A spirit of enthusiasm, vibrant energy, and joy characterized all three days of the youth conference held in Sydney, Australia from 4 to 6 October, releasing a powerful sense of purpose and responsibility for the 1,400 young people who had arisen to the call of the Universal House of Justice and came together to consult about their role in contributing to the betterment of the world.
From a multitude of diverse backgrounds and communities the youth gathered at the campus of the University of New South Wales, not far from the Bahá’í House of Worship. Through intense study of the conference materials and by the mere fact of being such a large group focussed on a common goal to serve humanity, they were able to grasp a sense of their collective power to foster an encouraging and uplifting environment, one that invites the participation of great numbers. Interspersed with their study, participants found creative ways of expressing their insights and sharing concepts through different art forms. A constant stream of newly composed songs and poetry filled the campus grounds with the happy notes of music and laughter, as artistic expressions conveying the participants’ increasing clarity around their common purpose were shared. Their excitement at the possibilities for action opening before them was infectious. In such an atmosphere, friendships were strengthened and formed in which the will to advance on a path of service together was ignited. “I can feel an energy that is coming out of each room, that we are developing friendships with people who we can plan and serve together with,” shared one youth, adding, “I see how important it is to create an environment of mutual support for any activity to grow.”
“I see how important it is to create an environment of mutual support for any activity to grow.”
A participant at the conference
Organized into groups according to their neighbourhoods or communities, the youth spread throughout classrooms and lecture halls to formulate plans for service in light of their local realities, exploring concepts on the role of their generation to create environments in which the capacities for service of both themselves and those younger than themselves can be nurtured. At length they discussed the positive and negative forces in the social spaces in which they interact with others and as they reflected on these themes, their understanding advanced around the relationship between the environment and the human heart and the capacity of young people to make a difference. Summarizing the sentiments of the majority, one participant said, “We are affected by our surroundings. If we are in a sad and hopeless environment we can either take those characteristics on, or we can recognize our capacity to change it and work with others to make it a place that we all want to be in.”
The use of technology was also reflected upon and the importance of thinking carefully about its use. “We need to use technology in a way that does not decrease our ability to interact with others, to be present in our interactions”, cautioned one youth. Another described how his friends were using social media to share the prayers that they had been regularly studying together as a group, highlighting that there are positive and negative choices to be made in everything that we do. These ideas were also captured in the evening plenaries with groups performing skits emphasising how youth can make choices that will help their communities advance, and others presenting songs with lyrics encouraging a noble purpose, for example:
Although the conference ended on the third day, a special service was organised for the next day to be held at the continental House of Worship in Sydney on the outskirts of the city, overlooking the vast Pacific Ocean. With a devotional program dedicated to the youth, a diverse cross section of humanity gathered to participate in the service. The atmosphere was overwhelmingly ethereal, spiritual, and profoundly moving. Voices blended together, each adjusting their tone and rhythm to the others, in both traditional and newly learned melodies beautifying the Word of God. Silence marked the passage between each chant, as soul-stirring notes carrying the Sacred Verses in an array of languages echoed within the Temple walls. The hearts of those present were at once tumultuous and uplifted towards the Kingdom of God in supplication and prayer. In the stillness that followed the close of the programme, the accomplishments of the Australian community and the significance of the gathering of youth from across the continent, together for three days of study and consultation, came into sharp focus. The youth conference, so transformative for those participating, gave momentum to a process that has been under way in communities across Australia, as more and more individuals have been taking strides to aid the spiritual and social development of their neighbourhoods and, in so doing, transforming and enriching the culture of the Bahá'í community as a whole. As each arises in turn to contribute their energies to the well-being of humanity, their individual efforts coalesce into a collective movement capable of contributing decisively to the fortunes of humankind.
Over 1,400 young people attended the Sydney youth conference
Groups discussed at length about how to contribute to the advancement of their communities
Participants worked together on creative presentations about the themes being studied
Insights and reflections were shared during the plenary sessions
Music and song were a significant component of the conference bringing joy to all who participated