Shared Anglican-Lutheran gatherings set framework for youth ministry
This is the third column in Companions in Faith, a series of seven in which Matt Gardner, Anglican Journal staff writer, presents Anglican and Lutheran perspectives about matters of mutual importance.
The Anglican Church of Canada had been looking at organizing a national youth gathering for some time when the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) invited an Anglican cohort to Whitehorse in 2008 for its own youth conference. Unlike Anglicans, Lutherans had been holding such events for decades, with the Canadian Lutheran Youth Gathering tracing its history to 1966.
The joint gathering in Whitehorse was so successful that the two churches decided to continue holding national youth gatherings together, and in 2010, the event was renamed the Canadian Lutheran Anglican Youth (CLAY) gathering.
CLAY and its accompanying National Youth Project (NYP) are among the most prominent examples of possibilities opened up by the Waterloo Declaration’s full communion partnership between Anglicans and Lutherans.
Each CLAY event brings together hundreds of young Anglicans and Lutherans from across Canada, taking place every two years in a different city. Those who attend as part of a youth group have the chance to meet others who share their beliefs, participate in joint activities and learn about issues of faith and discipleship.
“We always tell people that [CLAY is] the largest thing we do where there are Anglicans and Lutherans participating in something together,” says Deacon Gretchen Peterson (she/her), the ELCIC’s assistant to the bishop for youth and leadership.
“There are things we’ve learned from each other that have been beneficial to both of our churches in youth ministry,” she says. “To take the good from each other and figure out how to work together … is so unbelievably amazing.”
Between each CLAY gathering, youth return home and participate in the NYP, which involves raising awareness around specific issues and working to create positive change. Past projects have focused on access to clean drinking water, or homelessness and affordable housing. The NYP for 2022, More Precious, will seek to educate people about human trafficking.
Sheilagh McGlynn (she/her), youth animator for the Anglican Church of Canada, says drawing upon Lutheran expertise through CLAY and the NYP provided Anglicans with a framework for youth ministry. “We are so lucky to have been able to hop on board with the CLAY planning, because [Lutherans have] been doing this for years,” McGlynn says. “They know how to run a youth event. They have it down to a science. We didn’t have to do all that exhausting learning to get to a really great product, and CLAY is an incredible product.”
For its part, Lutheran youth ministry has been enhanced by full communion with Anglicans, Peterson says. She points to the Anglican church’s relationship with Indigenous peoples, which allowed elders in residence to attend the last two CLAY events. “Those connections are a huge benefit to us as a church and for youth ministry,” she says.
As Lutherans had brought Anglicans on board with CLAY, Anglicans invited Lutherans to attend Stronger Together—an annual event bringing together youth and young adult leaders to build community, worship and learn about issues related to youth ministry.
Joint work in undertakings such as the NYP has produced resources embraced by the broader churches to educate members on justice issues. On National Housing Day in 2018, Anglican and Lutheran leaders signed an open letter directing their members to an NYP resource to help small groups reflect on homeless and affordable housing.
The friendship between McGlynn and Peterson reflects the growing partnership of their churches. McGlynn describes Anglicans and Lutherans as being like “siblings” and “family.”
Peterson notes, “Oftentimes I even forget that it is a full communion thing, because it just is so natural now.… Sheilagh and I have cultivated a relationship that is both a working relationship and an actual friendship.
“I think that if we can help model that for youth leaders to work together, that’s a huge benefit for both of our churches at every level.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story appeared in the December Anglican Journal.