The Church at its Best

The 2019 LCMS Youth Gathering is getting underway in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as 21,000 youth and adults arrive in the city. Through community groups, Morning Session, Mass Events, and Worship, Interactive Center, Sessions, Servant Events, and more, they will come together to explore the theme, Real. Present. God.  

With all of these ways to experience the Gathering, there is so much more that goes on behind the scenes. The Gathering could not happen without the work of volunteers. 

“Volunteers are the lifeblood and energy of the Gathering,” said Rev. Derek Broten, Gathering Program Director. “I love that they come in with servant hearts, ready to serve in any way and in any place. They really love Jesus and His people, and it shows in everything they do. This is the Church at its best. They get up early and stay up late, they troubleshoot, they sit with youth and adults who just need someone to be present with them. They don’t complain. They do so many things behind the scenes that adult leaders never see that make the Gathering experience so much richer for the participants.”

We have 1,511 volunteers serving in a number of roles. You’ll find volunteers directing traffic, helping with registration, managing the Interactive Center, answering questions, supporting adult leaders, photographing events, creating graphics, running sound and lights, cleaning, organizing, serving youth, and so much more. 

Volunteers prepare backpacks for Gathering participants.

Many of the volunteers are professionals who donate their talent and time to the Gathering. Sherri Littlefield is a photographer, art dealer/curator, and gallery director from New York City. This is the fourth Gathering she has served as a photographer on the Media Team. She says:

Dedicating time to working these events has shaped my life in ways that college and my career couldn’t have. My life has changed a lot since I started this as a graduate student in 2010. I’m often met with blank stares when I explain to people in the industry that I’m volunteering my time and skills to these events. I often wonder why people, if able, don’t volunteer their skills to causes they care about more. So much changes. Careers, politics, life…but my faith has and always will be a constant, unwavering priority.”

We have several avenues for serving at the Gathering:

Community Life Builders (CLBs) are adult volunteers who serve in a variety of roles such as hotel liaisons and in program areas such as Mass Events, Interactive Center, Sessions, Morning Session, traffic/safety support and late night. We have 189 CLBs serving this Gathering. 

One of the jobs of CLBs is to greet people with a smile.

Steve Meyer, from St. Louis, Missouri, has been to several Gatherings, but this is his first to serve as a CLB. He shares:

“The two Gatherings I attended as a youth made such a huge impression on me, leading me to volunteer in youth ministry for over ten years and take four groups to the Gathering. During those Gatherings I saw how the CLBs served, and got excited about the chance to serve in that way. As we go through different seasons in our lives, God is always present and provides us with opportunities to serve in various ways. For me, this was the logical progression. I’m excited to see my two oldest nieces at their first Gathering, as the third generation of my family takes part. My dad was a volunteer youth leader for 25 years. He took my brother to Denver in ‘89 and sister to New Orleans in ‘92. I went in ‘95 and ‘98, then my brother and I started taking groups after that. So the Gathering has been an important part of our family for almost 40 years, and now the next generation will get their chance.”

Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs) are between the ages of 19 and 25. YAVs serve as role models for teen participants while working in specific areas of the event such as Mass Events, Interactive Center, Sessions, Morning Session, traffic/safety support, late night and servant events. We have 612 YAVs serving this Gathering. 

YAVs come ready to serve!

Gathering Planners are responsible for the various aspects of the Gathering, serving as team leaders and managers. Many of these planners have been serving for the last two or three years to prepare for this event. We have 267 planners.

Gathering Volunteers show up and serve wherever they’re needed. While they come from across the country (18 states are represented by this group of volunteers), many of them come from Minnesota. Yesterday these volunteers were stuffing the backpacks that each participant will receive at registration. We have 440 local volunteers; 230 of them are Minnesotans.

President of the LCMS Minnesota South District, Rev. Lucas Woodford, helped stuff backpacks.

Heidi Breitbarth, from Bloomington, Minnesota, shares:

“I attended my first Gathering back in 1995. It provided an extraordinary amount of hope and possibilities for my future as an LCMS Christian. That Gathering was one of a handful of life-changing experiences that prompted me to follow God’s lead in service to Him around the world. Fast forward 24 years and I now realize that God used hundreds of Spirit-led volunteers to help provide that unique atmosphere that affected me so deeply. How could I not give back? I am so grateful for those unknown volunteers whom God used in my faith formation back at that Gathering and am eager to pay it forward. As a stay-at-home-mom of three, being able to volunteer this week required a major amount of personal planning and is certainly stretching me outside of my comfort zone; however, God is strengthening my faith by showing me the magnitude of what He can provide. I’m giddy thinking about the chance to see relatives (including a sibling!) from across the U.S. who will be at the Gathering, as well as friends from college, the mission field, and various LCMS connections. It’s like a sneak peek of heaven!”