‘Impossible’ young adult conference defies limitations

Gabbrielle Shaw, Ben Green and Alina van Rensburg presenting on the livestream stage.

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Dozens of young people gathered in living rooms across South Queensland for the annual Young Adult “Exiles” Conference for 2020, which was hosted online over the weekend of June 19-21.

“The most significant element of the entire conference was that young adults throughout South Queensland met in homes in small groups and engaged as a community,” said Pastor Alina van Rensburg, young adult ministry coordinator for the South Queensland Conference.

The original conference was cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions. However, thanks to the work of pastors and volunteers over a period of just four weeks, the program was able to transition online.

“The truth is, we nearly cancelled it,” said Pastor van Rensburg. “The thought of taking our Young Adult Conference (including our annual leaders’ breakfast) online seemed impossible. But we felt convicted that God had a word for our young adult community in this season . . . [so] the vision for ‘Exiles’ was birthed.”

The guest speaker for the conference was Pastor Moe Stiles, who shared from Portland, USA, presentations to help young adults navigate isolation, digital strain and anxiety, build meaningful relationships and resilient faith.

A leaders’ breakfast was attended via Zoom by Tod Bolsinger, author of the Christian leadership book Canoeing the Mountains, who presented insights to young adults living and leading in a rapidly-changing world. Young adult leaders met in regional groups in pastors’ homes, which provided an opportunity for critical conversations about leading in “uncharted territory”.

The conference appealed to a young audience through worship sessions led by recent theology graduate Lachlan Harders and a dedicated creative team who created imagery, set design and promotional materials. 

The feedback from young adult leaders indicated that the weekend left a personal impact, and influenced young adult groups at their local churches:

  • “It was awesome for building community within a church community context.”
  • “We loved the synergy between what the program and Pastor Moe offered, and also being able to connect in a group. It was super relevant given the current circumstances too!”
  • “Our church has actually continued with the Exiles theme! This has allowed us to delve deeper into the topic.”
  • “Some great ideas have come out of the time together and some great changes are going to be made to the way we do church.”

“‘Faith for exiles’—resilient faith—is created through meaningful relationships, and this was the heart and soul of our weekend,” explained Pastor van Rensburg. “I’m so incredibly honoured to serve our young adult community alongside amazing leaders in this season.”

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