Yurora ignites faith
To kickstart 2017, more than 800 young people converged in Sydney’s south for Yuróra. The National Christian Youth Convention is a national event that celebrates the diversity, passion and multicultural nature of youth in the Uniting Church. Yuróra (meaning ‘passionate’) is about uniting cultures and empowering young people to claim their place as the future of the Church. Here are three reflections about what it meant to be part of Yuróra 2017.
Uniting as one
The church is alive! Really, it is – as evidenced by Yuróra 2017 – a wonderful celebration of culture, faith, food, music and the Christ that unites us all.
I had the privilege of working with Christian Students Uniting (UCA tertiary ministries at USyd, UTS, UNSW and Macquarie) who hosted a venue at Yuróra, offering worship, community time and Bible studies each morning to some of the attendees. It is entirely coincidental that my husband Adrian works for Christian Students Uniting, and I felt not at all shanghaied into helping out.
We named our community WhoVille, and encouraged our group each day to wrestle with who they are, who they are called to be and, therefore, what their ‘Yuróra’ (‘passion’) is. It was a particular privilege to see attendees get a sense of the university ministry offered by Christian Students Uniting, through the Bible studies.
Christian Students Uniting also had the opportunity to host some fantastic workshops, including one on faith and fitness by Dr Jonathan Freeston, one with #LoveMakesAWay on refugees and asylum seekers (hosted by Matt Anslow), and a very popular one on mental health by Dr Robyn Goodwin.
The rest of the time, WhoVille was a relaxed space filled with board games and cheap cheese and tomato toasties. One night, we hosted Late Night Trivia. Another night, we hosted a Lip Sync Battle (look it up), which somehow ended with a group interpretive dance rendition of “Let It Go” from Frozen. It was weird.
I also had the immense privilege of working with Rev. Fie Marino, Multicultural Consultant for the NSW/ACT Synod, and the excellent worship band from OneHeart, in running the Multicultural Rally on the last evening (“Celebrating Yuróra”). Alongside excellent preaching by Rev. Fa Matangi, the focus of the evening was a corporate act of confession.
We acknowledged that “uniting cultures” (the theme of the festival) is much harder than merely existing side by side. This is due to the barriers we place between ourselves and the other, failing to recognise the Image of God in the other and, thus, making the other the enemy. We then confessed before God some of the barriers we place between each other (ethnicity, age, education, gender, mental health, sexuality, geography) and then, liturgically, broke those barriers down, through the smashing of tiles.
As a response to this confession, we invited every person to make one commitment of one thing they would do after Yuróra to break down barriers between people; these commitments were laid onto a large cross, creating a beautiful artwork.
This moment, for me, was a pivotal moment at Yuróra. After this corporate act of confession and commitment, and the preaching of the Word, everybody got up and danced. It was a profound privilege to look out over the large crowd, and see old and young, male and female, black and white, Jew and Greek, slave and free dancing together in worship and celebration. I realised that I was looking at an embodiment of the Church we long for.
Christian Students Uniting also conducted the final worship rally, including preaching and Communion by President-Elect, Dr. Deidre Palmer. Communion too was a profoundly sacred moment. It was an honour to be a small part of the beast that was Yuróra 2017 – but more than that, Yuróra made me believe more that the Church is on its way to making Christ’s prayer a reality: “that they may be one” (John 17:21-22).
When I led an interactive interfaith workshop at Yuróra 2017, I was overwhelmed by the positive response from the youthful participants.
Together we explored how our faith shapes our identity and sense of belonging.
Through poetry and storytelling, we engaged the group in activities that explain how we falsely build barriers and how we can break them down.
Tracing out their hands onto a piece of paper gave participants five opportunities to break down any internalised stereotypes about themselves and others around them.
We created a space to acknowledge and break down their own preconceptions and biases.
We also played a video of Amina Iro and Hannah Halpern (members of Washington DC’s Youth Slam Poetry Team) at the 2014 Common Ground Awards, where they inspired and entertained.
One participant spoke about how she yearns to have a culture as rich and vibrant as her Yuróra counterparts. “Yurora shows us all these amazing cultures with their dance and their song and, then, our ‘white’ culture — it seems like we have nothing.”
Those at our session also watched a video of Jamila Lyiscott delivering a poem titled “3 ways to speak English”. They broke off into small group discussion after the video, to think about the barriers of preconceptions and biases which they feel.
The whole group was challenged to think about how they overcome these barriers.
“Most people look at me and assume that I’m not intelligent; they think all I can talk about is sport,” said one participant.
“People look at me and ask: what sport do you play? How long you been playing?”
“I love the multiculturalism of Yuróra, but just walking around I see that cultural groups tend to stay together and I find it is difficult to bridge the gap because of my skin colour.”
‘Colour and creed’ came together during our session, with the help of April Robinson, the interfaith network developer in VIC/TAS Synod, and Sahibajot Kaur from the Sikh community.
Breaking down barriers
The air was very humid in the large shed where hundreds gathered for the Yuróra Multicultural Worship Rally. Sweat was dripping from my forehead as I smashed the first tile which represented the breaking down of barriers that hold us back as a Church, due to ethnicity…
During the festival, I was talking to a young person who told me that they didn’t realise how multicultural our church was or even what it meant to be a covenanting church — until the Yuróra festival.
Such comments are not uncommon when I meet people all over the Synod. As a Church, many of us have built ourselves comfort zones which keep us separated from each other in our enclaves or familiar silos, where everyone is the same as us. Breaking down such barriers (symbolised at our Worship Rally through the smashing of a tile) helped those gathered to realise that together we are better and stronger.
Our future destiny lies in what we can do united rather than separate. Silence filled the auditorium as Rev Radhika Sukumar-White smashed the tile — or barrier — that holds us back because of age…
During lunch on the second day of Yuróra, a young person from another Synod told me that one of the highlights at Yuróra was listening to stories of what other young people are doing all over the Assembly.
They felt that in their local Congregation, they were never given opportunities of leadership, or to organise things such as worship and youth camps. They loved Yuróra, as it was about helping young people find their voice and their passion – and, ultimately, about giving them the courage to be more active in their local church. Rev. Fa Matangi — one of Yuróra’s wonderful guest speakers — gave a warning to the Church that, as young people, “We are coming!”
Five other tiles were broken during our prayers of confessions — they symbolised education, gender, mental health, sexuality and geography.
These are just a few of the many barriers holding us back from truly coming together as a Uniting Church. The theme of Yuróra 2017 was Uniting Cultures. This is not just about ethnicity but it represents bringing together the diversity found in theological belief, biblical interpretation, our different lifestyles, the different places and contexts that we come from and many more things.
As we celebrate the 40th year of union, Yuróra allowed us to see how diverse our church truly is, and gave us a glimpse of what the next 40 years of union should be like.
Fie Marino, Multicultural Consultant, UME
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