By Annegreth Schilling (*)
While the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) is several months away, a foretaste of what young people will bring to the assembly and experience is already developing a rhythm.
Clap – clap – clap.
“God of life, lead us to justice, lead us to peace.”
Clap – clap – clap.
Last week the voices of 35 young people filled the neo-classical conference hall at the Evangelical Academy of Hofgeismar in Germany with the rhythm of a song that moves hands and feet creating the feeling of an ecumenical community.
“Life. Justice. Peace” was the theme of the German youth conference from 18 – 20 June in preparation for the WCC 10th Assembly in Busan. The future youth delegates, stewards and members of the Global Ecumenical Theological Institute (GETI) gathered in Hofgeismar to prepare themselves for the global ecumenical highlight of the year in November 2013.
They identified key issues for the assembly and learned from the insights of youth participants from past assemblies. But they were not only coming from Germany; other youth participants and guests from the Czech Republic, Sweden, Greece, Switzerland and even Ghana joined the conference, representing Lutheran, United, Reformed, Mennonite and Orthodox churches and traditions.
Schulamit Kriener is one of the German youth delegates. The 24-year-old woman is most familiar with the Asian context as she did voluntary service with the Berlin Mission in Korea, followed by studies in Korean and Politics in London where she will be graduating this summer.
Her eyes looked lively as she reflected on the upcoming assembly in Busan, saying, “Equipped with such an excellent preparation my expectations are very high. I hope that the WCC will say: ‘Here are our programmes, here are our lists. We have waited only for you to join us. Please sign in.’”
Together with her fellow youth delegates from Germany, she will hold a workshop during the assembly on the nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima and its implications for the human community.
“Around Busan, there are at least three nuclear power stations. Our aim is to raise awareness among the other delegates on this topic and to show empathy with what has happened in Japan.”
Ecological justice is one of the burning issues for the global ecumenical movement today. This seems common sense among the young adults in Hofgeismar. The responsibility of the churches should be to break the vicious cycle of injustice and to feel as members of the household of God, they said. This is what ‘oikoumene’ means for the young participants: “being stewards of God’s creation”.
Being Christian today
Joseph Acheampong, a PhD scholar at the Mission Academy in Hamburg, is sitting on the terrace outside the conference hall. He is part of a larger group among the young adults who will be participating in the theological GETI programme.
The Ghanaian looks at the beauty of the park surrounding the Academy in Hofgeismar. He gazes at the old trees; there is no single breath of air. Some ducks are flying over the small pond.
For him, one of the main goals of the ecumenical theological discourse will be to talk about different understandings of what it means to be a Christian today.
“The definition of spirituality differs from context to context,” he said. “For me, a church that doesn’t see the spiritual community as its centre is not a church.”
The encounter and exchange in Busan will give Acheampong the opportunity to share his view with young theologians from other backgrounds and to learn about different and new trends in the ecumenical movement. “This will also lead us to struggling with one another”, he admits.
Empowering young people for ecumenical interaction is the main goal of the pre-Busan youth conference in Hofgeismar. After the last WCC Assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil, the youth participants in Germany felt the need to build up a network which would link the international ecumenical experiences of the youth with the ecumenical realities in Germany.
Since 2006, the network “More Ecumenical Empowerment Together” (MEET) has brought together young adults in Germany who share their ecumenical experiences with one another and develop ideas of how to strengthen the ecumenical spirit among young people.
Pastor Christina Biere, co-founder of MEET and a youth delegate at the WCC Central Committee, has seen a dream come true. “Through this conference, MEET together with the Evangelical Academy and Bread for the World creates a space for mutual encounter and ecumenical learning on our way to Busan.”
Her wish for the youth participants attending the upcoming assembly is to build trust in one another and to be empowered to bring to Busan the burning issues and concerns of young adults from Europe.
In times when – especially among the German public – ecumenism is associated with crisis rather than a dawn, the meeting of young ecumenists is a sign of true hope. The rhythm of the songs, the power of ecumenical friendship and the concerns for a world built on justice and peace is what the youth participants will bring from Hofgeismar to Busan.
(*) Annegreth Schilling is lecturer at the Ecumenical Institute of the Ruhr-University Bochum currently finishing her PhD on the representation of Latin America at the WCC in the 1960s and 1970s.