That’s a Wrap on Year Five!

This past Saturday, April 20, 2024, we celebrated our FIFTH COHORT completing their gap year with Act Five. What a year!

As stories, photos and reflections come out in the months ahead, see here the reflection offered by Abby at our graduation ceremony. Read on for her full address.

Hello everyone! It is so good to be here with you all today. This is a day of celebration and delight in the life of each of our 11 graduating students. My name is Abby and I am part of the Act Five leadership team. I manage our admissions, which means that I had the privilege of walking with all of these students as they decided to join Act Five for this year. As a staff team we are deeply grateful for each of you who are here to mark this day with us. Thank you!

As many of you know if you’ve been around Act Five, stories are very important to us. We see stories as a way to learn and we see storytelling as a practice that shapes us and changes us. Even our name is a nod to us being part of the story of scripture. We are living in the fifth act of scripture. We know the first four acts and we have an idea of what the sixth act will be like. We are called to be true to the story that has come before us, and join God in working towards the sixth act. We call this faithful improvisation. We dig into the scriptures so that we get to know more about God’s character and we participate in creation and community so that we can experience God’s character in the present. We witness and participate in the ways that God is still moving among us. We talk about it. We celebrate it. We get glimpses of the sixth act when all things will be restored. 

This year, like every year, these 11 students, as well as our staff team and residents have committed to being story people.

In the beginning of the big story that we are part of, we see our God creating life out of the goodness of love present in the Trinity. We see our God breathing his Spirit into humanity and giving us the task of serving and observing creation. 

In the beginning of the smaller story of this year, we see God working in the hearts of each student, staff, resident, and family, preparing them for the year ahead. In the beginning Zoe came for spaghetti Wednesday with her parents, Jana came to an open house and convinced me that she was really quiet, Didi wrestled with whether or not to follow in his siblings footsteps, and some of you showed up in the backyard for an interview just a few months before the program started. These were the beginnings, and each of you have a unique story about how you got here and how God showed up to give you a little nudge in the direction of Act Five. 

I have been both a witness and a participant this year. I have more often been a witness, as most people in this room have been. I have heard you reflect back on the beginning of the year as a time when you questioned if this was where you were supposed to be. I have heard of the struggles and laughter that came out of that first wilderness trip in Temagami. I have seen the ways that you dove into life in Hamilton by riding bikes, exploring the city, getting involved in churches and local organizations, worshipping, hiking, playing, serving, and learning. I have seen the joy in your faces as you talk about the places you have gone and the things you have discovered. I have seen the art you have created and the pictures of important moments through the year. I have tasted the spaghetti that you’ve made when you’ve hosted me for dinner. I have tasted the hot chocolate that became something of a powdered currency this year. I have smelled the stench of damp gear after your wilderness trips AND have smelled the much more pleasant scent of fresh baked bread for neighbours or Eden’s iconic ginger crinkle cookies.

I participated in a few key moments throughout the year, and for those I am grateful! I danced with you in the Paisley Mill, I saw God in new ways with you when we were in El Salvador, and I got to hike with you last week on the Appalachian (or AppaLACHian) trail. I feel deeply grateful for that week and I can’t help but see a lot of metaphors out of that trip.  

I’ll share a little bit about what it was like. We were dropped off at our starting points on a drizzly Tuesday. My group had a climb right away and we trudged our way up, with excitement for the trip but also some uncertainty for what the trail would be like and how our bodies would hold up. Maybe a similar feeling to move in day! We took breaks along the way and laughed together and silently observed the trees and critters around us. Eventually we made it to the top of the peak! McAfee’s Knob! One of the most scenic views in that section of the trail! We got there and it was a complete white out. We couldn’t see any of the view. We were disappointed AND we still took pictures on the cliff edge, chuckling to ourselves that we would colour in the background when we got home.

Our cheer started there, and eventually came to have a line that said “it’s not about the views, it’s just what we do. I’ll hike this trail with you.” We had learned from Matt Gray and from our trip leader Michelle, that we were going to walk this trail as pilgrims, not as tourists. That this hike was going to be about the journey, not about the destinations. I think this reflects your experience at Act Five quite well, and hopefully gives you all an image for how you walk through the rest of your life! 

During your time at Act Five, you’ve had mountaintop experiences, but it’s been the in-between times that have held it all together. You went through the transition curve as you moved from being naively optimistic about your new friends, to seeing each other for the flawed people that you are, to seeing each other as people who you could share joy and sorrow with. You committed to each other and you stayed in it. You walked the trail step by step. Sometimes you couldn’t tell what an experience was really for or how it would shape you, but you kept walking. Sometimes you had wonderful moments of realization and learning, like when Jon or Jackson or Brian or Lena or Alyssa taught you something that blew your mind a little bit, or when a storyteller said something that seemed like it was specifically for you. Last week we had some of those wonderful moments on the trail too! Making it to a peak when the weather was glorious and you could see where you had come from and where you were going. Moments of clarity and perspective.

That really is the way of life and the way that God walks with us. He asks us to be faithful in our walking, paying attention to what is around us, and trusting that our way will become clear. We don’t always see the way ahead. Think back to that image of coming to the top of McAfee’s Knob and being greeted by a blank, white view. We often can’t see clearly where we are going or what is ahead. This is where faith comes in! Faith to trust that there is something good behind the veil of uncertainty. When we know the story to which we belong, it helps us to trust in this. The bigger story is this: that God created a good world, that we separated ourselves from God in the name of power, that God became flesh and moved into the neighbourhood with us to show us the way of grace and love, and that we get to live the way that Jesus did, in hope and participation in a future that is full of restoration and wholeness. Sometimes God invites us colour in the white sky like we joked about at the top of McAfee. We can faithfully improvise! We can try things! We need to do this in community. We need to name the ways that we see the kingdom coming among us and today is an example of that. We improvise and we wait on the Lord, trusting that he is dwelling among us and that he is the one doing the work.

My prayer for each of you is that you may walk from this place with gratitude for the ways that God has been faithful to you. May you continue to wrestle with questions as you walk, entering into new spaces with grace and curiosity and humility. May you have faith to trust the story of which you are a part, and may you continue to faithfully improvise as you participate in particular ways in the restoration of all things.

I come back to this part of Ephesians a lot, but I think it is especially fitting today, and it is my prayer for each of you. As staff we long to see each of you become more deeply rooted in Christ and more fully engaged in the world around you. We long to see you be fully alive, living wholeheartedly wherever you are. We know that this is the work of the Spirit in you, it isn’t our own doing and it isn’t because of a perfectly executed Act Five program that has prepared you for the future, and so I read from Ephesians 3:14-21:

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Would you join me in prayer.

Lord, we submit each of these students to you. We are deeply grateful that you entrusted them to us this year, and we are delighted by the ways that we saw you move in each of them. Would you continue to walk with them from this place into the new places that they go. Would you fill them with faith for the valleys, joy on the mountaintops, perseverance to walk through the ordinary days, and peace that passes all understanding. Would they have courage to trust in the story of which they are a part. Amen. 

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