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Assembly youth criticize WCC’s failure to reach goal

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A Web-only photo by Igor Sperotto, WCC

Youth at the World Council of Churches assembly protest the lack of 25 percent representation on the central committee

March 1, 2006

By Linda Bloom* 

NEW YORK (UMNS) — The World Council of Churches has been accused of merely giving lip service to youth after falling short of its goal to fill 25 percent of the seats on its central committee with young adults.

The turmoil over the issue of youth representation was evident during the second week of the WCC’s 9th Assembly, which met Feb. 14-23 in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

Nearly 700 youth — people age 30 or younger — participated in the assembly, with 100 serving as delegates and more than 150 serving as stewards. Before the event’s official opening, about 250 youth participants gathered Feb. 11-13 for a pre-assembly meeting.

In response to concerns expressed throughout the 10-day event, delegates approved on Feb. 23 the creation of “a representative body of young adults” to assist with communications and coordination of roles for youth within the WCC.

The new group will “create space for meaningful participation of young adults in the life and decision-making of the WCC” as well as hold the council “accountable to its goals regarding young adults.”

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A Web-only photo by Igor Sperotto, WCC

More than 150 youth served as stewards at the WCC 9th Assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

The Rev. Larry Pickens, chief executive of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, called the creation of the special working group “a very significant step” for the council. “This type of structure within the WCC has great potential for the future role of young adults in its life,” he told United Methodist News Service.

Recommendation for such a body came from a regionally represented group of youth delegates and stewards. Their statement was presented to WCC Moderator Catholicos Aram I and the Rev. Samuel Kobia, a Methodist and the council’s chief executive.

In his Feb. 15 report to the assembly, Kobia cited the fact that the ecumenical movement itself had emerged through an earlier generation of young people. “The heritage of those who came before us is too precious to be kept just for us,” he said. “It must be transmitted to the next generation.”

He stressed the need to give youth opportunities for growth and leadership and to learn, in turn, from them. “Young people need to know that they are important partners and that we are open to learning from their ecumenical experience,” he told the assembly.

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Jennifer Irvine Goto

The chief debate arose because youth only accounted for 15 percent of the nomination committee’s slate for the WCC Central Committee rather than the 25 percent that had been suggested before the assembly.

The Rev. Jennifer Irvine Goto, a United Methodist youth delegate, attributed much of the anguish to the fact that the WCC had established an expectation of 25 percent.

She said she resented that most of the conversation among youth during the assembly had “to be about strategy and politics” rather than their passions for issues of unity and social concerns.

Jay Williams, a youth delegate and member of the nominations committee, noted that because the Porto Alegre event had been called a “youth assembly,” it was expected that youth would have more than just the traditional involvement.

In addition, no regional youth president was elected in Porto Alegre, as had occurred at the Canberra assembly in 1991 and Harare in 1998, which made it seem to Williams that “we’re sort of taking a step back.”

Some young adults staged a silent demonstration during the Feb. 20 plenary sessions where the nominations committee first made its report. Youth and other participants also attached to their badges a piece of paper marked “25%,” in reference to the goal.

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Jay Williams

United Methodist delegates were among those who spoke in support of more youth involvement. During a Feb. 22 plenary session where the central committee vote was taken, Jonathan Ulanday, a delegate from the Philippines, called the 25 percent goal “an impossible dream” and declared that the burden to achieve that goal should fall on member communions, not on the nominations committee.

“We never improve as far as the youth participation and leadership is concerned,” he told the body of delegates.

“We need that youthfulness,” said the Rev. Forbes Matonga, a United Methodist delegate from Zimbabwe, who pointed out that the Pentecostal church offers a space for young people. “I’m happy that our church is really taking a very active role for youth leadership.”

*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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