The wildfires that burned for months in Australia are finally contained, but when Aodhan King, of Hillsong Young and Free, was home in Sydney just a few weeks ago, they weren’t.
The Contemporary Christian singer, who performs along with the group Friday at Winter Jam, said, “It was like the whole country was on fire.”
Through December, King said the skies above Sydney were overcast, but not with clouds. The entire country was in the middle of a drought, and thick smoke filled the air.
The singer said, “I think they said an hour outside was like smoking 34 cigarettes. It’s just toxic.”
The fires forced Hillsong Church to cancel its outdoor summer camp.
Hillsong has been hosting outdoor summer camps for over 20 years, usually on one of the big estates outside the city.
“It’s just thousands of kids in tents,” he said.
So, they scaled back to a church camp and moved indoors “which is something we’ve never done before,” he said.
The fires were a sobering and frightening disaster in Australia, but King said it was a good opportunity for people of faith to come together.
“I think in a lot of ways, it’s quite stirring for a faith community,” he said. “You have to come together and pray, because there’s not much else you can do, honestly.”
Still, King said religion, faith and Christian music are viewed differently in Australia than in America. Hillsong Young & Free doesn’t play that many concert halls in Australia.
“We play a lot of church events and we play at our church,” he said.
It’s still a pretty big crowd.
Hillsong Church is a megachurch in New South Wales, Australia, with 80 affiliate branches worldwide. Weekly church attendance is listed at around 130,000 people, with about 43,000 just in Australia.
King said playing at church was amazing.
Beyond the music, he said there was a lot of opportunity for engagement with people, which is sometimes harder outside the walls of the church.
Back home, he said, being a worship leader isn’t necessarily considered a cool job. It was one of the things he said he liked about America. Generally, Americans seemed OK with it.
“There’s just a different spirit and I love that,” he said.
King said his time with Hillsong Young & Free, by design, would be limited. The group is a youth music ministry for the young and by the young. While King is in his 20s now, time marches on.
“When I get old, I get old,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a place for me here then, and that’s a good thing.”
King said he thought it was important to keep introducing new people into the group, but he wasn’t in a hurry to go.
In the meantime, he said the group was looking forward to where Winter Jam took them over the next several months.
“I’m excited to see what it’s like to be an American for a second,” he said.
There are many shows to play, new places to see and restaurants to visit. King said they also had a lot of friends in the states now, and it would be good to catch up with them. What he was most looking forward to, he said, was just being here.
“I think the biggest thing about coming here is being able to breathe outside, properly,” he said.