Discipling the Next Generations

Who are we, as the Church today?

Theological reflectors at the VIC/TAS Synod

By Kelly Skilton, Youth and Youth Adults Pastor, VIC/TAS Synod

When the Uniting Church talks about young adult involvement across the Uniting Church my ears prick up with interest.

I am passionate about creating spaces to champion these voices. Often wider society encourages, mentors and motivates this same group of young people that I find the church unintentionally limits.

In my day-to-day job as a Youth and Young Adult Pastor, I chaplain at Monash University, pastorally care for my congregation in Murrumbeena, Victoria, as well as direct an ecumenical youth and young adults movement for small church communities across Victoria.

It’s called The Sonder Collective and connects with over 190 young people, across 7 denominations from 30 different church communities.

My passion for fostering personal and spiritual growth for our youth and young adults is obvious.

What is not always obvious is that I am also a young adult, and the encouragement that I long to establish within our church communities is something that includes me.

So when I was asked to be a theological reflector for the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania this past July I felt incredibly humbled and excited that I was being championed in an area the church has often not looked for young adults to fill.

This year was exciting because the format of theological reflection was given new life. Rather than an individual externally reflecting the movement within the Synod, a group of five young adults reflected as a team. We were invited together by Rev. Robin Yang and Rev. Dr Geoff Thompson (our Yoda’s) who encouraged and motivated our profound conversations and laughter.

Along with myself, the team included Sione Hehepoto, Cameron Shields, Joy Han and Melanie Morris.

We were a team representative of Victoria and Tasmania, where the Church communities that each of us call ‘home’ reflect rural and urban areas. We included mothers, ballerinas, pastors, stonemasons, parents-to-be, lay preachers, theological students/graduates, electricians and business people, discerning our vocational call and seeking to listen more closely to the prophetic voice.

As individuals we each brought a unique experience to the table and as a team our collective wisdom allowed us to reflect deeply so we could respond together on what was heard.

In the larger structures of governance there has been a move toward young adult involvement, often linked to filling a quota. These quotas are intended to hear the breadth of the UCA community, but we also hear of the constant frustration, pain and tediousness to fill these places.

To experience the role of ‘theological reflector’ being opened up for a group of young adults was profoundly liberating.

Knowing that this change was not based on any quotas but was an intentional decision was a new feeling.

To hear that our voices are wanted, validated and that God’s gifts and graces include us when we say they extend across all ages.

It is a reminder to all of us in the UCA, that to say younger people are not experienced enough or interested enough is just an excuse – we are enough just as we are.   

So what makes theological reflection from a group of empowered young adults so interesting? As younger people our formative years of adolescence and faith development have been within the current climate of the church within society. This is powerful. It means that as young adults we have never known of a time when the pews in all churches have been full on every street corner.

Dwelling on ‘what has been’ or ‘how the church used to be’ cannot answer the questions of ‘Who are we?’ as the Church in twenty-first century Australia.

Yes, young people are still growing and have some limitations, as we all do. However, we view possibilities and renewal through a lens that is contextually relevant and can be unique to what the church hears.

Given a space to theologically reflect gave us the opportunity to articulate, inspire and give hope to current structures, movements and ideas.

It gave space to ask questions: What models is the church going to maintain in the decades to come? What is being put in place that creates an immoveable inheritance of church structures and buildings?

Deep down the church knows the structures in place will not allow us the agility and innovation that is required of being able to respond to the call of Christ.

We know we are in need of action, but if we aren’t willing to adapt, move and steward well, then we risk remaining irrelevant and becoming stagnant.

Dwelling on the past cannot answer questions of reconciliation, stewarding finance and leadership, evangelism and how we are to keep attentive to the call of Holy Spirit today.

We need to remember our past, but not the longing of return to other times in history. The question of ‘Who Are We?’ as the Uniting Church cannot be answered by who we were, but rather this question calls on the church to answer now.

I do not believe that we are irrelevant to society, nor do I believe that we are called to teeter on the way to stagnancy. So, are we ready to discern what Holy Spirit is saying and where God is calling?

In the midst of all the business discussed and the conversations of reconciliation, finance, leadership, membership and suffering, the theological reflectors heard the deeper question of ‘Who Are We?’ as the church today.

Who do we say that we are—who does God say we are?

Are we being attentive to what we are hearing, and are we ready to adapt a little so we’re able to answer this question with our words and deeds?

Are you passionate about how we mentor and empower youth and young adults in our Church?
Join our Discipling the Next Generations Circle

Kelly Skilton, Youth and Youth Adults Pastor and the Sonder Collective director