Lutheran, Anglican youth from across Canada gather in Thunder Bay

The 2018 Canadian Lutheran Anglican Youth Gathering (CLAY 2018) has come and gone, but the memories, lessons learned and experiences gained will live on for years. Held every two years in a different Canadian city as a joint youth gathering between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) and the Anglican Church Canada (ACC), CLAY 2018 took place this year at Lakehead University Campus in Thunder Bay, ON, on the traditional lands of the Fort William First Nation, Signatory of the Robinson Treaty of 1850.

106 Home Teams consisting of 845 total registrants joined 84 local volunteers, the six-member CLAY Worship Band and the four-member CLAY Drama Team for the five-day event, spanning from Wednesday, August 15 to Sunday, August 19, 2018.

Coming together under the theme ‘Threads’, the 2018 gathering focused on story-telling, story-tending, and what it truly means to listen. Five Large Group Gatherings (LGG) tended to the following themes/questions, including: How to listen to the stories of others, How to trust God in our unravelling, Where God fits within our stories, Good news stories from God, and Where do we go from here as unfinished but beloved children of God?

Steve Greene – the lead speaker/storyweaver at CLAY 2018 – spoke at each LGG reflecting upon and weaving together the many stories of place and purpose (shared by the other various storytellers) to the Biblical story. Greene, who has previously presented/led many powerful slam poetry ministry projects at past gatherings, was born in Montreal, QB., with his family originally coming to Canada from the West Indian cultured Barbados.

Beatrice Twance-Hynes of Biigtigong First Nation led the ‘Patterns’ session at Friday’s LGG. She is from both the local Bear Clan (maternal), Deer Clan (paternal), and has lived in Thunder Bay since 1988. Beatrice is a traditional women’s dancer, singer, songwriter and drummer. She serves as a Cultural Manager and is a member of the Elders Advisory Council within Thunder Bay.

Jenny Salisbury of Toronto, led the ‘Unravelling’ session at Thursday evening’s LGG. She was born and raised within a military family, and travelled/moved a lot as a child. Jenny found meaning and purpose within the church community through theatre. She currently serves the theatre as a writer, actor and teacher.

Lindsey Jorgensen-Skakum of Lethbridge, AB., led the ‘Weave’ session at Saturday evening’s LGG. As a Pastor, Lindsey has a passion for sharing the Good News of God’s love within and outside the church’s walls. A passion that has led them to share a ministry of welcome and inclusion as a member of the LGBTQ2+ community.

Esther Diabo served CLAY 2018 as the Elder-in-Residence, acting as a teacher, observer and elder. As a nine-year attendee of the Canadian Indian Residential Schools, Esther went on to become a teacher, and now offers free Ojibwe & Culture classes, welcome to all. She has taught for 18 years within the First Nations communities of Northwestern Ontario.

Highlights from the gathering included an offsite event, where youth were able to hear stories about Thunder Bay at the nearby Marina Park, and the indigenous lands and the threads of the lives of the locals. Hosts from the area gave accounts specific to their upbringing and lives. After learning what it means to be a true listener and a story-tender, the members of CLAY participated in an act of public witness as agents of reconciliation while at the park.

Working together with sets of different home teams and CLAY volunteers, the youth belonging to the ELCIC and ACC continued to fulfil their commitment to address issues such as homelessness and unaffordable housing through the National Youth Project (NYP).

By first learning of the issues contributing to poverty and homelessness, and then acting and advocating in supporting the local networks and agencies through partner programs, the youth visited a mock homeless shelter, gathered/donated socks, and sent postcards to the Federal Government and local Members of Parliament, in hopes of raising awareness and advocating for a greater responsibility and accountability in addressing the underlying causes of homelessness. 

While at CLAY 2018, attendees took part in the second-largest KAIROS blanket exercise in the world, and the largest ever by youth. Diabo helped lead the exercise with prayer, the teaching of Ojibwe, and a purification process. The 45-minute activity helped participants gain a better understanding of colonization (or the shrinking of land/blankets) and the process of displacement endured by Indigenous Peoples here in Canada.

The Story Dash on Lake Tamblyn was one of the lighter moments, and pinnacles of Home Team time at the gathering. Hilarious 10-sentence story content was created by each Home Team using set ‘base words’, additional ‘bonus words’ and creative titles.

A variety of late-night spots – including dances, swimming, yoga, a campfire with the CLAY Worship Band, and a coffeehouse – provided many options for the youth following evening sessions. 

CLAY 2020 will take place Calgary, AB., on the traditional territories of the Niitsitapi (Blackfoot) and the people of the Treaty 7 region at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology.