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Lutheran Youth Organization Developes Leadership During Civil Rights Tour

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (ELCA) -- Prayer, worship and fun were prominent
as more than 200 delegates of the youth organization of the Evangelical
Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) met in convention July 26-30 at the
University of Southern Mississippi (USM). "Open Eyes, Open Mind, Open
Heart" was the theme as leaders of the Lutheran Youth Organization (LYO)
engaged in the business of their organization and in leadership
The LYO is an organization of nearly 100,000 high-school age members
of ELCA congregations across the United States and Caribbean. Nathaniel
Viets-VanLear, LYO president, Chicago, chaired the convention. Delegates
elected Nicolette Faison, Elmont, N.Y., to succeed Viets-VanLear.
The LYO meets in convention every three years, and in 2006 it asked
the LYO board to "develop a process to explore, study and critically
examine the identity, purpose, core values and structure of the LYO,
bringing a report and recommendation to the 2009 LYO Convention."
Delegates received a committee report and established a
restructuring committee "to complete this process by developing and
assisting in the implementation of all recommended and approved changes."
The process will include drafting reports on mission and purpose in 2009
and on ministries and structures in 2010.
The convention asked the restructuring committee to reconsider a
recommendation limiting those elected to the LYO board to people entering
the 10th and 11th grades. Delegates said 14 year olds should be
eligible, as well as others entering 9th and 12th grades.
In another resolution, the convention asked that the committee
become a standing committee of the LYO and "remain intact throughout the
restructuring of LYO to evaluate changes as they happen."
Delegates adopted other resolutions to limit the use of disposable
water bottles, promote service opportunities among youth across the
church, support a peaceful end to the violent acts in Darfur, "raise
awareness and to advocate for the issues of poverty in the United
States," and urge ELCA congregations to provide safe places where young
people can engage in open conversations about unhealthy behaviors.
The convention "implored" youth across the ELCA to involve
themselves in synod assemblies. Congregations of the ELCA are organized
into 65 synods, which meet in assemblies annually.
Delegates passed a resolution supporting adoption of a proposed
social statement on human sexuality that the ELCA Churchwide Assembly
will consider when it meets Aug. 17-23 in Minneapolis.
The convention urged ELCA congregations to consider including a
statement in their mission statement or other church documents to welcome
all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or "questioning" people.
As part of its leadership development program, an afternoon of the
convention was devoted to delegates understanding Hattiesburg's
contribution to the U.S. civil rights movement.
Hattiesburg hosted the largest "Freedom School" in Mississippi in
the summer of 1964. More than 3,000 volunteers served 650 to 675
students in communicating the racial injustices of the time when the
civil rights movement was in its infancy.
A sample of the 831 photographs Herbert E. Randall Jr. took in 1964
was set up on easels around the convention hall. Delegates heard from
several scholars of 45 years earlier, including Clarence Magee, president
of the NAACP chapter in Forest County, Miss.
Some of the delegates took a bus tour of Freedom School sites in the
area. Others learned and wrote freedom songs, and watched documentaries
on the civil rights movement and the murder of Emmett Till. Till was an
African American teenager murdered in Mississippi in 1955, after
reportedly whistling at a white woman. His murder is considered a
leading event in the civil rights movement.
Delegates also learned U.S. history and the significance of debate
in the civil rights movement.
In another element of leadership development, delegates attended
workshops about the ELCA strategy on HIV and AIDS, the ELCA Book of Faith
initiative, biblical storytelling, the Lutheran Volunteer Corps, Israel
and Palestine, Lutherans in the South, conflict resolution, disaster
response and preparedness, deaconesses, and welcoming people of all
sexual orientations and gender identities.
Information about the Lutheran Youth Organization is at on the ELCA Web site.

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