By Gladys Mangiduyos*
As World Council of Churches 10th Assembly moved into its final days, some youth have expressed dismay over their continued lack of representation in decision-making for the ecumenical body.
The percentage of young adults elected to the new 150-member WCC Central Committee, which will help set the direction of the council over the next seven years, is 13 percent or 19 members.
Although WCC guidelines stipulate a fair balance of men, women and young people, youth representation has decreased 2 percent since the last election in 2006.
“The percentage of youth in (the Central Committee) has just enhanced marginalization,” said Su Hyun Lim, a mission intern with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries who helped organize young adult stewards and volunteers for the assembly. She pointed out that even the WCC’s existing youth organization, called ECHOS, was never involved in the nomination process.
That organization was created in response to concerns expressed by youth at the 2006 9th Assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil, as the WCC fell short of its goal to fill 25 percent of the central committee seats with young adults.
An estimated 700 young Christians, ages 18 to 35, are serving as delegates, WCC staff, and communications professionals at the Busan assembly, including the 117 stewards working behind the scenes. Some of the youth participated in a pre-assembly gathering.
In an earlier gathering, the assembly youth delegates stated, “We as a fellowship of young Christians are empowered by God to advocate, build bridges and participate in decision-making within the ecumenical movement.”
But some youth have encountered frustrations with the assembly experience. “Though it has the GETI (Global Ecumenical Theological Institute), access to leadership participation is still very unstable and wanting,” said Elizabeth Chun Hye Lee, executive secretary, young adult mission service, for the Board of Global Ministries. “The perspective of young adults is really missing on this assembly’s make-up of delegates and incoming members of the CC,” she laments.
“The real ethos and values of oikoumene will never be digested if spaces are limited for young adults,” she added. “It’s prophetic witness to the world will be unlikely to occur (if) commitment is not lived up and poor modeling is seen.”
With the decrease in number of young people in the governing body, Meg Gaston and Hanna Song, both Global Ministries mission interns, said the same thinking would occur, while involving more youth would expand the committee’s point of view.
Underscoring the formation of faith and understanding on ecumenism, the Rev. Soren Hessler, 28, a United Methodist chapel associate at Boston University and GETI participant, said “we have to invest more on education and ecumenical work (for there to be) an intentional formation of ecumenical leaders.”
Ismael T. Fisco Jr., the chairperson of Kalipunan ng Kristiyanong Kabataan sa Pilipinas, an organization of Christian youth in the Philippines, admitted that although young people had a pre-assembly meeting, the participants never came up with a consolidated statement that could be taken to the main assembly.
He also believes there is no better avenue to empowerment than education. “Their capacities shall be realized (by education) and their fullest potential shall come out to be able to participate fully,” Fisco explained.
But with minimal involvement in the WCC decision-making process, this will never be realized.
“Reduction conveys discrimination because we are young,” he said.*Mangiduyos, a deaconess in the United Methodist Philippines Central Conference, is a UMNS correspondent at the World Council of Churches 10th Assembly in Busan, Korea. News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.