Thousands flock for God and rock
Published: July 7, 2008 | 7160th good news item since 2003
AUSTRALIA’S biggest congregation proved the potency of Christianity with a pop-culture twist by drawing thousands of people to the opening of its annual conference last night with a high-volume pop-rock beat and a call to end poverty.
More than 24,000 Christians from 21 denominations around Australia and 70 other countries will attend the five-day 22nd Hillsong Conference at Acer Arena, taking part in workshops on church leadership, the creative arts and evangelism.
Last night’s opening began with a light show, choirs and the public debut of the soloist Katherine Vassalakis, singing U2’s One against a backdrop of a throbbing red heart.
Bible in hand, Hillsong’s worship pastor, Darlene Zschech, and the Hillsong band brought the stadium to its feet with their brand of energetic worship.
The event served as a warm-up act to World Youth Day, heralded by the arrival on Sunday of Pope Benedict on his first visit to Australia. Although they are miles apart in theology and musical tradition, the Catholic Church is borrowing Hillsong’s headline act for World Youth Day in its own attempt at mass youth evangelism. Ms Zschech and her band will perform at a concert held after the Stations of the Cross on Friday, July 18.
The first winner of Australian Idol , Guy Sebastian, who came from Adelaide’s Pentecostal Paradise Community Church, has written World Youth Day’s theme song.
Hillsong, accused by some of preaching self-absorbed Christianity, focused for the second year on the scriptures’ call for social justice – traditional ground of the Catholic Church.
Tim Costello, chief executive of World Vision Australia, welcomed conference delegates.
Mr Costello, who has just returned from Burma, praised Bono as a prophet of the movement to eliminate global poverty. “Bono understands we cannot make poverty history unless the church rises up.”
He said Australians had won the lottery of life by being born in a country with ample food, opportunities and universal health.
The senior pastor of Hillsong, Brian Houston, said the word justice and the responsibility it implied was a key message of the conference.