Supernaturally blue skies and warm breezes were a heavenly greeting for delegates on the first day of Hillsong’s annual conference, this year bearing the title “Closer”. The word marked an invitation to draw near to the Holy Spirit – that potentially lesser-known member of the Trinity whose activity in recent years has drawn much attention, and finally resulted in a headlining position on the bill of Australia’s largest annual conference of any kind.
Much like the Holy Spirit, the conference has attracted its share of controversy, with major news outlets dedicating hours of coverage to a phenomenon almost entirely unfamiliar and therefore borderline unbelievable: a group of individuals, some educated, others successful, and some even managing to be both simultaneously, devoted to a spiritual cause in a modern venue which is not a yoga studio.
Despite the strong attendance of millennials amongst the diverse crowd, the word “mindfulness” was not mentioned once. Though it was clear that the attendees were on a spiritual journey, the only “slow food” to be found was the pulled beef served outside from the Agape Organic Food truck (which comes highly recommended by the author, incidentally).
“It’s obviously a cult,” said one passer-by of the worshippers streaming out of the Kudos Bank Arena at Sydney’s Olympic Park, where the conference takes place for the better part of this week.
“There’s no other explanation for why people would go and “worship” a so-called “God” – it’s not like people have been doing that since literally the start of civilisation. It’s super weird.”
“And they’re obviously only wanting everyone’s money,” added her friend, pulling on her Lululemons.
“Like, I practise yoga, which is a really pure spiritual art, and they totally don’t want your money. I mean they do, for the classes. But, like, there you actually have to pay, whereas with church it’s totally free-will and that’s weird. So yeah, I don’t get it. Why don’t they have membership fees like other spiritual places?”
Despite the supposed trend in declining church attendance, Christianity’s lasting influence has been partially chalked up to its strong appeal to the younger generations, as well as a slew of celebrity testimonials.
“I started following Jesus because I heard that Justin Bieber is a fan,” said one Hillsong Conference attendee.
“Bieber’s last album was epic, so I started going to church. It was obvious next step as a Belieber.”
Should your next steps lead you to Hillsong Conference this week, evening sessions start at 6pm and are free to the public. Doors open at 5pm at the Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney Olympic Park.
Grace Mathew's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/grace-mathew.html