Reimaging community discipleship in the pandemic.
What might discipleship for young adults look like in 2021? Different than some might think. I work as a resident leader for Act Five, a Christian gap year program associated with Redeemer University and based near downtown Hamilton, Ontario. We are halfway through our second cohort, and I’d like to share some glimpses of how God is at work among us.
Act Five’s mission is to invite young adults into eight months of transformative experiences between high school and whatever might be next for them. The goal of the program is to help shape their faith and character, grow their imagination for God’s kingdom, and guide them in discerning their next steps.
Practically, this begins with living in a community centred on Jesus. We live together in a big house on Blake Street, alongside other staff and 16 students. We have regular rhythms of prayer, cooking and eating together, chores, house meetings, scripture-reading, service and celebrating. In a pandemic, these activities become even more integral, as we live and learn as one “household” or “bubble,” remaining physically distanced from those outside our home.
Students also receive credits through Redeemer University by participating in classes and completing assignments, listening to storytellers (and story-telling themselves!), and engaging in work placements throughout the city. The fall and winter semesters are woven with service opportunities, wilderness trips, retreats and some sort of “bigger” travel experience. Last year we spent a month in Zambia partnering with EduDeo ministries. Next term we plan to learn and serve on the West Coast here in Canada (subject to COVID restrictions).
Space & grounding
There is much to be learned from mountaintop experiences and big trips; however, there’s also something formative about the high and low experiences of everyday life. These can shape us to become people of wholeness who can walk forward firmly and faithfully.
My experience with Act Five has been one of immense beauty. I’ve had the privilege of witnessing remarkable transformation in our students – and in myself. At the end of Year One, two students wrote the following:
“For me, this program appealed to every ‘dreamer’ instinct in me while at the same time grounding me to life’s biggest realities. Act Five has opened innumerable doors but gave me the peace to close others. It gave me the space to think big and then begin to think of practical and realistic ways to go about making it actually happen instead of keeping it as a faraway dream.”
“I’ve learned that we each follow Christ in different ways, and can continue to do so in our respective paths of life, whether it be in Music, Art, an English major, or working on a farm.”
As a Redeemer University Alumnus, Act Five has also been the bedrock upon which my own post-university formation has occurred. Being a Resident Leader has been the perfect place to land; I’ve been discerning and growing right alongside our students. Further, I’ve been learning what it means to commit to a place, to love it deeply, and care about its history, and everything that lives in it (from the earthworms in my compost heap to the squirrels that run across the roof). Act Five has been a place for me to try my hand at all the things I learned in a classroom. I get to follow Jesus in my own fumbling way, and invite our students to come along.
When I think of Act Five, I think of our home on Blake Street, the people who live in it, and the people we have met. I remember dancing in Zambia and canoeing for 10 days in the wilderness. I think of chaotic meals around our big tables and of movie nights in the basement. I imagine our weekly “Evensong” where we sing, pray, and reflect on Jesus together. I picture our backyard – the vegetable garden and the hammock. When I think of Act Five, I imagine it as a training ground, a place of transformation and of practice, because that is what it is.
Act Five is a unique program, situated in a specific place. We teach our students that everything matters because everything belongs to God. God is truly doing something awesome here – in both staff and students alike, as we learn and creatively practice what it means to be faithful disciples of Christ in our context.
The realities of COVID-19 have forced us to reimagine the ways we facilitate our programming. It has meant we can’t have friends gather around the table with us. There have been losses, like how we had to send our first cohort of students home in March 2020 seven weeks early, where they completed their final days of Act Five on zoom. But there have also been positive changes, such as getting to spend more time outside, on trails, and exploring the city in unexpected ways. Guest lecturers visit us outside, and we teach classes in our backyard. As the world continues to change, we are committed to being faithful followers of Jesus in this changing context – on our street, in our neighbourhood, and in our home.