"...we return home, full of wonderful experiences to share with others. Both the youth and the adults who have accompanied them have said this is a week that gives them a wonderful vision of what it means to be the church."
- Gretchen Ritola
M. Div. Class of 1985
Being part of the church in Nebraska and Chicago
by Gretchen Ritola
M.Div., Class of 1985
As we were developing our confirmation program at St. Luke and St. Paul's in Emerson, we decided it was important for those preparing for affirmation of their baptism to experience what it means to be part of the church. We wanted them to know about all three expressions of the ELCA.
At the congregational level that includes regular involvement in worship and service to the congregations and community. The summer between 7th and 8th grade, confirmands take a one-day trip to Omaha and visit the offices of the Nebraska Synod and ministry sites in Omaha to learn about their ministry as part of the synod.
The summer between 8th and 9th grade they take a five-day trip to Chicago to learn about their ministry as part of the ELCA. We incorporate study of the Apostle's Creed into this time.
Classes range in size from four to 25, with an adult for every three-or four confirmands. The congregation's Endowment Foundation and the Women of the ELCA cover all the costs of the trip except for meals and personal expenses, which run about $125 per student. We fly into Chicago's Midway Airport on a Monday afternoon and take the bus to LSTC. We stay in LSTC's Youth Center or an available apartment. After an evening in Chinatown, we end the day with devotions and reflections on what we will be doing during the week.
Each day begins with a discussion of one article of the Apostle's Creed. Discussions continue throughout the day. The devotions each evening bring together what we have discussed during the day. The theme throughout the week is “God's Work – Our Hands.”
On Tuesday, we begin with a session on the First Article of the Apostle's Creed. As we do various activities, we discuss where we see evidence of God in creation and our role as those who are called to be stewards of creation. In the morning, we go to the Field Museum of Natural History. Required exhibits include the exhibit on evolution and the exhibit on Egypt. This gives us a chance to discuss the relationship between what we read about creation in Genesis and what they saw in the exhibit on evolution, and what they saw that related to religion in the exhibit on Egypt. After lunch at the Billy Goat Tavern, we visit Holy Name Cathedral where we discuss the concept of sacred space and taking time to be still and know that God is God. The day ends with a sunset boat ride on Lake Michigan and the Chicago River. Our evening devotions focus on where they saw God in creation throughout the day.
We begin Wednesday with a session on the Second Article of the Apostle's Creed. Throughout the day we discuss where we see Christ at work in the world and how we are part of that work. We visit the ELCA offices and discuss the ministry we do together as the ELCA. We also visit the Bahai Temple on the north side. After watching a presentation there, we discuss what we believe about who Jesus is and how that compares with what others believe. We end the day with worship at Trinity United Church of Christ, an African-American congregation on the south side of Chicago. This is always a wonderful worship experience for the youth. Our evening devotions focus on where they saw Jesus throughout the day.
Thursday begins with a session on the Third Article of the Apostle's Creed. Throughout the day we discuss where we see the Holy Spirit at work, in others and in us. This day includes a tour of LSTC; a visit to K.A.M. Isaiah-Israel, a Jewish congregation in Chicago; a visit to the Oriental Institute, where there are archeological exhibits on Egypt, Babylon, and Assyria; a visit to Rockefeller Chapel (a couple of times we have gotten an organ demonstration there); a swim in Lake Michigan; and, after Chicago style pizza, a visit to the Willis (Sears) tower. Our evening devotions focus on the work of the Holy Spirit.
We know that throughout each day we will often have people ask for help, and so we fill our backpacks with nutrition bars and water to share with others. It is also important to our experience that we take public transportation everywhere and it is fun to see how soon the youth figure out how to “work the system.”
Friday we return home, full of wonderful experiences to share with others. Both the youth and the adults who have accompanied them have said this is a week that gives them a wonderful vision of what it means to be the church.
For information about LSTC's urban missions program for congregations, visit the Youth in Mission Beyond Belief web page. (Or contact the Youth in Mission program director for help in designing your own urban mission experience at firstname.lastname@example.org.)