Out of the ashes

Keynote speakers at CLAY this year will be the Rev. Aneeta Devi Saroop, left, and the Rev. Nathan Fong, right. Photo: ClayGathering.ca
Published March 31, 2023

CLAY set to resume after pandemic postponements

The Canadian Lutheran Anglican Youth (CLAY) gathering will be held in person for the first time in five years despite uncertain numbers of attendees, says Sheilagh McGlynn, the Anglican Church of Canada’s animator for youth ministries.

Sheilagh McGlynn, animator for youth ministries

CLAY gatherings bring youth groups from the Anglican Church of Canada and its full communion partner, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canda (ELCIC) together for a weekend of prayer, worship, discussion and fellowship. Organizers held the last in-person gathering in 2018. Normally, there would be a CLAY gathering at a different venue every two years, but in 2020, pandemic lockdowns forced organizers to move the event online. Lingering uncertainty from the pandemic along with concerns from the leaders of some youth groups that they would be unable to raise funds in time resulted in the postponement of the 2022 gathering to this summer.

The upside of the postponement was that much of the planning was already completed in 2022, leaving comparatively little to prepare for this summer, McGlynn said. The event’s planning committee had already set up a venue (Wilfred Laurier University, in Waterloo, Ont.), speakers (the Rev. Aneeta Devi Saroop, and the Rev. Nathan Fong,) and a theme, “Ashes and Embers.”

Both Saroop and Fong describe themselves in their bios on the CLAY website as children of immigrants (from Trinidad and China respectively) who struggled in various ways with faith in their youth. Today, Saroop is a pastor in the ELCIC’s British Columbia synod and Fong is a pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Burnaby, B.C.

CLAY’s theme this year was chosen to speak to the work of rebuilding after the pandemic, McGlynn says. Many youth groups have had a stressful few years since the last CLAY; some high-schoolers graduated during the pandemic, while lockdowns made it difficult for many groups to connect with the new youth who entered high school during that time.

“We’re in a bit of an ‘ashes’ stage of church; it’s hard right now,” she says.

As a result, it’s not yet clear how many will be coming to this year’s gathering. “Some places that have traditionally brought 20 … are saying well, we’re probably not going to have that many because we’re building,” she says.

But McGlynn remains confident that spiritual guidance will be at work, even if the numbers are low. “Whoever comes is the right people who needed to be at this CLAY,” she says. “And the next one two years later will be stronger and better because we’re building.”

And this gathering’s programming, she says, will place heavy emphasis on the “embers.” These, McGlynn explains, are the glowing coals of enthusiasm organizers hope to fan into a more substantial flame in the church’s future.

Particularly, McGlynn hopes to encourage this generation of youth to bring the passion they show for social justice issues to their faith lives and vice versa.

“I’ve been involved with social justice movements for my whole working life … That’s how church meets the world,” she says. “I really believe the church needs to step up to meet them where they’re at as opposed to sitting in an empty church going, ‘Why aren’t there young people here?’ ”


  • Sean Frankling

    Sean Frankling’s experience includes newspaper reporting as well as writing for video and podcast media. He’s been chasing stories since his first co-op for Toronto’s Gleaner Community Press at age 19. He studied journalism at Carleton University and has written for the Toronto Star, WatchMojo and other outlets.

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