After the applause
Sibiu, September 2007, the third European Ecumenical Assembly was my First encounter with CEC (and the catholic bishop conference CCEE). Also my first encounter with the different issues, varying from dogmas en church issues, to hazy differences between personal and common matters. But everyone agreed on one thing: youth should be paid attention to and be present in the organizations. At a certain point there was the habit of applauding for every contributor who mentioned ‘youth’.
Lyon, July 2009, the thirteenth CEC Assembly, a good opportunity to see how things are with youth involvement, a few years after the applause. The problems are obvious. Questioning the delegates, why they had hardly any youth delegates instead of the intended 20%, they gave me answers like: ‘Young people should learn from us and not participate in the discussions’, ‘young people should enjoy going out and drinking bear’, ‘young people don’t understand this all’.
On the one hand shocking, on the other definitely not new. Ask your own local (church) community to have younger people in the board (of elders) and await their response.
As a YMCA delegate I was welcome at the meetings of those young delegates (the age limit of thirty is usually strictly maintained). Quotes: ‘CEC exists by the grace of their own structure’, ‘they do not dare to renew’ and ‘CEC has no visionary mission .’
Not too friendly either. But criticism is the result of commitment. So it is in this case. At the root of this criticism were observations made and questions asked to learn and to reflect on.
During the elections the results of those separate worlds showed. Despite positive words about youth involvement in the plenum, these words were not put into practice. There were only a few youth delegates present and even fewer in the committees.
Not really what we applauded for in Sibiu.
But fortunately there are energetic, committed people on both sides. People who do not just give up. People who like to work with transparency, efficiency, with a vision and a mission for CEC, paying attention to the many cures and cares needed in the ecumenical world. Carefulness is important. People and organizations in the wide surroundings of CEC have to be involved in the process of decision making. Experience, patience and maybe a measure of reflection are needed. But fresh ideas and renewal as well.
You can find out for yourself which feature belongs to which target group.
Youth involvement does not start in CEC. It begins in the local (church) organizations where youth can take its place (including responsibilities) and is carried forward by national (church) organizations which dare to delegate younger people.
Maybe we all need to let go the age differences and prejudices. When ‘elderly people’ and ‘young people’ really get to know and trust each other, there is still hope. Hope for ecumenism, young at heart and full of Spirit.
Lyon, July 2009, after the final applause: a very relaxed dinner where the Spirit blows. People meet, do ‘the wave’ and make plans. By the way, French wine may have played a part here.
Marloes Meijer, delegate representative on behalf of YMCA Europe .
 For those who only know the song of the Village People: YMCA is a worldwide youth organization which is there where she can help children and youngsters to grow up, from the Christian holistic idea of ‘Body, Mind & Spirit’. Ecumenism in practice. YMCA Europe is involved in organizing, among others, the Young Delegates Program of CEC.