“I wouldn’t be who, or where, I am today without LYO”

The NC Synod’s Lutheran Youth Organization (LYO) has always been committed to equipping leaders for the sake of sharing the Gospel.

Picture a weekend in late February filled with the organized chaos of a giant game of “rock, paper, scissors” with about 500 old and new friends; music led by a band of teenagers that are fairly new musicians and a few adults who care deeply about them and the music they play and sing; faith stories and reflections shared by some of the brightest and best 9th through 12th graders around; a bishop who tosses out free t-shirts and preaches/presides at worship; intentional faith formation in small groups; 129 pizzas consumed as a late night snack; lots of fun and very little sleep. This is just a snapshot of what happens at the NC Synod’s annual LYO Assembly. And, for the past 25 years, Deacon Tammy Jones West, assistant to the bishop, has been the staff person responsible for this yearly event.

The LYO of the North Carolina Synod is open to all youth in grades 6-12. Youth are members by virtue of being a member of any NC Synod, ELCA congregation. Every year, Lutheran youth across the state gather in February for an assembly where they spend time with each other in small groups, sing with the band, and grow in faith. The strength of LYO in North Carolina comes from the youth themselves. The LYO Board (board members are grades 9-12) see that LYO Assembly is always youth-planned and youth-led.

Chandler Carriker was a high school senior when he served as the LYO president from 1995 to 1996. “I’m pretty sure it was Tammy’s first year and maybe we had just transitioned from LYNC (Lutheran Youth in North Carolina) to LYO.” Following high school, Chandler graduated from NC State University and Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, worked eight summers on staff at Lutheridge and Lutherock including two summers as associate program director, and is now a deacon in the ELCA. He recently left his call at Lutheran World Relief and accepted a call as the Vice President of Program and Engagement at Novus Way Ministries. Deacon Carriker shares, “My time as an LYO president continues to be a foundation for all of the leadership opportunities I’ve had in the 25 years since then. I experienced letting people down, and how to learn from that and grow better as a team. I experienced the joy of achieving goals as a team. And I learned from leaders like Tammy who placed the grace of Jesus at the center of what they do. Those things have always stayed with me.”

Likewise, Ethan Overcash, a seminarian who is currently doing his internship at Grace, Boone, served on the LYO Board from 2007 to 2009. Ethan shares, “I wouldn’t be who, or where, I am today without LYO. I certainly wouldn’t be in the seminary process. LYO opened the doors of the church to me and gave me a place to belong where I could discover and use the gifts God has given me. LYO empowers youth to serve and lead and I discovered my call to ministry while serving on the LYO board. Through LYO, I discovered that the church is so much bigger than my own small town congregation and my understanding of the church as a whole will forever be impacted by the church I witnessed in the holy places of LYO. I continually give thanks to God for the gift of ministry that is Tammy and LYO!”

Kai Thurow is currently the Youth and Family Minister at St. John’s, Salisbury. Kai not only served on the LYO board as a youth but also has been an adult advisor for the LYO board for the past seven years. Kai says, “During this time, I’ve seen youth become more confident in the leadership gifts that were given to them by God. They’ve claimed those gifts and embraced them as they plan, write, and lead a weekend for youth and adults from around the state. We have youth who have never spoken publicly before that stand before a large group of their peers and share part of their faith story with them so they experience firsthand the power that sharing their story with others can have.” During college at Lenoir-Rhyne, Kai lived in Tammy and Eric West’s basement. That experience “gave me a rare opportunity to see just how much Tammy does in our synod. Her dedication and passion for equipping others to use their gifts is one of the main reasons that I find myself in a ministry position today. It’s safe to say that without her, I wouldn’t be where I am, let alone be the person that I am today.”

Assistant to the Bishop for Candidacy & Boundaries, Pastor Sara Ilderton, echoes those sentiments: “Tammy’s leadership with NC Synod youth has directly impacted the level of candidacy in our synod. Her model of leadership for programs such as LYO, where the youth ARE the leaders, equips young people to step up, tell Jesus stories, listen, lead and discern—all qualities we are looking for in candidates for ministry in the church. Because of LYO (as well as our excellent camping ministries, campus ministries, and involved congregations), NC Synod Candidacy is among the strongest in the ELCA. This is a direct reflection of Tammy’s calling, heart, love, and leadership.”

This year at the LYO Assembly, those gathered gave thanks for Tammy’s 25 years of service with the children, youth, and adults of this synod (and beyond). Afterwards, she shared a Facebook post of gratitude: “So grateful for the past 25 years serving in the NC Synod. The friends who became family and the job that became a call to ministry…”

The NC Synod’s LYO is certainly committed to equipping leaders for the sake of sharing the gospel. Whether the gospel is shared by someone in a youth leadership position that becomes a call to ministry, by someone in a job that becomes a call to ministry, or by youth and adults who are equipped for leadership, LYO is truly equipping leaders for the church now and in years to come.