13 February 2008 ~ 0 Comments

Do you feel fresh?

I just returned from the ELCA Youth Ministry Network Extravaganza. The Extravaganza is the annual gathering of youth and family ministry folks, publishers, camp folks, and various other contingencies.

I have attended this retreat in the past, though it’s been a couple of years. The Extravaganza (the name they use for what I would describe as a kind of “convention.” I think Extravaganza is the perfect word as it’s as difficult to nail down as what happens at this gathering) was an excellent combination of training, Bible study, worship, and community.

Some highlights of the week included the large group gatherings, the networking time, and the face to face time with some folks in high positions.

The large group time was wonderful. The room was set up with three stages and two screens. One stage had the worship band, another served as the altar for worships, and the third was the area where the speakers where. The room felt intimate and worshipful, not an easy thing to accomplish in a hotel ballroom. The speakers were mostly folks from our own Lutheran circles, and they were great. I appreciated that their was a single worship band that stayed with us through the entire event, with just a few guest musicians sprinkled in. This was a nice contrast to other events where the large group times seem to be a constant commercial for the latest and greatest bands or dramatic talent. The large group time was woven together theme wise by a single chaplain (I’m not sure that was her title, but that’s how I would describe her) Kathy Hunstad. Kathy worked the FRESH theme throughout the weekend, and opened and closed each gathering with new thoughts. The large group gatherings were very well done and wonderful.

I also appreciated the networking opportunities. I had a chance to spend time with friends, mentors, new youth and family workers, and grizzled veterans. We laughed and complained and talked shop. The Extravaganza hosted several social gatherings, and scheduled plenty of time for us to connect on our own in the hotel starbucks or various local restaurants.

I personally had the chance to interact with the head of the ELCA National Gathering, the head of Youth Ministries for the ELCA, and a leading professor of Youth Ministry at Luther seminary. What a wonderful week of interacting with leaders in my field, hearing what their working on and thinking about. Where else could one do this?

The view from my sister's porch- where I stayed in CA

I think the Extravaganza has it’s challenges. I think someone new to ministry or without an established network would not enjoy the large chunks of downtime. The workshops seemed to be lightly attended (though I thought the ones I went to were great), and the cost of the weekend ends up being pretty high (though the actual registration fee is on par with other events).

I have not made this gathering a priority in the past, but I think I’m going to in the future. I’m coming to value the networking opportunities more than the “what’s the next new thing” training sessions.

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