It’s not just tram zones and hook turns that Bradon French is learning to navigate as he settles into his new Melbourne-based role with the VicTas synod.
One of his first priorities as the new intergenerational ministry youth worker is to meet congregations throughout the synod and get to know their needs and priorities for young people.
“It’s not a challenge to just youth ministry; it’s a challenge to the whole church,” Bradon said.
“I’m coming with questions and some clues as to where we might find the answers together.”
Bradon confesses he knows little about Victoria. This is only the second time he has been to Melbourne and he has never visited Tasmania.
But he is excited at the prospect of developing connections with young people and church communities throughout the synod.
“Young people have the potential to influence and transform the communities where they are, whether they be families or neighbourhoods or churches,” he said.
“In this digital world, they can have tremendous influence.”
Prior to his move to the VicTas synod, Bradon served as the Next Gen Consultant in the NSW/ACT synod for six years.
During this time, he was instrumental in reshaping the National Christian Youth Convention (NCYC) into Yurora, the biggest gathering of Uniting Church young people in Australia.
He also spearheaded the introduction of Pulse, a NSW/ACT synod project that aims to develop relationships between young people and Uniting Church communities.
“Young people aren’t some homogenous group,” Bradon explained.
“You get to see each individual person as a story and that story is worth hearing. It helps the church shift so that we make space for young people to participate and lead.”
Bradon believes it can be difficult for young people’s voices to be heard in the church. One of his missions is to empower youth by equipping them with the skills and confidence to share their stories with the rest of the church.
“If there’s a church that’s willing to do the hard work and prioritise that, then young people flourish,” he said.
“Or you need a young person with tremendous courage and support to speak into a system that probably doesn’t make that easy.
“Part of me wants to tackle the system, but part of me also wants to find ways to work outside the system. A system that prefers people who have experience and understanding of it doesn’t lend itself for youthful participation.”
The decline in church attendances nationally has been well documented and many are looking to the next generation of young leaders to turn that around.
However, Bradon wants the Uniting Church to move beyond a narrative of survival and embrace the unique gifts that young people bring to the life of the church.
“I’d like to think we’re moving that way because we recognise the potential in young people, not out of a desperation and fear that we are going to die if we don’t get young people here,” he said.
“If our motivations are healthy, it’s quite an exciting time.”
Bradon is eager to explore ways that the church can challenge its “default” methods of youth ministry. He is particularly keen to resource youth so they can offer leadership beyond their local communities.
“I think we’re in the middle of a bit of shift in the Uniting Church,” Bradon said.
“We need to think about what sort of a movement our young people will inherit and what sort of movement they are forming.
“But we need some regeneration, we need some creativity about what it means to be a church today and that will influence how we organise ourselves.”
Bradon acknowledged that change can cause anxiety, but it can also give birth to unforeseen opportunities.
“Anytime a group of people is confronted with change, it’s confronting,” Bradon said.
“The unknown is scary and change paralysis is a reality that could be a great challenge to all of us.
“The greatest challenge is whether we have the courage to truly listen and change, to be a church that I think God is calling us to be and recognise that those answers may look and sound like nothing we’ve heard before.
“If we look forward 20 years, sometimes it’s too hard. But I hope there’s some liberation there that allows all generations to dream.”
Bradon’s work is part of the new equipping Leadership for Mission (eLM) unit.
If you would like to get in touch with Bradon, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org