I have been pleased to witness the presence of so many young people here at the World Council of Churches’ (WCC) 9th Assembly in Brazil. The WCC made a concerted effort to turn this into a “youth assembly.” Everyone agrees that the future of the ecumencial movement depends on the increased particaption and leadership of young people.

We have young adult delegates, and some from the youth and young adult pre-assembly event will make a presentation to the assembly delegates, I think. Something called Bate-papo (chat in Portuguese) pairs young ecumenists with ecumenical dignitaries to allow the younger ones to “grill” the older ones on the future (and past) of ecumenism. And the young people just seem to be everywhere (no, I don’t count as one anymore)!

But I wonder how well the assembly will listen to them, and how well the assembly will integrate their concerns into its agenda for the next decade. It is possible, in this institutional structure of the WCC, to go through this whole assembly and ignore the young people. There is not a plenary on the youth and young adult voice. There are workshops, but those are outside of the work of the delegates. I don’t think there are any business items related to youth and young adults directly. I may be wrong about that. The young people are networking tremendously, but it is happening on some other horizon, even as they are physically in the midst of the delegates.

Truth be told, when the young adult representative spoke to the press core, she did not articulate well the particular concerns of the young folks other than the problem of violence against women and children. So the agenda and needs of young people in the ecumenical movement may not be very clear. That makes it hard to hear.

But it is also true that sometimes the way in which the older ecumenists talk to the younger ones is a bit condescending. As if they want the young people around only to learn the ways of their elders and replicate their structures and practices, not change them. They still seem to be miles apart.

So the effort is valiant; probably the best I’ve seen in a church body for a long time. But I get the sense that the young people might have to pry apart the hands that lead the WCC if they are ever going to have an authentic and genuine role to play in the whole business of ecumenism.

Or, as is happening all over the world, they might just go form their own network and leave this one behind. I hope not.

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