On November 24 and 25 youth and young adult leaders from across Canada gathered virtually for the annual Stronger Together gathering. Typically held in-person, this year the Canadian Anglican and Lutheran youth leaders event was conducted via Zoom, free of charge amid the current COVID-19 global pandemic.
Participants of Stronger Together 2020 were able to experience a different sort of fellowship than in years past, while taking in a variety of prepared presentations in an experiential and education-based learning environment. During the day and evening sessions, participants were able to take in many topics, including: Exodus and the Israelites Time in the Desert; Innovation in Youth Ministry; Self-care for Youth Leaders, Youth, Mental Health and Faith; How to be a Good Christian in a Digital World; and Worship.
Meeting online is certainly no replacement for an in-person assembly, but Deacon Gretchen Peterson, Assistant to the Bishop for Youth and Leadership at the Evangelical Lutheran Church National Office, says the two-day event provided attendees with a comforting feeling of connectedness, despite their geographical distance.
“We definitely were still connected, even though it was online,” Peterson says. “Many of the attendees ‘showed up’ to each of the different events, so you would essentially see a familiar face that was at every session, or you could see the name if they didn’t have their video turned on. I was actually surprised at just how good it felt and how much it truly seemed like a gathering of people, even though it was online.”
Peterson, alongside Sheilagh McGlynn – Animator for Youth Ministries at the Anglican Church of Canada, organized the late-November gathering. While 75 people registered by the official November 20 cut-off, Peterson estimates that approximately 30-35 attendees were present for each different session.
“Our main purpose of Stronger Together is to build community and provide education amongst youth leaders and people who are working in youth ministry,” Peterson reflects. “It was another great partnership between the two churches, as we had a great balance of Lutherans and Anglicans as attendees and presenters. And because it was held online for free, we could really open it up to whoever wanted to participate. That was one of the really great things to come out of this, as we are still able to work in partnership and collaborate with one another, even during COVID.”
As a leader, Peterson has helped organize a number of past youth leader events, while also serving as an attendee of others. However, the 2020 version of Stronger Together very well may have been the most unique of the various gatherings to date.
“One of the things that’s great about the event is that people still got to meet one another, even though they were meeting in a virtual way,” Peterson says. “There were definitely some connections made for our participants. Even from my perspective, for those of us who have gotten to know one another from previous youth events, we were still happy to see each other on our screens. That sense of community-building and making contacts can still happen, as well as reconnecting with one another, of course. This has opened the door to a much wider platform of youth ministry moving forward.”
Deacon Michelle Collins – Assistant to the Bishop, Manitoba/Northwestern Ontario Synod, attended the virtual conference and led the Self-Care for Youth Leaders discussion. Holding a passion for faith formation and intergenerational ministry, Collins also enjoyed the biblical narratives and themes of wilderness journeys expressed throughout the two-day event.
“Stronger Together deepened my awareness of and appreciation for the complexity of faithfully accompanying youth and their families this year,” Collins says. “Whether the year has forced experimentation and adaptation, or whether the year has expanded use of media and technology, it was clear to me in new ways that the landscape for youth ministry is changing significantly. The program planners navigated the shift online without a hitch, and I could almost imagine we were all in the same space. The event provided helpful spiritual framing for the journey of ministry, sharpened some essential tools in my youth ministry tool box, and strengthened my appreciation for the support and community that are essential to youth ministry leadership.”
With all sessions from Stronger Together 2020 having been recorded, those who were unable to attend, or participants who have interest in re-watching a certain speaker/presentation can do so by visiting https://anglicanlutheran.ca/strongertogether.