The Extravaganza is an annual gathering of children, youth and family ministry leaders from across the #ELCA and other denominations for renewal, connection and building strength and energy for ministry. Two participants connected to Luther Seminary’s CYF department offer their perspectives on the February 2023 Extravaganza:
Esther K Sianipar, MDiv ’22 & MTh ’24 at Luther Seminary is a candidate for Ordained Ministry of Word and Sacrament in the ELCA.
Highlights: Multicultural colleagues, sharing my own experiences with hunger ministry
I was so grateful to be one of the workshop speakers in Anaheim, CA on February 3-6 2023. This year’s theme was ENOUGH.
My seventeen-year-old son, Jonah, and I experienced the love and grace of God from the Multicultural Initiative (MCI) beloved participants within the Network. We shared how God is at work in our ministries, including challenges and opportunities. The MCI board members were so passionate about the work of justice and reconciliation, as was the leader of MCI, Pastor Regina D. Goodrich. She is a woman of God and very serious in advocating for anti-racism and works of justice within the church and the community. She really appreciated having my son there to share his views about youth and church. I felt God’s presence in the words and witness of these MCI colleagues as they illustrated how lovingly God has been in their lives and in their ministries.
It was another truly awesome experience to meet Bishop Leila Ortiz Torres of the Metropolitan Washington D.C. Synod. She was the leader of my track workshop session called “Reclaiming the ‘E’ Word: A New Form of Outreach.” Her point about evangelism was that inside the church we act as if we want people to be like us instead of valuing who they are and walking with each other. We may mostly perform “evangelism” as service projects or as a one-sided ministry, but that is not the way to approach it. Bishop Ortiz Torres reminded us to be authentic in our spiritual life, to engage our faith every day and to have a close connection with Jesus. The question we need to ask ourselves is “What is our spiritual life?” and this will demonstrate how we can confidently evangelize others in our community and our church. This statement aligns so well with my own workshop called “Until All Are Fed.”
My workshop at this Extravaganza highlighted how hunger ministry gatherings—such as pandemic drive-thru food drives—become part of the healing process through human connection and hope that God is with us and walks with us. God connects us in various shapes and forms until we are all fed. We had participants from age 2 months to 90 years in our church’s hunger ministries and over a third were from the neighborhood. As we had conversations with each other, more members came and more neighbors brought their bags of food to share. Perhaps this may look simple, but the key focus of this outreach was to connect and to listen to each other.This is the work of Christ embodied in us. That’s what evangelism, telling the story of our faith, is all about.
Nathan Lyke is a senior at Luther Seminary and the Children’s Ministry Director at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, Minnesota.
Highlights: Creative reframing of losses and renewal in CYF ministries since the pandemic
“Something new is happening.” If I had to sum up my sense of what I noticed in the presentations, worship, and community I experienced this year at the ELCA Youth Ministry Network Extravaganza, that would be my response. In my 19 years of vocational ministry, I’ve watched the dynamics, discussions, attendance, and strategies in Children, Youth & Family ministries shift, shake, and straight up fall apart (I’m looking at you, COVID).
Within today’s youth is a “lost generation” of children who missed some of the most crucial transitional stages of their life and faith and are now missing from our youth ministries. Also missing are the untold many who have yet to be invited into the life giving Word and Sacrament that can be found through the local church, outdoor ministries, campuses, and other corners of the church.
I remember a conversation many years ago with a man who was praying for his classroom before Sunday school one day. He walked from chair to chair with his arm extended, imagining who would sit there that day. When he came to a certain chair he felt his hand tremble. He asked God, “Should I be praying for the kid who’ll sit in this chair today?” He heard God answer, “No. Pray for the kids who WON’T be in that chair today because they have no way to be here.” COVID has left a wake of so many empty chairs and pews that it can feel like our ministries are stuck in a losing streak with no end in sight.
But as I like to say when I need to laugh at dire circumstances and also remind myself of who’s church this actually is, “Cheer up! We’re in the miracle business!” God has a pretty solid track record of taking things that are broken, busted, and burned out and breathing new life into them. On occasion I need to remind myself of this, and when my heart is more tuned to God’s pitch-pipe of grace, I feel like I can hear something new happening.
Behold, I am doing a new thing
There was something new happening at an outdoor ministry that went from in-the-red and mulling closure to having a “Let’s go out with a bang!” summer where all campers attended for free. Now the ministry is well in the black and there are no signs of moving away from this new free-for-all camp model.
There was something new happening when a presenter reminded the audience that “evangelism” isn’t a dirty word when it’s the message of God’s love and grace we can give to someone we find ourselves in conversation with as we hear and share stories with those around us.
And there was something new happening as the conversation at dinner tables changed from “How is your ministry managing to survive COVID? I’ll tell you everything I’ve learned as well!” to “How are you seeing God working within your ministry? It feels like we might be onto something new…” I hear we work for a God who’s pretty good at that sort of thing.