On Labour Day of 2020, 16 students moved into our house on Blake St in Hamilton, signifying the start of Act Five 2020-2021. Students decorated their bedrooms, unpacked their belongings, and explored the many rooms and winding staircases in our big century-old home. They came together that evening to share a meal beside our backyard vegetable garden, where they learned names, laughed, and told stories from their hometowns.
The next day began with a trip up a set of stairs to the top of “the mountain” (Hamilton’s escarpment) to be welcomed to the city by John Terpstra, a local poet and craftsman. Immediately, students were told in poetic fashion that Act Five is about this place that we will be inhabiting together. At Act Five, we are discipled not in the abstract, but in the Sherman Hub; the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee; the city of steel factories and art crawls; the home of hipsters and homeless folks and football fans. Students will learn this more deeply as the term unfolds.
After a few days of throwing frisbees at Gage Park, playing spike ball in the backyard and card games in the living room, and learning the beginnings of what it means to be part of this community, we loaded up our vans and drove up to Camp Norland, the home base of Coldwater Canada. There, students loaded up packs with dehydrated food, water-resistant clothing and everything they need for nine days on canoes, and they set out for a wild adventure in Temagami.
Out in the wilderness, students are being invited to tell stories about themselves, and in doing so, to learn about each other. On their canoe trip, students will be challenged to work as a team and will quickly grow into a close-knit community.
Students are likewise invited to pay attention and to let themselves be restored. Before leaving, students read excerpts from authors like Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver, who instructed them to stay curious, to really look and see what is all around them, to be present where they are. In all this, we trust God will be working in each of them to restore them.
Part of this journey for our students includes giving up their phones for 22 days. All phones have been left safe in a bin at the base camp, and students will be fasting from their devices until the start of October. At Act Five, we are keenly aware of the way in which our devices can help us flourish, but can likewise distract us from the task of paying attention. We have seen the way in which our devices leave us less capable of growing as a community and accepting the invitation from God to be restored. We are anticipating a fruitful conversation at the start of October in which students and staff will work together to set guidelines for healthy tech usage for the remainder of the program.
This has been an encouraging start to year two of Act Five. We are aware of the immense privilege it is to be together forming a community and running a program in the midst of a pandemic, and we don’t take lightly our call to be faithful in the midst of it: sanitizing regularly, staying in our bubble, and wearing masks when needed. We are eager to witness the way God will guide us in our journey of “faithfully improvising” in the midst of a unique year and are hopeful for all the ways He will mould and shape us as we follow him through the next 7+ months.
More stories to come!