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Faith, life and the young adult journey

Tim Griggs and Katie Wallis. Photo by Mardi Lumsden
JOURNEY SAT down with the organisers of Summer Madness and asked them about their experiences of being young adults in the Uniting Church. We started by asking if young people are the future of the church. This is what they said.

Stephen Rothery: Young people are not the future of the church, they are the church of today! We need to ditch that motto as quickly as we can.

Nick Patselis: Their opinions and how they express and connect with God is valid now not just 20 to 30 years from now.

Katie Wallis: The church right now is young people and old people. A true community embraces the value in both.
Young people have as much to answer for as older people do in terms of not respecting wisdom and not respecting people’s life journey.
If you’re using the term ‘young person’ as a derogatory thing I don’t find that I experience that in my church.
There’s an appreciation for new ideas. There might not always be an acceptance of that, but there’s definitely always opportunities for young people to have a voice and have an expression.

Josie Nottle: There also needs to be a safe place for that to happen, which doesn’t necessarily exist in all churches.

Mark Cornford: For me (and I’m definitely not young anymore), when ‘young’ is problematic is when it is used to designate something that is not the ‘real’ church.

Stephen: Yes, and the thought that you have to keep doing the thing that we have been doing and that we are preparing you to do.

Josie: Or the thought that ‘you need to do church our way’. This is what church looks like. Don’t be creative. Don’t think outside of that box. You might be able to make a pretty banner.

Nick: Or you can do a creative thing once a month on the Sunday youth service, but that’s not the real church.

What is it like being a young person in specified ministry?

Josie: I think it affects the way people see you and respond to you. Straight off the bat you have to prove yourself and if you make mistakes they will tell you about it all the time.

On my field placement I was called to sit up the front on the floor for the children’s talks because I was the youngest person in the church. I was doing field placement and I received the children’s talk every Sunday, by myself, on the floor.

I’ve experienced some opportunities and some ways where youth are encouraged and given space and respected, however the majority of my experiences have been ‘if you don’t prove yourself, if you don’t fit the way I do things then I’m not going to listen to you until you’re prepared to do that’.

I feel sometimes that I almost have to compromise myself a little bit to fit into their mould, to prove myself so I can actually be who I am and use the gifts that I’ve been given. It’s very difficult.

Katie: I would love to see young people’s response to those things not to be a ‘rage against the machine’ attitude but an attitude of grace and love; how can we be the church as we would want it to be without being renegades who disrespect everything that has gone before us? In forty years time we don’t want to think that young people will rage against what we’ve created and accomplished; we want people to know grace, love, fellowship and community.

Josie: The church isn’t just for fifty year olds or twenty year olds, it’s an intergenerational thing. If we don’t mesh it then we’ve actually missed the whole point of the body of Christ.

Mark: I was talking with two young women at uni who were very committed, compassionate Christians who engage in their faith. They couldn’t see how the church was relevant to them. Their relationship with God and their gifts were relevant but the church wasn’t a place that could provide a meaningful, challenging view of discipleship that fitted into their faith and where they were heading.

Stephen: I think it’s about understanding that the questions you ask about life and how you live out your faith when you’re older aren’t the same questions you ask when you’re young.

Mark: Young adults are looking for something that is meaningful and challenging and about their life, not just something that they go to on Sundays to sing a few songs and go home.

Stephen: But the temptation can be to do the opposite. There is that temptation of ‘oh quick, we’ve got two youth, we need to lower the expectations, demand, etc as much as possible so they’ll just fall in’ as opposed to not being afraid to have some kind of challenge. What does discipleship actually look like?

Josie: There needs to be a respect of that young person to be able to connect with them and engage with them. If there was respect young people would blow people’s mind with the way that they care about God and the ways they want to engage God in their lives.

Why have you stuck with the Uniting Church particularly?

Nick: I have a degree of brand loyalty to the Uniting Church and I’ve always felt welcome. I appreciate that I can be theological. My experience has been of congregations who have believed and empowered young people. That is why I’m training to be a minister and why I’m a youth pastor.

Tim Griggs: It’s because of the depth of the Uniting Church, it’s beliefs, it’s core of doctrines, it’s belief systems are so sound theology-wise. I’ve appreciated the breadth of the Uniting Church in terms of social justice advocacy. And personally because of some of the opportunities the Uniting Church has given me right throughout my life. I don’t stay because of that but it certainly has enriched my life.

Joy Stovall: I haven’t been attending a Uniting Church for very long, but I like that there is not a cookie-cutter feel. Everyone is very accepting, there are a lot of different, quirky people around and everyone genuinely loves one another. It is very refreshing to see. In a lot of ways we’re a perfect group of people to start looking at social justice; a group of people who can love and take care of their own.

Katie: The Uniting Church introduced me to Jesus Christ. In my church, since the age of 14 I’ve been allowed to preach and been encouraged to have a voice and I’ve been sent out to incredible places by my church family. I am who I am today because of that group of people.

Josie: I like the continuum of beliefs that are part of the Uniting Church. I can have my own brain and can think about things from my own experience. There is this sense that in our differences we are whole. It gives you permission to be who you are.

Mark: Quite honestly I don’t have brand loyalty to a symbol or a document. It’s not that I don’t appreciate things about the institution and the Basis of Union, but I don’t have loyalty to that, I mean, what is Church? Fundamentally it is people. I think God has called me here and people have nurtured me. My loyalty is to God and people.

Stephen: In the church where I grew up I was lucky to have a number of people who took an interest in me. I could quite happily be somewhere else, my brand loyalty is about zero, but the people and networks of mentors and peers that I have developed is what keeps me here. I think this is where I am called by God. The best theology in the world is not going to keep someone there if no one cares or notices when your not there.

Photo : Tim Griggs and Katie Wallis. Photo by Mardi Lumsden