Friday, July 24, 2009

leaders of the church

GRAND RAPIDS -- Amy Fleming started going to summer conferences for young Lutherans because her father, a local pastor, suggested it.

Now she returns each year to see old friends.

So next week's Sola 2009 gathering of about 900 teenagers at Calvin College will be a reunion of sorts for Fleming, one that organizers hope will continue reshaping her identity from Lutheran pastor's daughter to Lutheran woman.

"Just being with some of those people helps strengthen your faith that you're not the only one out there," said Fleming, who will be a senior this fall at West Michigan Lutheran High School.

The conference, Tuesday through Friday, dares young Lutherans to grab hold of their faith.

It is organized by Higher Things, a grassroots effort of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which ran a similar conference this month for about 800 teenagers in San Antonio.

Like many Christian churches, the denomination is losing touch with what could be its next generation of leaders, said the Rev. William Cwirla, a California pastor and president of Higher Things.

"It's a genuine concern for us that a large number of young people abandon the faith of their fathers when they are given the freedom to stand on their own two feet," he said. "Part of the problem is they haven't been apprenticed."

Cwirla said Higher Things puts the tools of Christian faith in teenage hands, urging youth to see the faith as a tradition that perhaps they can uphold better than the previous generation.

Named on the theme "Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone," Sola aims to cultivate a Lutheran identity through three to four daily worship services and a series of workshops offering a Lutheran take on topics ranging from atheism to economics to relationships to organ playing.

"We're daring them to embrace their Christian faith and their Lutheran tradition," Cwirla said.

"Kids like a crowd, and kids like to see other kids from different parts of the country worshipping the same way and believing the same things.

"These kids develop long-distance, long-term relationships with each other. The conference becomes like an annual reunion. We've had Higher Things marriages and Higher Things babies, in that order."

Cwirla said the "liturgical, hymn book worship" steers clear of laser light shows and rock bands, embracing organ music instead.

"I think American culture more and more sees worship as a kind of personal entertainment event," he said. "The focus (in worship) is not on us and what we're doing and how we're feeling, but the focus is on God in Christ, the gifts of Jesus Christ. Out of that come our prayers and our hymns."

Although formal, worship at past conferences has been loud, Fleming said.

"It's amazing because everyone sings," she said. "When you're surrounded by all those people, it's sort of like more OK to do it."

No comments: