On Saturday, April 23rd, 2022, Act Five hosted its first in-person graduation ceremony, at the conclusion of our third year. Many of us felt added significance to this – not only celebrating all that God has done among us this past year, but finally being able to gather with our broader community to celebrate the launching of Act Five 3 years ago.
Alyssa has been part of shaping Act Five from its beginning, and she shared a reflection at the ceremony that we wanted to share more widely here. We do this to share part of our story from this year but also with a hope that these words from Alyssa might encourage YOU, those who support us and follow us along our way.
How lovely is your dwelling place,
My soul yearns, even faints,
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools
They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.
Well, Act Five, here we are.
Thank you to all who join us today. Parents, thank you for trusting us with your children, and for your support. Friends, neighbours, placement supervisors, Coldwater staff, alumni, and other supporters, thank you for walking with us and our students these past eight months. You have been a significant part of this journey and I know I’m not the only one in the Act Five community who feels this. We are sincerely grateful for your partnership in this work with us.
I’ve been asked to share with our students a word of encouragement.
At the beginning of Act Five, during the students’ first week here, we climbed up to the top of the Wentworth stairs together. This has become an Act Five tradition. John Terpstra, a local Hamilton poet and author, meets the students and Resident Leaders at the top of the Niagara Escarpment, looking out over the city. He then shares with them a poem he has written, specifically and intentionally, for Act Five.
“Welcome to Hamilton. You’re gonna love it here.”
He then describes the city they are standing in, some of the history of what their eyes can see, here at the very western tip of the most eastern of the great lakes. Then he says,
“Like I said, you’re going to love it here, just wait.”
Act Five, since that day on the top of the Wentworth stairs – think of where you’ve been together!
You began with time at Russet House Farm with Brian and Sylvia, with a walk through the forest, hearing stories from scripture that connect us to ‘Act One’. Following this were some rainy canoe trips, your Place, Home & Land course, and learning to be a community together (anyone remember your first couple of cooking days?).
What about that day you had to choose a spot somewhere in the city and just sit there for three hours, paying attention? Harvesting potatoes and carrots from the garden, learning about the transition curve, the Enneagram retreat, and your Manitoulin Island trip. Evenings of line dancing, improv with Richard Peters, storytelling, Deedz and film nights. Morning prayers and quiet times. Telling your stories of the first term, about how you were beginning to understand, love and become part of this place.
Then there was Christmas break. You went home for four whole weeks. January, Covid, Strava , 13km hikes and lots of snow. Learning to stay home and make our own fun. The prayer room where we did 48hrs of continuous prayer. Then placements! Remember those? You went to work every week for seven weeks. What did you learn? What did you not expect? Many of you experienced the poverty and pain of this city in real ways during this time. Others of you learned to rehabilitate animals, or build affordable housing. Some learned to build and repair bikes, and more.
Spaghetti Wednesdays, Evensongs, Soul Care, homework, and family group dinners. Walks to Willard’s, 541, Gage Park and the Bayfront. Winter camping, building quinzhees, playing on that lake all day, and the fire that sunk down into the melted snow so that you could sit on the ledge all the way around it. James night, more Storytellers again and all the people of this city who poured into you, telling their stories and sharing their dreams and hopes. Then Louisiana happened! You met people from different parts of the world, spending two whole weeks building and serving people who needed a hand after a disaster. You got to know a whole new place and then return to your home in this one. And finally then your backpacking trip, washing one another’s feet on Maundy Thursday, the Easter morning sunrise service, telling your final stories and saying goodbye to this place.
Whew! What a year! And there is far more to the story than this. It’s been fun… and it’s been hard! You have learned to live in the midst of pain and support one another in challenging times such as the loss of a loved one, anxiety about the future, the overwhelm of life in community, and more. In some ways, you have grown up together this year, in this place. I am proud of you. We are proud of you.
John Terpstra’s poem echoes in my mind. “You’re going to love it here for the contradictions, the possibilities, the hope.”
Act Five, I think you have come to know this.
This year, you learned to root yourself in the biblical story. This overarching narrative from Creation to Restoration:
So practice living faithfully, with possibility. Follow the example of Jesus, live as resurrection people. Plant gardens. Ask questions. Build, create, grieve, celebrate.
In the Act Five program, we call this faithfully improvising.
We improvise as we pay attention, in light of the story within which we find ourselves here and now. In light of Christ and the gospel and all that has gone before, with the Holy Spirit in us and a vision for future restoration, we listen and discern our faithful next step. And then we take that step.
Act Five is about participating with Jesus in the renewal of all things.
So, Act Five, may you go forward, following Christ into your places, with bright hope for Act Six, a vision for possibility, and may you be part of the healing of the next place you find yourself.
Make a new home. Get to know your place and the wonders that abound within it. Plant seeds and watch them grow. Get to know your neighbours. Learn the history of the land upon which you walk. Share food around the table with those who are vastly different from you, for you know how rich this can be. As our world seeks to captivate and limit our attention, paying attention is not a small thing. Do it. Learn to do it. Practice doing it. And as you do, may you remain soft and curious.
Lena introduced me to a quote by David Brooks that I really love.
“Joy is a by-product of a committed life”, it says.
Joy is the by-product of a committed life.
Act Five, commit yourselves. To people and places and Christ. Be present. You might be surprised to find deep joy there.
Lastly, and this one’s my favourite: may you rest well and hard. For it is rested people who will be the leaders of movements by whom the Spirit of God will bring about beautiful things in the world.
At the end of John Terpstra’s poem, “Welcome to Hamilton”, he says:
“What I love is where we are,
where we are standing,
where we are located,
this westernmost tip of the easternmost Great Lake.
I love it in spite of all the stuff I just said,
and because of all the stuff I just said.
The earth is a wounded creature here
at the head of the lake.
The earth is the body of Christ, I think,
wounded by all the things we do and say.
Welcome to the healing, of which you may be part.”
You have participated, I believe, little by little, in the healing: as you’ve connected with the land, with each other, with God, and with yourselves.
I am grateful to have been able to witness what God has done among you. Each year, as Act Five comes to a close, I find myself bewildered by the marks of new life, growth, and maturity that are found among our students and in this community. Once again, it has happened, within each of you in your own way. I am excited to see how your experience, your widening and wondering and growing, your friendships, and your hope continue to shape you on your pilgrimage in the months and years to come.
From the book of Common Prayer:
Go before us, Creator, that we may follow in your steps. Go behind us, Creator, to steer us when we stray. Go beside us, Creator, as our strength and our joy for the journey.