Amy Goodhew reports on a conference that aimed to recognise, celebrate and develop the gifts and voices of young people with leadership skills.

You heard the noise before you could see who was making it. Shouts and laughter floated down the concrete stairs at Naamaroo Conference Centre in Chatswood, Sydney.

Naamaroo was hosting 65 very excited people for the week. They’d come together because they all had been nominated as young leaders in the Uniting Church.

They came from a hugely diverse range of backgrounds — town and country, conservative and progressive, big church, small church, no church — and they were all there and laughing together. Loudly.

I was there to make sure they knew they could speak about their passions to the broader church through official publications. I edit the national publications and wanted to publish stuff written by young leaders and not just about young leaders.

I sidled into the room and was immediately dragged before the group and told to introduce myself. I tried to say something funny and winning and failed but they laughed anyway, bless them.

Three immediately fronted up, introduced themselves and expressed a desire to be interviewed.

That’s the kind of people these young leaders are: generous of spirit, loud and very, very enthusiastic.

Modelling leadership

The official name of the gathering was the National Young Adult Leaders Conference and it was hosted by two church bigwigs (the President, Alistair Macrae, and Congress Chairperson Ken Sumner) and a facilitation team of eight led by Tom Kerr.

Those bigwigs were not behaving like bigwigs though. The President was bearded and barefoot; the Chairperson was sharing stories of his once magnificent long black locks (now a distinguished shorter silver) and both were laughing — involved with and surrounded by their new friends.

They were quietly modelling an example of humble, warm and active leadership that was made famous by another warm, long haired, bearded fellow about 2,000 years ago.

It’s a hands-on leadership model that many in the room were well on their way to living out.

Each synod Moderator was asked to identify and invite young leaders who would benefit from such a gathering.

Over the course of six days participants prayed, joined in worship (and alternative worship), shared their frustrations and hopes, joined in community building, visioning, project planning, physical exercise and recreation, chose particular areas of passion and calling and brainstormed what they were prepared to do in pursuit of those passions.

From the start the conference was designed to have multicultural participation and cross-cultural interaction. Thirteen young Indigenous leaders and 15 “second gen” leaders took part and their many languages were used throughout prayer and worship.

They delved into what makes the Uniting Church and, inspired by the Uniting Church’s 1977 “Statement to the Nation”, the group was to produce its own contemporary version..

Mr Macrae said that, apart from being inspired by meeting so many great young Uniting Church leaders, what impressed him most was that “their focus was not ‘what can the church do for young people?’ but ‘what is God’s vision and mission for the church and how can we be part of it?’”

He said, “I was proud to be part of it. The enthusiasm, optimism and ideas that these young leaders demonstrated is an encouraging indicator of the future of our church and a testament to their faith and intelligence. I’m looking forward to seeing what actions come out of this meeting of young minds.”

The Rev. Elenie Poulos, National Director of Uniting Justice Australia, was a presenter and spoke to the group about national justice work the Assembly undertakes.

Afterwards she said of the group, “If these young people are an indication of the state of theUnitingChurchinAustralia, then we are a church truly blessed and we should be very excited not only about our future but also about the present.

“I met a room full of young people who are engaged with their church, engaged with the world and passionate about making a difference. This was a group of young people who are theologically, culturally and linguistically diverse and spending time with them was a first-hand experience in what a gift this diversity is to the church.

“We are definitely at our strongest when we value each other in our difference and work together to make the most of our diversity.”

Participants strongly believe such a gathering should be a regular feature of our church’s national life. All eyes will be on this group of committed young people in the coming weeks, months and years to see what comes of their God-given gifts and passion.

Their writing and ideas will be published on www.thetransitlounge.com.au throughout the year.

Amy Goodhew

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