Hope for a doubting disciple

New Order Voice

December 11, 2013 | Viewpoints
Katie Doke Sawatzky |

We just got back from a church lunch. Sitting at our table was our young family, a couple in their early 30s and three people in their senior years: a couple and a widow. While our life situations were different, I am learning to pay attention to moments where young and old listen to each other.

At the end of October, I attended the Kairos Elements of Justice Intergenerational Gathering. On unceded Squamish territory at the Cheakamus Centre in Paradise Valley, B.C., 130 participants representing several Christian denominations and justice advocacy groups met to learn about, and network around, indigenous rights and ecological justice.

The participants’ ages were diverse. Mothers came with their children, university students drove out together, and 20- and 30-something not-for-profit workers and activists led workshops. Middle-aged and older participants led worship elements, networked around the tables at mealtimes, and shared their wisdom during group sessions.

A memorable moment of the weekend was a plenary session given by Caleb Behn, a young Dene man working against hydraulic fracking—energy-intensive natural gas extraction—on his ancestral land in northeastern B.C. Behn is studying law in order to gain opportunities to interact directly with the oil and gas industries exploiting his people and land. His address to the group was informal and respectful, but also pointed. He was open about the abuse his family experienced at residential schools and his scepticism of the church.

In what could have become a tense encounter, Behn asked us to name our strengths as faith-based communities. Looking back, it was a dynamic moment: a young, passionate indigenous voice asking predominantly white church folk to name their core values in the hope of finding common ground. What struck me about our group’s response was that it was the elders who answered right away with passion equal to Behn’s: Openness, willingness to listen, compassion, stewardship.

I didn’t speak up. At this point in my life, I’m wrestling with the failures of the church more than championing its values. But I was thankful for the answers the older voices gave, to be reminded that what I seek within my faith community is indeed there, upheld by elders who have weathered doubt and shame, and remain hopeful. The rest of the session was fruitful. Behn appreciated the answers given and went on to brainstorm practical ways the church can work for ecological justice.

Moments like this one happened all weekend. They ranged from the surprising enthusiasm of seasoned participants about communicating through social media, to a casual conversation I had with a university chaplain over breakfast that quickly became an exchange about faith backgrounds and personal growth.

These people were compassionate, open and dedicated to taking care of the earth. Yes, one didn’t know how YouTube works and another became angry during a group discussion because of silliness that, to her, was distracting from sober realities. But their voices were listened to because all the participants—young, middle-aged and old—were united around a common goal: Justice for all.

This shouldn’t have surprised me, considering church bodies are often intergenerational. But the interactive, intergenerational community I experienced at the Kairos gathering gave me reason to pursue and celebrate relationships with elders of my faith. Because, as a young, doubtful disciple, it’s what I need. I need to see glimpses of what I wish to become and be encouraged to remain hopeful.

Katie Doke Sawatzky (katiesawatzky@gmail.com) lives in Vancouver.

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