National Conferences: history, life, and witness
The Being a Multicultural Church Circle and Assembly Resourcing Unit is hosting a series of webinars exploring the Uniting Church in the 21st Century from a variety of perspectives. The second webinar held on the 24th June explored the history, life, and witness of the Uniting Church's National Conferences. Read a summary below, watch the webinar recording, and continue the conversation.
It is perhaps no coincidence that the first National Conference was born only two short years after the Uniting Church declared itself A Multicultural Church in 1985.
That declaration made at the 4th Assembly, says Rev Dr Tony Floyd, was “not an aim, not a goal, it was a given – the Uniting Church is a multicultural Church”. It did not articulate an aspiration, but recognised an existing identity.
In the three decades since then, the National Conferences have given shape to that identity, inviting people of the same culture and language group into national communities of solidarity, support and fellowship.
In 1987, the Tongan National Conference was the first National Conference to be formed. Now there are 13: Tongan, Samoan, Fijian, Indonesian, Korean, Tamil, Chinese, South Sudanese, Filipino, Niuean, Vietnamese, Middle East and Ibero-Latino. The Ibero-Latino National Conference was formed as recently as 2019.
Though each is distinct, together they reflect the vibrant and growing diversity which characterises the Uniting Church across the country.
Participants in a recent webinar heard some of this history and celebrated the witness of the National Conferences as part of a series hosted by the Becoming a Multicultural Church Circle and Assembly Resourcing Unit. ‘The Uniting Church in the 21st Century’ is exploring the life, witness, and identity of the UCA from a range of perspectives.
A panel of speakers included Nia Lavaki, Second Generation leader for the Tongan National Conference (TNC), and Rev Dr Tony Floyd, past National Director of Multicultural and Cross-cultural Ministry for the Assembly. Rev Eseta Meneilly moderated the conversation while Rev Thresi Mauboy reflected theologically, drawing upon their active involvement in the Fijian and Indonesian National Conferences respectively.
Rev Dr Floyd, who has played a significant role in resourcing the Conferences and their leaders, spoke about the history and initial vision which gave rise to the Conferences.
“The idea was that it was an opportunity to share problems, joys, concerns, and offer mutual cooperation in solving difficult issues that arise in the life of congregations, faith communities, and among members,” said Tony.
“It was also to increase a sense of belonging to and understanding about the multicultural Uniting Church and to review the ministry and mission needs of their communities which often meant conversations about the appropriate training of ministers to work cross culturally.”
Each week, people across the Uniting Church worship in over 40 languages. We celebrate this diversity of cultures and languages as a gift of God. The National Conferences play a role in enabling the voice of our culturally diverse communities to be heard, and to make their distinctive contribution to the life and ministries of the Uniting Church.
A key feature of the National Conferences is in fostering the participation and leadership of Second Generation young adults and other emerging generations, said Nia Lavaki. Nia leads a team whose role is to create programs for the intentional inclusion of younger people in the Tongan National Conference, which normally gathers more than 1000 people from the Tongan community across the country.
(Read what happened when the 2nd Gen community of the Tongan National Conference helped the gathering go online this year for the first time in its history.)
“I would estimate that 75%-80% of that community in the TNC would be younger people,” said Nia. “There’s Second Gen participants, children, and young families. One of the benefits I would say for the TNC is the fellowship we have with one another. We get to share our struggles, our ideas, what’s working, what’s not working.”
“That was a key part of the National Conferences at the beginning, to give priority to Second Gen youth and young adults,” said Rev Dr Tony Floyd, “and to do this by intentionally nurturing, developing and supporting leadership gifts.”
Questions from webinar participants indicated that there is more work to be done in communicating the work of the National Conferences across the broader Uniting Church. How to encourage crosspollination and collaboration between National Conferences as well as within National Conferences is another area of focus into the future.
You can watch the recorded webinar below, and continue the conversation in the Being a Multicultural Church Circle.