It is 9 a.m. on Friday, the sun is blazing, and Gerald “Buck” Cunningham’s two-story house in White Bear Lake is abuzz with activity.
More than three dozen teenagers from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod Youth Gathering are on site to paint the Army veteran’s house. They are spread across the garage, the backyard and the front, wielding brushes dipped in white paint, repositioning ladders and turning to adult leaders for guidance.
“I appreciate this. I really do,” said Cunningham, 92, a World War II veteran who served as a truck driver and guard in Germany.
About 20,000 young Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) members from 13 countries have converged on the Twin Cities this weekend for the international gathering, a five-day event that includes worship services, community service projects and other activities for high school-aged church members. The conference is held every three years; this is its first time in Minnesota.
“It is the time for us to show support and care for young people,” said the Rev. Mark Kiessling, director of youth ministry for Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. “They see that they have people across the globe who encourage them, pray and care for them. This is a sight they may not have seen in their home congregation.”
The St. Louis-based LCMS describes itself as a mission-oriented, Bible-based confessional Christian denomination. Minnesota is home to around 160,000 baptized LCMS members out of nearly 2 million across the country.
The crowd at the Minneapolis youth gathering is big enough that Metro Transit sent out an advisory to transit riders to let them know the light rail would be busier than usual as participants make their way to U.S. Bank Stadium and the Minneapolis Convention Center, where multiple daytime activities and evening events are going on.
Cunningham’s house is just one of 72 sites where thousands of participants are doing community service in the Twin Cities during the conference, which started Thursday and ends Monday.
“I was going to paint it myself,” he said before noting that his daughter, Colleen Ketcham, arranged for the church volunteers to come out. Ketcham, 68, is a member of the South Shore Trinity Lutheran Church in White Bear Lake.
She made the rounds talking with the volunteers Friday morning, making sure the good Samaritans were at ease and had everything they needed.
“We have been trying for two years to get help in painting the house,” Ketcham said.
Other service events during the youth gathering include community outreach about water quality, packing 1.2 million meals with the charity Feed My Starving Children and assisting with a carnival event for people with developmental disabilities.
“We started [planning] a year ago, partnering with local Lutheran churches, community organizations and schools,” said Traci Kohls, director of the off-site servant events team.
This is the second time Grace Grube, 18, of Burnsville has attended the youth gathering. She attends the Messiah Lutheran Church in Lakeville.
“Jesus has sent us here to give back to our community and to help other people just like he did through his life,” she said while painting the side wall of Cunningham’s house. “We carry on his legacy through the church and volunteering.”
Mansfield Yin, a 15-year-old from Lakeville who also attends Messiah Lutheran, said such activities give him a sense of belonging.
“It is motivational. At times, I feel I am alone in this,” Yin said. “When events like this happen, I realize that there are a bunch of people just like me who believe in God.”