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Lutheran youth planning to gather this weekend in Willmar, Minn.

WILLMAR -- About 1,200 young people and adults will gather this weekend at the Willmar Conference Center for an event planned and coordinated by the Southwest Minnesota Synod Lutheran Youth Organization of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The Southwest Minnesota Synod Junior High Youth Gathering is the largest event of its kind in the ELCA, which is comprised of 10,000 congregations according to the ELCA website.

The purpose of the Willmar weekend is "to have youth experience the love of God through music and speakers and nightlife and relationships,'' said Sarah Hausken of Olivia, youth ministry coordinator of the Southwest Minnesota Synod, ELCA.

"It's definitely a faith-strengthening weekend, designed to help kids experience the love of God,'' Hausken said.

The gathering is held the weekend before Thanksgiving every year in Willmar for young people in grades 6 through 9.

The theme this year is "gracebook'' and focuses on 1 Corinthians 10:13: "No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down: he'll never let you be pushed past your limit; he'll always be there to help you come through it.'' (The Message).

Youth and adults will stay at churches and four hotels in the area but will hold the mass gatherings at the Conference Center, Hausken said.

Activities include:

- Speaker Arielle Mastellar, former youth adviser on the ELCA Church Council and Board of Lutheran Youth Organization, Southwest Minnesota Synod Lutheran Youth Organization, and student at Mankato State University.

- Band: Justin Anderson of Mainstay.

- Nightlife featuring dancing, games, swimming and more.

- Mass gatherings, worship, singing, spiritual growth, relationship building and hanging out.

Hausken said about 600 people will gather for the program tonight and the program will be repeated for another 600 people who arrive Saturday.

Hausken said the event is planned and led by a board composed of 13 youth from southwestern Minnesota and 10 adults. She said the board is very much youth-led.

"They work all year to plan this and then they put it together,'' she said.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150