Pastor’s Page – June 2024

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

As a high school student, I was never allowed to attend the ELCA Youth Gathering. According to my parents, it was “too much social time, and not enough community service.” The same was said about my youth group’s backpacking trip that focused on faith formation.

Finally, in 2015, I had the privilege of attending my first Youth Gathering in Detroit with four youth from my church in Michigan. I must say, my parent’s judgement didn’t measure up to reality at all. The five-day event was filled with learning – not just about the Bible and our faith, but about the community we were visiting as well. We spent a full day doing service in the community, and a second whole day focused on justice throughout the world. The evenings were packed with speakers and music that connected us more deeply to our faith and helped us build relationships with our own church group, but also with the 20,000 youth gathered around us. Even though I was well outside of my high school years by then, I found the gathering to be deeply meaningful, and we saw tangible evidence of the impact we made on the residents of Detroit.

Certainly, the days were long and hot, and I had my own concerns as a chaperone, but it’s safe to say that I was more than willing to go to Houston in 2018 for the next gathering. That experience proved to be just as moving and meaningful as the one three years before.

Now I’m looking forward to attending the ELCA Youth Gathering coming up in July! We have eleven youth and three adults from St. Paul’s attending, which makes us the largest congregation group attending from New Jersey. I am excited to explore and learn about New Orleans, to serve alongside our youth, to get to know them better and watch them grow, and to see what experiences are most meaningful to them.

The theme for the ELCA Youth Gathering this year is Created to Be. As the gathering website says, “We have been created to be ourselves. Created by the Holy One.” In our preparations, we have learned about being brave, authentic, free, disruptive, and disciples. All of these lessons, plus the overall theme, aid our youth in becoming faithful and courageous adults, ready to live their faith in the world. The ELCA Youth Gathering is a formative event that teaches our youth all of the things listed above, but even more importantly, it teaches them about integrity, leadership, and community.

We won’t be spending every hour of every day doing community service, but the experiences we’ll have in New Orleans will have a profound impact on both the city and on our youth. I am excited to see how they bring that experience back to St. Paul’s.

The youth group is thankful for your support and generosity that makes this trip possible. In the last two years, I have seen that this congregation values the youth, and is committed to helping them grow in faith, and teaching them to live their baptismal calling.

I encourage you to continue to support the youth in their fundraising, but even more, I hope that you’ll ask them about the trip when we return, and help them integrate their learning and growth into their daily lives.


Rev. Jessica Hahn