First Third Conversations

The Power of Gathering

By Dr. Terri Martinson Elton, Director of the Center for First Third Ministry at Luther Seminary

We have just ended the season of “gathering” – the six weeks between Thanksgiving and the New Year when friends, family and co-workers come together over food and conversation to celebrate the holidays.  Some of these gatherings I look forward to, and others I obediently attend for one reason or another. And next year, like this year, these gatherings will happen again because gathering is part of what we do during the holidays.

In my life, the theme of gathering has extended into January. Beginning the month in England, I gathered with youth ministry educators from around the world. In gathering I discovered we share a common calling, yet struggle with different critical issues. I extended conversations I’d started in-person or via e-mail and started new ones. Gathering around shared passions and meaningful conversation, plan and unplanned, is life-giving. Saturday I gathered with hundreds of regional ministry leaders, professionals or volunteers. Our day together reminded all of us why we engage in ministry with young people and sparked new energy for the days ahead. The long winters in Minnesota are more joy-filled when we find times to gather. At the end of the month I will be in California, gathering with ELCA children, youth and family ministry leaders from around the country. It will be a time to reconnect, to worship and to learn with and from one another. These gatherings weave together relationship and ministry, introduce me to new people and reconnect me with friends and colleagues. Over the years I’ve come to rely on these gatherings for personal and ministry enrichment. Gathering keeps my works vital.

This weekend I joined members of our faith community for worship. I heard a powerful message, sang, confessed, and prayed. I also connected – I connected with a long-time family friend and heard the latest on their grandkids; I connected with a family who previous attended but no longer lives in the area; and I connected with a widower who I’d seen last at his wife’s funeral at Thanksgiving. In worship this weekend, I laughed and smiled, cried and mourned, hugged and celebrated. Decades in a community of faith, coming together regularly has shaped me, others and us as people of faith. Gathering with this community for worship, fellowship, study, prayer and food has been and continues to be a gift. Gathering makes my life more abundant.

There is power in gathering. Yes, the holidays are a time for gathering, but gathering is so much more. Gathering can be ritual, obligation, desire or habit, but regardless of the reason gathering is essential for life…for life abundant…and for discovering a Christian way of life. In the days and months ahead, gather. Gather with people you love, gather with people who share your passion and gather with people of faith. Why? Because there is power in gathering.

- Terri

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Terri Elton is passionate about young people and their families, and loves the church. No really! She's our Associate Professor and teaches with an eye toward developing leaders and leading change.

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