“It’s fun to be an Anglican.”
The T-shirt caught my eye, because as a veteran church worker, “fun” and “Anglican” are not concepts that I’d normally connect.
Yet, it can be fun to be an Anglican. Combine 75 Anglicans from Newfoundland to Alberta. Enrich with 10 Christians from other churches. Spice with 30 of this group being age 16 to 30. Enrich with passionate worship, heartfelt music and dynamic preaching. Leaven with laughter and joy.
That’s a recipe for joyful faith, and why the Shalom Justice Camp held in Peterborough, Ont. from Aug. 19-24 was such an amazing experience. While similar to a conference, Justice Camp turns the typical conference format on its head. Instead of participants passively listening to experts, justice camp lives out the belief that “the wisdom is in the room.” That is, every justice camper has ideas and experiences to share, leading to new ideas, fresh energy and renewed faith. Thus, for six days we shared university dormitory life, heard each other’s stories, broke bread together, met local social justice activists, prayed, laughed and had fun. Then we returned home…but none of us went back the same person as before.
By no means was Justice Camp easy. The days were long and intense. We were made painfully aware of how tough it is to strive for shalom in the church and in society.
I’ve been blessed to attend four of the six justice camps sponsored by a diocese since 2005. To me, they embody what our church should be about-and what it rises to, when we cast off our fear about trying courageous ways of “making all things new” and look at Jesus’ message with fresh eyes. We Anglicans constantly talk about our declining numbers, and how we need to attract more youth. Yet all too often, there’s a yawning gap between the energy, exuberance and concerns of young people, and what they see and experience in our parishes.
That’s why events like justice camp that truly welcome youth, as well as others who often feel excluded by our parishes-low-income people, people with disabilities, gays and lesbians-are so urgently needed. Nor is justice camp a one-shot event. We’ll be staying in touch about follow-up action through our Facebook page and other ways.
I’ll confess that the logistical details, fundraising, program issues and numerous other details leading up to justice camp sometimes had me asking myself: Is it worth all this work? Yet as I surveyed our justice camp gatherings and saw how people were being transformed and renewed in their faith, I said to myself: this is what God’s vision of shalom is all about.
Murray MacAdam is the Social Justice and Advocacy Consultant for the diocese of Toronto, and served as co-chair for the Shalom Justice Camp.