Annual Australia-wide youth conference motivates a generation

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(Credit: Luke and Joel Vodell)

Strong wind and rain wasn’t enough to stop more than 300 Australian youth and young adults attending “Converge”, an Australia-wide Adventist youth camp run at Stuarts Point Convention Centre (New South Wales) over the weekend of February 7-10.

Organised by the Australian Union Conference, the event—featuring evening worships,  inspiring talks, workshops, beach visits, fun activities and great food—was back by popular demand for the fifth consecutive year.

“The young adults were so resilient [despite the rain]” said AUC youth director Pastor Jeffrey Parker. “They came to every meeting and there wasn’t one complaint. They even made a slip and slide!”

Some of the youth enjoying a slip and slide. (Credit: Jeff Parker)

Pastor of Mount Rubidoux Adventist Church in California (USA), Michael Kelly, was the guest speaker for the weekend, preaching on topics relevant to contemporary youth culture including busyness, empathy and vulnerability, shame and guilt in relationships, and missional living.

“A lot of people were really challenged to simplify their life so they can spend time to hear and connect with God,” said first time attendee Lucy Dessington (Carmel Adventist Church, Perth). “He was also really big on missional living and making sure that we’re connecting with the community and being people of influence.”

“The messages that Pastor Michael shared were really relevant to our culture and young adults would be experiencing today. Spot on, really good,” added Greater Sydney Conference youth director Simon Gigliotti, who also presented one message about missional living and navigating the practicalities of living an intentional Christian life.

“What I took away from [Simon’s] talk is: don’t look at what you can’t do, look at what you can do. Start with the little things,” said South New South Wales (SNSW) youth director Rick Hergenhan. “You don’t need permission from the local church board to be friendly to a neighbour.”

Pastor Michael Kelly giving a sermon. (Credit: Luke Vodell)

Each evening, a band comprised of members from Burwood and Lilydale churches (Victoria) led out in worship, with nightly programming organised by young people from the South Queensland Conference.

“Alina van Rensburg delegated the programming to them and they smashed it,” said Victorian assistant youth director Rosemary Andrykanus. 

In addition to worships, activities and workshops were held throughout the weekend, including morning fitness sessions, waterskiing, a slip-and-slide, indoor board games and visits to the beach. Workshops, including one on missional living presented by Dr Nick Kross, and another on creativity in church life led by Glonaida Quiapon, member of Dandenong Filipino-Australian Seventh-day Adventist Church (Victoria), were very positively received.

The woodfire pizza oven. (Credit: Rosemary Andrykanus)

Each night, worships were followed by a cafe, featuring wood-fired pizza, mocktails and hot chips. It was encouraged as a place to connect and have real conversations with new people.

“I brought a group of young people from SNSW to help run the converge cafe,” said Pastor Hergenhan. “One guy was a practising Muslim, one was an atheist, one was an Adventist who had rejected the faith. The aim of Converge is to be able to invite non-Christian friends and have them hear a message, without straining the relationship. To hear these people come along and say, ‘I like what I hear, and this makes sense’, is so encouraging. The demographic we are intentionally setting out to engage are listening.”

In a similar vein, Ms Dessington shared that her highlight was the opportunity to have vulnerable conversations about life and faith.

“We had a small group of young adult leaders gather on Sabbath afternoon and we had some tough, reflective conversations. Seeing their passion and resilience for local church despite the environment being challenging, [made me feel] encouraged and passionate to serve,” she said.

“There were about 50 that came from the Victorian conference,” added Ms Andrykanus. “My highlight was to see them bond together. The memories they create here will influence their relationships back home, and that’s a really important part of ministry.”

Youth and young adult volunteers who helped to make the evening programs possible. (Credit: Luke Vodell)

Planning for Converge in 2021 has already begun, with a youth advisory committee meeting this week to debrief and reflect on the event.

“The really cool thing about Converge is it brings all the youth directors together from across Australia. They’re really passionate about it and put in 110 per cent,” said Pastor Parker.

The annual camp has not only brought spiritual revival to attendees this year but also long-lasting results. One marriage has resulted from the event, as well as a youth ministry called “Avenue Church” in Melbourne, run by past attendees Jeremy Choo and Jack Stott, who are in the process of turning the group into a church plant.

“This year, I made the call and there were 30 to 40 young people who really wanted to ramp it up, to do next level leadership. And that’s really exciting,” said Pastor Gigliotti.

“When you see 300 young adults come together and be passionate about worship and a relationship with Jesus Christ, it’s incredible,” said Pastor Parker. “It seems very real. The Holy Spirit is melting them, working deeply inside of them.”

Converge is a place to meet new people and have real, vulnerable conversations. (Credit: Luke Vodell)

To see photos and videos of the weekend, or to stay in the loop about Converge in 2021, you can join the Facebook group.