The crowd outside of the Superdome resembled Black Friday.
That’s the phrase used for the day after Thanksgiving. Shoppers crowd outside of malls in the wee hours of the morning for the door-opening bargains.
It was like that Saturday in New Orleans. Masses of Lutheran teens crowded around the doors of the ‘Dome hours before they were scheduled to open.
But the teens weren’t looking for bargains. They were standing in the blazing sun willingly for a chance at the best seats at a program all about Jesus.
“It’s like a concert,” explained Jack Pike, 18, of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Dana Point, Calif. “But it’s much more than that. There’s talks, skits and speakers. The kind of speakers that you want to listen to — who really get you to think about your values.”
Pike didn’t get one of the seats on the floor, so he headed up to the nosebleed section for what he called “the big picture view.”
Nearly 37,000 ELCA teens spent July 22-26 in New Orleans for the 2009 Youth Gathering. The event focused on “Jesus, Justice and Jazz” through hands-on projects that helped with Hurricane Katrina recovery.
On this, the final night of gatherings in the Superdome, the air was electric. The teens witnessed famous jugglers in kilts, a renowned fiddler, an accordian prodigy and a runner who walked away from corporate life to help addicts.
“You don’t see accordian players and stuff like this where I’m from,” said a smiling 17-year-old Bradford Johnson. He’s from the Alaska Native Lutheran Church in Anchorage.
Some of the speakers were teens. Others were grownups. The mayor of New Orleans took the stage momentarily to thank the teens for their work. The Youth Gathering is the largest group to come to city since Katrina struck four years ago. Much recovery work remains.
Bishop Mark Hanson read a letter lauding the teens’ community serice work. They jumped to their feet and cheered when the ELCA’s presiding bishop told them the letter was from U.S. President Barack Obama.
“This is awesome,” said Tristan Randall, 15, of St. John’s Lutheran Church, Guttenburg, Iowa. “I’ve pounded a lot of nails this week and I’d do it again. After all that work you come here and see how everything we’re doing is connected to Jesus.”
After a couple of hours, the evening came to the close. One by one, the teens stretched out their arms, holding their open cell phones in the dimmed room, as if they were candles. They sang, “This little light of mine, I’m going to make it shine.”
Then they headed out into the night filled with joy and determination.