One such instance occurred during a central committee meeting at the Ecumenical Center in June 2023. On the first day after the opening session, we were on our first coffee break in the atrium. While I was preparing my much-needed caffeine-infused drink, I suddenly heard a voice behind me: “Monsieur, pourquoi vous portez des robes?” (Mister, why are you wearing robes?)
At first, I wasn’t sure if I heard correctly, if I was being addressed, and of its meaning. Turning around, I noticed a group of schoolchildren lining up in front of their teacher. I quickly learned from the teacher that they were a local public school that rented space from the Ecumenical Center. I looked at the girl who was still waiting—with a smile and all the innocent curiosity of an 8-year-old—for an explanation and tried my best to describe what we were doing there as ecumenists and how different Christian traditions wore different garbs, knowing full well my audience was a group of children from diverse backgrounds, some with possibly no prior knowledge of Christianity or religious intricacies.
I was interrupted by another pupil, who said: “Mais monsieur, pourquoi vous mangez des croissants?” (But mister, why are you eating croissants?)
Now the reasoning behind the previous question was evident—men wearing robes is not a common sight in Geneva. But I couldn’t for the life of me figure this one out. I endeavored to explain what I assumed was self-evident—we had lengthy meetings and needed to replenish our energy. She interrupted me again to bring me on track to her core inquiry, which turned out to be a grievance: “Mister, it’s not right that you all get to eat these pastries, and we have to pass by here and cannot join you!”
I was both dumbfounded and pleasantly surprised. I looked at their tutor, who was smirking and clearly enjoying the break, and congratulated him for leading such an audacious group, to which he replied “Yes! And by the way, we just finished eating cupcakes.” We both laughed, while I looked back at my original interlocutors and announced: “Your grievance is well-founded, and I make you this promise: I will share it with our group and leadership.” They all chuckled and we bid farewell.
Now our central committee consensus facilitation team, Emily and Celina, never missed an opportunity to ring the bell as the end of a break was approaching. Central committee members were hence reminded of their time as schoolchildren, but it was a helpful nudge, as we also learned that the WCC 11th Assembly had elected a body with an above-average ratio of new members, three-quarters to be exact.
Thus, we all headed back into Visser’t Hooft Hall. On my way to Table 17, it dawned on me—how do I keep this promise? The most sacred pledges are those made to children. It was perplexing…but the Spirit provided. Allow me to explain.
During the second session, we heard the moderator’s and general secretary’s aptly prepared reports—they were well received. A section from each dealing with finances had caught my attention and I suddenly realized I had my inspiration and a segue for my pledge. Microphone #3 was the closest.
“Dear sisters and brothers, we heard the moderator’s address and learned about the painful budget cuts, as well as his call to assist him in raising funds to increase future budgets.
We also learned from the general secretary about his visit to Türkiye after the earthquake, the WCC’s inability to provide humanitarian aid to the churches who were suffering there, as well as his suggestion from paragraph 35: ‘a desire to start a pastoral-solidarity fund to offer small gifts to people in their situations as a token of goodwill so that we do not go empty-handed.’
Some might be concerned that these two calls contradict each other—the urgency for additional revenue because of already existing constraints with the establishment of a new fund for additional expenditure. At face value they do seem incompatible, but they don’t have to be. I concur with both their suggestions, and to further emphasize the indispensability of such a fund, allow me to share a heartwarming anecdote that occurred during our break…”
I chronicled the story shared above and to my delight it was received with both laughter and affirmation of the promise. Consequently, I concluded:
“In Mark, the apostles were also concerned with balancing the budget ‘That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread?’ “
But we are reminded today through the wisdom of an 8-year-old girl of Christ’s foremost calling: “You give them something to eat!”