12th Assembly 2009

Young people give thumbs up to Youthful Members Orientation

A number of fresh, young faces are among the crowds milling around the various venues on the Kensington campus of the University of New South Wales, where the 12th Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia is taking place.

Most of these young people, who hail from all over the country, participated in the Youthful Members Orientation, a workshop held prior to Assembly and run by the host synod — this time the Synod of New South Wales and the ACT.

Beginning at lunch on July 13 and ending before the Opening Ceremony and Installation on the evening of July 15, the Orientation briefed young people about what takes place at Assembly and how to make the most of the experience.

Emily Evans, 21, from the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, said the Youthful Orientation was helpful because it gave background to the proposals coming to the Assembly.

“There were a few people who had been before but a lot that were new,” she said. “We had key representatives from the multicultural group talking about property sharing, we had someone come to talk about the Preamble and give us the background on the relationship between the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress and the Assembly, and we went through Assembly procedures.

“It was also a way for people to connect with other young people at Assembly and provide a support base.”

For Emily the Opening Ceremony and the celebration of the covenant with Congress on Thursday morning set the tone.

“The Preamble will be one of the main issues,” she said. “This is how far the church has come; this is the importance of the covenant relationship.”

She saw the consideration of the Preamble as an important step for the church and that people “should think about that before we get hung up on a word”.

Luke Williams is a 21-year-old youth leader from, Mandurah, Western Australia. Attending his first Assembly, Luke said the Orientation helped him get a sense of the discussions and how they will relate to him.

His impressions of Assembly were so far positive. “There’s a sense of expectation and a good mix of ages and styles. Having the more traditional style mixed with the band that played last night [at the Opening Ceremony] was a good balance.”

One of the organisers of the Orientation, Nicole Fleming, said that while the workshop was about young people’s “contribution to the shape of the church”, it was definitely not a “tokenistic” gesture.

“Some of the people are incredible leaders in the church. Their contribution is valuable whether they’re there as a young person or not,” she said.

“What we’re trying to do with the Orientation is help them think through how they can contribute to the process fully, how to help them have some developed thoughts about the key issues that are coming up.”

Jemma Whittaker, 21, a young representative of the Northern Synod, also at her first Assembly, said the Orientation prepared her for potentially difficult moments in conversations.

“It eased us into the process, broke down some of the reports and proposals and gave us insights into where people are coming from and where opposition might lie,” she said. “I can’t understand why people would oppose certain things and I’m a bit nervous and not sure how well I’ll deal with negative voices, so knowing that could occur was helpful.”

Jemma said she had found the experience less intimidating than she expected and was particularly excited about the focus on covenant.

“My dad is a minister with Congress in South Australia so I’m really, really excited about the issues around Congress that are being faced at this Assembly.

“The service last night was amazing. I loved the multicultural aspect to it — that we had representatives from other cultures and faiths. I liked what [new President] Al [Macrae] had to say: it’s new and exciting.”

All-in-all the mood of the young members seemed to be optimistic and their presence and input at the 12th Assembly will no doubt be valued and welcomed.