Wednesday, July 29, 2009

After the return

I've been back for two days now, and am still exhausted - too much driving and not enough sleep while I was in New Orleans. I would like to think I will get caught up soon, but as Rusty and his family is arriving tomorrow for a visit, and then we are keeping our granddaughter for the next week while we have Vacation Bible School, the chances are pretty slim that sleep will be any more plentiful for the next several days.

As I read various posts of friends who were in New Orleans with their youth groups, and see pictures posted on FaceBook, I am in awe of all the people who were there and of all of the projects that were worked on. More info can be found at

For now, the memories of last week will feed sermons for several weeks, and hopefully vitalize our youth group into more servant activities. It was good to see many, many friends, but more importantly, it was good to see so many gathered to do God's work.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The trip home

Well, after 15 hours on the road, three major thunderstorms, and a lot of miles, we pulled into the church parking lot at 2:30 a.m. today. I got home about 3:00 a.m. and did the minimum unpacking and went to bed and slept till almost noon. After waking up and unpacking, the rental van was returned and life began returning to normal with a trip to the grocery store.

It is late and I am not quite recovered, so it is off to bed. In the next day or two I hope to upload a couple more pictures and final thoughts on the youth gathering. For the moment, just reading about all the various experiences via Facebook tells me that pretty much everyone had a great time and really felt the impact of the Servant projects. Thanks to all who went, and all who planned. Thanks be to God for all of you!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Day Four - Jesus, Justice, and Jazz

Day four - hard to believe that we have been here that long - it seems like just last night that we arrived, and now it is time to start packing up to head home.

For breakfast this morning, we (and several hundred other Lutherans) went to Cafe Du Monde for beignets and coffee ( or oj in a couple of cases). For our last dinner in New Orleans, we went to The Gumbo House for gumbo and bread pudding (at least, that is what I had). These are New Orleans treats that every visitor should try. The other is a good shrimp po' boy, but we took care of that on the way into town on Tuesday.

The last night in the dome was wonderful, with great music and moving speakers, but it was made even better by the opportunity I had to reconnect with a seminary classmate who has been in Texas for the last year. In fact, I saw more friends from seminary this week that I have in the last six months! It was great - especailly to see some whose ministry has called them to places far away from the Carolinas.

Our youth - and most of the youth here - have been deeply touched by this experience. They have seen a new side to poverty, to desparate situations, and realize anew how lucky they are and how much it touches other people to have even simple things done for them. This week has been full of amazing stories and events, capped off tonight by a visit from the mayor of New Orleans and a letter - sent by President Obama and read by Presiding Bishop Hanson. An exciting week; an opportunity to be a part of history; an opportunity to learn about serving others; an opportunity to grow in our faith. Thanks be to God!!!

Day Three - Jesus, Justice, and Jazz

If you are reading this, then the hotel Internet has become cooperative again. Last night, I was writing a blog post and as I tried to upload the first picture, the Internet connection went down and never really seemed to recover. I reconnected a couple of times, but could not upload any photos.

This photo is of the school (Charles R. Drew Elementary) in New Orleans where we spent the day painting classrooms and hallways. This school, built in 1907, had flood damage on the first floor from Katrina, but the upper two floors had just been neglected, as we were told, since integration occurred in New Orleans, 40 some years ago. These rooms (we were on the third floor) had not been painted in a very long time, and the walls and bulletin boards had graffiti all over them.
This photo shows the crowd that we painted with on Friday - 5 buses brought us to the school. We painted from about 8:00 a.m. till around 2:00 p.m. It then took almost an hour to clean up; when we left, the floors were 10 times cleaner than the were when we arrive. The walls also looked great!

This school is just outside of the French Quarter, in a fairly low-income neighborhood. Since Katrina, about 40,000 of the 67,000 kids that used to attend New Orleans parish schools have returned. Most have returned to find that their schools are in worse shape than they were, and that supplies and teachers are in short supply. Tyson, the 9th grade science teacher who now heads up the recovery effort for the school system, is one who stayed. He did not evacuate, did not leave (at least, not for very long), and has worked since Katrina trying to help re-open the schools so that kids have a place to learn when they come back.

Friday night was also North Carolina's night to
fill the dome with matching t-shirts. Ours were yellow, as you can see and were designed by one of the youth members from NC. We met after the Friday night gathering with Bishop Bolick to celebrate the group of 1100 Lutherans who came from NC to spend the week in New Orleans. As I understand it, our synod has one of, if not the largest, contingent from any single synod. Quite a feat! We spent about an hour hanging around and meeting people and finding friends from LYO and other gatherings.
All in all, a very busy couple of days. Today was much quieter - we spent the day at the Learning Center, with a last visit to the Old Lutheran store for souvenirs of the gathering. We also visited the Thrivent Builds display, which was great since part of our group took part in a Thrivent Builds Habitat House last year in Lexington.
Now - off to the dome for the last night! Rumor has it that there is a live feed available during the gathering (from about 6:00 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. - CDST). Click the link above and check it out!
Also - if you have not seen any of the news articles - look to the right of the blog and click on the ELCA News Links - there are several good articles listed there.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Day Two - Jesus, Justice, and Jazz

First off, no pictures tonight - I don't have time to download them and get them ready to post as we launch for our servant project at 6:30 a.m. I somehow feel that some sleep is in order, so no pictures tonight - just a couple of links and a few thoughts.

First the links - I went looking for news articles on this event and found a couple that are worth reading, as they explain quite a bit about what the planners of this event hope to accomplish. The local New Orleans paper had this article and AP had this one. Both are good articles.

Today was our day to spend time at the Interactive Center. There are many, many activities to do here, but with 1/3 of 37,000 people also there, the lines were long and so many things did not get done. But, we met many people - including many friends that were here. I think most of us met someone we knew, along with many new people.

One of the highlights of the day for me was ending the day at the Marriott where Lost and Found were having a concert. I first heard of Lost and Found after the last Lutheran Youth Gathering three years ago (San Antonio). Later that year, they played a concert at Camp Victor in Ocean Springs, MS while we were on internship with Luther Disaster Response. Michael and George put on a great concert, and as an added bonus, a fellow NC pastor and a band he is in was the opening act for Lost and Found. Great job, Brian!

All in all, a good day, with a little down-time to get ready for tomorrow. An early morning and a long work day are in store, so check back tomorrow for pictures and another update.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Day One - Jesus, Justice, and Jazz

Day one began with registration. We walked (20 minute walk, according to directions) to the convention center (entered through this mall - as a long way around, but air conditioned). Our early trek through the mall did bring us back later for some shopping (especially after I lost my sun glasses in the convention center).

After registration, we walked, ate lunch, and toured the Jax Brewery area of the French Quarter.

Later, we headed for the dome, where we and the other 36, 996 Lutherans in NOLA gathered for song, fellowship, and encouragement. Opening night was great! Lots of good music, good speakers, and great entrance by the bishop (wish I had a video of that!).
It was also a good day for meeting friends. I ran into no less than six friends from seminary, plus several other pastors I have met over the years. While the national youth gathering brings many young people together, it also reunites many of us "older" youth with friends.
Tomorrow, the events begin. One day will be the Interactive Center; another will be a Servant project, and the third day will be a Learning event. We begin in this order - with our Interactive Day being tomorrow.
It is hard to describe what it is like to be in one place with 37,000 other Lutherans, singing, praying, and preparing for our time here in New Orleans. It is especially moving when you realize that this whole event was planned and is being carried out by the youth of our church, along with dedicated staff and adults. I look forward to tomorrow, with great anticipation.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

News from New Orleans

I just arrived in New Orleans for the National Lutheran Youth Gathering. For the next few days, I'll try to upload some thoughts, photos, and news from the event - from the perspective of an older, but new pastor attending for the first time. This should be interesting!

First of all - how did we get here? We started out months ago, 6 of us planning to make the trip. By the time we were ready to leave, we were down to 4. Many issues played a part in this, but this is the reality we are dealing with. We drove - about a 14 hour adventure. The good news - it was uneventful. The bad news - I am so tired I can't seem to settle down to sleep.

When we arrived and checked into our hotel, it was to find things not quite like we thought they were. Of course, over my many years of business travel, I have many, many horror stories about hotels and this one in comparison is pretty mild. We have rooms, they are reasonably clean, and mostly quiet. We'll survive.

We went for a walk - no one else in our group has ever been to New Orleans. We strolled down Decatur (where we are staying), up St. Peter, then down Bourbon St. to Canal St., down Canal to Decatur and back to our hotel. My first impressions is that the French Quarter seems to be well on the road to recovery after Katrina. This is my first visit since before the hurricane and while there are many changes, most of the business spaces seem to have shops/restaurants, etc. which are open for business. The only down side I see is that Bourbon Street seems to have slipped from where it was - less restaurants and music - more bars and adult entertainment. What used to be a street where the adult side of things could be ignored or giggled at is now more in-your-face. That is a shame. As well, one of my favorite restaurants which always had a good Dixie-land group playing seems to be gone. Of course, businesses do change - even without a Katrina to help - but I mourn the loss of businesses that were more family-oriented and their replacement by adult-only businesses.

The upside of our walk tonight - I saw several familiar faces as we walked about the French Quarter. I am looking forward to seeing many old friends over the next few days - as well as making some new ones.