Capital South Conference

Gather Austin: Living Life Together 

Under the green awning of Central Market Cafe, next to an HEB in the middle of Austin, you might find a French group, sorority sisters praying, parents meeting after work. Or on the first Thursday of the month, Gather Austin, a group of mostly Lutheran young adults between 23 and 30 years old.

“If I’m craving young adult community, I’m probably not the only one,” said co-founder Cecie Suknaic Saulnier, Austin native and Vicar at St. Martin’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. Gather is for “Every young adult who has felt tokenized by the church, so they can feel seen and loved and known in this community.”

Gather Austin at Central Market Cafe, Austin, TX.

Cecie and co-founder Andrew Thompson, intern pastor at Palm Valley Lutheran in Round Rock, started Gather Austin in December 2022 as part of the churchwide Gather Network. Between seven and fourteen young adults show up to gatherings built around food, fellowship, and faith formation. Monthly at the cafe patio, Cecie and Andrew switch co-leading a devotional, which might look like a guided meditation or a discussion on Lent. 

Is it awkward to close your eyes and meditate in public? 

“I knew it would be a little weird in the middle of a cafe,” Andrew said. “But it was kinda wonderful. I didn’t evaporate while looking weird in public.”

“After moving from campus ministry or from their early 20s, a lot of folks feel in this chapter of life what I call spiritual homelessness,” Andrew said. “Gather is a more neutral zone, people can feel more comfortable being 100% who God calls them to be.”

Gather Austin co-founders Andrew and Cecie at Central Market Cafe, March 2023.

The theme of authenticity runs through Gather Austin. In a few short months, the group has grown much closer than a typical bible study, in part through openly sharing troubles and questions. Andrew frequently calls the idea “doing life together,” and they’ve added social events beyond the devotional, like frisbee golf and game nights.

People of all ages want meaningful social connections through church. Even Jesus’ disciples were, in part, friends. The ELCA has churchwide ministries like Abide with online groups and retreats for young adults. Andrew and Cecie get mentorship and advice from the first Gather groups for young adults, in Colorado Springs, CO and Cincinnati, OH. “The basis is there are people who are faithful who want to have friends that are also explicitly people of faith,” Cecie said. 

Gather is essentially a supplementary ministry, regional not congregational, since most of the members attend different churches. “My hope is this can be a wonderful picture of not what churches have to be but what churches can be in the future,” Andrew said. “Seeing that the Spirit is active in all those places like a cafe excites me.” 

Clearly, the simple act of gathering with new friends who get your viewpoints is relaxing and connective. “So often the church is a place that squashes people. Squashes leaders, squashes People of Color, squashes Queer people. You have to fit in a box on some things. In the ideal church, that doesn’t happen. But Gather is a place I can fully be myself,” Cecie said. “I can share and be held as a child of God, not as Vicar Cecie.”

Their plans for the year include developing a more shared leadership model and fundraising for group needs like event venue rentals, food, and, of course, cool sweatshirts. 

If you’d like to learn more or start your own Gather locally, check out their website at or follow on Instagram @gather_austin.

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