by ESME O’RAFFERTY
The atmosphere was alive with excitement at the Set Free Youth Conference in Cambridge this year, which celebrated its 10th anniversary with the theme “At Your Word”.
Keynote speakers included Hamilton Bishop Stephen Lowe, Australian speaker Emma Fradd, and Aquinas College alumni Sam Brebner.
Throughout the festival, which was held at Finlay Park from September 20-
22, youth were encouraged to form a closer relationship with Christ and the
Church through workshops and talks on topics such as mental health, and the forgiveness of sins.
There were more than 125 youth in attendance, with some coming from as
far away as Christchurch and Whangaparaoa to join in the festival.
Organiser Jil Miller, the diocesan youth coordinator for Hamilton diocese, said that she felt the festival had gone well, with the youth coming away from the weekend with a deeper relationship with their faith.
“Even seeing . . . their posts on social media, they’ve all [posted] really great,
positive feedback,” she said.
“It’s really comforting for us to know that the Lord is going to show up and all that we can do is try to create that space for that to happen.”
She said the workshops that the youth attended helped to make them
think a little more deeply about their faith than they might be used to.
“I think the workshops . . . pushed them a bit deeper, beyond just coming to a retreat, getting that ‘Jesus high’ and then going home and waiting till the next thing. I think our goal is to push a little bit further and get a little deeper,” she said.
Ms Miller said she had heard from feedback since the event that people felt there had been a “ beautiful maturing” of the festival over its 10 years.
“It’s not just like ‘hey, come have fun with your friends’, you know, have some cool worship and then go home. It really is how do you cultivate that relationship in your day-to-day life?”
However, Ms Miller said that despite the youth attending from outside Hamilton diocese, there were no plans to make the festival a national event.
“I think the beautiful thing about our diocese is our ability to celebrate our people and to be able to follow up . . . I just don’t think you get that on a
Victoria Ning, who was one of the original youth to attend the first Set Free
festival in 2010, agreed that the festival had matured.
Ms Ning, a chaplain for the Auckland Catholic Tertiary Chaplaincy, volunteered at this year’s Set Free as a small group leader.
“I think when it first started off it was super small, super low-key, and it was basically run by our youth group leaders [from St Thomas More, Mt Maunganui]. It was the first initiative . . . that the diocese had on that scale,” she said.
“I guess the start was something new and exciting, but it was small . . . to see
it now, thriving, with so many young people, it’s really cool.”
Ms Ning said it was good to see that the festival had grown and thrived, despite the leadership passing between hands many times over the years.
“The mission is still really alive and present and serving the youth . . . I think it’s a testament to the faithfulness of God and the faithfulness of those involved in youth ministry in the diocese.”
“It shows that this is a worthwhile thing to do — the youth want it, and they
need it,” she said.