CLAY holds first in-person gathering in five years

Participants colour in an illustration of Jesus at the Canadian Lutheran Anglican Youth (CLAY) gathering in Waterloo, Ont. Photo: Alicia Brown
Published September 6, 2023

Hundreds of young Christians gathered in Waterloo, Ont. Aug. 10 to 13 for the Canadian Lutheran Anglican Youth (CLAY) gathering, the first time the biennial event has been held in person since 2018.

Bringing together Anglicans and Lutherans between the ages of 14 and 19 plus their leaders, CLAY offers a variety of youth-oriented activities, worship services and leadership development sessions. The last in-person CLAY took place in Thunder Bay, Ont. The following gathering, originally scheduled for 2020, was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and eventually took place online in 2021.

Nearly 300 people attended this year’s CLAY, according to youth animator Sheilagh McGlynn. Photo: Alicia Brown

Sheilagh McGlynn, youth animator for the Anglican Church of Canada, said close to 300 people attended this year’s CLAY, including leaders and volunteers. Seventy per cent of participants, including leaders, were new due to the age range of CLAY and the five-year gap since the last in-person event, she added.

“A lot of people who came didn’t really know what CLAY was or what to expect,” McGlynn said. “It’s nice to have a bit of a fresh start, but [there was] still a bit of wondering, because CLAY had such a rich history … We weren’t sure if that same feeling would still happen and it really did … The energy was off the charts.”

A youth group displays ashes in the shape of a cross on their hands. Photo: Alicia Brown

The theme of CLAY 2023 was “Ashes and Embers.” The Rev. Nathan Fong, one of two keynote speakers along with the Rev. Aneeta Saroop—both Lutheran pastors—said in a news release it was “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,” Fong said. “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.”

In their keynote discussions, Fong and Saroop spoke about their experiences as people of colour in the church, according to the release. Fong described growing up Asian in Vancouver, his parents raising him to be as “non-Chinese” as possible to fit in, and his sadness at not being able to pass on his language and culture to the next generation. Saroop recounted how she was born Hindu, raised agnostic, baptized Christian and eventually became a Lutheran pastor. Both described their experience of “blending in” and accepting God-given identities.

CLAY participants enjoy a round of football. Photo: Alicia Brown

The Rev. Alexandra McIntosh, an Anglican priest who serves as curate at Christ Church Deer Park in Toronto, was a youth leader for years before being ordained. The Waterloo gathering marked her first time attending CLAY, in this case as a CLAY Crew leader.

“I think it might be one of the most energetic or most obvious examples of our churches working in full communion,” McIntosh said.

Note: This article has been updated from the Anglican Journal‘s October print edition with new information.


  • Matthew Puddister

    Matthew Puddister (aka Matt Gardner) is a staff writer for the Anglican Journal. Most recently, Puddister worked as corporate communicator for the Anglican Church of Canada, a position he held since Dec. 1, 2014. He previously served as a city reporter for the Prince Albert Daily Herald. A former resident of Kingston, Ont., Puddister has a degree in English literature from Queen’s University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario. He also supports General Synod's corporate communications.

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