The Canadian Lutheran and Anglican Youth (CLAY) conference, which took place from August 17-21, in Charlottetown, offered nearly 1,000 youth the opportunity to do many things: learn about their faith, dig into the nitty-gritty of discipleship with service projects, explore a different part of the country and swim in the ocean.
But at a time when devout religious practice in Canada is on the wane, it also gave them something more basic: the feeling of not being alone.
For 17-year-old Krista Hum, an Anglican from the diocese of Ottawa who attended CLAY for the first time this year, this was no small thing.
Hum, who attends St. Alban’s Anglican Church, near the University of Ottawa, is the only other youth at her church. She and a friend from St. Alban’s joined the youth group at St. James, Manotick, to attend CLAY. Being able to spend time not only with other Anglicans, but other Anglicans in her age bracket, was something of a novelty.
“Sometimes it seems like you are the only one in your age group, and no one else seems to be super interested in what you’re interested in, or super interested in expressing what you believe in,” she said, adding that at CLAY she felt less alone.
“All these youth from all over Canada who also have the same faith are all gathered-that creates this kind of community that you don’t get many other places,” she said. “You are in…a safe space that has been created [for you] to express yourself as you truly want to.”
CLAY, which takes place in a different Canadian city every two years, began as a gathering for Lutheran youth. It expanded to include Anglicans in 2010 as a practical outgrowth of the full communion partnership the two denominations entered into in 2001.
Since then, Anglican participation has risen steadily from 85 in the first year to 195 in 2016.
The theme of the conference was “Not for Sale,” and the activities emphasized values that many in both denominations hold dear, such as service, social justice, worship and environmentalism. Youth like Hum were given a chance to, among other things, visit and work on an organic farm, chant alongside Buddhist nuns, practise slam poetry and go on a street walk to learn about homelessness.
Donna Rourke, a CLAY veteran who organized the youth group from Manotick, noted that for many of the young people attending CLAY, the gathering is a unique opportunity to see a different side of the church.
“They learn that there are lots of people from all walks of life and all over the country who are interested in the same kind of social justice issues that they are interested in,” she said.
Both Hum and Rourke observed, the energy also spills into life outside of CLAY.
Rourke said she noticed her own youth being “empowered…and challenged to go out there and make some changes-to be the change,” and explained that there are plans to bring the group of 44 Anglican youth from Ottawa together throughout the year.
“We will intentionally get together to worship, we will intentionally get together to socialize, we will intentionally get together to do outreach,” she said.
With CLAY now a happy memory, this is one of the things Hum is most excited about taking with her.
“I know there are a lot of diocesan events for youth, so I’ll definitely be going to those,” she said. “I will definitely have to try and get in contact with [the other youth] again.”
The next CLAY conference will take place in Thunder Bay, Ont., in 2018.