Sometimes you don’t realize how much you’ve been missing something until you have it. Then suddenly you find yourself thinking “where has this been all my life?” That was my reaction to the gathering of clergy under 40 from across the Anglican Church of Canada which I attended in Montreal for the past week. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what I was getting into before heading out. Why was I putting my family through the harrowing experience of a 7-hour train ride with a baby (not to mention the inevitability of routine-busting during travel)? A part of me was sure this was going to be a huge mistake.
I could not have been more wrong. I knew I was in the right place when our ice-breakers involved dividing the room by Marvel vs. DC comics fans. But the positive energy went far deeper than than. From the opening Eucharist, it was clear that this gathering was going to be … special. It is difficult to express how energizing it was to be around a group of enthusiastic, gifted, and passionate young clergy (representing almost every diocese in the Anglican Church of Canada). We gathered in large and small groups for informal discussions around everything from raising young children as clergy parents to Christian faith formation to what our Anglican identity means in the current religious landscape. Conversations were filled with mutual support–sharing successes and struggles–and I came away inspired with new ideas and energy. I suppose one could be cynical–saying merely that we had not yet had time yet for the church to burn us out or to become jaded from the challenges of ministry in the contemporary context. What I experienced, however, was not naivete but a grounding in faith which gave an energy and a desire to say those challenges were worth facing.
It might be easier to articulate the feeling at this gathering by noting a couple of thing I did not experience–attitudes that I think we have sadly just come to take for granted in our church meetings all too often.
First, there were no politics, no factions, and no divisions. If that is not the work of the Holy Spirit at an Anglican gathering, I don’t know what is. Did everyone there agree on the various controversial topics facing our church? Probably not. We all came from very different backgrounds and geographic areas, so I can only assume a diversity of opinions would be held by the group. But they never came up — not, as it seems to me, in an superficial attempt to bury conflict but in a recognition that the Gospel and the love of Christ that unites us is stronger than what divides us.
Which brings me to my second point — There was a palpable lack of fear–whether that be fear of our tradition, fear of one another, or fear of the church’s (perceived) growing irrelevancy. In place of such fear, I experienced hope, confidence, and, most importantly of all, LOVE. Most people in the group barely knew one another. And yet remarkably quickly there rose up a deep sense of love and trust among us. And, in my case, that love was extended to Leeman and little Amanda as well. I have to believe it was a love which stemmed from our shared love of Christ. As in the words of the hymn: “The love that bids us makes us one, and strangers now are friends.”
The whole feeling of the conference crystalized for me in a moment at our closing Eucharist, when I moved briefly away from the circle around the altar to nurse Amanda in the quiet of the Cathedral nave. I sat, listening to the group sing the post-communion hymn and meditating (appropriately enough) on the feast of Corpus Christi. I had one of those moments which comes so rarely when I realized–this is the church. In all of our diversity and relatively brief acquaintance, was are the church, called by God, nourished by the body and blood of Christ, and strengthened by the Holy Spirit. Realizing that we are the people who will be leading the church into a perhaps uncertain future, I actually grew a little teary-eyed. It’s good … God’s got this well in hand.