Last night I went to a dinner for Methodist youth (yes, I’m still a ‘youth’!) The person leading it asked us for our opinions on the assembly, particularly from a Methodist and a youth context. I was kind of surprised at a lot of the responses. Most of the concerns with the way the assembly had been set up had to do with the lack of voice held by the youth (and also women and laity). There were also some stories of ways in which youth had been marginalized or even treated poorly throughout – though more often from member churches as opposed to from the assembly as a whole.
One such story came from a Korean young adult who had attended a banquet held by the Methodists for all of their member churches. She told us how she had been sitting at a table which was full of Korean young adults when it became clear that there was a lack of seating for everyone. She and her friends were singled out by someone in charge of the banquet and were asked to leave so that there would be more seating for the others present. She told us that they were all very hurt and upset to have been treated that way, tearing up herself as she told the story.
I don’t think that this is a common sort of story, but it was a shocking event that happened to someone only a few days ago – a definite negative singling out simply for being a young person. I feel like this has happened in most contexts at some point or another, but this sort of ageism was made all the more significant in the context of the WCC assembly which has been actively working to promote the role and voice of young people during this event and beyond. Several of the youth at our dinner felt the need to speak out against all of the ways in which the WCC has failed to meet their goals for youth participation. They called for the need of the WCC to hold its member churches accountable to promoting an equality across ages.
Of course, things aren’t that simple, and the inequality is not a direct fault of either the WCC or the individual churches. As one person said, many churches are only able to send one delegate to the assembly so of course they’ll choose to send one of the most senior members to represent the church. That being said, it would seem to me like it is then all the more important for those churches which can afford to send multiple delegates to be extra intentional about choosing a wide diversity of people, be it by age or otherwise.
This morning Carmen and I were talking about all of the various titles and name-dropping that we’ve noticed at the assembly… I guess that’s what happens when you put a lot of very important church leaders into one space. I haven’t noticed anything particularly hierarchical or unequal from my personal context, but given the story I heard last night I now wonder what some of the other isolated stories might be…
It was extremely fitting after all of this that our final Morning Prayer was based on the text of Jesus’ washing the disciples’ feet. The assembly ended with a service that reminded all of us that we are here to serve each other and the world. There was a short time which included a symbolic foot washing service – four clergy persons washed the feet of four of the stewards – all youth. I thought that that was an extremely significant statement about equality and the value of youth in the WCC, especially considering the discussions of the previous day.
All in all, I do think that it is important that all of the member churches as well as the WCC as a whole make a strong effort to include a wide diversity of voices. Being inclusive of all people is just one way of living out the spirit of humility that we are called to have in Jesus Christ.