I have been a member of the Uniting Church since moving to Australia with my parents in 2000. I was 5 years old at the time and didn’t know a lick of English when we first arrived, but our congregation and wider church community at Parramatta Mission welcomed us with warm and open arms.
Throughout the years, I have been given the space to grow in my faith and in my leadership in the Uniting Church. Participating in Sunday School and Youth, having the opportunities to step up and use some gifts and skills at church, both behind the scenes and up in front at the lectern. I transitioned into a Youth leader and also contributed to elders and leaders meetings, as well as church council meetings.
Not long after, I experienced some wider church gatherings that continued to help me grow. KCO as a young leader, YouLEAD, NCYC, and NYALC are some of the camps and conferences that the church provided that allowed me to branch out and meet other young people from around the Synod and Assembly.
I now am blessed to work in the PULSE Team, to help support and resource other young people within our Synod.
These are some really great things! But sometimes I ask myself… is it enough?
While the church has provided some great events and camps and conferences, I feel like there is still so much more work to be done to truly allow young people in our church to flourish.
It’s a basic skill we use in nearly any situation that we’re in, but we need to actually listen to our young people. Listen and hear and sit with the struggles that they face, experiences that they have, advice and wisdom that they share, pleads and questions and cries and stories.
We need to learn to just listen. Wholeheartedly. Hearing them is seeing them, for who they are, for who God has made them to be, and for the path that they are called to be on.
Listening to young people doesn’t mean automatically requesting that any and/or every young person should be on church council, or should lead worship, or should be the tech person. Listen to what young people have to offer. What their God given gifts are and where they are called to use it, inside or outside of the four walls of a building that we call church.
Once you listen and hear young peoples needs, then act, but act alongside them. Like I mentioned previously, it is not actually helpful to think that once you see gifts and skills in a young person, you need to immediately give them an opportunity to step up into it, without any growing or mentoring.
It’s not the best method to chuck young people into the deep and think that they’ll swim. Part of the “act” is to put time into guiding young people in their journey. Mentoring goes a long way in this case, and there is nothing wrong with having multiple mentors!
An action can look like many different things too. One powerful act is to take a step back, discerning that maybe it’s time for some fresh eyes, ideas and gifts to be in a space that you once occupied. That doesn’t mean you take a step back and disappear, but you take a step back and provide support as someone new steps in.
As conversation around supporting young people continue throughout the Synod and wider, especially as this years Synod discussed our Future Directions, I notice that some are still cautious and cynical about them.
I get it. Some of these discussions have been going on for years, even with the same voices at times. For some, it seems like there hasn’t even been much change.
But even with these critical (bordering cynical) views, we still need to have hope.
Hope for change. Hope for something better.
Hope that with the end of some things, comes new life.
We need to Listen. Act. Hope.
We need to do it together.
Through God. For God. With God.
Let us continue to work together to ensure that just as young people are enough, even more than enough, to God, that there is more than enough for them in the church.
Ofa Foiakau is the Field Officer (Central/West) and Youth/High School ministry lead as a part of the PULSE team.