An emotional Welcome to Country ceremony set the scene for the recent Surrender conference, where hundreds of Christians from a wide variety of denominations gathered to be inspired, equipped and challenged to embody Christ in their personal life, ministry and mission work.
A number of Uniting Church people attended over the three days of the conference, which began last Friday at Belgrave Heights Convention Centre.
“The highlight of the conference was the meaningful and vulnerable response of those present to the Welcome to Country by Wurrujedri Aunty Di Karen,” CTM youth minister Drew Hanna said.
Around 200 people gathered in a circle around Aunty Karen and were invited to tell their own stories to acknowledge the welcome.
Karen Sooaemalelagi, a leader of intercultural youth group Next Gen, spoke Samoan in accepting the invite.
“When finally building up the courage to accept Aunty’s Welcome to Country, it was a massive release to my heart,” Ms Sooaemalelagi said.
“I could never know the pain the Indigenous community have been through, but I pray and hope the Pacific communities realise we are much more alike than they think.
“The late night jam sessions I shared with some of the Indigenous people, where we had a similar sense of humour, have been a major highlight for me.”
Anna Harrison, a Next Gen member and youth group leader at Living Faith Church in Greensborough, also picked out the Welcome to Country as a highlight but said the whole conference had been rewarding.
“I absolutely loved it. The theme was ‘Together in Christ embodying the way’,” Ms Harrison said.
“The major focus was looking at how to be present within your neighbourhood, how your neighbourhood can be embodying the way of Jesus.”
Ms Harrison described the conference as “like a big open invitation to ministry”. She said a large part of its value was found even outside the sessions of worship, workshops, Bible study and listening to keynote speakers.
“I always love the community. I feel just connecting with people is half of the wonder of it,” she said
“You hear all these inspirational things. Then it’s once the conference is over, how you go and start doing it together, that’s the really fun bit.”
Ms Harrison said the different faith perspectives of attendees provided fertile ground for discussion.
“You get really interesting conversations happening at the workshops and by the fireside as people are really trying to engage about what this idea of a common mission all together in Christ looks like when you are working from quite diverse theologies,” she said.
“You are always struggling in the missional space. You have that balance between the evangelistic side of things and the social justice side of things and trying to bring those things together and recognise that both are really important parts of mission.”
Ms Harrison said Surrender also offered practical resources, with different mission and ministry groups represented. This included the VicTas youth ministry and Pilgrim Theological College from the Uniting Church.
The main practical challenge Ms Harrison had taken away from the conference was a determination to be more active in ministry and mission to her immediate area.
“To be honest I don’t know my neighbours, that’s not a thing we often do in this day in age,” she said.
“So, I feel the next step is just to connect with my neighbourhood and see who the people around me actually are and what are their needs and how can I respond in a Christ-like way to that.”