Hearing the voices of our young people
It is one of the markers of an intergenerational church and community that it lives open and ready to hear how the Spirit is speaking through its young people.
UCA President Rev Sharon Hollis said the voices of the young people provided much inspiration and prompting for the Church as it discerns its future, and discerns where God is calling us – a key theme of the Act2 conversation.
“As a Church we must be prepared to actively seek, value, and champion the voices of young people as they, in turn, inform the discernment of the church. They become equipped to participate and lead – and then to influence and transform. Without this, our capacity for both every member ministry and for shared life is diminished.”
In her Retiring President’s report to the 16th Assembly, ex-President Dr Deidre Palmer reflected back to the Church insights and experiences of Uniting Church youth and young adults gathered over the triennium.
A key focus of her presidency was the discipleship and leadership of emerging generations, which among other things led her to develop a series of roundtable conversations with young people across the country – an exercise in intentional listening.
“I’ve been privileged to sit with young people across the Uniting Church and listen to their stories of faith, discernment, and their vision of following Christ in a world of challenges and possibilities,” said Dr Palmer.
Over 100 Uniting Church youth and young adults from every state took part in nine Roundtables over two years. Some were hosted in person, before others moved online in the context of COVID-19. Read more about the inspiration and process for these gatherings.
The reflections that arose from these conversations are a celebration of the identity of the Uniting Church and many gifts of belonging, while they also call to the to prioritise the intentional nurturing of discipleship in the long term.
In an accompanying report to her final President’s address, Dr Palmer noted five areas for the Church to focus on drawing upon her conversations with young people.
Intentional long-term nurturing in Christian discipleship
The responses reflected the different spaces across the UCA where intentional discipleship takes place – in congregations, tertiary ministries, key national events, theological study, and in grassroots communities.
“Intentional nurture in Christian discipleship includes creating spaces, where people can go deeper, actively respond to challenging issues for our church and society, raise questions, express doubts, and find a faithful, supportive community.”
Intergenerational Christian communities attentive to the Spirit’s actions toward welcome, hope and liberation
“A recurring theme in our conversations was the importance of community and friendship. Part of shaping these Christian communities, is deepening our relationships with each other.”
A compassionate, well-informed, prophetic public voice.
Participants shared that climate change, racism, and COVID-19 are among some of the key concerns they have for the world they live in.
It is their expectation that their church will be a courageous and prophetic voice in addressing significant social challenges, and advocating for a world in which all can flourish. Further, they expect their church will show integrity by embodying healing, reconciliation and hope in its own life.
Strengthening and affirming our every member ministry
Foundational to our commitment to being intergenerational is the belief that regardless of life stage, all have a Christian vocation which may be lived out in daily life, in the church, and in the world.
Many of the responses highlighted national youth events as instrumental to faith formation.
Across her Presidency, Dr Palmer attended two National Young Adult Leader Conferences in 2019 and 2020. In the context of COVID-19 the latter was held online, with participants reflecting on the disruption of COVID-19.
In these gatherings young people reflected on the stress caused by the loss of employment and insecurity about the future and expressed their concern for those across the world wo have experienced much greater impacts of COVID-19. At the same time, the pandemic has presented opportunities to seek new ways of being community and placed worship in the context of family.
Young people commented that “this time has shown us that the church is not contained to a building.”
The raw feedback and full report of the Roundtable conversations are available to read.
Young people speak in word clouds
What are the greatest challenges facing the UCA?
What concerns you in society and the world?
What brings you grief?
The thing I most value about the Uniting Church is...
What sustains you?