Cobber alumni take leadership roles in planning, speaking at the 2015 ELCA National Youth Gathering in Detroit.
Every three years, thousands of high school students gather to deepen their faith in Jesus Christ at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America National Youth Gathering. Needless to say, it is a big event.
Two Cobber graduates have been right in the thick of planning this year’s youth gathering, which will be July 15-19 in Detroit. Heidi Hagstrom ’79 (pictured at right) is the current director and Molly Beck Dean ’02 (pictured at left) is the incoming director.
As a high school student in 1997, Dean attended the national gathering. The experience had a huge impact on her and greatly influenced her faith journey. A few of the friends she made there are still some of her best friends.
“Young people will be exposed to individuals that they normally may not cross paths with and that’s how growth happens,” she says.
Around 35,000 students have registered for this year’s event. Leaders hope interactions among the youth will have an impact, but they also hope the gathering’s location will help students to grow and change.
In 2009, the national gathering was held in New Orleans despite the devastation a hurricane had caused. The planners this year are committed to holding it in Detroit because of the many things they believe the city and its people have to teach students.
“I would consider it a city ‘in recovery,’ but the spirit to remake themselves is definitely strong. I am excited to be a part of that,” says Hagstrom. "The greatest joy we’ve had is partnering with the nongovernmental agencies, especially faith-based organizations, who are serving Detroiters who are overlooked."
The national gathering’s theme this year is "Rise Up Together." Youth will rotate through different service-learning experiences scattered throughout the community. Students will also have the opportunity to listen to many speakers, one of whom is a Cobber as well.
Sarah Funkhouser ’13 admits to some nerves when faced with the sheer number of students planning to attend the gathering this year. However, she’s excited to share her story with them. She will be speaking about interfaith and her year of service in Jerusalem.
“It’s an honor to be a part of the conversation with the young people of our church about how we as a people of faith can engage with our diverse neighbors and communities,” she says.
The youth gathering has brought these three Cobber alumnae together for a common purpose – to make an impact in young people’s lives.
“The gathering provides opportunities for learning, worship, service and fellowship in ways that no congregation or synod can do on their own. There is something deeply profound about being together in such a huge number for the same purpose,” Dean says.