15,000 Lutheran Youths Called to 'Clear Up Confusion About Faith'

More than 15,000 teenaged Lutherans were encouraged to answer the call to "clear up the confusion about faith" during the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's 2006 Youth Gathering.

"You've got a job as a new generation," the Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of the progressive Sojourners magazine and organizers of the Call to Renewal, told the young adults. "There is a lot of confusion about what we mean by faith, by religion...your job is to clear up the confusion."

The ELCA Youth Gathering, held once every three years, in the largest meeting of young Lutherans in the 5-million-member denomination, and was held this month at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio Texas, from July 5-9, 2006.

"The gathering is about young people risking to be a certain way in the world together," said Heidi Hagstrom, director of the ELCA Youth Gathering, according to ELCA news. "It is about following Jesus' lead and crossing boundaries that keep us alienated from each other and from God. It is about our need for each other and for God."

Wallis was among a dozen keynote speakers at the conference, which also featured music, dance, video, Bible studies, and volunteer opportunities.

Thousands of youth participated in the optional volunteer opportunities called "servant events." Servant projects included reading and playing with children at the Boys and Girls Club East and West, serving food at a food bank, and working with the San Antonio Police.

Other guest speakers included the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the ELCA and president of the Lutheran World Federation, and Kristine Gebbie, a former member of the Presidential Commission on AIDS.

During her July 8 presentation, Gebbie challenged the youth to boldly engage in a global effort to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS by overcoming stigma and being educated.

"It doesn't matter if you're rich or poor, it doesn't matter if you're male or female, it doesn't matter what color your skin is, it doesn't matter what you're drawn to sexually, you deserve a life free from HIV," Gebbie the past president of the Lutheran AIDS Network said. "You are the ones who will stand up, hold hands, look at that huge river of ignorance, of fear of difference, of fear of change, and say to one another, holding hands, 'We can cross that river, we can stop this epidemic, we can help everyone live in a world free of AIDS.'"

The ELCA Youth Gathering will continue this week at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center from July 12-16. According to organizers, some 40,000 youth and adults are expected to participate in the two back-to-back sessions.

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