Two trees who were separated by a road built between them. “They stood alone. It was a great sadness, they stood alone. We are meant to be together”. I remember it as a metaphor for the hope of reconciliation which is central to our faith. Three years later, same NYALC this hope seemed like more than hope.
One hundred and thirty members of the Uniting Church between the ages of 18 and 30 from six Synods and at least 11 cultures were gathered for five days. We were supported by co-ordinators and mentors, the UCA President and President-elect, members of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress and many other leaders.
Each Conference is a new realisation of a similar dream – to support, encourage and empower younger people in the Uniting Church in their ministry, leadership and faith. For this an enormous amount of time goes into developing a program which guides people through days of worship, bible study, prayer, electives and workshops, time off-site, fellowship over meals and in plenary and small group sharing.
Notwithstanding the planning, some of the most meaningful moments are often those which are organic and take place completely independent of that which is planned. Like when Rev Fie Marino (NSW/ACT) led an Acknowledgement of Country as a Samoan and sat down to pour from a glass into a bowl the actual land on which we were meeting as he acknowledged the original owners of the land on which we were meeting. Or when, as part of a talent and culture festival, the Dusty Feet Mob (which has performed with Archie Roach) performed to his song ‘Took the Children Away.’ For five minutes there was nothing but silence and tears. Or when a 2nd Gen woman cried as she reflected on what it would have meant to be stolen from your family.
Moments when the pain of the other felt personal and real; moments of deep meeting, of realisation, relief, breakthrough, laughter, or frustration expressed but couched in honesty and love. Spontaneous prayer, a rendition of ‘This is the Day’ in five languages or 1:00am in the morning when I woke up to a group of people singing somewhere outside: ‘Sweep over my soul, sweep over my soul, sweet spirit, sweep over my soul’.
All of this, planned and unplanned, is partly possible because of the gifted leadership of the event and partly because of who and what our young leaders are – talented, fun, loving, gracious, intelligent and wise. But it is surely all possible because of who God is. Because God calls us into community – “to be together” – and because God’s spirit works to break down barriers so that those communities can be.
NYALC is truly intercultural, truly intergenerational and truly a glimpse of the church we are and will be to come. The event itself forms a physical community for a moment in time. But the echoes of the singing and prayers will continue for years to come in life and witness.
P.S. There’s a great video of Aunty Denise telling the Gum Tree Couple story on her own Adnyamathanha country in Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park of South Australia. You might even consider buying her book, Yarta Wandatha.