What I miss out on, living in the Dome as I do at these things, is all the other fun stuff going on at the Gathering--this time especially the service projects that were happening throughout the area as groups of 12,000 Lutheran youth spread out each day to serve.
And so because I have no service related stories of my own, I have to live vicariously through my youth directing friends. Gordon Fitch, youth director to the stars (or at least to the Lutherans in the Spokane Valley), relayed this story to me yesterday and I steal it shamelessly.
The Spokane Valley Lutheran Youth embarked on their service project, loading on to one of a great fleet of chartered buses. They went off to the 9th Ward to pull weeds and clean trash and such things, and after three hours came back on the same bus, where they were given Subway sandwiches for lunch. They had noticed on previous days the abundance of leftover sandwiches from the other returning groups--and how they had ended up being given away to other kids or simply tossed away. On previous days they simply helped themselves to extra sandwiches and didn't give it much thought. But after their morning service project, this abundance (and waste) seemed somehow different. So instead of heading back to their hotel for an air conditioned nap--or strolling through the French Quarter--these young Lutheran Christians spent the afternoon rounding up all the leftover sandwiches, and calling around homeless shelters and crisis centers to see if they could use them. And they walked four miles in the 90% humidity to make this happen. On the way to drop the sandwiches off, a homeless person asked for some money (to buy a sandwich no less) and instead of flipping him a quarter, one of the kids opened their bag, handed him a sandwich and asked if he wanted chips and cookies to go with it.
Now, there are critics who have said "What difference will a few hours of community service really make?" And yes, even though they have calculated these youth worked over a year's worth of person-hours in three days, it does seem like this is simply a small drop in a very large bucket. But if the experience of the other youth there was anything like the kids from Spokane--I think something incredible has happened. In just a few hours, their eyes were opened--to the need, yes, but also to their giftedness. And suddenly a pile of sandwiches was no longer just a free lunch for them, or a pile of wasted food headed for the dumpster, but a gift to be shared, and an opportunity for them to make a difference in the lives of other people. And here were six young people, no longer just a youth group to be shuttled from service project to service project, but disciples of Jesus empowered to feed the hungry. In the Gospel lesson for that Sunday, it was a little boy with bread and fish whom Jesus used to feed 5000. How many did these 6 young people feed? How many will 38,000 feed? And how many will be inspired by their example to serve in their communities too?
One of our crazier ideas in the Dome was the "Peace Pokey"--teaching the passing of the peace to the tune of the Hokey Pokey (8 minutes into video #5 here). (So crazy, in fact, we never thought it would actually happen.) The song goes like this: "You put your right hand in, they put their right hand out, you meet in the middle and you shake it all about. You say 'The peace be with you' and they say it too. That's how you share the peace."
It's so easy to think that the things we do in church (like this peace-passing handshake sign of reconciliation before sharing communion) are "what it's all about." What it's really all about (following Jesus that is) is a pile of leftover sandwiches being transformed into food for the hungry, and group of youth being transformed into witnesses of the Good News of Jesus in a hungry world. Ordinary things--bread, wine, sandwiches--become the very presence of Christ. And ordinary people--yes, especially the young--become bearers of Christ to their neighbors. That's what it's all about.