“Once again you are the ones to open General Synod for the entire church!”
With these words, Waltrina Middleton, the UCC’s minister for youth advocacy and leadership formation, kicked off “Youth@General Synod” in Hall C of the Long Beach Convention Center. A loud cheer from the 200 youth erupted in response to Middleton’s observation.
“Living the Aloha Spirit” was the theme for this first day, described by Middleton as a perfect representation of the UCC’s core value of extravagant welcome. Beginning with a traditional Hawai’ian oli (chant) led by Welina Tong, a Hawai’i Conference youth delegate, attendees learned the real meaning of “aloha.”
“The thing about aloha is you have to give it in order to get it,” said Hawai’i Conference Minister the Rev. Charles Buck, challenging the youth to spend their time at General Synod sharing aloha with everyone they meet.
The Rev. David Schoen, who heads up the Congregational Vitality and Discipleship Ministry, agreed. He told the youth he attended his first General Synod in 1965, when he was just 13 years old. That year, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was the speaker.
“For a kid from a small rural town in southern Illinois, it was a life forming and transforming experience,” said Schoen.
He reminded the youth that through the years he has seen the UCC confront difficult issues: racial equality; gender equality; and now, marriage equality.
“God’s vision abounds and surrounds here,” he said. “Your task this week is to spread aloha — to see where God’s vision is present, catch the vision and spread it.”
The youth continued their lesson in aloha with two special activities.
The first was the making of kukui nut lei, which was led by Ken Makuakane, one of the planners for the event and program associate for church vitality for the Hawai’i Conference.
The second was a hula lesson, taught by Randy Chang, a Kumu Hula of the southern California-based Hula Halau Kaulana Ka Hale Kula O Na Pua O Ka ‘Aina. Chang and his assistant, Angie Chuman, taught the youth a hula to the song, “You’re Welcome Here,” written by members of Montebello (Calif.) Plymouth Congregational Church.
“It’s so awesome to be able to share aloha with other cultures and ethnicities,” said delegate Tong.
The first day concluded with a Movie Luau and Glow Party at the beach.