If miraculously blue skies are a sign of an open heaven, Hillsong Conference seems to be in perennial favour with those above.
Forecasts of rain and cold were swapped for unseasonably sunny skies, as over 23,000 conference attendees flocked to Sydney's Olympic Park for the nation's largest annual conference. Qudos Bank Arena, built for sports games and celebrities, resounded with songs like "Amazing Grace" and modern classics such as Darlene Zschech's "Shout to the Lord". The joy was palpable as delegates from almost 40 denominations and many more nations came together to represent the Church in all her multicoloured glory.
Sitting next to me in one session was human rights activist Hawk Newsome, while in other sessions businesspeople, lawyers, teachers and athletes were my seat buddies. Hillsong's strength is its ability to rally together people of every creed and background united under "No Other Name".
As the week progressed, this year's conference theme "There Is More" was expounded upon by some of the world's foremost communicators. Steven Furtick of Elevation Church reminded us of life beyond the screens behind which we hide, while John Gray's rousing rendition of Great Is Thy Faithfulness was enough to stir anyone's faith. Gray's message - at once entertaining and incisive - was another rejoinder to the image-driven ethos of today. Evoking the image of a successful speaker who thrived onstage but struggled to relate to his family, Gray's invitation to security through God-given identity was timely.
Chris Hodges, founding pastor of Church of the Highlands, invited delegates on a journey to dream again, to lift our gaze to the greater things we can believe for. His message centred around love, and left an impact which will be long-lasting.
Some of the most notable moments of the conference came in the smaller moments - Judah Smith sharing his experience of losing his father and simultaneously trying to fill his shoes as senior pastor of a thriving church in Seattle. Singer Stan Walker sharing his struggle with cancer, and coming out the other side of a disease which had taken over 100 of his family's lives. Paul de Jong of New Zealand telling the crowd that much like a tiny bonsai, we may find ourselves mimicking the appearance of a full-grown tree but lacking the scope for growth if we pull ourselves out of good planting.
Refreshingly honest and at times surprisingly vulnerable, speaker after speaker shared personal struggles and perspectives and just like that, the arena was transformed into a living room, a family feel pervading the air. And as with a family, the invitation is always open to more.
For more information or to book for next year's conference, visit https://hillsong.com/conference/sydney/
Grace Mathew is a Press Service International writer from Sydney, who has been writing for Christian Today for many years. Grace holds degrees in International Relations and International Business and works as a consultant.