To Gathering participants, their parents, and all who love them:
LCMS Youth Ministry staff prays your Sunday celebration of God’s gifts and Christian community was wonderful. We are in our final moments of preparation, planning, and traveling to New Orleans. On Friday night, I shared some thoughts on the Adult Leader Facebook page regarding some questions and concerns about the events of last week, especially in Dallas and Baton Rouge. Here are those thoughts:
Thank you for all your efforts in your final preparations for next week as you travel and experience the LCMS Youth Gathering. I can’t wait for Sunday to witness the commissioning of youth and adults from my home congregation before they head to New Orleans.
Gathering staff, planners, and volunteers are turning their attention to travel and set-up in New Orleans. Be looking for updates throughout the week in this group. We will continue to do our best to respond to inquiries, but please note our access will be somewhat limited. I will post a schedule for contacting the Gathering Office and HelpLine early next week.
I know the events of this past week have caused concern to you, parents, and young people in your congregation. Once again we are faced with the harsh reality of a broken, sinful world. Once again, we are reminded of the blessing of each day of life on this earth and with the people we love. Once again we cling to the treasure God gives us in our baptism. Once again we are reminded of the beautiful simplicity, yet deep meaning, of our theme, In Christ Alone.
Added to the mix is that you are traveling with young people, entrusted to your care, to a city that may be unfamiliar. I wanted to take a few moments to make requests and answer some questions posted here or that may be on your mind and heart.
First, please pray for all those affected by violence this week. It may be the stories that are in the national 24/7 news cycle, or it might be in your hometown. Pray that Christ’s love may be known, that truth will prevail, and the innocent will be protected.
Second, we pray for the city of Dallas as our brothers and sisters from the Dallas area will be traveling from a city that feels much different than it did just 24 hours ago. May our partners in the Gospel return home from the Gathering strengthened in their faith in Christ and their call to show Christ’s love to their neighbor. May we as congregations from across the world embrace them in the love of Christ. For those of you traveling from places that are especially hit by these events, know there are trained counselors and other support available to you through the Gathering HelpLine.
Thirdly, some have asked questions about safety and security in New Orleans following the events in Baton Rouge and across our country. The answer from our friends in New Orleans is the same: they can’t wait to see us and our joy and hope in Christ, when so much of the world seems hopeless and full of uncertainty and danger.
We are in continual contact with city officials, and they are keeping us updated on any additional precautions we should take. At this time, there is no concern. As with many American cities, there may be demonstrations in accordance with our freedom of speech. New Orleans is well accustomed to public parades and similar events. New Orleans Police will do a great job in protecting the safety and rights of all. Please thank NOPD officers who serve us. As you can imagine, it is a difficult time in their career vocation.
The city (police, EMS, hotels, facilities) is well aware of our presence. City officials have the well-being of our young people on their hearts and minds. They again communicated today that we will receive the same world-class treatment that other large-scale events receive and they thank us for entrusting our youth and event to their care.
We will post more about Gathering safety in the coming days.
Thank you for your love and concern for the Body of Christ.
In Christ Alone
I want to provide additional information about safety systems in place at the Youth Gathering. These people and tools work to make the Gathering a safe and positive environment for its participants.
For events such as ours, multiple city-wide supports come together. The Convention and Visitors Bureau coordinates the conversation with facility (Morial Convention Center, hotel, and Mercedes-Benz Superdome) staff, New Orleans Police Department, Emergency Medical Services, and many other city services. We have had multiple meetings, conversations, and countless emails on security needs.
God has provided wonderful, capable people who daily live out these vocations. They are the experts and have our best interests at heart. In the case of emergency or incident, our response is to follow the instructions of local law enforcement officers and other officials. They are the people who have spent countless hours walking the sidewalks, knowing the people, and investing in the city and our event.
Pre- Conference Meetings
Gathering planners have multiple, standard meetings with city officials this week before our young people arrive in the city. This is in addition to five large-scale meetings which have already taken place in this planning cycle. Safety and security, as always, will be a key topic when meeting with facility staff and city officials. We are so thankful for their knowledge of and care for our participants. Throughout the event we will be in continual contact with NOPD and other city officials.
The Gathering will have about 1,000 volunteers, most of whom have either planned for the event for years, or will be brought to New Orleans days early for specialized training. These volunteers include event planners, Community Life Builders, Young Adult Volunteers, and local and on-site volunteers. Over 500 radios are distributed amongst these groups to increase communication.
Each facility has its own security plan and staff who manage safety matters. Additional security staff is hired at both the convention center and dome to meet the needs of our event and handle responsibilities like bag and wristband checks and general safety needs.
The Gathering HelpLine (504-670-4400) is connected to the Gathering Event Base which serves as the Gathering “nervous system” of information and connects with Gathering planners and other critical support systems. The HelpLine is primarily for Gathering participants, but can be a resource for people back home in case of an emergency. Event Base also has the capability to send mass texts to all Primary Adult Leaders and Adult Leaders.
The Gathering has also invested in a software which enhances our ability to track and respond to calls and incoming texts. This software is the same used by the Superdome and the Convention Center, which allows us to interact better with their staff.
The Gathering App
Over 5,000 people have already downloaded the App. If the user has allowed for push notification capability, such communication can be received. Important information can be pushed via the App.
The local press knows we are in the city. Some will want to cover the positive news about our young people, others may just have questions about youth culture, some may want to ask about youth’s thoughts on the events of last week. Here are a few recommendations:
Emergency Plans/Notification back home
In the case of large-scale emergency situation, information will be communicated in this way:
If a supporter back home, please do not call the Gathering HelpLine in case of the unlikely scenario of a large-scale emergency. Allow the HelpLine to serve participants attending the Gathering.
In every situation, we put our trust in God’s hands as our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Thank you for the opportunity to serve your congregation. We look forward to seeing them in New Orleans!
In Christ Alone,
Rev. Mark Kiessling, LCMS Youth Ministry