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For young people God is in the going and doing

By Paul Titus

Top: Young people flash "M" for Methodist signs at MYC08. Upside down, the signs are also "W" for Wesley College.

Bottom: A large group from Vahefonua Tonga attended MYC08. Osi Kepu presented the Vahefonua's strategy for encouraging young people's participation in the church.

Creativity, questioning and camaraderie were in the air when the Methodist Church of NZ held its national youth conference last month.

The theme of Methodist Youth Conference 2008 (MYC08) was ‘Where is God for young people?’ The 300 or so young people who attended took part in a variety of workshops that explored this question. They were able to ask church leaders about their own experiences and understanding of Methodism, and, in turn, they were challenged to become active in their churches and communities.

MYC08 spanned four days and was held at Lincoln University. The brief opening day included registration and a formal welcoming (mihimihi), and the final day consisted of a closing worship service. In between were two full-on days (not to mention late nights) packed full of activities.

The first began with a presentation by a diverse group of church leaders who discussed their lives in the Methodist Church. The rest of the day was devoted to creative workshops that focused on art, creative writing, dance, debate, drama, and music. In the evening participants from each workshop presented their creations.

The second day began with the arrival of John Wesley, embodied by Rev Dr Jim Stuart. A Wesley scholar, Jim fielded questions and answered in the way he thought John Wesley would have done.

Also on offer were workshops by Christian World Service and the Methodist Missions, and a visioning session led by the Methodist president Rev Brian Turner and vice president Dr Barbara Peddie. The day concluded with a cultural evening in which more of the young people’s talents were on display.

During the visioning session the young people divided into ‘buzz groups’ to discuss two questions – what are the things their churches do that work for young people? And what things could be done better?

Responses to the first question indicate that young people appreciate weekly church activities and home groups, opportunities to meet with young people from other congregations, and the chance to contribute to decision making in their congregations.

Things that could be done better include the use of more contemporary music in worship services, more youth camps, the appointment of regional youth coordinators, and providing facilities for sports and cultural activities.

These mainly positive responses contrasted with resolutions passed at MYC in 2005, which called for the Church to “get real”, listen more closely to its young people, and find more ways to include them in worship and other activities.

Three of the key organisers of MYC08 were Keita Hotere, Te Rito Peyroux, and Lana Lazarus. They say participation levels of those attending this year’s conference were certainly higher than was the case at MYC05. As a result, a wider range of views were expressed.

Te Rito says the concerns expressed at MYC05, though very valid, were not necessarily shared by everyone.

“While we are all young people linked to the Methodist family with many things in common, it is important to recognise that different parishes and rohe face different issues. We cannot speak on behalf of everyone, all the time, and we could see this throughout our discussions and during our range of creative inputs.

“While some may still have issues with feeling valued and well supported in parishes or rohe, we don’t settle for one way of seeing or doing things, nor should we,” Te Rito says.

Two aims of MYC08 were to equip young people with resources and put them in contact with Church leaders.

“The organising committee wanted young people to take responsibility not only for what happened at the conference but also in the life of the Church. Now the young people have met the presidential team and the general secretary. They have heard from the Missions about work in our communities and from CWS about global outreach. It was a chance to make contacts so we can keep in touch and take ownership for how our churches operate,” says Lana.

The three organisers agree that the creative workshops and presentations were magical.

“We got to see for ourselves and share the talents and gifts of our young people. Some workshop facilitators only had a short time to prepare, but they all produced awesome work. The whole day was full of grace” Keita says.

A theme repeated throughout MYC08 is that the church can provide young people opportunities but they themselves must answer the question ‘where is God for young people?’

Part of the answer to that question came from a text message which was launched by Rev Saikolone Taufa launched and travelled by mobile phone to all those attending the conference: “God lives in me. God lives in you. God lives in everyone around us.”

Keita, Lana and Te Rito want to express their thanks to all those who made MYC08 possible. They include the other members of the organising committee – Barbara and David Davies and Sarah Young. They acknowledge too all those who gave time, energy and resources to lead groups and facilitate workshops, and the church bodies, businesses, and organisations that sponsored the event.

Lastly, Lana and Te Rito note that Keita finished her work as Taha Maori's rangatahi worker at the end of last month. They want to wish Keita and her sister Marama their prayers and best wishes as they both continue on their momentous journey ahead.