Reflections on CLAY 2018 Youth GatheringWe are storytellers and story tenders August 27, 2018 Pastor Sebastian
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- Pr. Sebastian
In planning today’s service, I struggled with how to distill such a lengthy intense experience into a presentation at a worship service.
But hopefully at the end of this, you will have gotten a glimpse of this amazing youth gathering.
Most Lutheran and Anglican churches in Canada only have a handful active youth,
but CLAY was an incredible opportunity to meet with over 500 youth from Lutheran and Anglican churches across the country.
CLAY strengthened bonds, and told the youth:
you’re not alone: there are others like you whose faith is important to them,
and it also told the leaders: it’s not your fault that your youth groups are smaller than 20 years ago…it’s all part of the demographic shifts that are taking place across the country.
You’re not alone in your disappointment about numbers.
But rejoice: there are still faithful youth, and they are here and ready to worship, learn and meet, especially in a format that is geared to them.
The CLAY gathering is an intense mountaintop experience:
each day is worth at least a year’s worth of normal youth group programming,
and there are 5 days of CLAY!
And then we spent an extra two days sightseeing and bonding some more…
New this year was a smartphone app which gave all the information during the gathering, and which emphasized again the importance of smartphones in our lives these days (and esp. how important they are for youth as their main form of communicating and staying in touch)
As CLAY is held each time in different locations, it has a different character or flavour based on the local context.
Thunder Bay is the home of many people with Finnish roots, so we heard about the Finnish immigrant experience of loss, disorientation and community.
Thunder Bay also has a sizeable indigenous population, and so this fact was also highlighted.
All group gatherings began with an acknowledgement of the land, and for the first time, there was an indigenous Elder-in-Residence, Esther, who shared her stories and helped with the programming.
We heard of the pain of First Nations: of suicide, the residue of residential schools, broken treaties, and we commemorated 9 indigenous youth who were recently found drowned in waters around Thunder Bay with a special ceremony at the Marina Park.
The theme of the gathering was “threads” and it concentrated on how we tell stories and listen to them.
The whole gathering was crafted as a story, as each large group gathering built upon the previous: one large overarching story was woven.
We were challenged to take risks and tell personal stories, and also to be there for our friends and listen to their stories with love and compassion.
We heard stories of brokenness, loss, anger, addiction, and coming-out, but also of redemption, healing and love.
We learned how we share much in common with our friends, even though we have our differences.
We reflected on the stories we tell about ourselves, and how those differ from reality or from others’ perceptions of ourselves.
We learned how to be humble while listening, esp. as we heard stories from people of different backgrounds than ours.
Naturally, texts from Scripture held an important place in the gathering, and the main texts were read here this morning.
In the reading from Second Timothy we are reminded that the Bible is filled with stories that teach us about God and those who experienced God, and these stories can help us to live good and faithful lives.
In Psalm 139 we hear about how God “knit us together in our mothers’ wombs” and that we were “intricately woven in the depths of the earth.”
This image of God weaving us into existence as a weaver might make a tapestry or blanket is a beautiful image.
It also reminds us of the role of storyweaver, someone (esp. in oral culture) who keeps the traditions, myths and stories of group identity alive.
In modern society, such story weavers might be preachers, teachers, news anchors, DJs or opinion columnists;
that is, people who bring together strands of narratives and craft them into a coherent message.
As Christians, we are people of the book.
And that book, the Bible, is a collection of stories, poems, narratives, songs, …that, as we grow into our life of Christ, becomes interwoven with our own existence.
A friend mentioned recently how whenever a psalm is read in his hearing, he immediately thinks of a choir anthem and he starts to sing or hum its melody. That is how it can work with us: that the stories of God should become part of our lives through our attendance in worship and our daily readings of scripture in our devotions, that whenever we hear a passage from the Bible, it sparks a thought, memory or connection to God.
And echoing that, our reading from Deuteronomy reminds us to keep God’s words in our heart and soul, and “fix them as an emblem on our foreheads, teaching them to our children, and talking about them at all times, when we lie down and when we rise…so that God’s Word becomes part of our daily life…
Personally, as I reflect on CLAY 2018,
my first time at CLAY,
I have to say it was a highlight of my life, which some of you might find surprising.
Spending 150 hours sleep-deprived with a bunch of slightly smelly teens, and trying to keep them from getting into too much trouble might not be everyone’s idea of fun.
But I thought it was absolutely fantastic, and I returned energized, and fed.
Of course there was fun and spirit and dancing, but also a sense of purpose and depth with the themes and speakers chosen.
I learnt as much at CLAY as at some other high-level conferences I’ve attended (for example learning more about narrative theory, and also donning Virtual Reality Goggles for a tour of a refugee camp in Jordan, or discussions about non-binary gendered pronouns)
I like to laugh and dance: and I did a lot of that there.
I was impressed with the high level of worship and music, the thoughtful programming, the dedication of planning teams and volunteers, and the excellent speakers.
Throughout each day there was so much energy, but also care, concentration, attention, faith, and leadership to be witnessed.
CLAY and other such youth gatherings build up youth leaders and young leaders into roles of responsibility: and reminded me that the future of the church is bright!
Our youth are talented and they demonstrate care. I was especially proud (and fond of) our J-Squad group. We held our own and participated positively.
“As children of God, we are threads that when woven together make this wonderful world come alive with texture and colour and warmth”.
As our youth group makes plans for the next CLAY gathering in 2020 in Calgary, and in the meantime does work on the New National Youth Project on Homelessness,
we challenge ourselves to be better story tellers and story tenders, and to see how God’s story with and for us weaves us together into a great tapestry of life.
As Psalm 139 reminds us: God wove us into being, so we are worth it and special, and we are loved just the way we are. Amen.
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