UPG at ELCA Youth Gathering

“This Changes Everything”

The United Proclamation of the Gospel is going to Houston, Texas!

We will be joining 30,000 of our sisters and brothers in Christ to worship and glorify God in Houston from Wednesday June 27 through Sunday July 1.

Please keep us in your prayers during this time so that we might have safe travels, hear and feel the power of God’s love, serve as faithful disciples of Christ and represent the people of the United Proclamation of the Gospel!

Matthew Bleier
Evan Hawk
Quinn Jackus
Luke King
Pastor Jerry Kulp
Shirley Kulp
Jesse Nichol
Kailyn Seixas

We look forward to sharing our experience with all of you when we return! Regular updates will be posted below. You can share your prayers and encouragement by responding to these posts.


You can watch live streaming from the Youth Gathering by clicking here. Wait for “Live Streaming” to appear, and click on the image. The following events will be live-streamed. Times have been translated to Eastern Daylight Saving Time.

Daily Bible Studies 6/27-30, 4:30-6:30 p.m.
Mass Gatherings 6/27-30, 8:30-10:15 p.m.
Closing Worship 7/1, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

 


Navigation


06/27/18 8AM Youth Gathering Update! All our youth arrived on time and ready to experience God’s love! We left Allentown at 6AM and should be arriving in Houston around 230PM. You can experience our evening worship celebrations along with us by going to www.elca.org then clicking the Youth Gathering 2018 button. The worship celebrations will be “live streamed” every evening at 8:30 pm Eastern. For now peace and blessings to you all and thank you again for all your love, support and prayers.

Gracious Lord. We give you thanks for sharing with us a community of faith that truly supports us, encourages us, and loves us. We feel the support and prayers from all of our sisters and brothers in Christ from the United Proclamation of the Gospel. Grant wisdom, attentiveness and compassion to all of those people who will be making sure we get to Houston safely. Allow the 30,000 who gather to feel Your presence dwelling among us that we all may be true ambassadors of Your love to the people of Houston and to one another. Grant us all a sense of calmness and peace trusting in Your presence abiding within us. In Jesus name we pray these things. Amen.

Pj


 

Wed. 7:00 p.m. Wow! We’re here! Already God’s Spirit has been active today. One of the
informal traditions of the gathering issues that the youth exchange small “trinkets” with each other to remember where all the people you have met
come from. Our first exchanges occurred at 4:30 this morning when our airline agent gave each of us “United airline wings!” In response we shared one of our wrist bands with her . Our trip down had several God sightings…
a woman helped “organize” one of our youth by sharing and packing a food bag for him while another stranger ran down the concourse to return a left-behind wallet. Our cab driver asked what we were doing in Houston at the gathering and when I shared that one of our goals was to share 100,000 books with children of Houston his mouth dropped and he simply said God bless you all!

We’re getting ready to go into the mass gathering now so I will sign off… but please know the feeling here in Houston is amazing.

Gracious Lord. We thank you for this amazing day experiencing Your presence. Continue to guide and protect all who are gathering and allow all of our hearts to be open to Your abiding prresence. Amen
Peace for now
Pj

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Already collecting and sharing wristbands and pins! Our wristband is the rainbow one! UPG of Bethlehem Pa!

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Wednesday evening mass gathering/worship




Shirley Kulp wrote: “God’s call changes everything… electric atmosphere, the spirit was rockin’ the house!!”


 

Thursday morning

Energized for the Day!

Sharing God’s love today with our community life volunteers…
thanks for sharing your gifts and taking great care of us!


 

Thursday – God’s Love Changes Everything

Howdy from Houston! This morning our day began by reading John 4, the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well. Our teaching and the theme of today is “God’s love changes everything!” Jesus showed love to the woman at the well by accepting her and telling her that she belonged! This changed everything for her. Now we are gathering with the other 600 people from across our synod. Think about it… 8 of us representing the 700 people of the UPG… joining 600 people representing the 270+ congregations of the NE Penn synod… joining the 30,857 people representing the over 3 million people of the ELCA! And today we share with one another, with you and everyone we meet, and with the residents of Houston that “you all belong to God!” “All are important in God’s family!” Allow God’s love and the love of God’s gathered children to change everything!

Gracious Lord…thanks for loving us! Help us to love the people You place in our path. Amen.

Our group with Bishop Zeiser


Heading to the NRG Metro Line

During our synod day each of us signed a blue prayer stone with our name. We exchanged stones and now each one of us can pray for a new sister or brother in Christ, and those who received our stones will pray for us. God’s love changes everything.


 

Thursday evening mass gathering/worship


 

Thursday Wrap-up

GOD’S LOVE changes everything! Our hearts are full as we gather with 30000 of our best friends! Already we’ve worshipped our God through song and prayer, but on this night it was all about intimate and loving relations with God through Christ incarnate in US, God’s children. A young woman of 19 who finally feels like she is welcome and loved by God after ten years of battling anorexia because 9 people around her called her fat!

Another young woman whose mother came to our country from Nigeria and by the color of her skin and by her culture wasn’t sure if she could belong in an ELCA congregation. But what she found was a place of acceptance and love!

These stories carried such a powerful message because for both of these women God was felt and experienced in the people who surrounded them, encouraged them and loved them with a kind of love that could only come from our God!

Tonight I am ever thankful to God who offers us this kind of passionate love in our communities of faith. May we all strive to be so welcoming to people whom we meet in our daily lives.

Now… I need to pay attention to the remainder of our time together but wanted to share this feeling with you before it passed.

Peace and blessings

Pj

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What an incredible day the Lord has provided! My heart is overflowing as I watch our youth experiencing God in new, powerful, and profound ways! We can all be proud of Kailyn, Luke, Jesse, Evan, Matthew, and Quinn who have found the courage to open their hearts and minds to experience God in such wonderful ways.

After my last update we had another speaker who shared with us that not only did God love us before we were born but indeed God’s love for each one of us began before creation itself and will continue to eternity! Powerful stuff! Our final musical offering for the night was the “Guardian drum and bugle corps!” Talk about blowing the roof off the center! They were great!

Every night before we go to bed the eight of us gather in the hallway to review our day. Tonight we talked about how God often comes to us through the people around. As we were talking an adult leader from another community of faith stopped to listen to our stories. He shared some of his experiences with us from the day. I believe he truly felt welcomed and like he belonged with us! That my friends was the theme of this day at the assembly. “We BELONG!” The truth is his presence among us was exactly what WE needed! Oh… and talk about ironies that God shares… this man is a very close friend of the UPG’S very own Kenny Young!

Now we rest! Tomorrow we will hit the streets of Houston to share more of God’s love! Feeling and sharing God’s love truly does change everything!

Good night my sisters and brothers… rest well knowing you are loved…and you belong!


 

Friday – Community Service

Howdy from Houston!

This morning we have our community service project. There are over 100 of us working on a public mural at a business called “Alfredo’s Soul Food!” This business has been part of the community since 1965. It is very unique business that was established by an African American woman in a time and place when it was uncommon for African Americans, let alone a woman, to own a business.

We are working with a group of youth from various churches around Houston. Our artist is also a pastor in an AME church, another moment of profound thanks since the ELCA is connected so closely to AME.

So far this morning our youth have been addressed by a local council woman and a representative from the mayor’s office. Both expressed great gratitude to our youth, our home congregations, and the ELCA for our gift of being present and lending a helping hand.

Today our youth truly have a working knowledge of “God’s work our hands!”

Peace to you all!

Pj

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Getting colorful in the city: a beautiful day for God sightings

 


 

Friday Evening Mass Gathering


Our wristband collection is growing!!


 

Friday – God’s Grace Changes Everything

“There’s grace for that” and it changes everything! What a powerful day
for the UPG ambassadors to the youth gathering!

Trust me when I tell you that it was hot in Houston today… but nothing
could diminish God’s Spirit from sweeping over us all. We have been
blessed this night with an opportunity to be up close and personal to the
stage for our nightly gathering. We have been blessed tonight to hear
incredible God-inspired music. We have been blessed to watch thousands of young people joining arms and swaying back and forth to the song “God’s name is majestic”.

Yet perhaps it was in two young people courageously sharing their stories with over 30000 friends speaking of grace in the midst of personal chaos, turmoil and darkness in which this pastor and those around me felt overly blessed. We have felt blessed as their words pierced our hearts… incurable diseases… confronting the reality of a much too early death…facing their demons. Yes it was us and now you who have been blessed by their stories.

My friends…my sisters and brothers… nothing that has happened in your
life, in my life, or in anyone’s life is beyond the power of God’s grace!
God’s grace is meant for us all and sufficient for us all. You see…
God’s grace poured out on this world changes everything! May God’s grace be felt in your heart as you read and reflect on God’s great love for you!

Peace pj


 

Saturday – Hope changes everything

Howdy from Texas!

Today’s theme is God’s hope changes everything! This morning our group gathered at breakfast and reflected on the road to Emmaus text. You remember… disciples thinking Jesus is dead and walking along the road to Emmaus when suddenly Jesus “shows up” on the scene. This encounter with Jesus obviously inspired hope.

We spoke about how we bring hope to people. Our youth felt like extending an open and welcoming presence in the world brings hope into lives. Hope that a person feels welcomed and belongs somewhere. Hope built on the truth that a loving God has created you and loves you and so from one of God’s kids to another… you belong and are welcome.

I challenged our team this morning to find a person they don’t know and to really get to know them more than just a name and where they are from. Then we went off to the interactive learning center… think expo or farm show. There are a lot of fun offerings for our youth like rope courses and games, but there are also great educational booths set up. In one of these booths we took a virtual reality tour of a village in Africa where the ELCA is helping people in developing agricultural diversity…. here’s the awesome connector. … if you remember during Lent the UPG collected offerings to purchase goats… we got to experience a place where goats are shared with our sisters and brothers in Christ living in Africa! Powerful! And all of a sudden Bethlehem PA and the people of the UPG don’t seem so far away from the people of Millawe village in Africa!

Hope received by us in our relationship with God and in relationship of
our new community of faith and hope shared by us with people who receive goods from the ELCA farming initiative really does change everything.

Peace to you all Pj


Heading out to have some Lutheran fun with the youth!


Time for some cool fun, chilling and relaxing from the 100 degree outside weather!


 

Saturday Night Update – Our Church

“I want a church that doesn’t just welcome me. I want a church that celebrates ALL people.”
These words were spoken in front over 30000 of us by an 11 year old girl! A transgender who looks, acts, and plays like any other child. An 11 year old girl who just wants to be loved and supported like any person in the world….and I simply ask…shouldn’t every beautifully and wonderfully made child of God be able to be loved and supported?

On this night we’ve heard from a 20 year old young man who is two years sober from drugs after 7 years of abuse. You can do the math. He was 11 when he began smoking pot! Soon enough pot became stronger drugs. By his own words it was only through God’s hope expressed through his white middle class church-going family in which he was finally able to realize that he was loved and beloved by God… and he was enough.

Still another speaker who has been doing incredible work in food redistibution… btw…she shares that nearly 40% of the food produced in our country ends up in landfills… unconsumed. She’s on a mission to change that!

The stories. The power of the gospel. God’s love poured out on this broken world shares a desperately needed word of hope in our time! And that Hope my sisters and brothers can truly CHANGE EVERYTHING!

Thank You Lord! Thank You!
Peace for now my family

Pj


Saturday Late Night

Our final evening reflection is complete. Our young people are mingling with their new friends. Shirley has gone to bed. My prayers have been offered to our Lord, but instead of sleeping my mind is mulling over this experience.

I’ve been through enough of these experiences to know that come Monday the lives of Shirley and me and the rest of our UPG ambassadors will return to “normal”. I am also keenly aware that you were not able to be physically present with us in Houston; although trust me when I share with you all that indeed your spirit has been with us throughout this experience. I also understand that your lives continued in our absence; your daily vocations, your daily chores, your Joys, and your trials.

I know that in previous experiences that I’ve had such as this one that the exhilaration wears off, the good intentions to make substantive change based on new learning fades, and soon enough the daily grind consumes and before you know it events such as these become a treasured memory.

I hope and pray that I can sense in my heart when I share with you all that if this happens…it would be tragic! If we are unable to use an event such as this one to stimulate renewed thought and practices in our community of faith we will have missed an incredible opportunity that God has provided us!

You see… we are still in our infancy as the UPG… we are truly in a perfect situation to reimagine what our community might be, how we might be able to proclaim God’s love in 2018 and beyond that is relevant and profound in the fast-paced world that all of us now live in. Trust me when I share with you that if we are able to run with God’s Spirit that has been present in the UPG since our formation and combine that with the same passion and openness that we experienced in Houston, not only each of our lives will be renewed and refreshed in faith but we will be bearing a bold and courageous vision of discipleship with the world around us.

Pray my sisters and brothers. Pray that our Lord will inspire me and the leadership to continue to pursue God’s spirit moving among us. Pray that all of our sisters and brothers in Christ would allow their hearts and minds to be so moved by the Spirit that we would all carry a hopeful expectation of what might await us on our continued journey together and to not let a fear of what we might have to concede to continue to move forward to thwart our efforts. Pray that each of us would become fully enveloped in understanding that God shared such an abundance of grace in this world that we can move forward unfettered by any fear of failing!

As I told our youth I now share with you. Moments such as this one are truly precious… we should live in the moment that our Lord has so graciously shared and enjoy it to its fullest.

For now…peace and blessings to you!
And remember God’s love truly does change everything!

Pj


 

Sunday – coming home

Preparing to board our plane
My eyelids are beginning to strain.
A week of God’s call, grace, hope and love
Helped us feel like we could fly with a dove.
A dove of peace in the midst of trial,
We face the world with God’s love … not denial.
We welcome those like us and those who are not.
For God’s love on us has created an indelible spot.
We thank you for your support, your thoughts and your prayer.
But It’s time to fly .. or at least that’s what I hear.
So see you soon my friends and we will sing.
GOD’S LOVE FOR THIS WORLD CHANGES EVERYTHING!
Peace
Pj

56 thoughts on “UPG at ELCA Youth Gathering

  1. Tom Keener Post author

    Blessing and Prayers for you youth and leaders, and all 30,000 who are there with you. May God richly bless you as you worship, learn and serve.

  2. Barbara Keener

    May the Holy Spirit travel with and surround all those who are attending the Youth Gathering in Houston. You are always in our hearts and prayers.

  3. Lynn Terry

    God’s blessings for safe travel, new friendships and experiences which lead you to a closer relationship with God and His people. Have a wonderful time!!

    Love to all!
    Mrs. Terry

  4. Lynn Terry

    God’s blessings for safe travel, new friendships, and awesome experiences. Have a wonderful time sharing God’s love! We can’t wait to hear about your time there.

    Love to all!
    Mrs. Terry

    1. Pastor Jerry

      We’re thinking of all of you too! Very grateful for opportunity to be here which is only possible through the love and support of the UPG!
      Peace
      Pj

  5. Barbara Keener

    Lord, in your boundless mercy and wisdom, you made us to need rest and refreshment. We ask for this gift of your love this night for our sisters and brothers in Christ from the UPG who are in Houston so that they may be fit to share your Love anew with each other and all those they meet. We also ask that it would be given to all those who are attending the “This Changes Everything” event as well as those who are planning it. May all know Your abiding presence with them always and awaken ready to serve You. For it is in Jesus’s name that we are bold to ask these things. Amen

    1. Pastor Jerry

      Beautiful! Thank you. We will share this as our night time prayer with our youth tonight

  6. Tom Keener Post author

    Good morning, youth of UPG! Ready for another day of adventure? God is with you!

  7. Mary Mann

    God bless all the youth and pastors along with chaperones as you gather to share your love for Jesus! May you grow in your faith as you witness God’s work in your hands and heart!

  8. Mary Mann

    God bless all the youth and leaders who have gathered in Houston, especially those from the UPG as you witness God’s work in your heart. May your faith be straightened and your witness strong. Cherish the friendships you make at this Youth Gathering for the rest of your lives.

  9. Kathi Raphael

    Many thoughts and prayers with all of you for a safe, enriching, Spirit-filled gathering! Make new friends and do amazing things- these memories will last a lifetime!

  10. Barbara Keener

    Time to start this new day, a gift from our loving God. Use it wisely as you are lead. Watch for your Creator as you are continuously shown God’s self in each other and all those you meet.
    Blessings this day for you.
    bk

  11. Bonnie Harper and Stacy Gerhard

    Was in Dallas in 1990 for that Youth Gathering and still remember and feel how amazing the feeling of all the Love and Spirit we felt. I know you will come away with that same feeling. remember to soak in every moment because you will remember this for years to come! God Bless all of you!!

  12. Kathi Raphael

    If you haven’t seen one of the live streams yet, go to http://www.elca.org/youthgathering and click on the Mass Gathering June 27 or Bible Study from Weds June 27. The whole Bible Study is totally worth watching but if you want to see one great, short section, go to 33:50 and listen to the song “What Does It Take To Be A Real Lutheran” – it’s fantastic!

  13. Bette Kovach

    Wishing you all an amazing experience. I had the privilege of attending a similar event when I was 16 and it was wonderful. Listen, learn and act. The experience will serve you well going forward in life and to serve all people and our Lord! Happy times to you all! Embrace it all and one another!

  14. Barbara Keener

    Dear holy and comforting God, our sisters and brothers in Christ have seen you so often today in the small and large gatherings of all our sisters and brothers. You have walked with them, loved them, forgiven them. Now we ask that You continue to watch over all of Your children gathered for this event whether experiencing it or producing it as they sleep this night. May they rest in your peace and be strengthened for the work in Your Kingdom that you have prepared for them. May they continue to see You everywhere because You Change Everything. Amen

  15. Shirley Kulp

    What an experience!! May God’s love be with us today as we head to our service day project! Peace to all and thank- you for this great blog and your continued prayers.

  16. Linda Maule

    Your collective and individual experiences at the Gathering sound amazing and life changing. I wish I was there with you. God’s blessings on each one of you and prayers for safe travels home. Can’t wait to hear more about “This Changes Everything” when you return. Thanks be to God for touching the hearts and lives of so many young people at this Spirit-filled gathering, especially our own youth from the UPG.

  17. Barbara Keener

    YOU BELONG! You have nothing to fear. Allow the Spirit hold your hand this day as you step out of your comfort zone and walk with, work with, accept and serve your sisters and brothers in Christ. What a wonderful opportunity you have!!

  18. Bev Piszel

    I am already so moved as I read about the experiences you all are having. Matt and I are with you in spirit and support you in prayer.

    1. Pastor Jerry

      Thank you my friend! It’s been a wonderful experience for us all. The youth here are truly United and feeling God’s presence breaking down the walls that used to separate them. Truly we are all blessed by this opportunity shared with us by a loving God!

  19. Susan Schellenberg

    I am so excited to be able to follow you as you experience amazing things in Houston. The Holy Spirit works in and through us if we allow ourselves to be open to all of wonderous possibilities which the Holy Spirit provides. May the love, excitement and support that you experience in Houston be with you always!
    Blessings,
    Susan

    1. Pastor Jerry

      Thank you my friend! It’s been a wonderful experience for us all. The youth here are truly United and feeling God’s presence breaking down the walls that used to separate them. Truly we are all blessed by this opportunity shared with us by a loving God!

  20. Barbara Keener

    God of Grace and Glory, be with all of the people attending and creating the amazing event in Houston. May they all truly hear and know your Word of peace and love and grace. Give them rest and healing that they may rise tomorrow ready to share the good news of your acceptance and love for all of your children. In Jesus’s holy Name we pray. Amen

  21. Tom Keener Post author

    Good morning, folks from United Proclamation of the Gospel who are in Houston! “There’s grace for that!” (Friday night’s mass gathering) That would make a great mantra! May you have another grace-filled day that changes everything.

  22. Barbara Keener

    Helloooo, Houston! May you have a day full of Hope in all the good things that God has in store for you. It’s the Hope that changes everything. Go and live in it.

  23. Lisa Mantz

    What a blessing to follow you all in Houston to see all the wonderful ways in which God is showing Himself through the relationships you are forming. It is heartwarming to hear about the ways in which our God is working through the UPG and all those gathered in Houston! What a wonderful opportunity for you all! God Bless!

  24. Shirley Kulp

    What a special night last evening as our youth had a front row seat in sharing God’s grace. Powerful night filled with the spirit!!! Thanks be to God and the UPG for sending us on this awesome journey!

    1. Barbara Keener

      Oh, WOW!! I was wondering if all of you were up in the nose-bleed section of the arena for the entire event or the planners had the foresight to rotate groups in and around to different sections. Thanks be to God for different “views of the world.” 🙂

      1. Pastor Jerry

        We’ve been very close to the stage the last two nights! UPG t-shirts front and center on the live stream!
        Peace, blessings, and love
        Pj

  25. Karen Schoch

    Hello all youth in Houston, Pastor Jerry, and Shirley!

    I love seeing the pictures and hearing all about what is happening there and what you are doing! What an amazing experience! Enjoy every minute! May God continue to bless you with rich experiences, increased understanding of the workings of the Holy Spirit, and lasting relationships and memories.

    Yayy UPG Bethlehem!!

    Karen Schoch

    1. Pastor Jerry

      Thanks so much! Can’t wait to come home and put some of these teachings into practice! This gathering really has changed everything!
      Peace
      Pj

  26. Shirley Kulp

    As we entered the floor tonight wrist bands for the floor were running out. With 6 of us on the floor and 2 to go we pulled out one of our prayer squares and said a little prayer..well prayer answered…youth on the floor rockin!!

  27. Barbara Keener

    I don’t think there will be much sleeping this night…last night in Houston, saying goodbye to friends, collecting connecting info, trying to do some packing to go home, lots of “now where are my ….?”, “has anyone seen my…?”! But tomorrow will come and it will be full of activity. Remember that the prayers that have been prayed for you will not stop, not even when you get home. We are “sisters” and “brothers” in Christ. We are made strong by God’s Call, God’s love, God’s grace and God’s hope that we receive in relationship with God. We belong to each other. So sit back, relax and know that you are a beloved Child of God. Blessings.

  28. Barbara Keener

    As we remembered you last night and are remembering you this morning in the prayers in our worship celebrations here at home we ask/ed the Holy Spirit to continue the growth in faith started in all eight of you long ago. Watch for those God sightings as you worship together this morning. It’s powerful stuff when you allow God’s Call, Love, Grace and Hope to Change Everything. Amen

  29. Barbara Keener

    Now you are on your way home. I expect that your bodies are tired but your spirits are filled to overflowing with a new knowledge of God’s Holy Spirit. I can’t wait to meet who you have become and hear your stories. May all who are traveling, whether from the event or for any other reason, do so safely and in God’s love. Oh, yeah! Be sure to leave the heat in Houston. We have all that we can handle here. 😉 Hugs and Prayers.

  30. Shirley Kulp

    U PG has landed and heading home to y’all! Wow sorry but brought some of that Texas heat along! At the airport while waiting for the bus the youth said…wish we were still there. Kinda sums up the excitement still.surrounding their spirits!

  31. Barbara Keener

    Welcome to Newark! Not that it’s temperature is any warmer than the temperature in the Lehigh Valley. Just glad that you are this close to home. I’ll save my “Welcome Home” for when you arrive in Bethlehem!

  32. Barbara Keener

    Not sure when you arrived in Bethlehem but

    WELCOME HOME!!!

    Be assured that we have missed you and are so happy to have you back and nearby. Now you have work to do here at home. Teach us who have stayed behind as you have been taught. Inspire us who have stayed behind as you have been inspired. Make us who have stayed behind your new “service project.” Help us see what an opportunity that God has in store for us as the UPG. From Pj’s “Late Saturday Night” blog post where he asked us to: “…Pray that each of us would become fully enveloped in understanding that God shared such an abundance of grace in this world that we can move forward unfettered by any fear of failing!”

    Okay, people! We have work to do! Let’s get to it!

    Hugs and Prayers, bk

  33. Pastor Jerry

    Hi BK! Did you ever notice how our God provides exactly what we need exactly when we need it when discerning God’s call for our call and pilgrimage? Shirley and I and our youth ambassadors are ready…. hopefully all of our sisters and brothers in Christ will be ready too! This really does have the potential to change everything! Thanks for all the prayers love and support!

  34. Barbara Keener

    God is good; all the time!
    All the time; God is good!

    I heard that somewhere before. 🙂

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