Molly Beck Dean ’02
Director, ELCA Youth Gathering
From her vantage point just offstage at Houston’s NRG Stadium, Beck Dean will not just be watching three years’ worth of planning and preparation come together – but also absorbing a high point in a career calling more than 20 years in the making.
Her path to the director role began when Beck Dean was a high school junior in Valley City, N.D. As an attendee, the 1997 ELCA Youth Gathering in New Orleans made an incredible impact on her personally (and ultimately, professionally). It was there that she recognized the incredible importance of faithful, compassionate youth workers in the church.
When it came time to choose a college, Beck Dean was focused on ELCA-affiliated institutions. Her involvement with youth programming on both the church and synod level helped her narrow her choices based on location. Her campus visit affirmed that Concordia was the place for her.
“I immediately fell in love with the small campus, friendly students and invested faculty,” she says.
During her four years at Concordia, her passion for accompanying young people on their faith journeys continued to grow. Throughout college, she committed time to two synods (Eastern North Dakota and Northwestern Minnesota), a local congregation (St. John, Fargo), Lutheran Outdoor Ministries and the ELCA Youth Ministry Network.
“I knew in high school that God was calling me to work with young people in the Church,” she says. “I got to do that in a variety of ways while in college and tried to stay open to what the Spirit would call me to next.”
In 2002, just days after walking across the stage at Commencement, Beck Dean packed her belongings and headed to Philadelphia for her first post-college job. Even before she had her diploma in hand, the SE Pennsylvania Synod had hired her to serve as a youth ministry specialist on the bishop’s staff.
Twelve years later, the Youth Gathering director at the time, Heidi Hagstrom ’79, announced that she would be leaving the role.
“I remember sitting with colleagues and talking about this crazy huge job,” Beck Dean says. “When I left that meeting, curiosity led me to read the job description that had been posted. As I read through it, I realized that this job encompassed so much of what I love doing and am gifted for in ministry.”
A few weeks later, Beck Dean found herself interviewing at the churchwide offices in Chicago and becoming more excited about the possibility.
She was named to the position in January 2015 and officially installed as director at Detroit’s Ford Field during the closing worship of the 2015 Gathering.
“As Gathering director, I get to work with some of the most creative, fun, dedicated and faith-filled people in the ELCA,” she says. “I love that my job entails giving back to something that was so important to me as a young person.”
Beck Dean says she can easily recognize how her Concordia experiences prepared her for the work she does today.
“With Concordia’s demanding academic program and working full time while in school, I had to learn quickly to prioritize and use every hour to its fullest,” she says. “I’m thankful for professors who helped me hone those skills and extended some grace if I didn’t make a deadline.”
With just days to go before the biggest deadline of her career – the opening mass gathering – Beck Dean is most excited to witness transformation in the youth attending.
“Today’s youth give me hope for our Church and the world,” she says. “They have a desire to make their community and ones across the country or world a better place.”
The mission of the Gathering is faith formation in teens – achieved through worship, interactive learning, service, Bible study and fellowship.
“The Gathering provides faith formation opportunities that no congregation or synod could do on their own,” Beck Dean says. “Ultimately, I want youth to leave the Gathering knowing that they are enough and that they are saved by grace through faith because of what Jesus Christ has done.”
Photos courtesy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America