#6–September Seminary Ridge Review

Friends, it has been exactly one month since our last post, and I am incredibly proud of this accomplishment of consistence. (Congratulatory cards are welcome.) The reason for this may be the excitement I bring in writing to you today, as I have forced myself to wait until the month ended before reflecting on all that has happened. This review will be a smorgasbord of information for both Hillary and I over the course of September and looking towards what lies ahead. A brief summary includes:

  • 333 Clothing Challenge
  • Minimalism Game
  • Seminary Classes
  • Ministerial Immersion Placements
  • Fund For Leaders
  • Looking Ahead
  • Board Games

33(1) Clothing Challenge — During the month of September, Hillary and I challenged ourselves to live more simply. One way was through the intentional limitation of our respective wardrobes. We each set out to pick just 33 pieces of clothing (shirts, pants, shoes, accessories, etc) and wear only them for the entire month (more info in blog #5). We are proud to announce that we both held very true to our intentions over the last 30 days. The weather here started to change, and fluctuated from very hot to quite cold, with rain drenching both between and the the extremes. However, we made it work! Of course, there were some times that we had to “fudge” the plan–for example, our new involvement in our church placements, and my trip to Chicago. Overall, we both found ways to make our limited supplies work without ever feeling impossibly burdened. No one commented that we were wearing the same things over and over. We never felt uncomfortable. In fact, it made getting ready even easier most days with fewer options. Perhaps the greatest challenge was keeping up on laundry–but even that was made easier because it only took one load to wash everything we needed for the week!

Now that we are completed with the month, both Hillary and I are adapting our wardrobes moving forward. I am adding back into my closet some jackets I am not quiet ready to remove; with the weather continuing to decline I truly think more than my Nebraska crew neck will be needed. I included my many colored chinos to compliment my new Sunday best: clerical black with collar tab. Finally, I also readmitted some new shirts which have not had their fair chance to be worn. However, with all these additions I have attached a sticky-note to the article which will only be removed after wearing. My commitment is that by December, while packing to go to Nebraska, if something has a sticky-note on it, no matter how dear, it is going to someone else who will use it more.

Hillary also added many articles back into her wardrobe (but, to be honest, I don’t know everything she has in her closet…) and I think she will also be using sticky notes to help continue to remove excess. Through the entire moth we both began donating or ridding ourselves of many pieces of clothing that we totally knew we no longer wanted or needed. These were donated as part of our Minimalism Game.

Minimalism Game — This was our other challenge of September. More details can again be found in blog #5. Hillary and I were so proud and impressed with ourselves through almost the whole month! Until the 24th we had both stayed true to the pledge, but then we ran out of time, energy, and really, stuff. We each removed 293 things or “sets of things” from our home, for a total of 586 items. At this time we had a paper we both put significant work into, and I was out of town from the 27th – 29th, too. While wed did not WIN this game, Hillary and I are proud of our success and feel the process helped us have a greater appreciation for the pieces of stuff we choose to keep in our lives. We spent time organizing and maximizing our space. We cleared out many “junk” boxes that had stuff we just didn’t know what to do with (much of this was donated or properly sorted into appropriate spaces. By the end of this month, I was even looking at clearing space on our board game shelves of the rarely played, bad, and extra games! So much of our excess is no longer here, and it is a good thing. We are both looking at how to better make purchases which add to our experiences and not to our shelves. Again, while we did not win the game, we have both been changed for the better through the process and hope to continue making changes to simplify.

Seminary Classes — Our classes are certainly picking up speed. We are so grateful that God has called us here. We are thankful for many friends, family, and supporters who have helped make it possible, too! Our classes this semester focus on building a firm foundation in biblical and church history. Hillary and I have the same class schedule, so we help each other study. Our classes include a historical geography class called Reading and Telling the Story. In this, we look at the historical setting and how scripture, history, and geography all support and are supported by one another. Another class is Worshipping Communities. It is a basic liturgy class. We are focusing on the four parts of Holy Communion worship in most Evangelical Lutheran Churches of America: Gathering, Word, Meal, and Sending. Our third class is Systematic Theology, which is the technical term for “What are we talking about when we talk about God.” And our final class is Dynamic Faith, or “Church History 101.” In this class we are studying the history and development of Christianity from before Christ until just before the Reformation. We are learning so much and are excited to share our new learning with anyone who wants to learn!

Ministerial Immersion Placements — In addition to taking classes, every first-year seminarian (called Juniors here) have a teaching parish in which they spend about 8 to 10 hours each week shadowing the pastor. Both Hillary and I are at St. John’s Lutheran churches, but I am in Littlestown, PA and Hillary is in Abbottstown, PA. They are both within a half hour drive of Gettysburg.  We will help with Christian Education, serve as assisting ministers, attend various committee and council meetings, and also assist with other community events throughout the year. Next semester we will even have the opportunity to preach. Hillary has already participated in a Golf fundraiser with her congregation, and I am serving in mine as an assistant minister with other members of the congregation.

Fund For Leaders — One of the most significant supports for out time in seminary so far has been from the ELCA as a whole. I am one of the recipients of a full-tuition Fund For Leaders scholarship awarded by the greater church. This scholarship helps significantly in limiting the financial burden for seminarians and greatly impacts the opportunities Hillary and I have in seminary. This scholarship began roughly 20 years ago with just eight students receiving support. This year they awarded aid to the largest group yet: 50 full-tuition scholarships, six partial-tuition mission and development scholarships, and one federal chaplaincy scholarship. The scholarship recipients were honored this last weekend in Chicago, where all the bishops of the ELCA, many donors, and employees of the church wide offices attended a celebratory banquet. (A video of the event can be found here.–I am at minute 54:00) This was incredibly affirming for me to see the support the church has in Hillary and I saying “YES” to the call to ministry. If you would like to know more about how Fund For Leaders works, I would love to help answer questions. Their goal is to one day provide ALL ELCA seminarians attending an ELCA seminaries with full-tuition scholarships. While they are making huge strides, the funding is just not there yet. If you feel called to help, you can donate to assist in building the Church, not just the future church, but right now!

Looking Ahead –Through he amazing support of so many people and churches, Hillary and I have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to the Holy Land (Israel, Palestine, and Jordan) as a seminary class. This trip is both incredibly informational and enlightening, but also affordable. We will be exploring the historical and religious sites for two weeks in January. This will be immediately proceeded by a visit home to Nebraska, where we will be for two weeks around Christmas. We hope to connect with as many of you as possible while home before this big trip! Send us a call, text, email, or letter if we want to start planning coffee, worship, or any sort of fellowship!

Board Games — And finally, Board Games! Hillary and I have been helping bring people together over our favorite hobby. We have played so many different games with different people and are sharing the love. Some friends were in a similar position to us before coming to seminary (married couple, loves games, usually play just the two of them), so we often are playing together outside of the larger “game nights.” In addition to playing so many games, we have actually slowed down our purchasing habits of games, which is truly a good thing. In fact, I purchased only two games since moving to Pennsylvania: one was off Facebook marketplace (from another Lutheran Clergy Couple!–She works for ULS and he is finishing his doctorate at Princeton) and the other was in celebration of our packed month of September, and it was a hard-to-find game by one of our favorite designers which has been on our wishlist for months. This game is Nusfjord. Players are trying to build a fishing company by purchasing fishing fleets, utilizing sustainable forestry, and constructing buildings–all while taking a strict 21 single actions throughout the entire game. After buying it on Saturday, we have already played it four times. I am also in the process of clearing some shelf space and keeping only our best games. As the holidays approach, I am sure we will continue to add to our collection, and it will be important that we create space in what we already have and not just buy more shelves. A sticky-note is now on the back of every game we have yet to play in PA, and if it is not taken off by May, it is being removed.

Of course, we are always looking to play more games. The following currently are on our “want to play” list from our current selection. Many of these are favorites that just haven’t gotten to the table yet:


Additionally, before closing, I want to celebrate that Hillary and I have now viewed United Lutheran Seminary as home for a whole year! It was last September we visited. We cannot believe the future we discussed then is now reality! Thank you so much again for all your love, care, and support. Our journey on Seminary Ridge is only possible because of you. If you would like to hear more about any specific part of the adventure, please let us know!

Peace and Blessings,

Evan & Hillary

#5–Let’s Play a Game

It should be no surprise to you that Hillary and I are playing another game. This one, however, is different that most that we play. It does not have a board, cards, dice, or any playing pieces at all. The only things provided are the following rules:

  • Have too much stuff (we pretty much all do in one way or another)
  • Get rid of one thing on the first day, then two on the second, three on the third (and on and on). It must be out of the house by midnight each day.
  • Getting rid of something means one of the following things:
    • Donate
    • Sell
    • Trash

If a player can keep this up for the entire 30 days, he or she will remove 475 pieces of excess from home and life. This game, or challenge comes from The Minimlaists, Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus. As Hillary and I continue settling into our new home in Gettysburg, we find that we are just buying more stuff (ex. buying more shelves and containers to put stuff we don’t really need.) This is why we are going to try this game and reflect on the positive (or challenging) effects we experience.

Additionally, Hillary and I are kicking off this month with another “challenge” based on Project 333. In this, participants select only 33 pieces of “fashion” from which to build their entire wardrobe for the next three months. This includes expected items like shirts, pants, and jackets, but it also includes things easily overlooked. Each pair of shoes, jewelry, hat, etc are also counted. Of course, there are exceptions for everyday essentials (wedding ring, underwear & undershirts, socks, etc). Participants may also include any number of items for sleep, working out, and lounging-around-the-house. The idea, though, is that these “extra” items are not considered “clothing” (i.e., you don’t go to work, class, or the shopping center in this wear).

Now, we do not want to try biting off too much, so Hillary and I are adapting Project 333 for our current needs and expectations. Being new to Gettysburg, seminary, and the schedule and expectations associated with it, we are looking to “try” the “33” part of the challenge while getting rid of the other excess in our lives. So really, we are doing Project 33(1) instead.


Details: Some quick stats on the clothing Hillary and I currently own (in our apartment as of September 1st–we have some clothing already in storage!):

Evan: 33 t-shirts, 3 sweatpants, 5 flannels, 12 dress shirts, 10 pants/jeans, 10 sweatshirts/pullovers, 9 pairs of shorts, 10 pairs of shoes, 8 hats, 2 1/2 suits (3 jackets, 2 with matching pants), and 1 raccoon onesie. This comes to a grand total of 105 items of clothing. Not included are numerous ties, undershirts, socks, underwear, and belts.

For my challenge I selected the following: 3 pairs of athletic shorts, 2 pairs of dressier shorts, 2 pairs of pants, 1 pair of jeans, 2 dress shirts, 3 polos, 2 flannels, 3 sweatshirts, 1 pair of dress shoes, 2 pairs of sneakers, 2 hats, 2 ties, and 8 t-shirts. There are also 4 workout shirts & a pair of cleats, but these will only be worn for flag-football practice and at the YWCA. (I did not include my belt in this list because it is a necessity for my pants and we all lose if I don’t wear it. The ties, on the other hand, do count, because the dress shirts work with/without either die, thus their accessories). I may also need to swap out a t-shirt for a suit jacket to where for church/a formal function I have in Chicago later this month.

Hillary: 28 t-shirts, 22 shorts, 13 dress pants, 5 leggings, 3 workout capris, 4 PJ pants, 7 sweatshirts, 6 jeans, 22 casual shirts, 17 dresses, 6 skirts, 16 sweatshirts/pullovers, 4 flannels, 1 robe, 6 cardigans,  5 sweaters, 2 suit jackets, 7 dress shirts, 3 festive wears, and 25 pairs of shoes (plus undergarments, etc). This comes to a grand total of 202 items. 

For Hillary’s challenge, she selected the following: 5 pairs of shorts, 5 pairs of pants, 7 t-shirts, 3 casual/nice shirts, 2 cardigans, 2 skirts, 2 dresses, 1 sweater, 1 jacket, 1 pair of heels, 1 pair of tennis shoes, 1 pair of Chacos, and 2 pairs of Tom’s. (Hillary is not included leggings because she only wears those with dresses if its cold, so its only as an undergarment.)


Feelings: I am very excited for this adventure of more simplified living. I did a Project 333 early last year to some success, but I ended up adding more clothing as time went on. I also didn’t do anything to track or reflect on my progress. This time I am hoping to do it more. Hillary, on the other hand, was less excited to have to pare down her wardrobe. However, after sorting through everything and making her choices for the 33 pieces, she was much more confident. She feels the whole thing will be easier than she thought because, as she remembered, we just spent the last 3 weeks living out of a suitcase in Philadelphia, and this is only 1 week longer!

As always, thank you so much for the support and love.

Peace and blessings,

Evan & Hillary


And of course, a Game Update:

We recently started having our fellow seminarians and family over to our apartment for game nights. We have had two so far. Our place can holds a group of 12 pretty comfortably so far, but we’ll see if we can get more?!

Recent games include the following: Wasteland Express, Betrayal at House on the Hill, Catan, Say Anything, Cards Against Humanity, Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle, Magic Maze, and King of Tokyo.

Game we hope to play soon: Tiny Epic Zombies, Power Grid, and our custom Tiny Epic Scythe (maybe a whole blog just for that… we shall see).


Picture credit: https://www.google.com/search?q=Minimalism&rlz=1C5CHFA_enUS798US798&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjurI61x5rdAhXMxFkKHUVMAgsQ_AUICygC&biw=1440&bih=803#imgrc=UMpiCyl1XMFGdM:

 

#4–Greek Life: It means something different to us as seminarians now…

Xάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ. 

Grace to you and peace from God the father and the lord Jesus Christ. 

Hillary and I just recently wrapped up our first class as seminarians: Language of the Early Church (AKA: Summer Greek). This three week intensive brought us to the city of brotherly love–Philadelphia. Specifically, the second campus of our seminary located in the heart of Germantown. Hillary and I called a small, college style dorm room home for three weeks while we embarked into the language used to write much of the New Testament.

Our experience with Greek was wonderful, which has not been a common theme for many pastors or ministers who have taken it in the past. I want to point out, however, that our class was not so focused on the memorization of roots and declensions. Our professor, Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman (VH for short), has crafted an interactive, practical approach for clergy and lay people to make sense of biblical (Koine) Greek for study, interpretation, and reflection. This means some good and not as good things depending on your view. On one hand, if looking at what we cannot do after taking this class, we did not spend hours memorizing declension patterns, vocabulary, or learn how to create and write new Koine Greek text. On the other, more positive hand, we know the “24 ways to say the” in Greek, we can recognize those patterns to identify the cases of words, and we know how to understand the person, number, tense, voice, mood, or any mix of other information for various words (like indicatives, imperatives, infinitives, substantives, optatives, participles, pro/nouns, prepositions, and conditionals). VH begins the class outlining his goal for us to take this information and actually put it to use in our ministries in the future. We are constantly asked to “go back to the Greek” to discover first hand the interpreter bias which comes out in our English translations today, and to ask ourselves why does this translation read differently than the Greek–is it for the ease of reading, or does it communicate a different theological claim than the original author intended. And yes, we did memorize some words, specifically the 109 most common words in the new testament. As VH reminded us often, it helps save time if you don’t have to look up every single word when working with the scriptures–learning the common words is simply for efficiency.

Tied intricately with this class was the tool Accordance Bible Software. This phenomenal tool is a library at your fingertips. Literally, what used to take up shelves and shelves on in a theologian’s office is now compressed into a dropdown menu on the computer screen. Rather than dog-earing dozens of pages in the Greek New Testament and different translations of the bible, you can scroll through all the texts at once. Additionally, VH created a morphological highlighting system which helps the user identify the parts of speech of thousands of words. This helped tremendously with forming our own understanding and translation. (You can check out a video by Accordance featuring our Prof’s tools here.

In addition to learning Greek in the classroom for five to six hours each day, there was also a lot of time spent studying in small groups–which often devolved into trips to the convenience store, movies, or board games. In all honesty, Summer Greek truly serves dual purposes: one is clear, the teaching of Greek since it is fundamental to study church history and scripture for the rest of seminary; and two, to build community. Almost every night was some event focused on bringing our new class together. We did cookouts, watched Greek related movies (Disney Hercules and My Big Fat Greek Wedding), and, of course, played board games. Hillary and I brought a good selection of games, but one of our (mostly my) favorites was a favorite of others, too. We played Scythe probably a dozen times in the evenings after studying. We even knocked out a four player game in 40 minutes after our final! Other games were played, too. But in enjoyed getting to play Scythe so much I needed to share in the actually blog post (as always, other games will be posted later).

Finally, I want to share with you the adventures Hillary and I have coming up this semester. Classes begin Tuesday, August 28th. We are taking the following courses: Church History 1: Dynamic Faith of the Church, Systematic Theology 1: Creation, Sin, and New Creation, Reading and Telling the Story, and Worshipping Communities. We will meet once for each class during a three hour block each week (one per day, Tuesday – Friday, actually). We look forward to sharing what we learn with you in the future, but until then, thanks for reading!

Grace and Peace to you,

Evan Christensen


Board Game Update:

Recently Played:

Hope to Play Soon:

[Thank you to John Lowry for the photo from Facebook]

#3-Mid-Summer Evaluations

NOTE TO THE READER–THIS IS A LONG BLOG POST

The phrase, “Mid-Summer Evaluations”, is common around camp during staff training and the first few weeks of summer. Often, it is said as a form a praise when someone does an act noteworthy or recording.

i.e. — “Wow! Great job, you, for doing that thing. I’ll remember this during mid-summer evaluations!”

On the other side, however, the phrase is also used–let me assure you it is done in jest and good-spirit–when someone makes a mistake. Again, it is not done when serious or formal critique is needed. I would equate it to when a player drops a ball in practice or a musician plays a chord incorrectly–it’s an error, but it’s not a big deal.

i.e.– “Hey, [insert name here], here is your new name tag for the 14th time this summer. Try to keep track of this one and don’t: lose, rip, burn, sacrifice, eat this one or I’ll have to remember this for your mid-summer evaluation.”

In reality, the mid-summer evaluation is a real thing, but it serves much less as a way for the program team to tell the summer ministry team what they are doing well or not-so-well. Rather, it is a time of reflection and commitment. This year, the team members sat down individually and examined the goals each person wrote for herself or himself. They evaluated their success in reaching those goals and created plans to maintain success of drafted new steps to meet the goals in the coming weeks.

Now, you the reader of this blog post may be asking yourself, Why is Evan writing about this and how can it possibly relate to seminary, camp, or board games? Well, friend, that is a great question, and I am both glad and thankful for you to ask it.

This blog entry will serve as our own mid-summer evaluation to update you on all the things that have taken place for Hillary and I since the start of summer. This will also be a time as we reflect on these things and look at what the next few weeks hold. Included are the following topics: Summer Camp, The Youth Gathering, Packing, Seminary, and of course, Board Games.

Summer Camp

At the time of this writing, campers are arriving, meeting counselors, moving in, and beginning a great week at camp. Today marks the sixth of eight weeks and it is looking to be full, hot, ministry filled week. I personally look forward to actually being back at camp. After almost two weeks absent (Gathering, see below, and 4th of July), it feels weird to be back in routine, but it also feels so great to be back at camp. I hope to savor the remaining time and opportunities here.

The Youth Gathering

To save some time on this post, please check out blog #3a-Reflections on the Youth Gathering

 

Packing

Since returning from Houston, Hillary and I have been in full-moving-mode. Just about every day is filled with more sorting, folding, trashing, and packing. Our game shelf has dwindled to just 20 games and the rest in boxes. It finally really hit me that we’re moving as we packed up the kitchen. With all our pots, pans, dishes, cups, other cookware, other cups, baking tools, and extra gadgets, we now have three CJH branded spork+knives and an empty take-out box to microwave pizza, and every empty cupboard reminds us we’re moving soon. When I say remind, it’s a good thing, as it shows the progress we are making. Sort of like when you see the bottom of the plate that was once overflowing with spaghetti. There is pride in making to that far, but you know you dread having to finish, but in the end it’s both needed and rewarding. Our goal is to be 99% finished moving by next weekend (7/22), and to spend the last week of our time in Nebraska with friends, family, and relaxation.

Seminary

We are getting so excited to begin this next adventure! The only big update is that we got our housing assignment and would love to share our address with you if you would like! We would also love to have yours to send you letters, too! We continue to receive wonderful news of support, both through prayer from our communities and financial support. We are so thankful for these blessings and look forward to being good stewards of these gifts.

Board Games

I recently learned of Facebook Marketplace, and even though we are trying to pack up, I keep finding really, really good deals on great games. In the past couple days we’ve picked up the following: Shadows over Camelot, Quelf, Punderdome, Red November, and Ambition: A Roll for the Galaxy Expansion. At some point I am sure we will actually be able to play these all… Maybe…

We have had some time to play other games, though! We made some great new friends at CJH and have a standing Monday evening game group until we leave. Last week we played Photosynthesis, a game about planting, growing, and harvesting trees which looks GORGEOUS on the table top. We also played Stonemeier’s epic dystopia building worker placement game, Euphoria. I came in last place in both while Hillary won or tied for second in both.

We also had the opportunity to play test Hill’s game, [Working Title] Zoo Builder again last night. This time it was with six players, three of them kiddos aged 11, 8, and 6, and it was so wonderful. We played to just three exhibits because it was getting close to bed time. The 8-year-old won with 22 points, followed by scores of 21, and 19. It was a great game and all enjoyed.

Finally, Hillary and I finally got Scythe to the table again and I wooped Hillary 105 – 88, so I am happy to end this blog on a high note!

 

Much Peace and Many Blessings to you,

Evan

#3a-Reflections on the Youth Gathering

The Youth Gathering

My last blog post focused on the Gathering, and as promised, here are my thoughts:

WOW!

To begin, it was so much more than I expected in all good and wonderful ways. Perhaps the best attempts at relay the experience to you is to outline the week and then focus on highlights. Hillary’s church, St. Mark’s, traveled with Bethlehem and Alma.

Day One: The trip started early Monday morning. We boarded the motor coach and drove south to Oklahoma City. The evening’s activities included dinner and ice cream in Bricktown, followed by self-touring the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial. By far, the highlight, albeit humbling, was the memorial. Typically, I feel, at memorials of horrific tragedy, onlookers are called to mourn and remember our affected sisters and brothers–both the victims, but also their families and the community. While this memorial certainly does this, and it is an important thing to be done, the OKC Memorial also shares so many stories of the community and the nation coming together to support one another. It reminded me of a phoenix being reborn out of ashes. One example of this is The Fence.

There is a chain link fence the stretches out on one of the outside walls of the memorial. On this fence, thousands of people leave memories: prayers, written notes from loved ones to those lost more than 20 years ago, shirts or souvenirs showing who has visited, and more. What is interesting about this is that was never then intention of the fence. It was a barricade for the rubble left. Almost immediately, the public began leaving tokens. The fence became a symbol of hope, leading to the memorial designers to incorporate it into the plans. Now, 200 feet of the original fence are included. Over the last 20 years, more than 60,000 items have been left. As the fence fills up, the items are archived overtime and kept in storage. This part of the memorial spoke to me of the compassion, love, and communal potential humanity has. Through this tragedy, people continue to love and support one another. Visiting the memorial was a heavy way to spend our first night of the trip, but I am thankful for the opportunity for myself, but also the 40+ high school students who also got to experience it.

Day Two: We continued our drive through Oklahoma, into Texas, through Dallas, stopped for lunch in Huntsville, and finally arrived in Houston. We visited a pier on our first night there. We all enjoyed riding the rides and seeing the Gulf. Dinner was at a Hibachi & Sushi place. While the food and entertainment was very good, the service left something to be desired. Our reservation was for 6:00, we got their around 5:45, and weren’t seated until after 6:10. We were one of only three other tables (granted a large group of 13). On top of that, out orders were not taken until 15 or so minutes later, and our chef did not start cooking until well after 7:00. Despite the unneeded delays, it was still a fun experience for many of the kids who had not been to such a place before. Also, someone from the church anonymously covered the bill for the evening. For the food and their kindness, we give thanks.

Day Three: This was the first actual day for the Gathering, with events starting in the evening and the kick-off of Mass Gathering. The plan for the day was sort of up-in-the-air, as the other two churches had to report to Mass Gathering practice. They were part of the Mass Cast, which is similar to a flash mob. The morning was set with a trip to NASA, but the Mass Cast practice was at 1:00, but the actual event didn’t start until much later, and we didn’t need to get in line and wait until about 4:00. What that meant for the kiddos from Valley is there was roughly three hours to fill in Houston. Before I get to that, I’ll talk a bit about the Johnson Space Center, or NASA. Here we toured the space shuttle and the jet that transported it, went to many interactive exhibits, and took a tram tour of the campus and astronaut training facility. The highlight for me was the shuttle and plane tour. It may have been because it was the first thing we did, and the only exhibit without hundreds of other people around us. It also may have been the absolute sheer size of the crafts and the amazing scientific engineering that made them reality. The interactive exhibits were okay and aimed towards children. Finally, the tram tour, which were most excited for, began with an over 120 minute wait in line. Not worth it. perhaps on a less busy day I would do it again, but it was an experience I could have had while watching a YouTube video. Granted, there is something to say in actually being in the same building where the astronauts train.

Following NASA, our group made the call to go to a small beach in a neighborhood of Houston. Miraculously, the motor coach made the tight turns and carried us to El Jardin beach. The beach and water certainly rejuvenated our spirits, and I think helped improve the entire week. After the frustration of lines at NASA and the dinner from the night before, we thought the whole week was just going to be standing in the hot sun, waiting for something to happen. At the beach, we were mostly to ourselves. We ran, jumped, and splashed in the water. The energy we had stored on the bus ride and waiting in line burst forth from us as the water washed away any hesitations we had about the trip. After pruning our fingers and sun-burning our faces, we hopped back to the bus and headed to NRG Stadium for the first night of Mass Gathering. Here 31,000 Lutheran youth and adult leaders gathered to worship and listen to engaging speakers. On this night, the speakers all presented on different ways in which God’s Call Changes Everything. Speakers included Tuhina Rasche (ELCA Pastor), Ginny Owens (Musician), Deborah D.E.E.P. Moutan (Poet), and Bryan Stevenson (Public Interest Lawyer). My personal favorite was Pr. Tuhina speaking of God calling her from the life of a practicing Hindu to the call of Ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the ELCA and where she exists in her unique space.

Day FourOur first cycle day of the Gathering was our Service day, we set off from the hotel at 7:00 AM and made our way to Hermann Park, a 100+ year-old park nestled in the city of Houston. Our kids, together with about 200 others, spent the morning raking Texas Pink Granite off the grass and back onto the pathways. We also picked up trash and helped refresh the space. Our kids enjoyed the experience tremendously, and I am not surprised. The youth of St. Marks have also gravitated towards service learning, so this was right up their alley. We all also received some good advice from our service learning coordinator at the park: You get paid to volunteer and serve. No, it’s not with cash-in-hand at the end of the day, but its in relationships, networking, scholarships, and experience. For high school students and young adults, service is one of the best and surest ways to earn interviews and job offers in the public service industry as well as scholarships to put towards education. Now, stewardship and service is important and should be done regardless of what we get for it, since it should be done because of what God has already done, but it is also true that volunteering has social, personal benefits. I appreciate this lesson being shared with our youth.

Following Service Learning, we went to NRG Arena for a celebration of service. What we expected was a reflective worship service–something calm, serene, and introspective. What we got was a rave, tailgate games, prayer walks, arts and crafts, gaga ball, four square, food trucks, a concert, and projected video game sessions, and that is just a short list of what I saw. Essentially, there was hopefully something for everyone. However, it was a tad overwhelming for me, so I am sure others were also awestruck by just how much there was to do. I and few other youth spent a good majority of time at the gaga pit, where I got the nickname Bear (which is actually my brother’s nickname interestingly enough) and made it to the top 3 in many games I played, winning one.  (someone has to teach the youth how to play gaga well).

MASS Gathering this evening focused on God’s Love Changes Everything. Speakers included Caroline Meeker (Student, Wish Granter), Rev. Aaron Fuller (Navy Chaplain), and Marlon Hall (Anthropologist). Marlon Hall’s presentation was the most moving for me. His intentional language and the rhythm and soul of his word choice helped inspire and encourage the audience to recognize the power of God’s love and how it changes us to love, too.

Day Five: Our activity for this day was the Interactive Learning Center. Here, the youth were able to walk around the NRG center and explore hundreds of different organizations, ministries, and opportunities within the ELCA. I think this was an AMAZING IDEA. For everyone, especially youth (tomorrow’s church), to see all the different ways in which one’s faith can be manifest in daily work and life is foundational in faith formation. All the different things we talk about are theoretical until actually applied to practical application, and, in my opinion, the Interactive Learning Center did exactly that. Since I only experienced a very small aspect of the NRG Center, I encourage you to check out this link to learn more if you’re interested!

Interactive Learning Center

We went to the beach again, this time to Galveston. The waves here were much bigger and much saltier. To save a bit of time, I’ll say I personally preferred El Jardin more.

Mass Gathering on this evening focused on God’s Grace Changes Everything. Speakers included Elizabeth Peter (Seminarian @ ULS!!!), Will Starkweather (ELCA Pastor), Michaela Shelley (Student living w/ Mitochondrial Disease & Blogger), Jasmine Segarra (Student), and Nadia Bolz-Weber (ELCA Pastor). My highlights of day five are both quotes from the speakers. One is from Nadia:

Self-righteousness feels good for a minute like peeing your pants feels warm for a minute. And then its cold and smells.

And the other from Will:

There’s GRACE for that.

Day Six: This was the last full day of the Gathering, and it was Synod Day for Nebraska. At Synod day, all the youth of that synod got together for worship, faith formation, and general announcements of what is happening. (If you’re wondering, synod is the organizational term used for the wider church body of a specific area and population of ELCA Lutherans. There are 65 synods. Within a synod of the ELCA, there are 30 – 300 congregations. Nebraska is on the larger side at 250ish congregations). With 800+ people in a hall of the Downtown Hilton, Nebraska Synod gathered together for a wonderful three hours. Hillary was in the band, and I had the honor of being a t-shirt cannon and lead “Shake a Friend’s Hand”. We also heard from Bishop Brian Maas and met many people from across the state. Overall, it was a very worthwhile time.

This was the final evening Mass Gathering. While there were still speakers and music played, the highlight for most was the concert by Tenth Avenue North. Speakers included Stephen Bouman (ELCA Pastor serving Church-Wide), Deborah D.E.E.P. Moutan (Poet), Carson McCullar (Student), Joe Davis (Poet), Jamie and Rebekah Bruesehoff (Mom & Daughter LGBTQ+ Advocates), and Maria Rose Belding (Co-Founder/CEO of MEANS database). The entire night was so wonderful, but the highlight would be hearing and witnessing Rebekah stand and speak so confidently to the Gathering. She was also, to my understanding, the first openly trans person to speak from the main stage at the Gathering.

Day Seven: This was our last day of Gathering, and it consisted of packing up and going to Church in the morning. We worshiped with a formal liturgy at NRG stadium, with music, scripture, sermon, communion, everything! The most meaningful part to me was the use of language. The service transitioned between English and Spanish seamlessly, and I so appreciated the validation that God is present and with all of us. Regardless of one’s cultural or racial identity, God loves and calls all. This is a message many should hear clearly and often.

After our final worship together, we boarded the bus and began the long trek back to Wahoo. We drove straight through, and Hillary and I were home just in time to fall asleep around 6:00 AM, with many memories dancing across our tired hearts and minds.

 

Peace and Blessings,

Evan

#2 – #ELCAYG2018

This summer, as summers tend to do, continues to fly past us. The last entry was about a month ago, and since then Hillary and I have completed staff training at CJH, celebrated our first anniversary, worked 3 full weeks of camp, and are now heading to Houston for the National Youth Gathering.

The Gathering is a massive, immersive experience during which thousands of high school youth, adult leaders, volunteers, and sponsors descend upon the city of Houston. The website for the ECLA Youth Gathering provides the following description:

Every three years, 30,000 high school youth and their adult leaders from across the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America gather for a week of faith formation known as the ELCA Youth Gathering. Through days spent in interactive learning, worship, Bible study, service and fellowship, young people grow in faith and are challenged and inspired to live their faith in their daily lives.

ELCA Youth Gathering Overview

Hillary attended the Youth Gatherings in New Orleans years ago, and my brother went to Detroit in 2016. This will, however, be the first time either Hillary or I attend as adult leaders. While she has some anticipation of what the week holds, I have no idea.

To be honest, I am in an in-between space emotionally going into this trip. I have loved, absolutely loved, being back at camp–seeing the growth of camper and summer staff alike, and I am not excited to miss an entire week while in Houston. On the other hand, this is such an incredible experience, and I get the honor of working with Hillary and seeing her be awesome and active as the Youth Director for her church and the hand full of high school kiddos she gets to bring to the Gathering. This will be one of the last events she gets to have with this crew before we leave. There is definitely an aura of nostalgia and memories in the background.

In that same light, I feel hesitation leaving home for a week. This is time we could spend with friends and family. When we return, we will have four short weeks before packing up and settling in Gettysburg. Now, as much as it may be easy to dwell on these negatives, I know that it is not as constructive to think about. Hillary and I both recognize and embrace this amazing opportunity to participate in the Gathering, and we are so thankful to do so.

We head out Monday, June 25th with a few other churches and a charter bus. I will do my best to document the adventure and will report back with new thoughts, observations, and reflections from the Gathering soon. Until then, thank you for being you and for reading this.

If you have any suggestions, tips, or questions about the Gather, give us a shout out–We would love to hear from you. Additionally, any ideas on games to play on the Bus with 50 something high school students??? We need something to pass the time on the journey there and back!

Peace and Blessings,

Evan


Oh! This is totally unrelated to the Gathering, but here is a monthly update of Games we’ve been playing, since I am sure thats what you’re most interested in!

  • Clans of Caledonia – Deep economic strategy game in which you try to bring your Scottish Clan into the industrialized world.
  • The Fox in the Forrest – Elegant 2-player trick taking card game.
  • Charterstone – a legacy worker placement game we are playing with two close friends (still four games to finish before they get married and ewe leave–Ahh!!)
  • Gloomhaven – Heavy psuedo-RPG style board game with great combat system and slight legacy style game play.
  • Star Realms – (App version) Two-player deck building game.

And a few new-to-us games we hope to play soon…

  • Battleball – Futuristic football; basically NFL Blitz for the N64 as a board game. Lots of dice chucking (from 2003!)
  • Lords of Waterdeep – D&D themed worker placement
  • Pandemic (1st Edition, WHAT?!) – Already owned, but this is a copy from 2007 with original art and components.

 

 

#1 – Summer Camp to Seminary

Note: The idea of a blog was suggested by many coworkers in the months leading up to the last day of school. After much contemplation, Hillary and I think it would be a good idea to keep in contact with the many communities who have invested in us. So, a huge thank you to all who take time to check in on our adventures!

Continue reading “#1 – Summer Camp to Seminary”