My sister is currently in New Orleans at the ELCA Lutheran Youth Gathering, and her being there reminds me of one of my favorite stories from when I attended the Gathering in Atlanta as a youth back in 2003.
When I attended regional youth gatherings in my middle school-early high school years, there was a guy who I kept running into all the time. He had been in my small group sessions in 6th grade, and I remembered that he was very interesting and personable. We were never put together in the same group again, and I was fascinated by him and wanted to be friends but was too shy to approach him. During those gatherings, we kept awkwardly running into each other in a very romantic-comedy type way. We'd be sitting at worship and I'd look over and he'd be in the next row, stuff like that. One time I was talking about this phenomenon with my sister, and I looked over to see him having a snowball fight with a friend right outside my window. The serendipity of those moments was undeniable, but I still could not work up the courage to go and say hi. Those gatherings have maybe a few hundred people tops, but that summer I was headed to the big Gathering in Atlanta, where 40,000 youth from across the nation all come together. I convinced myself that if I could still run into him in a crowd of 40,000 people, I had no choice but to walk right up to him and ask him his name. At this point my sister and I were calling him Sh'Bob, because all I remembered was that he either had an extremely rare name like Shedidiah, or a really common name like Bob.
On the second day of the Gathering, my friend Josh and I left the group to go get something to eat in the convention center. Right as we got out of line with our food, I looked around and noticed Sh'Bob sitting across the room with the other members of his church. I was stunned that I actually saw him again, and since I remembered my promise to myself I turned to Josh to tell him what I was doing...and Josh was gone. Assuming I was right behind him, he had headed back to the rest of the group, and I was completely and totally lost. (I had a really bad sense of direction back then.) I abandoned all thoughts of talking to Sh'Bob in favor of being returned to my group, and I missed my chance. Or so I thought.
On the last day of the Gathering, we all met in the Georgia Dome for a final service. Miraculously, our church got some coveted front-row seats right in front of the band, and I sat on the edge of the group with a line of empty seats next to me. As the service started, another church came and took the seats next to us. I glanced over and practically fell out of my chair--the people sitting next to us were from Sh'Bob's church, and Sh'Bob himself was sitting right next to me. After the service, eager to not let this moment get away from me like it had before, I turned to Sh'Bob and introduced myself. (His name was John--so, a little more on the "Bob" side of the Sh'Bob spectrum.) There was a bit of an awkward silence, and then John brightened up and started talking enthusiastically. Unfortunately, right at that moment the band cued up and started playing very loudly. I couldn't hear a word poor John was saying, and he talked on and on through the whole song while I just kind of...nodded. As the band wound down, his church got up and John said "well, I should be going..." and I kind of waved and sat there stunned with a "what just happened?" look on my face. I swear, it was unreal. It was like something out of a movie.
BUT. Are you ready for it to get just a little weirder?
When I was in college I was telling Alex the same story and talking about the congregation and where they were from. Turns out that's Alex's church, and he knew John. In fact, the friend John had been having that snowball fight with outside my window at the regional gathering? That was Alex.
GUYS, HOW DOES THIS EVEN HAPPEN.
So yeah, that's my favorite story to tell about the Gathering. :-)