Amanda Achtman writes about her experiences and reflections on faith, life at amandaachtman.ca. Photo via Amanda Atchman's Facebook

Peter Stockland: Millennial shatters all the stereotypes

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  • January 8, 2019

If stereotypes are made to be deflated, Amanda Achtman is a young woman who carries a suitcase full of needles and hat pins.

Achtman pokes so many holes, so energetically, into the current caricature of the millennial generation as risk-averse refuseniks that a contemporary of hers recently confided to me: “The question that always comes to my mind about Amanda is: ‘When does she sleep?’ Everywhere I go, she’s there, and involved.”

And not just involved, but taking leadership roles driven by a seemingly inexhaustible well of a Catholic faith that includes traditions well beyond the one in which she was raised. At the beginning of Advent, for example, she led a group of 18- to 35-year-olds on a “church crawl” through Ottawa.

Urged on by Achtman, about 20 of her friends and colleagues spent almost 10 hours on a Saturday visiting Middle Eastern churches, hearing the liturgy in Aramaic, coming home to the very roots of their faith. At the end of the day, they enjoyed supper in an Italian restaurant owned by a man from Mosul in Northern Iraq.

“The group had thought about organizing a dinner at a Middle Eastern restaurant but then we realized that Middle Easterners can just as well own Italian restaurants, or any kind of restaurant they want,” Achtman laughs. 

Such openness appears to have characterized the day. It certainly characterizes Achtman and those who joined her. A gathering of Protestants, Ordinariate Anglicans, converts and cradle Catholics, they were drawn to the outing by a love of liturgy and a desire to engage orthodox faith in its many forms.

“There’s a surprising thirst among millennials for depth,” Achtman says. “They want the depth and solidity of liturgical tradition. The experience of it can be an anchor, and an orienting source of that depth for us.”

Raised in Calgary in a “Jewish-Catholic family” and baptized Catholic, Achtman says her life’s direction was powerfully shaped by a trip under the Philos Leadership Institute, to Israel and Jordan.

“There was an opportunity to study the Middle Eastern roots of the faith and to encounter Christians there. I was struck by meeting Christians who had fled Iraq and were living in Amman. When I asked what they think they have to teach Western Christians, they said they can teach us about the Cross of Christ because, ultimately, all they have is Christ.

“When their homes were destroyed and their communities were chased out of their homelands, they realized the truth that is true for all of us: that Christ is really all we have, but that’s He’s also all we need.”

Returning to Calgary, she longed to keep the heart of the experience alive and came across a Chaldean community worshipping in St. James Catholic Church.

“I got to hear Aramaic — in Calgary. I started going to the homes of Syrian refugees and visiting with them. I realized ‘this is a richness I can’t neglect. It’s influencing my own life of faith so deeply and inspiring me to live differently.’ Middle Eastern Christians remind me of the importance of keeping the faith for which they, as Middle Eastern Christians, are being martyred.”

The experience of the church crawl opened the eyes of the millennials present to the way that a faith for which everything is risked becomes the basis of faith lived in full community. At an Ottawa Coptic church, the group met young people who’d grown up living and worshipping behind stout protective walls to keep marauders at bay. In the safety of a Canadian context, those young people make the church itself a hub not just of worship but of study, recreation and shared life.

“It was initially a defence mechanism. Now, it’s a good idea to have church as a centre where people feel free to come for liturgies but also for community.” 

She would love to take the church crawl on the road to Toronto, Montreal, Calgary.

“It takes a deliberate desire to stretch ourselves to encounter other people, to ask, and to find out: ‘Who is my neighbour?’ ”

And that should put a final nail in the millennial stereotype.

(Stockland is publisher of Convivium.ca and a senior fellow with Cardus.)

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