Heidi Hagstrom, the former director of the ELCA Youth Gathering received the "Tom Hunstad Award for Excellence in Children, Youth and Family Ministry" at the ELCA Youth Ministry Network Extravaganza.
Heidi is currently serving as the vicar of Fields of Grace Lutheran Parish in southwest Minnesota. From 1997 to 2015, she served as the Director of the Youth Gathering, the largest event in the life of our denomination with over 39,000 participants at its peak.
Erik Ullestad, the chairperson of the Network board commented that: "The ELCA Youth Gathering looked very different in 2015 than it looked when Heidi started. This is a testament to her adaptability, her vision, and her willingness to listen. Heidi did the unprecedented thing of having two consecutive Youth Gatherings in the same city - because God wasn’t finished with New Orleans, and neither was the ELCA. Heidi allowed service learning to be something that all participants were expected to engage in. You acknowledged that pre-Gathering conversations among youth groups should be more than fundraisers and packing lists - instead, she provided resources to equip youth and adults to engage in faithful conversation in the months before the Gathering."
Heidi is quick to deflect credit. She worked with a marvelous staff at Churchwide, and teams of hundreds (maybe thousands) of volunteers over the years to make the Gathering what it has become. And yet - she was at the heart of all of these conversations — bringing her passion for justice, her commitment to theological integrity, and the conviction that God was and continues to be present in the seemingly God-forsaken places in our world.
The Tom Hunstad Award (The "Tommy") is awarded annually to someone who has made a significant impact on the life of children, youth and family ministry in the ELCA. It honors the legacy of Rev. Tom Hunstad, one of those who helped to found the ELCA Youth Ministry Network and who died of cancer in 2001.
The ELCA Youth Ministry Network exists to provide spiritual renewal, continuing education and networking to those who work with children, youth and families in ELCA congregations.