Minneapolis July 2019

Dates: July 10-16, 2019

People: Mark, Sarah, Luke, Isaac S, Grace D, Jessica S


  • 7-10 (Travel Day)
  • 7-11 (NYG Day 1)
  • 7-12 (NYG Day 2)
  • 7-13 (NYG Day 3)
  • 7-14 (NYG Day 4)
  • 7-15 (NYG Day 5)
  • 7-16 (Travel Day)


We set a 5am departure goal for our long drive to Minneapolis. We had Isaac spend the night to save his mother a trip over in the morning. Jessica and Grace were both dropped off a few minutes early and it was 5:10a when we hit the road. We made good time through Toledo and had our first stop at 6:30am for a bathroom break. We got another hour of driving in and stopped again at 7:50am at another service plaza on the Toll Road. Sarah started driving from here. I just couldn't shake my drowsiness this morning. When we reached Chicago we had been watching the traffic data and decided upon avoiding downtown and targeting 294. As we neared that we headed even further out and ended up using I80 to hit I355 and took that north. A bit longer but helped us avoid delays.

We hit our first gas stop at 10:16am (central) in South Beloit and then I took over driving. We hit the new Portillo's in Madison, WI for lunch at 11:25am. I couldn't quite talk the kids into trying italian beef for the first time but they enjoyed dogs and burgers instead. At 2:25p we made another bathroom and snack stop in the Eau Claire area. Here I finally found a six-pack of Leinie's Wisconsin Red Pale Ale. I'd look for a couple years now for this bear only sold in Wisconsin and finally got it.

It was 4:10pm when we made it into Minneapolis and we parked at the lot for Central Lutheran Church next to the convention center. We had reserved a space in this lot for $8/day for our whole stay at the gathering. This was really convenient and close to the Convention Center. We went inside for registration and orientation. Sarah took care of most of that while the rest of the group ran into Paige Craig, alumni director from Concordia Chicago.

Once we settled everything at the CC we drove over to the Mall of America. We figured it would be less crowded now than on either Thursday or the last day of the gathering (Monday) when all the other groups would be around. We were right. We shopped for awhile enjoying the LEGO store and a few other stops. We hit the north food court for supper. I had Chick-fil-A.

It was 8:45p when we finally headed out to our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express Golden Valley. We relaxed for the rest of the evening. We had the kids swimming for an hour or so and then it was bedtime. A really good first day.


After a long first day we were able to sleep in today and get some much needed rest. I woke about 7:53am. Our group went down to breakfast by 8:30am or so. The gathering hadn't started yet so everyone was still on their own today. We decided to take our group to Minnehaha Falls and Park, which we had done last year just as a family. This was great. We hit the falls and then hiked out to the Mississippi River and back. The kids had fun skipping rocks into the river. We took in about 2 miles of hiking. Our timing was perfect as by the time we were finishing up many many more NYG groups had arrived and the area near the falls and the rest of the trails were starting to get crowded. That, and the temps were also quickly rising.

We went to Betty Danger's for lunch. Sarah had read about this place as fun and unique so we tried it. They have a small ferris wheel right in the middle of the property. We ate lunch at a normal table, I tried their chicken tacos. As we finished eating we paid $9/person for ferris wheel and a round of 9-hole mini golf. You can actually get a basic amount of food and drink table service while on the ferris wheel. Though it is only a 10-15 minute ride.

At 3:15p our next stop was the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. We wanted something simple and outside and this happened to be very close to the Convention Center and our hotel. They had a really interesting cherry on a spoon sculpture with a small fountain of water coming out of it into a pond. We hung out there for awhile watching a small family of ducks in the pond. We happened to find someone's lost purple NYG backpack while there and after waiting awhile, and posting on social media about it, took it with us to return to the gathering's lost and found. After the gardens we returned to the hotel for swimming for an hour.

We did Taco Bell near our hotel for supper and then made the drive in to US Bank Stadium. The gates would open at 7:15p and I dropped our group off around 7p. The security lines for this first night were really bad. Security was going way overboard with bag searches and things moved slowly. On the plus side, by the last couple days of the gathering they really streamlined this well and had it moving much more smoothly.

This first night of Mass Event had a heavy theme on the Psalms and the "why" and "what" of suffering. The overall gathering theme was "Real. Present. God" which I think went over pretty well. A.J. Vega and Emilie Stooksbury were the MC's/hosts each mass event. We found them to be "ok". They sometimes seemed as though they had to try too hard to engage with the crowd and get their points across and often didn't have much to add when they got speaking. Thomas Clark and Harrison Grimes (a CUC senior) were the two main speakers and they told their stories of loss and suffering and did very well.

After the Mass Event they had what they called "Mass Event Plus+". Instead of everyone heading out to numerous hotels for dances or concerts and such they simply offered people an after event in the stadium. Tonight happened to be TobyMac in concert and he was really good. Really loud too. The Mass Event ended about 10:00p and TobyMac started up about 10:20p. We stayed til almost 11p as he was started to finish up.


We had an 8am breakfast this morning with a planned 8:30a departure for the Convention Center. The hotel breakfast was pretty much your standard free breakfast. Sausage, bacon, eggs, pancake maker, and other basics. At the CC we had our family meeting in a quiet atrium area and talked about the previous days' happenings. We then had a bit of free time still so we went to the lower level to the Recreation center and were able to play a game of soccer billiards. Quite fun!

At 10:30am we had our Bible Study time with Rev Scott Giger and Schelly Schwalm as the presenters. They had great chemistry together and did a nice job of engaging everyone. At 12p we walked over to the Hyatt hotel for a talked called "Defense Against the Dark Arts: How Jesus Authority Can Protect Us from Toxic Religion", it was presented by Jeff Mallinson of CU Irvine, and also a contributor to 1517 Project. He was good and provocative. He talked largely about being thinkers and questioning and challenging whatever religion is put before you. Of course this ultimately leads to the authority of Christ and questioning everything that would go against His ultimate word.

After that presentation we walked up Nicollet Mall and were targeting a Jimmy John's for lunch. They had just run out of bread and it was going to be 20 minutes for more, so we bailed and walked around the corner to a Panera which worked out well for us all.

At 2p the boys and I tried to get into the "Faith in the Field" talk but it was full. We then went to the CC trying the "Broadening the Heavens" talk but it was also full. So I took the guys to the Rec area again and we played soccer and archery dodgeball.

At 3p when the ladies got out of their session we all went into the Interactive Center for an hour. At 4pm I took the guys to a session called "From Lutheran School to the NBA" with Wizards forward, and former Wisconsin Badger Sam Dekker. His session was done interview style and it was interesting.

After our sessions we went to the car to shift out some of our stuff and then we walked as a group to US Bank Stadium. A block away from the stadium in the Commons they had a series of food trucks set up each night. We decided on this for supper although it was so hot out there half the group bailed and decided to get food in the stadium. Jesse, Luke and I hit one truck for fresh cut fries, corn dogs, and a Dew.

We walked over to stadium security and passed through it more easily than the first night. After security they had everyone in a holding area just outside the stadium doors until 7:15p hit. That area filled up almost completely by 7:15. Inside it was beautifully cool with AC. We got seats in section 237.

In tonight's mass event Ashley Paavola was the main speaker. She talked about inner city work in St. Louis. At the end of the event we didn't stay for the concert and so past 10p we started the walk back to the van at the CC and then drove back to the hotel. We had family time until about midnight.


Today we did breakfast at 8:15am. We moved it back slightly as we wanted to hit a Subway on our way to the CC but it didn't open til 9am. We departed the hotel right around 9am and hit the Subway on Hennepin Ave. We each grabbed subs to eat around lunch time. This was a trick we had learned in New Orleans in 2010 and it is very helpful.

We hit our regular 10:30am Bible Study with Giger and Schwalmer and they were great again. They went in great depth in Psalm 46 asking the question "what are you longing for?" In yesterday's session we had learned that 321 Improv was on 30 minutes after our Bible Study in the same room. So today after Bible Study we kept our seats (which happened to be in the 2nd row) and stayed until 321 Improv came on. The auditorium was completely packed. Dr. Ferry and a couple of students from CUW spoke while we waited for the session to start. 321 Improv was fantastic and hilarious.

At 2pm I took most of the group to "Tech That Transforms Us" with Dr. Joel Oesch. It was very good and he went into detail on how modern technology is indeed changing us and the way we think and the way we live. At 3pm we spent an hour in the Rec area doing volleyball and more archery dodgeball. At 4pm we walked as a group back over to the Hyatt to hear Ryan Peterson's session on "How Do I Know - A Simple Approach to Complex Decisions."

When his talk ended at 5p we had plenty of free time so we hopped in the van and went back to the hotel. We had glow sticks to grab for tonight's mass event. We did supper at Five Guys in the shopping center near the hotel. I then dropped the group off near the stadium, drove back to the CC to park, and then made the walk to the stadium.

We sat in the same section again. Tonight's speakers were Jason Seaman and Dawit Bokre. Jason was a middle school teacher who was shot 3 times during a school shooting in Indiana. He survived and subdued the shooter, who happened to be a student of his. He gave a great talk. Bokre was originally from Eritrea and talked about his life now in the US and his growth in faith.

Skit guys were the Mass Event Plus+ attraction tonight and they were on for about 40 minutes. They made an announcement of working to produce a feature length film in the year ahead.


This was our early morning as we were up at 6:30am with breakfast at 7:15am. We were out the door by 7:45am driving up to Coon Rapids (about 20 mins) for our servant event. We served at "Feed My Starving Children" a non-profit very similar to Kids Against Hunger. They had us working at various stations putting together food packets that will be distributed to the hungry. It was a mixture of vitamins, soy (protein), dried vegetables and rice. Our particular station put together 18 boxes full of 36 bags. We were at FMSC til just after 10am and we felt it was a great opportunity.

On our drive back to the CC we stopped at a Walmart to get Subway subs and a few snacks. We parked at the CC and then walked over to the Hyatt. Some of us ate our subs while the others purchased food at a mini cafe in the hotel. At 12p we went to a talk called "Star Wars Spirituality" by Rev Joel Beyer. He did a decent job of drawing connections in the good parts of Star Wars to Biblical themes like redemption with Han Solo and Darth Vader. After the talk we spent time in the Interactive Center for a couple hours. At 2:30 I took Isaac down to the Rec Area as he and I had run out of things to do in the IC. We played soccer and basketball with others. At 3:25p the others joined us. Sarah ran into her cousin Michelle from Jackson. We played more soccer.

Just before 4p we headed for the car. We were supposed to leave for our District Event over at Concordia St. Paul. We were delayed however as the Gathering 5K started and was looping around our parking lot leaving us unable to go. We had to wait for the back end of the race to pass us. We still made CSP roughly on time.

They had several massive tents setup and buffet lines of food. It was hot and sunny so we were very thankful for the shade. They had shredded chicken, grilled corn on the cob, walleye bites, ice cream, rice salad. It was quite a great meal. After the meal they had various outdoor sports set up out on the football field. They also had stations where individuals could try various lumberjack skills like axe throwing and log barreling. At 5:30p there was a lumberjack show for an hour which was quite entertaining.

We headed from CSP to a dropoff of everyone at the stadium to get seats. I then did my usual parking of the car and walking to the stadium.

Tonight's Mass Event was one of the best I can remember. We were very engaged in the Scriptures and it was amazing hearing all 22000 speaking the Apostles Creed and a beautiful Psalm medley they put together. They then had this video presentation I'll call "Carl". It was with a booming voice showing amazing pictures highlighting all that God created, then it would go silent and a spotlight on the stage showed a very ordinary guy named Carl, and the booming voice would say "And the God who created all of this also created Carl." This cycled through 3-4 iterations and people loved it. The main message really echoing Psalm 8 that the God who creates all things also is mindful of us.

The first main speaker was Kristin Decker. She shared her story of terrible bullying and how God helped her overcome. She didn't talk about this, but her bio speaks of her as a runner and having done a 4000 mile run across the US. She didn't look like a runner exactly, and I would have been intrigued to hear more of her story. Jeff Mallinson of CUI also spoke and he was also wonderful.

After tonight's Mass Event I left about 5 mins early to make a quick walk back to the CC to get the car and then returned to pickup everyone else.


Today was another fairly early morning. Up at 6:45a for a 7:15am breakfast and we had to get the car packed. It was 8:15am by the time we got loaded and checked out of our hotel. We were a little behind schedule. Then the traffic getting into the city was horrendous and it was 8:55am by the time I got to drop the group off near the stadium. I made a quick drive and then a jog/walk mix to get back to the stadium on foot. I made it by 9:25a with 5 minutes to spare before the closing service started.

The closing service was a delight. I arrived in time to hear the wind symphony playing the tune I love from Holst's "The Planets" and our opening song used that tune "We Praise You and Acknowledge You". Wow, hearing the whole stadium join in singing that with the wind symphony was awesome. The Order of worship was largely all LSB Setting 4. The hymn of the day was Mighty Fortress which was also a delight to hear with all the voices in the stadium. President Harrison preached a nice and basic sermon on Law and Gospel. We all had communion together which is always amazing how they get everyone through in roughly 20 minutes time. Our station took us up to the mezzanine level. I should perhaps consider being one of the pastors who participates in this serving next time. The service ended just after 11am. They then had the two MC's come out and talk a little more and we sang a few more of the gathering songs. Everything seemed to wrap up by 11:30am. Once again I made a quick walk to the car and then drove back to get everyone. We were on the road heading out of town near noon.

We stopped for lunch just across the Wisconsin border in Hudson and ate at a Wendy's. Another group from Michigan arrived there shortly after we did. We hit a rest area at 3p to do bathroom and then had a gas stop at 4:15p in Portage, WI. I followed Google Maps traffic closely once we were in Illinois to see the best route into Chicago. We ended up following I90 all the way in to the exit for IL-171. We took that down to Thatcher and then followed that to Augusta. It worked pretty well. We hit Concordia at 7:05pm. We had worked out a very nice arrangement to spend the night on campus and then have breakfast with a tour and an admissions visit in the morning. They set us up in Suite 108 in the new concordia Hall. It had a small common area with 5 bedrooms, one of them a two-person room. It was perfect for our group. We carried our stuff in and then took the kids to Giordano's for supper to try out Chicago deep-dish pizza. We did ice cream at Petersen's after supper. We finished the night with an epic game of Uno in the suite lounge.


This morning we hit breakfast in the Concordia cafeteria at 7:15am. Many people from the CCLE (Consortium for Classical Lutheran Education) conference were also in there. It was the first time eating in there in probably 15 years for me. We had a tour with a wonderful senior named Zoe at 8:00am. We had a CUC Admissions meeting with a counselor around 9am. It was great for the kids to get a first understanding of a college campus and a bit of what admission will be like.

After our business was over, we drove downtown and parked in the east garage at Navy Pier. The parking was going to be $35 but they had a Tuesday special going that helped us get it down to $20. We rode the Centennial Wheel for the firs time and enjoyed the views it offered. We shopped a Chicago sports store and bought a cute Cubs outfit for Anya. We did lunch in their food court, I tried America's Dog and Burger, ADB. I tried their italian beef. It was pretty average.

After eating we were ready to head out. In the meantime I realized that when we had returned our keys at Concordia I had mistakenly given them the key to the rocketbox instead of the room key. So we had to drive back to CUC. So we headed out there dodging traffic on the Eisenhower, made the key swap and then headed right back downtown and then south on the Dan Ryan using the Skyway to get to Indiana.

On the way we hit a major backup east of Elkhart, just north of Bristol, IN. The eastbound lanes were closed and Google Maps caught on to this early and had us redirect on CR-6 through Bristol to get around the blockage. Unfortunately for us many many others were also doing the same thing clogging up the small town. The westbound lanes in this area were also blocked, not sure if it was because of the same incident or another coincidentally close. The Indiana Toll Road twitter feed said there was an accident in the eastbound lanes. Later I found a local ABC affiliate who was reporting a construction crew struck a gas line causing the closure of both directions of traffic.

We stopped on airport hwy for Chick-fil-A and then got into Monroe about 8:15p. We dropped everyone off at their houses and finally made it home.