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United Methodist youth find inspiration at assembly

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A UMNS photo by Paulino Menezes, WCC

Youth delegates to the World Council of Churches' 9th Assembly celebrate during one of their sessions.

Feb. 23, 2006

By Linda Bloom* 

PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (UMNS) — Whether through her fellow youth or a prominent figure such as Desmond Tutu, the Rev. Jennifer Irvine Goto has found sources of inspiration at the World Council of Churches’ 9th Assembly.

“One of the highlights has been meeting Methodist youth from around the world,” said Goto, associate pastor at First United Methodist Church in Walnut Creek, Calif. She finds it “very inspiring to hear what young people are doing,” she said.

An informal chat with Tutu, the Anglican archbishop emeritus from South Africa, also provided an affirming moment, she added. She spoke with him after he led a Feb. 21 candle-lit march for peace through the streets of downtown Porto Alegre.

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Jennifer Irvine Goto

Perhaps most of all, Goto said she appreciated the support of the United Methodist delegation to the assembly. She is one of five youth members of the 18-person delegation. The age category for youth is up to and including 30 years.

While some other assembly delegations may only pay lip service to the emphasis on youth, “for us, it’s really not just words,” Goto explained. “I feel the support from everybody.”

Jay Williams, a youth delegate from New York, believes the United Methodist Church serves as a model to help challenge other denominations to promote youth involvement in the ecumenical movement.

On the denominational level, Williams has served on the General Council on Ministries, phased out in 2004 by the General Conference, and the former Shared Mission Focus on Young People. Currently, he serves on the Board of Discipleship executive committee. He also is part of the Pan-Methodist Commission on Cooperation and Union.

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Jay Williams

With the recommendation of the United Methodist delegation, he has been a member of the nominations committee at the assembly. “We’ve met for hours and hours, at all times of the day,” he said.

Although nominations work seems to be an “impossible task,” the difficulty “helped us to become a community,” Williams added.

Attending the morning and evening prayer services helped him focus on the assembly’s larger goals of unity. “In worship, there was no division of culture or region or confession,” he said. “It was a reminder that I could take with me during the day that helped me through some of the more difficult times.”

One result of the nomination committee’s work was the election of Motoe Yamada, another youth delegate, as one of the four United Methodist members of the WCC Central Committee. She is in the ordination process and serves as an associate pastor at Wesley United Methodist Church in San Jose, Calif.

Yamada has had extensive ecumenical experience, serving two years each on the Council for Ecumenical Student Christian Ministry and the North American regional committee for the World Student Christian Federation. She is vice chairperson of the ecumenical networks committee for the National Council of Churches and has participated in two WCC consultations.

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Motoe Yamada

She said she would have liked more dedicated time for youth during the assembly. “We didn’t have communications or space to really talk among youth,” she explained.

She also was dismayed that the energy of the youth was directed toward the nominations process rather than social issues and said she is looking forward to improving communications among youth during her term on the central committee.

Tara Fitzpatrick of Norman, Okla., is a newcomer to the ecumenical scene. Although she felt privileged to attend, she said, “I didn’t really know much about the WCC and the work that they did.”

In Porto Alegre, she has enjoyed the openness among participants and the “strong support for all aspects of the Christian body.”

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Tara Fitzpatrick

But Fitzpatrick, who is Native American, also believes the indigenous participants were relegated to the same second-class status as the youth. “The indigenous people don’t seem to have as much respect as they should,” she said.

However, the 20-year-old Oklahoma City University student said she has found equal acceptance as the youngest member of the United Methodist delegation, and she has appreciated the support of the bishops at the assembly.

“It gives me confidence to get up and talk, both as an indigenous (person) and as a youth,” Fitzpatrick said.

Christine Danielle Sanchez of San Antonio said youth voices “are being heard by a lot of people” at the assembly, despite disappointments about the nominations process.

Her past ecumenical work has taken place on the local level, in social action and spiritual nurturing.

Bible study has been her favorite activity at the assembly. “We are in smaller groups, and we can have great dialogue,” Sanchez explained. “We can come together as brothers and sisters in Christ and not worry about doctrine. We haven’t agreed on everything, but we still have that common ground ? we have that love for Christ.”

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Christine Danielle Sanchez

A lack of unity during some plenary sessions, she said, has shown “we have a lot more work and a lot more prayer” ahead.

In addition to the U.S. youth delegates, United Methodists in Cote d’Ivoire sent a youth delegate, Benjamin Olagboye. He is a former president of the student Christian movement there and works for the U.N. mission’s disarmament program.

As a United Methodist, Olagboye said he is pleased to meet with other youth “who have Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior” and to be at an assembly where it is evident “that we are one in Christ.”

As a U.N. worker, “I’m happy to see the WCC involved in advocacy of humanitarian issues, of political issues, of social issues,” he added.

He is concerned that the WCC recognize its vision for the future is based on youth and not treat that age category in a political or ideological way. “Churches have to take the issue of youth as a good issue, an important issue,” he stressed.

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Benjamin Olagboye

Also attending the assembly are seven United Methodist and Methodist youth from Jamaica, Guyana, Bolivia, Honduras, Peru, Nicaragua and Ecuador as part of an Ecumenical Formation Delegation sponsored by the Women’s Division and United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. In addition, the delegation includes 10 women from Latin America and the Caribbean.

The delegation’s purpose is to provide a learning experience, mission exposure and leadership training through participation at the assembly.

Other Methodists are among up to 150 Latin American young people participating in a youth camp through the “mutirão” experience. United Methodist and Methodist youth also are serving as stewards during the assembly.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or

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