change your mind, you can change your community. When you change your community, you can change your city. When you change your city, you can change your state. When you can change your state, you can change your nation. When you can change your nation, you can change your world.

When you can say this is my brother, this is my sister, this is my family: THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING! We are ONE in Christ.”

Pastor Curry explained that it is when we immerse ourselves with others who may look, speak, talk, and act differently than we do and get to know them, that we will begin to realize that we are more alike than we are different.

He saw this taking place at the Multicultural Youth Leadership Event this week.

Pastor Curry said last night he saw black, white, Latinx, and Asian youth dancing together. And when we can dance together, share music and fellowship and call each other a siblings, THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING!

We ended MYLE with a blessing to go out into the world and proclaim Jesus’ peace and justice for ALL people.

The rest of the afternoon was spent getting ready to head to the ELCA Youth Gathering main event.

At 2:00pm, we finally arrived at our hotel. And as we waited for our rooms, some of us swam and others watched some World Cup games.

We grabbed dinner nearby.

And then, since our hotel is in the Medical Center, we hopped on the metro rail as headed to the NRG Stadium for our first mass gathering.

With 30,000 youth and pastors/adult leaders gathering in one place, we had to do a lot of waiting… but we found lots of ways to bond while doing so!

Our first mass gathering was excellent!

We began with some fun music:

We were greeted by ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton:

And throughout the night, we heard the ELCA Youth Gathering theme: “This Changes Everything.” We also heard this evening’s sub-theme: “God’s Call Changes Everything” through multiple call stories.

We worshipped together:

And then we heard a powerful message from Bryan Stevenson, founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. (He is a widely acclaimed public interest lawyer who has dedicated his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated and the condemned. Under his leadership, EJI has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent death row prisoners, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill and aiding children prosecuted as adults.)

Bryan explained that our call is to change the world.

He explained that there are four things we need to do to change the world:

1. God calls us to get closer to the margins. There is power in proximity. We need to get close to those who are being excluded and suffering. This is how we can change the world.

2. When we see injustice we need to speak out and talk about/address our history of racial injustice.

3. We need to stay hopeful. This can be difficult because hope requires us to believe things we cannot see. Hopelessness is the enemy of justice. It holds us back from doing what we can to make change.

4. We have to be willing to do things that are uncomfortable and difficult in order to pursue justice.

He concluded: “I believe with this room full of 1000s of young people who are willing to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God, we WILL change the world.”

We concluded the gathering with more worship.

There is something s powerful about singing “This Little Light of Mine, I’m gonna Let it Shine” with 30,000 young people.)

We ended the evening with a lot of walking and waiting. But we found ways to make it fun!

We look forward to our first full day at the ELCA Youth Gathering tomorrow!

Guest Post at Youth Specialties: “We Still Have Far to Go”



Today I’m writing over at Youth Specialties.  (This was first posted at conversationsonthefridge.com.)

“Our silence tells our youth and families that the racist statements and beliefs of the President are normal, are true, and thus can be continued.

Our silence tells our youth of color and their families that not only are they not valued by their country and many of their country’s leaders, but that they are also not valued by us, by the Church, or even by God.

Our silence tells all of our youth and families that some people – based on skin color and/or country of origin – are superior to others.”

Click here to read the rest.

Guest Post at Conversations on the Fringe: “Youth Ministry and the Problem Of Shitholes



Today I’m blogging over at conversationsonthefringe.com:

“And as leaders in the church who work with youth, as Christians, and as members of the human race, we have a responsibility to call out racist stereotypes, words, actions, and beliefs for what they are and to denounce them… even and especially if they are carried out by our national leaders. When we do so, we begin to model for our youth how they – too – can and should call out and shut down stereotypes and racist remarks and actions, no matter whom the person is that is behaving in such a manner.

This is not a partisan issue. This is not about a political party or a particular politician. This is about the evil and harmful sins of racism and white supremacy. And they must be shut down.”

You can read the rest of the post here.

“Welcome One Such Child. #WelcomeRefugees. A Call to Radical Hospitality” – Sermon on Mark 9:30-37



They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” – Mark 9:30-37

Her name is Diana. She is four years old. And she has traveled with her mother and father, who are Christians from Damascus, Syria, for 15 days, mostly by foot to get to Germany. Every night, they sleep on the streets – in the cold and sometimes in the pouring rain. They have made it to Hungary, but the Hungarian police want the families to board a bus and be taken to a detention camp, where refugee families are crammed together behind fences and sometimes even inside cages. One Hungarian detention camp has been known for its police officers to throw food to the families in the cage. One reporter described this scene: it is “like feeding animals in a pen.” Some of the families decide they will try to run away so they can avoid the detention camps and continue their journey toward Germany. But Diana’s mother, Rowa, knows they would likely be chased by police officers and in their condition, they wouldn’t make it very far. Since Diana has become ill and has come down with a terrible fever, her parents decide that while they have come so far and are so close to safety and freedom, they have no other choice than to get on the bus with their daughter, and be placed in a camp. And so now four-year-old Diana, who has not been welcomed in her own home country of Syria, who is not welcomed to make Hungary a place to call home, is now not allowed to move on to a country that would welcome her as one of there own.

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

This is what Jesus said to his disciples in today’s Gospel passage in response to one of their many misunderstandings.

At the beginning of our passage, as the disciples are journeying through Galilee on their way to Jerusalem, Jesus predicts his death and resurrection for the second time. But the disciples still don’t understand. And now, after they enter the house in Capernaum, Jesus reveals that the disciples have completely misunderstood Jesus’ values and what it means to follow him as one of his disciples.

“What were you arguing about along the way?” Jesus asks them. But the disciples remain silent, because they had been arguing about who among them was the “greatest.”

Now, I can’t completely blame these disciples. You see, as is the case today, in First Century Palestine, to be deemed the greatest was based on social status: the most successful, the most wealthy, the most popular, the best educated, the most privileged. To be the greatest meant – and still often means today – to have power over others. In such a system both in First Century Palestine and 21st Century North America, it can be quite difficult for any of us not to constantly seek to be the one first in line. And when those we deem as the “others” or as the “strangers” among us enter our territories (and our homelands) and seem to threaten our comfortable lifestyles and our paths to climb the social latter, we are often tempted to demonize them and to turn them away. To deny that they – too – are made in the image of God. To refuse to recognize the face of God in them.

Yet, Jesus has a different way to greatness in mind.

And so he sits down on the floor of the home, calls the twelve to gather around him, and responds: “Who is the greatest of all? Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

For Jesus, the way to greatness is not to BE first, but to put others first. To live as servants, providing love and grace to those around us. To put the well-being and basic needs of others in front of our own wants, our sense of security, and our temptation to get ahead.

For the disciples living in First Century Palestine, this was completely radical. And it is probably pretty radical for many today, as well.

But just as the disciples begin to wrap their minds around this counter-cultural way to greatness Jesus is describing, Jesus does something even more radical.

He picks up a child, places her in the middle of the disciples, embraces her, and says: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me.”

Now to many of us, this may not sound too off-the-wall. We live in a culture that – for the most part -values children. And we know quite well that throughout his ministry, Jesus loved and embraced and surrounded himself with children. However, in First Century Palestine, children were only valued in their future, when they became adults… if they became adults – for many children never survived past their young years. In their childhood, they were considered more of a burden than an asset to the rest of the family. They were another mouth to feed and body to cloth. They were the silent ones, the least of these, those who were the outcasts of society.

So here we see that Jesus’ way to greatness is extremely radical. His path to greatness in this Kingdom of God he often speaks of is nothing like the path to greatness in the oppressive Roman Empire of his day. Jesus’ path is not about climbing the social latter and befriending and caring for only those who have something to offer us.

Rather, Jesus’ path to greatness is servanthood. It is putting our selves last so that others who’ve been last can be brought into the frontline. It is picking up and embracing those whom the world deems as the last and the least, the others, the strangers, those on the margins of society and bringing them to the center with our loving embrace. It is welcoming one such child, and thus in doing so, welcoming Jesus and the one who sent him.

It is radical hospitality.


When I first read this text early this week in preparation for this sermon, I immediately thought of our current refugee crisis, which has become the worst refugee crisis since World War II. This recent mass flight (or as some are calling it: this “refugee exodus”) to Europe has especially overwhelmed my thoughts, emotions, and prayers this past month.

It’s been beautiful to see that many around the world are offering radical hospitality to our brothers and sisters who are desperately seeking refuge. I’ve been brought to tears watching thousands of grateful refugees get welcomed by cheering Germans holding signs saying “Welcome to Germany” and while reading posts and stories from people who are urging their home countries to receive and resettle more refugees by making the hashtag #WelcomeRefugees go viral.

And yet, the stories of these families making the dangerous and exhausting trek to and through Europe and the images and videos of children sleeping in the streets, walking for days on end, and crying and pleading with officers who will not let them continue their journey toward safety: these stories and images have touched my core.

And when I saw an image that went viral of the lifeless body of three year old Aylan Kurdi who was swept up on the shores of Turkey during his journey from Syria by boat, I was brought to my knees and wept.

And to know that there are so many more stories of families we don’t hear about and faces of children we don’t see who are displaced and stuck in Syria as well as in other countries around the world – and even at our own border – because of war, violence, and poverty… This overwhelms me with grief.

Because these stories and the faces of these children are the stories and the faces of our children. They are the stories and the faces of our children and youth who are involved in Edgewater-based programs like Refugee One and Centro Romero and who play soccer and music at Edgewater’s International Refugee Day at Foster Beach every June. These are the stories and the faces of the children and youth in our communities: they are our neighbors. They live in our buildings, go to our schools, shop in our grocery stories, eat at our restaurants. And they are the stories and faces of the children and youth who enter our doors here at Immanuel Lutheran Church for worship, VBS, IYO, and ECT youth group.

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

As we hear these words of Jesus from Mark, we might also hear his words from Matthew echoing in our ears:

“for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me…Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Jesus, our Comforter, our Lord and Savior, who was once himself a refugee, calls us to this radical hospitality of welcoming and embracing the child, the stranger, the one who’s been outcast.


If you are at all like me, you might be a bit overwhelmed with this huge crisis and wonder how on earth you are to welcome those seeking refuge across the world.

While we may not be able to single-handedly fix what is happening in Europe, in Syria, and across the world, there are many ways we can respond to the international refugee crisis and provide welcome to those in need around us. (And every act is important.) For example, we can donate to organizations like the Lutheran Disaster Response, which directly helps those seeking refuge in Europe and in Syria, and we can voice our support for welcoming more refugees in our city and our country.

We can also extend our welcome here in our own community, a community that is home to so many of our refugee and immigrant brothers and sisters. We – at Immanuel Lutheran Church – already open our doors to children and youth in our community through the multiple programs and ministries we offer, and we are in the process of trying to offer more hospitality to the children, youth, and families in Edgewater – as we currently are working on opening the Immanuel Ministry Center.

And so each one of us has an opportunity to provide radical hospitality to children and youth in Edgewater right here by voicing our support and praying for our ministries and programs, donating our gifts or money to help these ministries, becoming a tutor or a leader at IYO or ECT youth group, or cooking dinner for one of these youth programs.

We can donate to or volunteer with Care for Real, Edgewater’s food and clothing pantry, which serves many new refugees in our community or we can help a new refugee family resettle in our community and help them learn English or write resumes through Refugee One, which is also based in Edgewater. We can take a few minutes to get to know the children and youth who attend Immanuel worship on Sunday mornings or one of our programs throughout the week. And in all things, we can keep the children and youth in our community, in our country, and throughout the world in our prayers and in our hearts.

Because, what Jesus said to his twelve disciples in the house in Capernaum 2000 years ago, he says to us as well:

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

May we welcome the children. May we #welcomerefugees. May we welcome the strangers and those who have been outcast. May we choose to be a people of faith who follow Jesus in this call to offering radical hospitality to our brothers, sisters, and children in need of welcome.

“Speak the Truth” – Sermon on Ephesians 4:25-5:2



One year ago today, unarmed 18 year old Michael Brown was shot at least 6 times and killed by an officer in Ferguson, MO. And throughout the year, we have become more aware that this is not a new or an isolated incident. Thousands of people from around the country (including many seminary professors and pastors from the Chicago area) are gathering in Ferguson this weekend and around the U.S. in prayer meetings, actions, vigils, and conversations about confronting and dismantling systemic racism. So I’d like to take this time right now to join with them in a moment of silence, lifting up Michael Brown, Rekia Boyd, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Ruben Garcia Villalpando, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, the nine who were killed at Mother Emanuel AME Church, and all of our brothers and sisters who are victims of racial violence and injustice.

Let’s take a few moments of silence right now.

(Moment of Silence)

God, in your mercy, Hear our prayer.


“So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” – Ephesians 4:25-5:2

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Most likely, many of us here have stated or thought this popular phrase a time or two in response to an insult or a put-down. And yet, no matter how confident we may have sounded and no matter how much we may have wished this phrase to be true, we likely walked away overwhelmed with pain from those cutting words.

As many of us have unfortunately had to learn at some time or another – words are powerful and can cut deep, creating wounds that are difficult to heal. Words can stick with a person much longer than a broken bone. They can affect one’s self-esteem. They can cause fear and prejudice and influence and inspire people to participate in actions of dehumanizing and “other”-ing an individual or group.

Words can and do divide us…

This is true in our personal relationships, in our relationships with others in the greater society, and in our relationships with others in the Church.

And as we look at our passage in Ephesians today, we can tell it was the case for the church in Ephesus, as well.

While we don’t know the specific arguments among the Christians in the Ephesian church, we do know that there had been tension throughout the early years of the Church between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians because of their differences. Because of differences between their theological beliefs and faith practices. Their diets and clothing attire. Their native languages, world-views, and ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

Outside of the Church, these differences were what kept Jews and Gentiles from marrying each another, eating together, or even associating with one another in public. And as Jewish and Gentile Christians began to worship together within the Church, it was quite difficult for them to give up their deeply ingrained prejudices against each other and fully embrace one another.

So it’s no wonder that these tensions and quarrels at some point – as we see early in the letter to the Ephesians – had gotten quite hostile. Evil words. Belittling. Dehumanizing. Excluding. Blaming the “other” while denying one’s own wrongs and privileges.

And while it’s easy for us to look at this letter and point our fingers at those first century Gentile and Jewish Christians for not being “imitators of God” – as Paul calls them to be – I think too often we can relate to those early Christians.

Because isn’t it easy for us to fear the differences of our brother’s and sister’s faith practices and beliefs, native languages or countries of origin, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and world-views?

Don’t we often expect our brothers and sisters to conform to our way of doing things and when they don’t, don’t we tend to use our words to blame, to “other,” to exclude?

And when we hear the cries of our brothers and sisters that challenge our way: that our expectations, our heritage, our traditions might actually be exclusive and even oppressive, we too often immediately and angrily shut them down and ignore them. We let the sun go down on our anger and use evil words to justify our way, because placing blame on our brothers and sisters is so much easier than admitting our own wrongs against them. Because belitting and “other”ing our brothers and sisters is much less troubling than admitting our own participation in and benefits from systems, institutions, and traditions that uplift those who look, talk, and think like us, while causing harm on those who don’t.


But the thing is, this is not the way God intended the Church to be. Throughout the first three chapters of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul explains that though the Gentiles were at one time “far off… they are no longer strangers and aliens, but are citizens with the saints and also members of the [same] household of God.”

“For in his flesh,” Paul continues, “Christ has made both [Jews and Gentiles] into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us…that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus… reconciling both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.”

It is for this reason that Paul pleads with the Ephesian Christians at the beginning of chapter 4, just before our reading for today: “As a prisoner of the Lord, I beg you,” he says, “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called… making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace… For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of ALL, who is above all and through all and IN all.”

“So then,” Paul continues in our passage for today. “Let us put away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of ONE ANOTHER.”

Let us speak the truth to our neighbors…


A few weeks ago, a PEW research study revealed that out of 29 religious groups, the ELCA is one of the two least diverse religious groups in the U.S. People in the ELCA are starting to talk and ask: Why is this the case? What does this mean and say about us as an institution and as a faith community?

Last Thursday night, presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and ELCA member William B. Horne II hosted a webcast discussion called “confronting racism” – both as a way to start addressing these questions about our denomination, as well as a way to connect these findings with the racialized structures in our country and the multiple tragedies caused by racism that have been filling our news feeds this past year. If you haven’t had an opportunity to watch this webcast, I recommend that you check it out. You can access it on the ELCA website. While this webcast is not the answer to these hard questions, it is the beginning of a crucial ongoing discussion we – as members of the body of Christ – need to be having.

During the discussion, Bishop Eaton reminded us that the white shooter at Mother Emanuel AME Church who so hatefully took the lives of nine of our black brothers and sisters was a member of the ELCA. Two of the victims were graduates of one of our ELCA seminaries. She explains: “Here we have one of our own alleged to have shot these people, two of whom had adopted us as their own. So one of the visions I would have for our church is to no longer put racism, or the racial tensions, or the racial disparities somewhere out there. Because, [racism] is in us. We have to come to grips with this.”


Let us all speak the truth to our neighbors, Paul urges us.

Yes, we must speak the truth to our neighbors… But we must also speak the truth to ourselves. We must admit, confess, denounce, and repent of the racism that does – in fact – prevail throughout our systems, our traditions, our institutions and congregations, and even within ourselves. And we need to do it over and over again.

This is difficult. This is difficult to come to grips with – let alone to confront and challenge. Our tendency as humans is to deny that some of us have – indeed – been born into and granted privilege over others. Our temptation when we hear this is to respond with anger and defensiveness. We tend to make room for the devil, let sin guide and direct our anger, and allow evil to come out of our mouths in order to place blame on the “other.”

And yet, as Bishop Eaton said on Thursday night: “the fact is: there is not equity in America and we have to be willing to take a hard look at that and come to the painful and disappointing realization that when we say at liberty and justice for all: that is not necessarily the truth for everyone. And [we] can’t get paralyzed by defensiveness or guilt. [Rather, we must] say that that is what we have inherited. That is who we are. So [the question becomes] how do we move beyond that?”


Let us put away falsehood, Paul says. And let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors… For we are ALL members of the same household, the same body of Christ. We are ALL members of one another. And when even one of our own is treated unjustly, our baptismal calling is to join and work together to call out, to dismantle, and to break down the walls of injustice – the walls of racism – that divide us and dehumanize, hurt, and kill members of our body.

“Be angry,” Paul urges us.

Yes, there are times when we need to be angry… But when our brothers and sisters cry out and speak truth to us, let us not allow sin to take over and misdirect that anger toward them because we feel defensive and overcome with guilt. Rather, let us be angry at the privilege we have been born into and have inherited. Let us be angry at the unjust systems and institutions that we often – even unknowingly – participate in and benefit from – that uplift only some while deeming others as less than.

Let us be angry at the racialized systems that have brought fear upon our brothers and sisters of color when they wear a hoodie, ride their bikes at night, drive their car, or go to church.

We must let our anger lead us to move beyond. We must allow our anger to help us acknowledge our own privilege and the narrow lens through which we see the world, give us courage to speak this truth to our neighbors, and help us to stop holding onto our privilege over others… Instead, working diligently with our own hands so as to share what we do have with those who don’t.

We must let no evil talk come out of our mouths or out of the mouths of those around us. When racist comments, jokes, and stereotypes are spoken, we must immediately shut them down. When we hear someone make generalizations about others, we must tell them to stop. When we – ourselves – begin to complain that we are sick and tired of hearing about racism in our country, we must remind ourselves that it is a privilege to be able to pick and choose when we get to talk about racism and when we do not. Because our brothers and sisters of color don’t get this same choice.

May we use our speech to build one another up so that our words may give grace to those who hear them.

May we be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another – as Christ has forgiven us – when we do fall short – because there will be times when we do.

May we be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.


As you know, three weeks ago, I took 10 of our Edgewater Congregations Together youth to the ELCA Youth Gathering in Detroit. There is something so powerful about gathering with 30,000 Lutheran teenagers from all across the world, from many different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, walks of life, and with different world views and some with different native languages, who embraced one another’s differences as they rose up together to worship God, to proclaim God’s story in their lives and learn how God is in the stories of others, to confess and denounce all forms of racial and economic injustice, and to commit to proclaiming justice and peace to the world throughout their lives.

And I will tell you, those 30,000 inspiring youth gave me a glimpse of what it could look like for us – as the Church – to be imitators of God, living in love, embracing that we are members of one another, and speaking the truth. I saw a glimpse of this as we communed together around Jesus’ table and as we raised our voices in the dark, singing with our hands waving the flashlights on our cell phones in the air: “Love can build a bridge.  Between your heart and mine.  Love can build a bridge.  Don’t you think it’s time?  Don’t you think it’s time?” 

Being imitators of God and living love, as Christ loved us, is not easy.

And yet, in those times when we feel defensive, discouraged, and ready to give up on this work, may we remember the witness of our ELCA youth who have shown us it is – indeed – possible… and powerful. May we – too – strive to lead lives worthy of our baptismal calling to build up and proclaim justice for ALL our brothers and sisters – for ALL members of the body of Christ.

And may we choose to be imitators of God, as beloved children, living in love, as Christ loved us.

Because love can build a bridge.

So don’t you think it’s time?

Finding Meaning in the Ascension: More Lessons from My Wise 6th-12th Graders



“He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father, Almighty.”

These are familiar words to many of us, as we may have recited or read these words from the Apostle’s Creed at one time or another.

However, we rarely ever talk about the Ascension. And while our church calendar extensively prepares us for Jesus’ birth, takes us through Jesus’ miracles and teachings, and emphasizes his final days on earth, his death on the cross, and his resurrection, we only get one short Thursday at the end of the Easter season to celebrate the Ascension. (And we seldom even celebrate it then.)

However, I think the Ascension is a crucial part of our Christian faith and way of life. And my 6th-12th grade youth have a lot to say about why this is.

Every year, my youth lead the Ascension Day service. Last year I wrote a post with some reflections on the Ascension that some of my youth preached about in their sermons during this service in the past few years.

As some of these wise youth said, the Ascension of Jesus must have been very difficult for the disciples, as they were just getting adjusted to Jesus coming back to live among them after he had been violently killed on the cross and then was resurrected from the dead. And now, not too long after his resurrection, Jesus ascends into heaven, leaving the disciples behind again. And as several of my youth have shared, it can be quite difficult to understand why Jesus would have left the disciples (and all Christians throughout the centuries) to live out this Christian faith without him physically present on this earth. And yet, in the midst of this confusing story, my youth have found meaning in this event, as it calls us into a particular way of life. And I think we can all learn from their reflections and stories.

As Luz, a junior in high school will say in her sermon tonight:

“I know that when Jesus’s 12 disciples had to see him leave them when he ascended into heaven, it would have been extremely confusing and hard for them. I know that feeling because I know how it is to lose something great…

For many who don’t know me here today, I am a person who very much puts others first before myself. “Love thy neighbor” is something God very much teaches us in the Bible. Funny thing, it seems to me that every year, around this time of the season, something happens in my life and I begin to feel depressed and alone. Two weeks ago, I struggled to get out of bed. I was scared. I was scared of taking two steps back every time I took a step forward. I finally decided to get off my bed, go to school, and then work.

As I was getting off of work, I decided to take the bus back home. A homeless man got on. I could tell he hadn’t eaten much for days and I decided to give him a box of animal cookies. He smiled and laughed and said to me, ‘how did you know that animal cookies were my favorite?!’ I laughed and smiled too and said, ‘my heart just told me you did and I didn’t like them anyways.’ He said, ‘You really are kind and genuine. Like a light that shines. Thank you.’

Little did he know, my name is Luz, which – in Spanish – means “light.”

This has honestly given me a different perspective in life. This loving man made me realize so many things by just a few words. We all sit here and cry about break ups or something that won’t matter five years from now, but this man was homeless with nothing but a bucket and a jacket and he smiled like he was living a happy life. It comes to show that materialistic things can’t necessarily make you happy. You can be rich and still wonder what you’re doing with you’re life and then you can be poor and have nothing and be the happiest man on the planet. This affected me in a way that I would have never imagined, I want to be as happy as this man was and I think everyone deserves that…

What is the Ascension? My interpretation of it is this: Jesus died for our sins. He died and was resurrected because he loved us so much that he wanted us to live a better life than the one we were currently living in. And this is where the Ascension comes in. It marked the beginning of our freedom to choose to live as God calls us to live. It reminds us of how we should be treating our neighbor. Jesus was put on earth to teach us how to live our life not by materialistic objects but by peace, love, and faith.”

As Kylie, an 8th grader will share in her sermon:

“A story I want to share with you today occurred a very long time ago during the 1940’s in Poland. Janine Oberrotman who is now 89-years-old came to my school to tell us the story of how she, a Jew, survived the Holocaust. When she was fifteen, Janine was living in the ghettos with her mother and one day as they were walking, they found this gate that was unguarded and Jewish people from within the ghettos were escaping. They soon realized that this portal to safety was closing up so they rushed there and when it was just about to close her mother did something that Janine will never forget. She pushed her daughter on the other side. Janine remembered how she cried and cried out of sadness and fear. She was now alone and there were no familiar faces to be seen…

In 1953 Janine immigrated to America and settled down with her husband. She has kids and grandchildren and she continues to share her story to this day at the Holocaust Museum and at other schools.  The lesson of Janine’s story is very strong to me and it ties into the passages that we have just read from the Bible and also into my life.

In the gospel readings, Jesus ascends into heaven leaving the disciples with only the memory of himself and his teachings. However, Jesus comforted the Disciples and reassured them that they would be okay. Jesus told them that they had his words and that everything about him would be fulfilled. He gave them a blessing, and then ascended into heaven. While Janine’s sudden parting from her mother during the Holocaust was traumatic, she was given the opportunity to survive and to tell others her story. The Disciples were also able to tell the story of the promises of Jesus.

Although Janine’s story and the disciple’s story are very different, there are threads that they have in common. It might have been scary at first but they found courage to carry on. As for me, I am going to be confirmed this year at my church. This ceremony represents the time when I get to take the lessons I have learned in my confirmation class and use them independently. I will be confirming my faith in the teachings of the Church and in promises that Jesus shared with the Disciples. Janine Oberrotman, the disciples, and I all had to get prepared for our next phase in life. I am thankful I got the opportunity to learn about Jesus and his stories because this gave me the opportunity to incorporate the lessons into the decisions I make throughout my life.”

And as Katie, an 8th grader, will preach tonight:

“Tonight we celebrate the ascension of Jesus. The night that Jesus died, rose, and came back to his disciples for 40 days before essentially abandoning them and returning to heaven. The disciples are told that they will be baptized by the power of the Holy Spirit instead of with water. Easy enough. Right? Listening to the story like that makes it sound like the equivalent of being energized by a caffeinated soda for your entire life and suddenly, one day, you’re told you can only drink coffee for the rest of your life because it follows the norm.

You have to think to yourself, though, that Jesus did this for a reason. He didn’t suffer and hang on a cross for no reason. You don’t go to school for no reason. Even though it might not seem like there’s a legitimate reason for both occurring, you have to look into Jesus’s words and maybe into the future. Sure, you can not go to school. But your future might be affected. In the same way, Jesus could have not hung on the cross. But we wouldn’t have been forgiven. We wouldn’t know how strong God’s love is. That minute that Jesus left this earth after being ascended into heaven, humanity was baptized with God’s love for all of eternity. We only felt that because of Jesus’s sacrifice.

Why I’m not still confused by this story amazes me. I’m not as confused by God as I was before, but I am bewildered by his power. To understand why, my story really starts early last summer when my eating habits were a little off. I had lost five to ten pounds in a week and I didn’t understand why. I went to the doctor where they checked my blood and tested it over a fairly long period of time. It took a few months to get a fair result, but in those few months… I felt so alone! Why was this happening? Why was I so depressed? Why did I hurt inside when nobody had done or said anything wrong? Why did everything seem horrible when in reality, I had a normal life like everyone else? Why was I super cold when everyone was hot? Why did I feel so abandoned?  To be honest, I began to push God away because I didn’t think he was doing anything for me. If he didn’t do anything for me, then why should I put my trust in him?

…It’s time I introduce a new character. This character normally goes by Maggie. Before I knew her, she seemed to the world a normal but quiet individual who liked to play on her tablet and listen to music as loud as possible. She was (and still is) very friendly and loves hugs. I didn’t know her too well, so we didn’t talk much.  Some time in late November 2014, I had no idea what I was doing. I can’t remember if someone had said something to me or what, but I felt so alone… She became one of my best friends. We understand each other fully, are able to share anything without thinking twice, and love each other with everything we have…

I was sitting in my room one night, thinking back to my questions, and it suddenly hit me that they had been answered. When I had been alone, God came to me, but indirectly in the form of Maggie. I never felt alone around her. This new happiness came because of her, and from the cold I normally felt, I felt a comforting warmth because of her. I found God again that day. He had never left, but sent his love through Maggie to help me. I could have become an emotional trainwreck, could have destroyed everything in sight, could have lost my mind. But I didn’t. God (and, of course, Maggie) is to thank for that.

You have to think to yourself that God doesn’t always present himself as a luminous figure or a reincarnation of Jesus. He almost never appears directly. You have to think to yourself, have you ever felt alone and been comforted by someone who loves you? Have you ever thought of what you could have become without that person  Or if God was behind that person?

Maybe that was the purpose I had been looking for all along; to spread that love that is so desperately needed. Think about it. God is within all of us. It is our mission to express his love when it is needed. This is my message. Take it home, think about it, thank all those who have done good for you and thank God for being here. Go out and spread the love.”

And so I leave you on this Ascension day, with these powerful words from my very wise youth.

May you, too, find meaning in the Ascension and be blessed.

Arrested In Ferguson



On Monday, I was one of hundreds to march and one of about 50 (most of whom were seminarians and clergy of different faiths) who was arrested at the Ferguson Police Department for ironically “disturbing the peace” while peacefully protesting the “justice” system that allows for racial policing and brutality and has led to the death of Michael Brown, Vonderrick Myers, and so many other children of God.

As a former St. Louisan who – in my 4 years there – had seen only a glimpse of the incredibly deep systemic racial inequalities that prevail in that city; as a pastor of youth who has heard too many stories from my own about their or their friends’ experiences of racial profiling by Chicago police; as one who deeply cares for the young people of St. Louis, Chicago, and the rest of this world; as a leader and member of the faith community – who has been called to follow the Way of Jesus, One who risked much while calling out systemic injustice and radically proclaiming that no human lives are more worthy than others; and as a member of the human race: I felt called to go to Ferguson and was willing to be arrested.

There, seminarians and clergy of different faiths joined the brave and bold young people of St. Louis who have been organizing their communities to stand up – many of whom have risked being tear gassed, hit by rubber bullets, and arrest, and have sacrificed their jobs or schooling as they have stood in the streets for 65+ nights since the killing of Mike Brown.

While 50 clergy/seminarians/people of faith were arrested on Monday at the Ferguson Police Department for “disturbing the peace” during a protest that included prayers, calling Ferguson Police Department to repent and turn from their ways, and singing hymns to God, Darren Wilson and many others who have killed young men and women are still free.

Clergy, people of faith, and members of the human race cannot stand for this and must boldly speak out until this injustice ends. But this is not just a Ferguson or St. Louis issue. This is a national and international problem. These protesters are not just calling out the sins of St. Louis and Ferguson Police Departments. They are calling out the sins of the systems that allow for racial profiling and brutality in New York, Chicago, Dallas, Bethlehem. They are calling out the sins of the entire justice system.

And as people of faith and/or members of the human race, we must join them in radically and boldly calling out these sins until the walls of injustice are torn down.

Because ALL of God’s children are human and deserve life.

Youth Mission/Service & Learning Trip – Closing Worship



When youth go on retreats or mission/service trips, it’s important for them to end the trip with some type of closing ceremony, ritual, and/or worship service where they can come together as a group one final time in a meaningful space to be together and to say good-bye to one another.  In such closing rituals/worship, I try to sum up or tie in the theme/topics/Scripture we discussed on the trip, and I find some way to “send them out” to do God’s work and to continue to live as disciples of Jesus when they return home.

The following is the closing worship service from the youth mission/service and learning trip I led this summer (which took place outside at a park right before we headed back to Chicago.)  ***Click here to see the theme and discussions we had each night during our trip.



Mission/Service and Learning Trip: “Holy Ground”

Materials Needed: guitar, music, plate, cup, grape juice, bread, Scriptures readings, rocks, markers


OPENING WORSHIP SONG: Open The Eyes of My Heart

Exodus 3:1-6


– ASK: What are some of the things we hear in this passage or have learned about this week?

– EXPLAIN: This passage is Moses’ call story. Here in Exodus, God came to Moses and called out to him to follow God and to do the work of God. Like for Moses in this passage, God has called and continues to call each one of us to follow God and to share God’s love with others.  This week, we were invited to stand on and in the midst of what? (holy ground) We entered holy ground here in Dubuque, where we have encountered God in many places. How have we experienced holy ground this week?

– ASK: In our Exodus passage, God asks Moses to do what? (take off his sandals) As a gesture of what? (respect/reverence/honor)  We’ve been called to take off our shoes, as well, this week. How so? (We’ve had the opportunities to be good stewards of all of God’s creation – of God’s earth and God’s people.  We’ve done this through all of our service work/projects and through all of our interactions with and relationships we’ve developed with our new friends in Dubuque and with one another.)

– EXPLAIN: When we go back to Chicago, we will still be on holy ground.  Wherever we are, we are standing on holy ground and encounter God. So let us not forget when we go home to “take off our shoes” and be good stewards of all of God’s creation.

Moment of Silence/Reflection:
– Let’s take a few moments of silence to think about and reflect on how we will continue to be good stewards of God’s creation when we get home.

Holiness, Holiness Is What I Long For

Galatians 3:23-29
Romans 10:15

– What do these passages call us to do or how do they call us to live our lives?
– (How did they speak to us this week? How will they speak to us when we return home to Chicago?)

Silent Reflection:
– Let’s take a few moments of silence to reflect on and think about how we will continue to let our feet bring (and receive) good news to others and treat others equally when we get home. (Think about some people in your life who could use some good news and how you might share it. Or think of others whom you may not have given a chance before because you thought they were different. How might you go back home or to school or to your apartment building and treat them with love and respect, as your equal?)

Lord Prepare Me


Passing Peace Of Christ:
Jesus is the one who is our peace. He is peace to those who are divided, separated, broken and turned around. It’s his peace that he wants us to give away and share with our neighbors (our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ, in this family of Christ), those near to us and those far away.

Let’s share the peace of Christ right now with our brothers and sisters here in this place, who are all one in Christ.
The peace of Christ be with you all.
PEOPLE: And also with you.

(Share/Pass the Peace of Christ to one another through hugs, high fives or hand shakes.)

INVITATION TO THE TABLE:  (From the Iona Community) 
Jesus was always the guest.  In the homes of Peter and Jairus, Martha and Mary. Joanna and Susanna, He was always the guest. At the meal tables of the wealthy where he pled the case of the poor, he was always the guest. Upsetting polite company, befriending isolated people, welcoming the stranger, he was always the guest. But here, at this table, he is the host. Those who wish to serve him must first be served by him, those who want to follow him must first be led by him, those who would wash his feet must first let him make them clean. For this is the Table where God intends us to be nourished; this is the time when Christ can make us new. Jesus Christ, who has sat at our tables, now invites us to be guests at his.

So let us respond to Jesus’ invitation to the Table.

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.

On the night in which he was betrayed,
our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks;
broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying:
Take and eat; this is my body, given for you.
Do this for the remembrance of me.

Again, after supper, he took the cup, gave thanks,
and gave it for all to drink, saying:
This cup is the new covenant in my blood,
shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin.
Do this for the remembrance of me. For as often as we eat of this bread and drink from this cup we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Let us pray as Jesus taught us.
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. thy kingdom come. thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.
and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are your’s now and ever. Amen.

Come to the banquet, for all is now ready.


1. Bless the Lord, my soul, and bless God’s holy name.
 Bless the Lord, my soul, who leads me into life.
2. Jesus, Remember Me, When you come into your kingdom.

(Explain prayer)

PRAYER AFTER COMMUNION and Petitions for ourselves and those in need:
Gracious and holy God, we come before you today, our hearts gathered in prayer. Listen to the thoughts of our hearts as we whisper our prayers to you.

LEADER 1: We pray for peace for all people throughout the world.
(Whisper your prayers to God.)

(please give the community time to pray between each petition)

Leader 2: We pray for those in any need or trouble.
(Whisper your prayers to God.)

Leader 3: We pray for all the people we encountered this week in Dubuque.
(Whisper your prayers to God.)

Leader 4: We pray for all other burdens, concerns, and joys we have now.
(whisper your prayers to God.)

– EXPLAIN: While we sing this song, get up as you feel led, take a rock and marker, and on one side of rock, write 1-2 words about what you want someone else to pray for. (justice, equality, my family, love, inclusion, friend, sister, healing, courage, etc.)   Write your name on the other side of the rock. When you are done, place your rock on the ground in the pile.  After we finish our service, each of us will take a rock that isn’t our’s home with us to pray over.

SONG: Beautiful Things

We are no longer strangers and aliens in a foreign land, but we are citizens with the saints – all those who came before us, are walking this journey with us, and those who will walk this journey in the future. And we are also members of the household of God, which joins us as one body – no matter where we are from, what neighborhood we live in, what we look like, what school we go to. We are all one in Christ.

The God of all grace bless you now and forever.


Remember you are always standing on holy ground. Take off your shoes. And may your feet always bring good news to those who need it. Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.


*EXPLAIN: Take a stone with you and pray for the person on the stone and pray over the word they wrote on the stone. Keep this rock in your room or your backpack, and whenever you look at it, remember that you are always connected to and made one with your brothers and sisters in Christ.

“Holy Ground” – Curriculum for Youth Mission/Service & Learning Trip



Mission and service trips mean little when participants on the trip do not take time to reflect on the service work they participate in. In August, I took 28 youth (in 6th-12th grade) from the Edgewater neighborhood in Chicago on a mission/service and learning trip to Dubuque, IA. Each night, my youth gathered together for worship, large group discussions, and small group discussions where they reflected on their experiences for the day.  (Each small group remained the same throughout the week.)

The following is the curriculum I developed for our trip.



Mission/Service and Learning Trip CURRICULUM
Theme: Holy Ground


DAY 1: 

(Day of travel, group building through low/high ropes course, pizza at local restaurant, prepare to lead Sunday worship service at host church the next morning.)


Explain: Each night on our trip we are going to have a faith discussion and reflect on and talk about what we’ve done so far, learned so far, or how we have experienced being in God’s presence. We will also spend time in worship. Each night during discussions, we will break into small discussion groups. Your group will be the same group each night, so you will have an opportunity to get to know the others in your group pretty well. Tonight, we will just have a short time to break into discussion groups and get to know one another better. (Break into groups)

– Everyone: say name, grade going into, school, and something interesting about yourself
– Everyone: share what you enjoyed so far today and/or what you are looking forward to on this trip

PRACTICE/PREP for Sunday worship


DAY 2:

(Led Sunday morning worship at host church, potluck with host church, Sunday Funday: fun activities around Dubuque.)

Materials Needed: copies of Ann Voskamp quote and closing prayer, Bibles, small group discussion questions, marker and paper or board to draw/write on

Team Building Activities: (Break into groups of 4-5 and ask the groups to discuss a few of the following questions.  After a few questions, switch groups and have them answer a few more of the questions.)  (5-7 min)

1. If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
2. What are two of your favorite things to do?
3. What are three things that make you laugh?
4. Name four things you do after you finish school.
5. What is your favorite tv show and why?
6. What’s your favorite place to visit and why?
7. Describe an embarrassing situation that occurred to you.
8. If you could be a famous character from a movie, book, play, who would you be?
9. Who is your favorite music artist?
10. If you could move anywhere in the world for a year, where would you move?
11. Tell about your family (parent/guardians, siblings, etc.)
12. Tell where you grew up
13. Tell about one memory from your childhood that sticks out to you
14. If you have moved, talk about how it felt to move and why

Intro to Theme:

LARGE GROUP: (5-7 min)

Explain: Our theme this week is Holy Ground and all week we are going to explore what this means and looks like both here in the Dubuque and when we live our every day lives back at home.

Ask: What do you think I mean when I say Holy Ground? (holy= sacred, connected with God, revered/honored) What did it mean in biblical times? (In Ancient Near East, there were particular locations and places that were considered “holy” or “holy ground” – places where God dwelled – such as the Ark of Covenant or the Holy of Holies.  The Holy of Holies was veiled away in the Temple and only accessible to the High Priest. Such places required people to pay special reverence or deep respect for the space.)

Read: quote by Ann Voskamp (who wrote about her experience spending a weekend with monks in a monastery on a silent retreat)

“We no longer have the Holy of holies veiled away in the Temple, no longer the Ark of Covenant that couldn’t be touched or you’d be struck dead. Yes, we are the people who wonder, “What is holiness? Where is holiness?”…
I feel the heat whisper of God, “Lo, I am with you always…. here in a monastery and there in your kitchen and I am Holy and I am everywhere and what is below your sole is always sacred and see, Child, see.” Life is the holy experience and any given hour is hallowed ground and see, Child, see, and it’s a week now since a weekend with monks. I stand in this domestic cloister that shakes with noise, stand over a kitchen sink full, on a cork floor dirty, and there is no other way to see His face, hear His voice, feel His heat, but to pray right here in this sacred everyday.
 Because any old monastery will do.” – Ann Voskamp

Ask: What does this quote say about Holy Ground today? Where is Holy Ground in our lives?  How/when have we experienced Holy Ground in our lives? (Share examples of how God is present in our lives.) Is this place where we are currently at this week Holy Ground? How so? (Any specific examples?)


SMALL GROUPS: (10 min.)

ASK: How have you experienced being on Holy Ground – or in God’s presence – so far on this trip?

READ: Exodus 3:1-6 (have volunteers read and everyone follow along)
– ASK: In your own words, what happens in this text?
– When Moses searches to find answers about the burning bush, what happens? (His searching leads him into a conversation with God – a holy conversation.)
– What does God ask him to do next? (Take off his sandals.)
– Have any of you ever been asked or expected to take off your shoes or sandals when you walked into a place? When or where? – (homes? Apartments? Etc.)
– If so, why do you think you are supposed to take off your shoes in these places? (You don’t want to get dirt from outside on the ground and dirty someone’s house. Ultimately, this is an act of respecting the person and the person’s home.)
– EXPLAIN: In many cultures, homes, or religions, removing shoes when entering a place or a home is a way to show reverence (or great respect) for the person hosting and his/her place/belongings.
– So why do you think God asked Moses to remove his sandals?
– EXPLAIN: Removing sandals was a form of respect/reverence in Moses’ day, kind of like today, when we take off our shoes in some people’s homes. In Moses’ day, this was a gesture people did when they entered a holy place of divine presence (or a place that was considered holy ground and in God’s presence.) In this scripture passage, removing sandals is a gesture that honors the holiness of this ground, this mountain, and this God. Removing shoes is a practice that is still used in Islam and some other religions. (If you enter a Mosque – a place of worship in Islam religion – you take off your shoes.)

LARGE GROUP: (20 min)

– RECAP: So let’s recap: What is holy Ground? What was it for Moses? What is it for us today? What does it mean for Moses to take off shoes his shoes?

– EXPLAIN: As I mentioned already, we don’t consider just certain places (like the Ark of Covenant or the Holy of Holies, or a church) to be holy ground. Our churches are places that are holy ground, but so is every other place we stand in God’s presence. And since God is always present with us, holy ground is everywhere, in and amidst all of God’s creation (which means holy ground is both when we are on God’s earth, the land, outdoors, but also among God’s people).  This means God is with us everywhere – all the time – and we can experience God’s presence everywhere, but that then also means we must – like in our Bible passage – “remove our sandals” when we are on Holy Ground. In other words: Since Moses was on holy ground, he was asked to respect that holy ground by taking off his sandals.

– ASK: Since today we are always on holy ground, we are expected to also “take off our shoes.” What do you think that means for us? Do I mean that we literally need to walk around barefoot all the time? Or does this mean something else?  (We don’t have to remove our sandals all the time. Rather, we need to show reverence – or deep respect – for God’s creation.)  So what does this look like?

– EXPLAIN: We will specifically think about this in 2 ways this week: 1. Respect and revere God’s earth. 2. Respect and revere God’s other creatures – animals, human beings.

– ASK: What does this look like? (This week? And when we return home?)

– EXPLAIN: (And write on the board) In the Church, we often use a word called STEWARDSHIP or being good Stewards. Does anyone know what that means? (dictionary definition: the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care)

– EXPLAIN: God has put God’s earth and all of God’s creatures in our care. So we are called to be good stewards of God’s earth and creatures. This means we are to take care of God’s earth, animals, plants, etc. AND take care of God’s people and treat them with respect. This is how we “take off our sandals” in holy ground.  Besides showing reverence, removing our sandals or shoes when we are standing on holy ground enables us to have a closer connection with that ground. How might this be? (It draws us closer to the ground because we are actually touching it with our bare skin. When we are barefoot, we can feel every texture of the ground – every stone, every piece of dirt, every smooth puddle of mud, every sliver of grass.)  In the same way, as we respect/revere God’s creation – as we recognize and honor the holy ground we are on, we have a better understanding of God and have a closer connection with God.

This week, we will be intentionally aware of being on holy ground (being in God’s presence). We will have opportunities to be aware of this as we do service work, work in gardens (on God’s earth), learn about organizations that help God’s people live healthy lives, etc.

– ASK: But we will also be aware of being in Holy Ground and “take off our shoes” – or show reverence and respect – for the people we encounter and the places we visit or stay.  How so?  (How do we respect the people and places we are staying, visiting, etc.: picking up after ourselves, throwing trash away, saying please/thank you, getting to know people we are working with, etc.) And while we are doing these activities and talking to and meeting new people, and learning about others’ differences and similarities, we will experience a closer connection with God.

– EXPLAIN: Although we will be standing on holy ground here in Dubuque, when we return to our every day lives back in Chicago, we will also be in Holy Ground, so we need to remember that what we are called to do here is also what we are called to do when we return home.

CLOSING PRAYER: (Pray Together as large group):

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, 
O Holy Spirit, 
that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, 
O Holy Spirit, 
that I love what is holy.
Strengthen me, 
O Holy Spirit, 
to defend all that is holy.
Guard and Protect me, then, 
O Holy Spirit, 
that I always may be holy. Amen. – Augustine of Hippo


DAY 3:

(Worked in community garden at Manasseh House: Affordable Housing for Single Women)

Materials Needed: marker and board/paper to write on; Bibles, construction paper, markers, closing prayer)


– ASK: What is our theme for this week? (holy ground) And what does that mean? (where do we experience holy ground and how?) What did Moses do when he was standing on holy ground? Why? How do we – like Moses – “take off our shoes” while we stand on holy ground?
– EXPLAIN: Today we had the opportunity to “take off our shoes” – to be good stewards of God’s earth and God’s people – while working in the community garden. We are going to now talk more specifically about both of these things.

– EXPLAIN: We are first going to talk more about being stewards of God’s earth…

– ASK: How many of you had difficulty packing all of your stuff into one bag for this week? Why? What stuff did you want to pack that you couldn’t? Any of you feel you packed too much stuff? Is there anything you packed that you now don’t think you need? What stuff weighs us down while we travel? (compare to life journey: stuff can get in the way of what’s important)  Do any of you think about the excess that we live in compared to the vast majority of people around the world? (Discuss) What are your thoughts/feelings about this?

– EXPLAIN: When Jesus called his disciples to follow Him, He told them to drop everything and follow Him. This would probably be really hard for each of us to do if He asked us to do this today. And, yet, think of how much easier it would be to travel if we traveled MUCH lighter!

While we may not be called to give up everything, Jesus does call us to follow Him and to give up things that are excessive that weigh us down and keep us from being able to journey on the path in His footsteps. (Stuff that gets in the way of experiencing God in our lives and from focusing on what and who is important in our lives.)

– ASK: What are some things in our lives that are excessive and distract us and weigh us down – keeping us from being able to follow in Jesus’s footsteps of loving/caring for others and distracts us from what is important in life?

– EXPLAIN: The U.S. makes up about 5% of the world’s population and yet uses up about 25% of the world’s resources. (DRAW DIAGRAM TO SHOW THIS.) When you think of other overdeveloped countries and how much they use, what does that leave the rest of the world? How does this make you feel?

In addition to using so much of the world’s resources, North Americans make a very large collective “carbon footprint” – Total set of greenhouse gases emitted. (The amount of carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds emitted due to the consumption of fossil fuels by a particular person, group.) How does this collective carbon footprint affect the rest of the world? (specific ways?)

Being good stewards of God’s earth is connected to being good stewards of God’s creatures (people) because when we hurt the earth, many of God’s people are affected. How? (When we use so much stuff and so many resources that we don’t need, others around world don’t have access to it… such as water, etc.  Many people who don’t have much money live close to landfills, which can be toxic in air or water, etc.)

– ASK: What are other ways that we – who have excess – might (even unintentionally) leave unhealthy footprints while here in Dubuque this week? What are specific ways we can make sure we tread lightly on this trip, are careful to treat this land and community as Holy Ground and not leave huge footprints wherever we walk this week? When we get home? (recycling, taking care of what we have, not wasting, throwing trash away, etc.)

– EXPLAIN: We can be good stewards of God’s creatures (and people) by caring for the earth. What other ways can we be good stewards of God’s people? (Sharing with those who don’t have as much, being intentional about learning how others live and trying to live our lives better so others can live better, helping at places like community garden, food pantry, shelter; being kind to others.)

We can also be good stewards of God’s people by treating others with kindness and in another way that we hear about in the passage we read and I preached on at Sunday’s worship.

Read: Galatians 3:23-29 (Have volunteers read and everyone else follow along.)
– ASK: What does it mean for there to no longer be Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female? (Explain background of inequality within society and the early church during time Galatians was written.)
– So what does this say about how to be good stewards of God’s people? (By treating others equally and – like Jesus – saying to the world that all are equal. Standing up for others who are not treated equally.)

– EXPLAIN: The footprints Jesus left show us how he continuously treated others as equals: he taught, loved, cared for and healed, was always standing on common ground with everyone else. Jesus stood on the same ground, sat in the same boat, walked on the same water. He approached others at eye level (not above them looking down as one higher than they were.) He humbled himself. Looked at others as equals. He didn’t stand over them, but stood with them and walked alongside them during their joys and sorrows and as they traveled on their journey of life.

This can be very difficult: to see others and treat them as equals when we often see and focus on the things about others that seem different or that we don’t really understand. So right now, I want us to do a few little activities.

Bond activity (5 min)

Tell youth to find someone who: (try to find a different person for each question)
– likes the same sports as you
– likes the same kind of music that you like
– watches at least one tv show that you watch
– was born in the same city that you were born
– likes the same subject in school that you like
– likes to read the same kind of book or magazine that you like

– Explain: (5 min) How many of you found someone in this room for each of the questions? All but one? All but two? We often like to hang out with the same people who look, act, and think like us or who are familiar to us. (People we know well.) And so we get nervous when new people are around. So it’s really difficult to reach out to new people or people who might seem like they are different than we are. Yet, this activity we just did showed that even though we don’t know many people in this room very well yet, we still have many similarities with others.

– ASK: But how did we get to know what other people liked and that we have some things in common? (Asking and talking to one another. Hearing their stories.) This is important. We don’t know about others’ stories unless we ask and unless we make the effort to find out and to listen to each others’ stories. As we read about in our Bible, Jesus does a really good job of building relationships with people and getting to know them.


Get into pairs with a person you don’t know very well. (Tell the other person about who is in your family (your parents or guardians, your siblings) and share one story about your family growing up. EX: a funny story or a story about where you grew up. Could be a story about how you and your family celebrate holidays. (Take a few minutes.)

SMALL GROUPS: (15 min)

– Take few minutes to check in with each other about today: What were your thoughts and feelings about working in the community garden today? (Did you learn anything? Why was this work important for us? For the people we worked with today? For the community?)
– How did you experience holy ground today? (How was God present today?)
– What were some of the highs and lows for today?

READ QUOTE: “We serve others most not by giving them things or by doing things for them, but by accompanying them on their way.” – Don Richter

– ASK: What does this mean? What does this mean for our group as we continue to be good stewards of God’s creation by practicing service?

– READ: Scripture from Romans 10:15: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

– EXPLAIN: Paul wrote this – quoting from the book of Isaiah (from Old Testament) – recognizing that the most faithful way to bring good news to others and share Christ’s love to others is by standing by them, walking alongside of them, sharing common ground with them – working with them.

– How might our footprints continue to show respect on this Holy Ground this week?
– How might our feet bring good news to the people we encounter on this trip? (The people from our host church, the people we encounter on our service projects, one another in this group?) (Examples: Help someone who needs help, make sure everyone is included, say encouraging words to others, etc.)

– EXPLAIN: Our feet are not the only feet that bring good news while we practice service on this trip. Often, when we practice service and bring good news to others, we receive good news from others, too (from those we are working alongside to serve, by those we encounter during our service work, by our friends (through love, generosity, kindness, etc.)

– ASK: How have we received good news this week so far from others? (Try to help the youth think about specific people and experiences like: people at community garden, people from our host church who helped us pack lunches, brought potluck, people who donated our food, woman who paid for our pizza night on Sat. Also try to help them think about each other or other leaders in this group: friendships, discussions we have, ways we’ve helped or included one another, etc.)


LARGE GROUP: (5 min)

As we listen to music (Be Thou My Vision) let this be our prayer. Silently trace your foot on construction paper, on one side write: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Rom. 10:15) On other side write one or two ways your footprints on this earth will bring good news (recycling, sharing love, treating others equally, etc.)

CLOSING PRAYER: (Pray Together)

Set our feet moving, O God,
Guide our feet as we walk with neighbors near and far,
Share common, holy ground that bids us shed our shoes,
Tiptoe through green pastures and stroll beside still waters,
Trudge up mountainsides with swollen, sweaty feet,
To preach peace and shout salvation, stampede for justice, stomp and clap when right prevails,
Run the good race even when it doesn’t stand with others in the need of prayer,
At daybreak and dusk traversing every threshold by dance or limp.
Set our feet moving, O God.
Teach us to follow in your footsteps as we behold those beautiful, bruised feet that bear our burdens.
Bless our stumblings and bring us safely to shore.
We pray in Jesus’ name and for his sake. – Don Richter



DAY 4: 

(Worked at Dubuque Rescue Mission in the morning: worked in community garden, served a meal to Mission residents, helped organize clothes/shoes in the Mission Thrift Store.  Participated in activities with Circles Initiative/Bridges Out of Poverty program in the evening.)

Materials Needed: small group discussions, One Day lyrics, markers, closing prayer


– We have been talking all week about standing on what? (Holy Ground) And we have been saying that taking off our sandals like Moses means what? (being good stewards) We say we are called to be good stewards of both what? (Yesterday we talked about and experienced being stewards of God’s earth. Today we really experienced being good stewards of God’s creatures: taking care of and loving God’s people.) How many experienced Holy Ground today and tonight?


– What did you do at the Dubuque Rescue Mission this morning and what were your thoughts and feelings about your experiences there? (Both from your participation in activities and in what you learned about the mission.)
– How did you experience holy ground this morning at the Dubuque Rescue Mission?

– What were your feelings and thoughts about the Circles program tonight?
– What were your reactions to and feelings about the group activity at Circles?
– What happened in the activity?
– How did that activity make you feel?
– How might that activity inform us in our interactions with people in our every day lives? (at church, school, in our neighborhoods, etc)
– How and when did we experience Holy Ground at Circles? (during dinner, when we interacted with each other or members of Circles, when we did the activities, when we heard other peoples’ stories?)


– Share what small groups discussed


Get into pairs with a person you don’t know very well. (Tell the other person about who is in your family (your parents or guardians, your siblings) and share one story about your family growing up. EX: a funny story or a story about where you grew up. Could be a story about how you and your family celebrate holidays, etc. (Take a few minutes.)

SONG REFLECTION: One Day (hand out lyrics and marker)

– Listen and think about today’s work and learning projects, experiencing holy ground, etc. (highlight words/phrases that stick out)
– Discuss


Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek; 
To be consoled as to console,
 To be understood as to understand,
 To be loved as to love;
 For it is in giving that we receive;
 It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; 
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life. – Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi


DAY 5: 

(Did conservation and restoration projects at Swiss Valley Park and Nature Center; Toured Nature Center; Hiked at the park; went to family farm in the evening for bbq and hayrides)

Materials Needed: small group discussions, notecards, pens, paper bags, closing prayer


– Check in: How is everyone? How’s the week been?
– Explain what we will do (small group check ins, affirmations in small groups)


– How were our experiences today at Swiss Valley Park?
– What did we learn about today?
– What did we think of the two different projects? Why were these projects important and how did they connect with our theme of holy ground and being good stewards of God’s creation?
– How have we experienced holy ground today? (at Swiss Valley, at the YMCA, at the farm?)
– What are our highs and lows of this week?


– Ask one person to sit in the middle of the circle. Have everyone around the circle say an affirmation (one sentence about what they appreciate about the person in the circle from this week) (Example: Emily, I really appreciate how well you listen to others.)

– Each person should have a turn to be in the circle and everyone should hear an affirmation from everyone in the group

CLOSING PRAYER: Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life. – Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi




*** CLICK HERE to see the closing worship service we did on our last day right before we left to go back home. ***