Wednesday, 24 December 2014

NYALC Reflections

Written by Brad Case

As a young adult leader in the Uniting Church there are many joys and many struggles.  The National Young Adult Leaders Conference hosted by the Assembly and Congress is a great way for us to gather together and share in our own unique experiences within our denomination.

Brad Case

In my current context I am the only person between the age of 18 and 30ish.  Leading youth and children’s ministry each week is a joy and privilege, but can seem like a lonely endeavour because I don’t get to do ministry with people my own age.  I don’t get to share the struggles or help carry the burden of others.  The joys aren’t sweetened and the blows aren’t softened because of the companionship of fellow pilgrims.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the ministry that I get to do with young people, and I LOVE sharing and singing the Wondrous Story with those of older generations who’ve done the same ministry before me…I ABSOLUTELY love it.  But I look around and it seems that there are less and less mid-twenty something’s sticking it out with me, less and less of us singing the song.

It seems like a pretty common story across many Uniting Churches, and the current data would suggest there aren’t lots of us in this age bracket actively involved in servant leadership in the life of the church.  Young Adult leaders often bridge the gap between “not ready to lead” youth and “too busy to do ministry” young families, and we’re often asked to keep on giving because we’re passionate, capable and all that’s left.  It often feels like we’re going hard and going it alone, which can take its toll.  Without the companionship and fellowship that comes with being On the Way with other young adults, it can often just feel like ‘working in the wilderness’.  There have been times when I’ve felt refreshed with God, but feeling dry and crusty in my ministry.  And there have been a few times when I feel I’m just done with the Uniting Church…done with serving in my local congregation because I’m not connected to the bigger story of what God is doing within the Uniting Church…done because there aren’t voices of others re-telling that same story back at me. 

Recently I was feeling like this, like I was done with being a young adult leader in the church when I received an invitation to NYALC not knowing much about it.  I ended up accepting the invitation, but was honestly feeling compelled to go only out of duty rather than as a chance to connect with other young adults in the Uniting Church.

Then I got there…and everything changed again for me.  Just like the wanderers in the desert, the quail came.

NYALC provides a space for us…passionate, ragtag, talented, lonely, diligent, faithful young adult leaders…to remember.  Remember that we are valued, remember that we belong, remember that we aren’t alone and remember again the story we’re called to tell.  Together with young leaders from across every Synod and Congress and with people from every culture, we sang, we prayed in our own language, we took the sacraments, we learnt, we laughed, we cried and we met with Christ together…together.  And for me this was the most important part of the community that those who ran this week were encouraging us to build; that together we are part of God’s story in the Uniting Church here in Australia…that together we can do small and amazing things that change someone’s world every day.  A key part of the week was that we weren’t asked to lead or serve as we do back home, but to just participate.  Nothing was required of us except to be open to what God might do in and through us…and God did a LOT! 

The event program itself is packed full, but balances the right amount of stretching experiences, reflection and relaxation to give us genuine rest.  Highlights were Elenie Paulos teaching us about Sabbath Economics each day, the Bible Study times with Andrew Dutney, as well as our ministry experiences on the Wednesday.  Each of these things was a chance for us to think outside and be removed from our own context and have our concept ministry blown wide open for us to experience Missio Dei, Gods Mission, in a new, challenging and refreshing way.  Yet, most importantly it was a great chance for us to meet others facing the same challenges, struggles and ministry opportunities across the country, to support and encourage one another and learn together…that together we’re never truly alone.

NYALC’s value isn’t in what the local church can get out of it, or what presbytery’s will benefit from those they send (although those who attend will surely return refreshed, encouraged and engaged - thus benefiting their ministry back home).  The value is in the time that our young adults get to “pit stop” on the great journey and remember to love the road that Jesus has called us to travel and the people we travel it with.  That in itself makes NYALC invaluable.  The value is in the valuing of our most precious resource; our incredible young leaders who say YES to Jesus and the local church in whatever way they can.  It’s vitally important for young adult leaders to experience Uniting Church community, theology and mission outside of their local church environment, alongside other Uniting Church young adults from ALL cultures and contexts along with moderators and the president in true Christian community.  It helps us remember the story we’re a part of.

For me, NYALC reminded me why I love the church that I’ve journeyed with for so many years.  It took my tired and weary spirit and reminded me why I’m ruined for the Uniting Church...ruined for the way we do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our Lord.  I entered NYALC exhausted to my bones and spirit and left feeling genuinely refreshed (something that hasn’t happened on a camp in a LONG time) and ready to go home knowing that I’m part of something special.  But most of all, spending the time together with young adults from across the life of the church reminded me that together we’re eternally loved, forgiven and free through Jesus Christ.

And if it can do any of this for another young adult in your congregation, then NYALC is one of the most valuable ministries and endeavours of our Uniting Church.

Joanna Palmer, SA

This was the first time I had attended NYALC. I’m so glad I did! I feel deeply grateful and blessed to have been part of such a vibrant, enriching, multicultural community of Uniting Church young adults. NYALC reminded me why I’m so proud to be part of the Uniting Church, and encouraged me in my faith in many ways. Hearing other young peoples’ stories of their lives, leadership and faith, from many cultures and places across Australia, was inspiring.

The Bible studies were challenging. The focus on ‘Sabbath economics’ in Elenie Poulos’ Bible study was confronting and relevant, particularly going into the Christmas period, which can often be consumed by capitalism. The ways in which Christians can be countercultural can have far‐reaching economic consequences, as Elenie discussed. Non‐hierarchical, servant leadership, through the example of Jesus, was the essence of leadership that I took away from this conference. I enjoyed hearing more about the Basis of Union – the focus on the congregation and the whole church as trying to further God’s mission, is something that I have reflected on often since I went to NYALC. It has made me appreciate, even more, the people around me in my congregation, and other congregations that I have been fortunate to visit.

The importance of spiritual self care was highlighted, and it was good to be reminded that community, prayer, music, worship, and many other ways can be helpful in this. Conversations over meals and board games were moments that I will remember as mixtures of serious discussion and hilarity, which helped join the community together during the week. Visiting Wayside Chapel was another highlight – their vision of “creating communities with no us and them” was both challenging and inspiring. I came away from NYALC feeling encouraged, hopeful, joyful and also challenged. There were so many wonderful people who I feel privileged to have met (both young, and young‐at‐heart). Knowing that we share in faith, community and leadership in many different ways is exciting!