Speaking up in a room with 300 people can be a daunting prospect. For young people attending Assembly for the first time, it can be a particularly nerve-racking experience.
At this year’s Assembly at Box Hill Town Hall, one in 10 members will be under the age of 30.
For some, such as Murrumbeena Uniting Church member Steph Robinson, this will be their first Assembly.
“Young people provide a different voice and a different perspective, which is important for others to hear,” Steph said.
“I also think that it shows that the church is interested in the next generation of church leaders and wants them to help guide the church in its decisions.”
The youth quota was introduced nearly 40 years ago at the second Assembly in 1979.
The Assembly passed a resolution amending the Uniting Church Regulations so that one-in-five Assembly members “could reasonably be regarded as of youthful age”.
President-elect Dr Deidre Palmer was involved in youth ministry at the time.
She recalls the excitement young people felt at the birth and formative years of the Uniting Church in Australia.
“As a 23-year-old, I was caught up in this new movement of the Spirit, the Uniting Church in Australia,” Deidre said.
“So I didn’t see this inclusion of young people as progressive but rather part of our identity, of who we are.
“We are a church which includes all ages, who sees children, young and older people as followers of Jesus, belonging, and offering our gifts to the whole Body of Christ.”
Steph hopes older Assembly members will value the voices of young people.
“I’d like to see the young adults and their contributions treated as equal by all members of the church, instead of just put in the ‘young people’ box,” she said.
“Apart from the old adage of listening more, the church can increase ways in which young adults can contribute, especially as there are likely to be those who just cannot commit to such events like Assembly.”
Steph said Murrumbeena Uniting Church’s strong focus on youth ministry has made it easier for her to speak up and take an active role in her church community.
However, she acknowledged that her experience is not shared by all young people across the church.
“Both congregations that I have been a member of since middle school have been with my mother’s ministry,” she said.
“In my ‘non-standard experience’, both congregations have been open to listening and involving young adults and their opinions when there have been young adults who wish to contribute and involve themselves.
“But I recognise that, as the daughter of a minister with a young-adult focus, my experience may not reflect the norm.”
Prior to the Assembly opening day on Sunday 8 July, young Assembly members will gather at Box Hill Town Hall for a weekend orientation program.
Dr Deidre Palmer and Assembly general secretary Colleen Geyer will welcome the youth members and provide an overview of Assembly processes.
They will also look at significant proposals such as same-sex marriage, sovereignty and treaty as well as voluntary assisted dying.
Kelly Skilton is one of the organisers of the youth program, which takes place on the weekend that Assembly opens.
“When you come into a room with 300 people, it’s an overwhelming space so to be able to know a smaller group of people who you can build friendships with becomes a good time together,” Kelly said.
The plenary inside Box Hill Town Hall will be set up so the youth members can familiarise themselves with the auditorium, the microphones and how to introduce themselves from the floor.
“Speaking up at Assembly is scary, not from a fearful point of view, but a reverence point of view,” Kelly said.
“So many young people across the UCA know our church and love our church, so we don’t want to let our church down. That’s why we get nervous – we want to make sure we do it well.”