A shot in the arm

Avondale students conducting praise and worship.

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It’s the middle of the week and the organiser of Avondale’s Festival of Faith is meeting with her team members. They’re flat—organising a morning and evening session each day on top of study is draining. Brooklyn Chan is struggling to find a Bible verse—anything—to encourage them. Then she remembers what those leading worship in her local church do before a service. “We sing. When serving, it’s so important to take time for personal devotion or you’ll burn out.” The impact on the evening session: “Our team were more mindful of making music their own worship.”

This engagement, not only from those attending but also those leading, defined the week of spiritual emphasis (March 22-27). “The buy-in from day one was at a level I’d usually expect on day five,” says Pr Brock Goodall, chaplain on the Lake Macquarie campus.

After a year of receiving spiritual support largely by distance, the students are “hungry” for face-to-face engagement, says Brock. Given the option to “book a time to chat one-on-one,” a “phenomenal” number of them responded. “COVID’s done a number on people, including our students, but they know their chaplain and church pastoral team are here to talk.”

Arts and teaching student Sally-Mae Herford describes Festival of Faith as providing “an overwhelming sense of community and revival after a tough year. It gave me the spiritual boost I desperately needed. I’ve found myself running back to the songs we sang, for comfort.”

Classmate Jakob Hogarth played the songs as part of the band. “I loved the way the music opened our hearts to change.” Festival of Faith reconnected him with God, providing a sense of closeness he “hadn’t had in a long time. God really showed up because I showed up.”

That’s the challenge speaker Pr Moe Stiles set the students during the first session on Monday. Brooklyn reinforced the message that evening. “I set up an agreement with the students, not to just turn up but to be here,” says the student ministries leader. “God wants us to be honest with Him. I enjoyed creating an environment where we as students felt safe to do this.”

Brock speaks highly of Brooklyn’s ability not only to organise Festival of Faith but then to “authentically and actively engage in worship each session.” “It had the potential to break me, so I needed to remember that while I do this, I also worship,” says Brooklyn. “My sister once told me, ‘If this whole God thing is it, it’s everything.’ So, it’s such a privilege to lead. I take the responsibility seriously.”

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