In case you are wondering what on earth Hillsong Conference is, it is a Christian conference organized annually by Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia. So yes, this post will be about the little adventure my family of four took as we went for the conference this year.
Hillsong Conference has been around for 29 years now (almost as old as me, wow!), but both Ben and I have never been to one before. Not that it is a compulsory thing for Christians, but it is something I have always wanted to attend because I have heard testimonies from friend who have been before. I wanted to experience it for myself.
When it was announced in July/August last year in my church that my senior pastor would be one of the speakers at the conference this year, Ben and I decided to sign up. We considered the fact that Breyen would only be a little past one year old and that Phoebie would have to attend children classes on her own in a foreign land, but after we read through the programme, we decided to go ahead.
A lot of our church friends thought it was quite brave of us to bring both our kids who are so young to the conference. Most people from our church whom we met at the conference left their kids at home. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a challenge to have both kids at the conference with us.
Hillsong Conference 2015 was held at Sydney Olympic Park and the main rallies were held at the Allphones Arena. Because the programme for the first day started late, we made it a point to go early to familiarize ourselves with the venue. We figured out where Phoebie’s classes would be, where Breyen’s group would be and where the adults went for the rallies and classes.
There were two rows of food trucks on site, so that solved the problem of getting food.
Just to make sure the kids had enough food to last for the day, we also made it a point to visit the bakery near our hotel every morning to load Phoebie’s bag with food that she could have while she was in class and away from us.
Except for the first day, the programme for the other four days of conference started at 9.30am, which meant that we would have to arrive at least half an hour before to drop Phoebie off for her class and rush off to get seats for the adults’ programme. The programme ran through the day and the night rally typically ended at 8 plus. This meant us rushing to pick Phoebie up from her group, and then going off to catch a train back to our hotel and then trying to buy late dinner or supper on the way, and then packing the kids off to bed so that we could start early the next day.
So far, I think I have made bringing young kids to Hillsong Conference sound like a mad rush.
But! It really wasn’t that bad.
Because of how established Hillsong Conference has become, they have developed good systems. The kids programme is excellent and for Christian parents like Ben and I, we were grateful for the programmes they had for the kids. Children aged three and above are divided into groups based on age and there are programmes tailored for each group.
For Phoebie, it was like going to Day care, or rather, a school holiday programme for the five days we were at the Conference. We didn’t worry about her because after the first day, she came back and very excitedly told us about what she did and how much fun she was having. We also didn’t worry because they had a good pick-up system in place. Children had tags on them and only parents with matching tags could pick the children up from class.
With Phoebie taken care of, we only had to settle Breyen.
For Breyen’s age group, we knew from the time we signed up that he needed a care-giver with him at all times. Ben and I agreed that we would take turns so that we could attend classes throughout the Conference.
Initially, Ben and I thought that whoever was with Breyen would have to end up missing the rallies but it turned out that the conference already had that addressed. The balcony level was reserved for parents like us and on day one, we were told that we could go to the same parents’ room every day for rallies. The parents’ room would only close for one hour each day for the volunteers to take a break, so we could just hang out there with the young children otherwise.
So while Ben and I took turns to be with Breyen on the first few days, when one of us was attending the rally in the main arena, the other would attend at the balcony level.
In the event that Breyen was not comfortable at the balcony, we could retreat into the Parents’ room where we could watch the rally on a TV screen. All thanks to this arrangement, Ben and I were able to enjoy the rallies, whether or not we were the ones with Breyen.
The parents’ room and play room also had a microwave, water, changing tables and even diapers, so that parents can take care of every need the babies and toddlers had.
Paayal and Rachelle were the volunteers who were assigned to our parents’ room and they took wonderful care of us. They were helpful with the babies and toddlers and reminded us when we needed to reserve seats on the balcony. They made our first Hillsong conference experience unforgettable.
Would we bring our family of four for Hillsong Conference again? Yes. It isn’t that difficult to manage. The children have fun and are put in good programmes. As the kids grow, it will also definitely get easier. By the time we head for conference again (perhaps two years from now), Breyen would be in an older age group and we would be able to leave him in the all-day programme too. Ben and I would each be able to attend master classes that we want to attend and then attend the rallies together. Even for our first time, it wasn’t bad having to attend the rallies with Breyen.
Most of all, the volunteers who run the conference make it easy for our young family to attend the conference. Everyone is helpful and there are good systems in place that make it easier for families like us to move up and down the buildings.
So yes, attending Hillsong Conference with a young family isn’t that difficult and it can be enjoyable.