ATLANTA -- The first event of the 2003 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Youth Gathering came to a close when 23,000 high-school-age and adult Lutherans from across the country and around the world gathered for prayer here July 20 at the Georgia Dome. The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the ELCA, Chicago, led the service.
The Gathering is meeting July 16-20 and July 23-27 at the Georgia Dome and Georgia World Congress Center. Under the theme, "Do Life! Ubuntu," the two events bring together some 40,000 youth and adult Lutherans to participate in worship, community service, Bible study and fun.
Worship included music, dancing, dramatic presentations and Holy Communion. Young people moved to the music of Ken Medema, Brier Patch Music, Grandville, Mich., and the 2003 Atlanta Gathering Praise Band and Praise Choir. Special musical guests included Adam McKnight and The Voices of Atlanta.
"We've done it all, haven't we? There's nothing else to do, what's left to say? We've danced in the aisles, praising God," said Hanson. "We've done it all except one thing. We have not had a feast. It's Jesus' feast and you're invited." Hanson's words drew cheers and a standing ovation.
He told young people, "I checked the guest list this morning and your name is on it. You are invited to the feast, even if you have spiked hair, straight hair, dreadlocks or, if you've achieved no hair at all, you're invited to this feast. It's Christ's feast, you come as equals."
"You are invited this day to Christ's freedom feast no matter what has you in bondage, whether or not you have those feelings of low-self esteem, if you feel guilty about something and you cannot shed the guilt or if you feel like you're always being excluded, shed the chains of bondage because Christ invites you to the freedom feast. You were invited the day you were baptized," Hanson said.
The Rev. Andrea L. Walker, St. John Lutheran Church, Summit, N.J., led "teaching moments" during worship. "Why is what we've done [in worship] so important?" she said.
"Worship is done to remind us of our relationship with God. Through remembering and because of this relationship, we are able to have relationship with one another. This makes a difference in how I look at you and how you look at me. We are the people of God . called to make the world a better place," said Walker.