Many young people are indeed interested in the life of our church, including the complex issue of ordination. They want to make a contribution—but how can their voices be heard?
For its second event of this nature, Grow Ministries (LCA Board for Child Youth & Family Ministry) invited applications from 15–18-year-olds from all LCA districts to attend its National Youth Forum. The gathering, attended by two youth representatives from every district except New Zealand, was held in Adelaide, 10–12 April.
Throughout the weekend, the young people engaged with church leaders, in scheduled sessions and at mealtimes. They were able to put as many hard questions as they liked to LCA officials: Pastor Neville Otto (LCA Secretary), Peter Schirmer (LCA Executive Officer), Pastor James Winderlich (Principal, Australian Lutheran College), Linda Macqueen (LCA Communications) and Grow Ministries’ Jodi Brook and Vicki Rochow.
Pastor Neville Otto, who spent much of his presentation saying, ‘Hmmm … that’s a really good question …’, said he was impressed with the calibre of the young people. ‘Their questions reflected a deep level of thoughtfulness and willingness to grapple with complex issues. They were eager to learn as much as they could about the workings of their church, and to explore how they could get involved. I left the forum feeling tremendously encouraged.’
The budding church leaders joined in a full afternoon’s conversation about the ordination question, guided by pastors Fraser Pearce and Matt Thomas, and referring to the dialogue booklet being used by congregations across the LCA (available from owl.lca.org.au) as they explored the topic. Before commencing the conversation, the young people committed to the principles of respectful and caring dialogue, which are outlined in the booklet.
While there was a set agenda for the forum—including discussions about social media, sexuality and the history and mission of the LCA—there was always opportunity for divergence. Already on the first night of the forum, facilitator Pastor Lee Kroehn found himself facing a barrage of questions about law and gospel. The next day Pastor Neville Otto was trying to explain the content of the Formula of Concord in the five minutes left in his session. Hard questions were accompanied by much laughter, as well as genuine respect for church leaders who were honest enough to admit they don’t know all the answers.
‘We adults sometimes underestimate the depth of faith our young people have and their quest to learn more. Their questions are disarmingly honest’, says Jodi Brook, Director of Grow Ministries. ‘They live in a world that’s full of challenges we adults can barely imagine. It’s exciting to see God giving them the strength to stand firm in faith and to rise to every challenge. We have so much to learn from them—and they have so much to give to us.’
Kelsey Matuschka (15) from Middle Park, Brisbane, described her experience at the forum: ‘Everyone knew their stuff super well, and knew how to connect and be interesting. I want to make a conscious effort to engage with issues in my church. I want to help other people my age to do the same. A massive thankyou for the opportunity to be involved with this. I’ve learnt so much and I really appreciate it. I feel like I’ve found another family.’