The future of the Uniting Church was on show at the 2016 National Young Adult Leaders Conference (NYALC) held on the Gold Coast in July.
Approximately 130 young adults and mentors from various synods congregated at Burleigh Heads over the course of six days. This diverse group of participants traded stories and experiences as they grew together in faith and discipleship.
They were guided by a group of mentors and leaders, including Uniting Church president Stuart McMillan, president-elect Dr Deidre Palmer and Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) chairperson Rev Dennis Corowa.
As is tradition, roughly equal numbers of Anglo-Saxon, Indigenous and next generation Australians attended the conference. This encouraged friendships to be formed between youth from different cultural backgrounds and also showcased the vibrant diversity of the Church.
Nua Leota from St John’s Uniting Church in Essendon attended NYALC at the suggestion of Rev Mark Dunn, who was minister of her congregation at the time. A member of the NextGen community, this was the first time she attended NYALC.
“For me, the highlight was making new brothers and sisters in Christ, sharing my faith with other young adults and learning about First Peoples,” she said.
The conference began with a smoking ceremony and Welcome to Country at a beach on Burleigh Heads. UAICC leaders Rev Dennis Corowa and pastor Ray Minniecon led a discussion about treaty, sovereignty, reconciliation and walking together with First Peoples. Participants explored what it means to be a NextGen youth and shared their personal struggles with racism and discrimination.
In a spirit of interfaith solidarity, the young adults attended an Eid ul-Fitr lunch hosted by a local Muslim community.
NYALC is an opportunity for current leaders of the Church to hear from its youth members. Nua believes young adults can contribute fresh insights and experiences.
“We can attract more youth to church, eliminate the mentality that church is ‘boring’ and bring the church to life in other ways of ministries,” she said.
She believes the Church can likewise support young adults by “keeping them involved, investing in them and giving them a voice.”
Many of the young men and women at NYALC are already making a difference in their church community. Some are actively involved in worship and outreach programs within their own congregations.
For others, like Joy Han, NYALC was an important stepping stone in their personal faith journey.
“In recent months I’ve been exploring how I might end what has been a lengthy hiatus from congregational life,” Joy said.
“Since setting out on this very exploration, and even before that, I’ve been overwhelmingly blessed through so many people.”
Joy described NYALC as “an occasion of love and hope” and thanked all those who encouraged her to attend the conference.
“Learning about and witnessing the movements of Covenanting with Congress and of intercultural ministry more broadly were especially encouraging and challenging for me,” she said.
“Today’s young adults – and youth – are the future of the Church. So I think the question becomes one of how we ourselves are shaping up and what the roles could be for different parts of the entire Body in shaping its own future.”