Supporting the next generation

Penny MulveyBy Penny Mulvey

Seven representatives of the NextGen group which travelled to China in September for a contextual learning trip. They spoke of their trip at a special event at the Synod offices late last month.

They described how the Chinese Christian communities they visited utilise young lay leaders alongside older members of the congregations. The reality of a young person and an older person standing together leading the worship or sharing the Gospel, the gifts of each valued equally, encouraged and challenged them.

Since returning from the trip, many have considered their own potential for leadership in their congregations and wider church. These young people were astonished and greatly encouraged by a shared leadership model, which provided nurture and mentoring as well as empowerment and challenge. They expressed a desire for deliberate mentoring to enable a worship community that welcomed all equally, regardless of age, experience or theological qualifications.

As I reflect on my own faith journey, I sought out opportunities for leadership – on Christian camps, at school, fellowship, home groups and within worship. Older Christians supported me.

As the Uniting Church has aged, have we forgotten how to mentor our young members? The NextGen group felt there was an ageist divide. Are there so few young people in our congregations that we fete, rather than challenge, them? They were not being critical, instead they were reflecting on a community which valued the wisdom of each age, where all members had equal value to teach and share their faith.

Many in the group are thinking differently about the way they engage. Grace told of the weekly learning circles at her church, which normally consist of older women. Instead of disappearing after the Sunday service for a lunch with her mates at McDonalds, she joined a learning circle. She realised how much she could learn from the women around the circle, and they, too, welcomed with delight the new arrival.

Life-long friendships grow out of congregational life. Our delightful cover image of the two Margarets, Lorna and Joy hamming it up during a trip to Melbourne hints at much deeper relationships. The Pine Lodge/Katandra fellowship group has been running for many years. In her note to Crosslight, Joy reinforced the importance of connection in the group: “Each member has a forget-me-not-friend who they secretly care for during the year with a birthday card and any other care that is needed.”

The NextGen China trip has given 19 young people a taste of a shared leadership model, young and old, lay and clergy, working side-by-side, sharing their Christian walk, growing in faith. Let us all apply some water to a familiar model which might have been accidentally relegated to the cupboard.

Read about the NextGen China trip in December Crosslight.

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