I get to see and experience a lot of wonderful people and special events in my job. Every two years since 1982 I have had the great privilege of attending church sponsored, national youth gatherings, most recently under the moniker of CLAY – Canadian Lutheran Anglican Youth. Spending these days with several hundred teens and their adult mentors is always an enlivening and restorative experience. The energy that these kids generate through their singing, laughing, playing and dancing generates a buzz that resonates within me for weeks after. But make no mistake. This is not about “fun and games with the kids.” This is “spirited discipleship” writ large!
Some of the best conversations I have about the guts of what it means to be a faithful Christian disciple in this time and context are the ones that I have with young people at events like CLAY. They are fulsome and they go deep. Each morning at this year’s gathering all of the bishops in attendance met with groups of participants for a “mash-up” conversation. Frankly, these conversations were richer and more authentic than what I often experience during coffee Q and A times in my weekly parish visits within the synod. Each morning there were groups of kids who waited patiently in turn to continue the conversation after our scheduled time concluded.
Emily Walker came to CLAY with friends Elicia, Melissa and team leaders Emily and Sara from St. Philip, Toronto. In a post-CLAY post, Emily writes, “The theme this year was Not For Sale; specifically: creation, human beings, and salvation. When we were discussing how creation is not for sale we were talking about how, really, none of the land we "own" is ours. Now there's a compelling reason as to why we should share it more. Human beings are not for sale in the sense of human trafficking. Girls as young as 13 are being taken from their families and their homes to go work against their will in the sex trade. Could you even imagine some of your young children, grandchildren, or friends being taken away from their lives in such a horrific way?”
“Salvation is not for sale means to me that no one can trick you into buying things to get into heaven. The biggest thing I learned, surprisingly, was what it means to be a Lutheran. During a Q&A with our bishop Michael Pryse I asked him to define what Lutheranism is in a few sentences. He said that we know God loves us more than we can imagine and we are living in response to that. Our actions are not to repay him for eternal love!” Thanks Emily! You got it. It’s all about responding, in faith, to what God has already done for us in Christ Jesus!
As I begin my walk into this 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, I am inspired by the witness of people like Emily and all of those young people who have not only “hung in” with our church, but are showing us new ways of being church. I am inspired by their authenticity and honesty. I am inspired by their passion and desire to claim forms of discipleship that have legs!
I often hear people say that our youth are the church of the future. It’s only partly true because that future won’t happen unless youth are given their rightful opportunity to be the church right now. We need to do all we can to ensure that they are given every opportunity to claim their God-given place in the life of our church today. The Emily’s of our church already have the kind of heart and spirit we need to help bring a new and much needed reformation to our church. We need to unleash them!