For the first time in five years, Anglican and Lutheran youth and leaders from across Canada met in person yesterday in Waterloo, Ontario, for the start of Canadian Lutheran Anglican Youth Gathering (CLAY) Typically, CLAY gatherings take place biennially. However, the last in-person gathering of CLAY was in 2018 in Thunder Bay, Ontario; the COVID-19 pandemic delayed CLAY in 2020, ultimately causing the gathering to take place online in 2021.
CLAY brings together Anglican and Lutheran youth aged 14-19 and their leaders, from all across the country, for programming related to the theme of each specific gathering. Gatherings are youth-centered, grounded in leadership development, and offer varied worship experiences in the form of Large Group Gatherings (LGGs).
Thursday’s LGG opened with an address of thanksgiving by Rod Miller, Bear Clan from Oneida Nation, Cayuga Language learner and Haudenosaunee knowledge learner. Miller also led a teaching about the relationships between earth, people, creation and the four elements.
Following the address, Mohawk woman Dawn Maracle—who sits with Bear Clan and is the Animator of Indigenous Justice in the Anglican Church of Canada—led a smudging ceremony with the group. Smudging is a traditional practice in a number of Indigenous cultures around the world, meant to spiritually cleanse those who take part.
After the smudging, the CLAY band took the stage, giving a high-energy concert which infused the crowd with excitement, dancing and singing. A CLAY Spotify playlist was made in advance of the gathering, to help get participants familiar with the music before the event.
Once the crowd warmed up, keynotes Pastor Aneeta Saroop and Pastor Nathan Fong took the stage, speaking of their experiences as persons of colour in the church. They shared the experience of grappling with their complicated backstories and of narratives that got in the way of understanding their identities as a beloved child of God.
Pastor Aneeta—born Hindu, raised agnostic, baptized Christian and now a Lutheran pastor in the BC Synod (ELCIC)—discussed growing up in Canada as a female with brown skin. Rev. Saroop’s parents lived with the history of indentured servitude due to colonization in the West Indies.
Pastor Nathan spoke about his experience growing up Asian in Vancouver. He discussed how his parents raised him to be as “non-Chinese” as possible to blend in. He also acknowledged the sadness of not being able to pass the culture and language onto the next generation. As Pastor Aneeta’s father said, it only takes one generation to lose the language.
For both keynote speakers, the concept of “blending in” was a common experience. They also named their frustrations around fitting in and feeling valued, and how those things would always feel impossible to attain for them.
Toward the end of their remarks, they pointed out the role that God plays in these challenges—that we may accept our God-given identity and find hope in God’s promises.
The keynote remarks were followed by a meditation which tied in the theme of CLAY, Ashes & Embers, and then a Service of the Eucharist. Prior to the gathering, Pastor Nathan had offered his perspective regarding the theme:
“Ashes & Embers is about picking up the pieces of our lives and seeing where God might be in the midst of it. Because we collectively had a difficult time over the past three years as a country, it’s a very appropriate time to explore this. The truth is, God is with us always, in the sparks of hope and the raging fires of life, but also in the ashes and embers after the sparks and flames have gone down. The trick is in learning how to recognize God’s face and presence even when all that seems impossible. This is what we hope to do this weekend: to see God with us through our stories, our relationships, and all the ups and downs that pepper our experiences, making us who we are as God’s people in the world.”
CLAY 2023 Ashes & Embers runs through Sunday, August 13 at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.