Hope in a weary world : A Word from the Director

As I write today, the US Election has captured the world’s gaze, the winter season is creeping in (though we are loving this warm week!), we are 7 months into a pandemic that may linger for longer than we’d like to admit, and in light of all of these factors and their far-reaching impacts, there is a prevailing weariness that hangs over our world.

At Act Five this fall, we are not exempt from this weariness.  It does not win the day, and it is often hard to name, but it is there among us as well.

That being said, what I notice with Act Five – as we have 16 students and 4 resident staff living together in beautiful and messy Christian community – is that this weariness has a home.  In this community, there is space for our students to feel what they need to feel, process what life has entailed to this point, wrestle with their understanding of who they are and what they believe, and do all of this in a place that is safe and rooted in Jesus.

There is also a great deal of joy, learning, connection and hope among us, knowing that what we are part of in the midst of this cultural moment is unique and a gift.

Allow me to give you a taste of where we are.

To begin this week, Act Five students spent two mornings in class in an old local church to study the Biblical Story.  They spent afternoons and evenings working on homework, completing chores, making and sharing meals, meeting with mentors, getting outdoors and into the city, and making art, baking desserts, and having spontaneous dance parties.

Yesterday, Wednesday, was Community Day, which means students put their phones away, held a house meeting to discuss everything from chore rotations to areas of conflict, planned events and worship services, were led in their weekly “Soul Care” session with Nina, and ate community dinner – with all 20 of them.  It was likely messy, stressful at times, grace-filled and beautiful.

These represent “ordinary” days for our students, something we value a great deal as we help our students prepare for life as an emerging adult.  This ordinariness is not always exciting – nor is it designed to be – but it is such a gift to witness our students navigate life together in community with all of the opportunities provided this year, and I am confident in how God has, is and will continue to shape our students through the refining work of intentional Christian community.

Along with ordinary life, there have been several significant areas to note over the first two months of our program.

Students moved into this big home together in a new place with complete strangers, and for most this is their first time moving away from home for this long.  They headed up north to Camp Norland for 3 weeks, where they completed a 10-day canoe trip, a 21-day tech fast, improv sessions and more.  They were established as an Act Five community up in the wilderness in beautiful ways.

October brought introductions to their ‘Six Acts’ class, where they are currently completing their first big assignments.  As part of their ‘Place, Home & Land’ course & ‘Stories of Faithfulness’ course, they have heard stories of those working among the most marginalized in Hamilton, learned of the practice of lament & the prophets from Dr. Wood, walked into important indigenous learning through film, the blanket exercise and important tours coming up these next days, and worked through the whole of Dr. Benner’s book, The Gift of Being Yourself.  They have been pushed out of their comfort zones, connecting with local churches, worshiping together every Sunday evening and praying together every morning, and they have gone on hikes, celebrated birthdays, sat with the homeless, and learned – are still learning – to trust their peers and offer grace when it is hard to do so.

This past weekend, we spent four days in the Kawarthas, where we had a chance to practice our growing “theology of place” at the farm of Brian Walsh & Sylvia Keesmaat before staying at an incredible cottage on Catchacoma Lake.  Along with time for rest, play, saunaing and singing, we participated in a full day of learning around who we are made to be in Christ through an Enneagram workshop.  We could not have asked for a better weekend, as there were so many significant (and fun) moments in a beautiful place.

Now, we are back at Blake St for November before a couple of exciting weeks of challenge and celebration to close our term.  Students have projects to complete for classes, and we are working hard to help students set up their second term Field Placements at organizations across the city.

In all of this, we are not removed from the realities of this world; I see moments where these realities weigh heavy on members of our community.  Yet, I also see deep joy, growing relationships, rich learning and a resilient hope throughout this big old home on Blake St.

For those invested in our story, I invite you to pray for us:

  • We give thanks that we have had zero cases of Covid-19 to this point, that so many meaningful connections – of learning, relationship and personal growth – are happening for our students already, and that we are growing and improving as a program even in the midst of a pandemic.
  • We ask that grace might abound in a community where conflict will inevitably arise this next month, that students will experience joy and peace as what they are learning begins to galvanize for them, that students will meet challenges through this program with boldness in faith, and that we can continue to improvise with wisdom as program plans require adaptations due to restrictions from Covid-19.
  • We ask that plans might come together – with creativity and wisdom – for our Field Placements for students in second term and our recently announced Roadtrip to the West Coast in March.

In a season unlike anything we’ve experienced before, my hope is that Act Five represents a community seeking to live faithfully in this moment.  This is far from a normal year, but God does not seem to care much for normal; instead, I believe He sees this as an opportunity to meet our students in beautiful ways, saying to us,

Have faith, wait on me, and come see what I have in store for you.’

Thank you for joining us on this journey.


Jon Berends

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