It’s Otautahi Christchurch’s turn to host the fifth Awaken Conference here in Aotearoa. As part of Pride week, Awaken Conference 2023 takes place from March 17–19 and is being hosted by Durham Street Methodist Church—an affirming and inclusive church with a long history of supporting the rainbow community.
Awaken is organised by Diverse Church New Zealand, a registered charitable trust. Craig Watson is the founder of Diverse Church, and part of the Awaken planning team. Craig explains that as usual there are two integral parts of the conference with the first being Imago Dei: ‘Queer people are made in the image of God—fearfully and wonderfully made,’ affirms Craig. ‘Awaken aims to reaffirm that for attendees through scripture, worship and theology, workshops and speakers.’
The second part of the conference is Missio Dei: ‘This is the part of the conference that affirms we are created for mission. Just because we are queer and Christian doesn’t get us off the hook to serve the least, the last and the lost! What are we doing to reach out to our queer friends who are not Christians? How are we building bridges between the church and wider LGBTQIA+ community? This is the harder part of the conference because we are calling those who may have experienced trauma themselves to reach out and help those living in trauma.’
Awaken is also for those who are unsure. ‘For those who have friends and whānau who are part of the rainbow community, yet haven’t been able to reconcile things in their own minds—we pray that they will come to the conference and be part of a different conversation, and perhaps gain a new perspective on this narrative as they hear the stories of LGBTQIA+ Christians and from theologians and Christians working professionally in this area,’ says Craig.
New Zealand has made significant progress in equality for the LGBTQIA+ community with the recent legislation against conversion therapy, and the amendments to the Births, Deaths and Marriages Bill. Craig notes that The Salvation Army has been supportive of those changes and active in making submissions. ‘Awaken is also an opportunity for allies who are passionate about seeing further progression discover ways they can be involved,’ he encourages.
Workshop topics include: Theology 101 (working out the Bible and how to understand it) and Theology advanced (beyond the basics); Te ao Māori (committed to our indigenous whanau); LGBTQ+ MVPFAFF Pasifika (Space to listen and learn for our Pasifika communities); The gift of queerness (discovering the gift you are to the church and your community); How to ‘come out’ as a church (ministering to the community outside your church); Being an ally versus being a bystander (the cost of allyship); Worship and liturgy for queer experiences (making worship safe and reflective).
There is a Youth Workers Hui on Thursday the 16th, with the focus on Friday being the partnership between the Human Rights Commission and Diverse Church NZ to create and produce guidelines and resources for churches. Craig explains that this year the conference will also look at the ‘large gap’ between the Western Pakeha church and Māori and Pasifika churches, and the influence of colonisation in creating and reinforcing that gap.
The keynote speakers for Awaken 2023 are Karl Hand from Sydney’s Crave Church, and Steph Fenton from New City Church, which is also in Sydney.