What does Innovation look like?
Assembly Associate General Secretary Rev Lindsay Cullen reports back from the Tongan National Conference and gaming convention OmegaCon
June 14, 2023
By Rev Lindsay Cullen, Assembly Associate General Secretary
Over the past two weekends, I’ve attended two events which couldn’t look more different in some ways, but both of which got me thinking about innovation and the future of the Church.
“I was struck by a constant theme of exploration and change within the weekend."
On the weekend of 9-11 June, I had the pleasure of attending the Tongan National Conference (TNC) of the Uniting Church in Australia. Hundreds of people of all generations with Tongan heritage gathered together for a celebration of faith and culture. The weekend featured multiple worship services, opportunities to showcase cultural singing and dancing as well as other talents and performances. There were also workshops and seminars on a range of topics and times of discussion and ‘business’. Previously an annual event, this was the first time TNC has been held in-person since before COVID.
There were certainly aspects of the TNC which drew on deep strands of tradition — while I didn’t understand the words of the Tongan hymns, some of the tunes were familiar from my youth and the framework of the services were very much what you would find in many Uniting Churches. Nevertheless, I was struck by a constant theme of exploration and change within the weekend. In a session focussed on the future of the TNC, there were multiple speakers who reflected on the changes they had seen over the life of the TNC — the empowering of ‘Second Gen’ to run their own program as part of the conference, the changes in informality, use of modern instruments or intermingling of younger and older participants were all mentioned. One speaker even referred to the way in which the TNC might be feeding in to enabling change in the ‘home church’ community of the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga. Other ideas floated included inviting other National Conferences to participate with the TNC in annual gatherings, having TNC Second Gen organisers offer to do leadership development for the wider Church or shifting the structure of the TNC from streams run in parallel for different ages and stages in life, to a genuinely intergenerational gathering.
The second event I attended was a Gaming Convention (mainly Board Games and Role-playing Games (RPGs)) held in Geelong. This was the first face-to-face version of OmegaCon, ‘dedicated to exploring who we are in the world and beyond’ — an event organised in partnership by the St David’s Uniting Church congregation (supported by the Vic/Tas Synod), a local Games store and the Geelong Regional Libraries. The convention was relatively small in attendees, although a number of people came along “just to have a sticky-beak” and a few more connected with an online streamed session or attended a panel session held within the Sunday service at St David’s. One of the key goals of the organisers was that this should be a safe place for community building and exploration for those people who enjoy the culture of board gaming or RPGs, and the many other related ‘fandoms’. And as a paid up member of that culture, I felt safe, welcomed and celebrated!
The aspects of this event which struck me as important for the future of the Church were the partnership with other like-minded community or business organisations, the focus on a shared commitment/subculture/set of values, the willingness to explore the ways in which faith impacts on aspects of human life we do not typically think of as related to faith and the willingness to use venues outside of the Church and to use Church venues in novel ways.
In both of these two gatherings I was impressed by the passion for grounding faith in the lived experience of the communities concerned, the openness to exploration of things that had not been tried previously and the sense of optimism about the future of the communities themselves. So, what does innovation look like? The last two weekends have demonstrated for me that innovation, above all, is highly contextual, collaborative in nature and comes with a willingness to take risks and try new things!
What does innovation look like?
What does Innovation look like?Assembly Associate General Secretary Rev Lindsay Cullen reports back from the Tongan National Conference and gaming convention OmegaConBy Rev Lindsay Cullen, Assembly Associate General SecretaryOver the past two weekends, I’ve attended two events which couldn’t look more different in some ways, but both of which got me thinking about innovation and…
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