A young woman gets off the train, somewhere in a big city in India. She is welcomed by a large crowd of people and media teams. People greet her and surround her. Some offer her flowers and sing cheerful songs. They want to know everything…everything about what happened during her long travel abroad. Everything on how she made her people and her church known in such a big conference, among politicians and faith leaders of the world.
How did this all happen?
When I met this young woman two months earlier in a small town in the state Orissa, she was helping to organise a youth conference on Ecological and Social Justice. More than 500 young people, Lutherans and youth from other faith background had arrived. She spoke to the workshop groups and moderated sessions in her very calm and humble, but determined way. Already this surprised me as I had not seen many young Indian women leading, yet.
The young people met and celebrated, worshiped and sang together and they seriously engaged in many discussions about Climate Change and how it can be handled. They negotiated a statement to deliver to their church leaders. They talked about action points and how to engage as a church for more climate justice.
Then super Typhoon Phaillin arrived.
And changed theory to practice in one day. Storm and rain, fear of losing the houses and belongings, anxiousness to not reach home safely suddenly mixed up the gathering.
The organisers decided to stop the youth conference and send everyone home quickly to be with their families. Climate Change had changed the Climate Change conference… One million people lost everything and became homeless because of Phaillin.
Only a month later this young woman travelled to Europe. She was invited to attend the UN Conference of Parties on Climate Change in Warsaw. LWF had decided to send an entirely young delegation to negotiate, advocate and liaise with other faith organizations for together demanding more climate justice.
The visibility of LWF became enormous as the young delegation had decided to „Fast for the Climate“ during the Conference. They inspired other faith representatives to join into an „Interfaith call to Fast for Climate Justice“. They organized two press conferences at this UN Climate summit to speak about the effects of extreme water to people of their churches and their communities. The young women spoke about Super Thypoon Phaillin that had just hit her people so hard.
She got in contact with the official Indian delegation to speak with them about Climate politics, she contacted local media in India to report about the conference and LWFs engagement, and she met with LWF partners who supported this program.
Youth participation means to take decision making positions
All in all she made visible what effective youth participation means for the LWF:
“Youth participation is allowing young people to take leading and decision making positions and let their voices be heard. Young people show interest in programs and activities when their fellow youths are leading or if they took part in the planning and preparation of the program” (Respondent from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Malawi)
“Youth Participation means active sharing of ideas, resources, participation and time, so that participants feel that they belong to the community of the congregation and the church. A chance to feel that one is a valued member and a person who has a chance to do something at the community.” (Respondent from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland)
This is not always the case as we have heard from others in the „Mapping of Youth participation“ that the LWF Youth Desk carried out in 2013 and where more than 60% of the LWF member churches respondent to the questionnaire.
Some also described the challenges of being a young church member:
“I feel that youth are always provided a “token” role in leadership and very seldom are actually valued for their opinions and abilities. Overall, with my experiences I have had within the ELCIC and the LWF, I find that people take me seriously for what I have to say as a delegate, and not a “youth delegate”. Making this distinction is important as I think that many youth get discouraged when the Church says “we value youth and your ideas” but then don’t give us full clout when we provide it. In my case, people take me seriously because I have had a large number of opportunities with the LWF, but I would say I am an exception, not the rule.” (Respondent from Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada)
Where is the current engagement on Youth Participation grounded?
It comes from the youth delegates themselves, expressing their wishes and vision in the Pre-Assembly Youth Message from 2010. They expressed 3 priorities that were presented to the 11th Assembly in Stuttgart and that lead our work in DMD:
- Ecological Sustainability
- Gender Justice
- Visibility of the LWF and Role of the Youth
LWF has then committed to the goal that
“Young people have a place and a voice in all aspects of church and communion life, including decision making and leadership.”
The LWF Delegations to UN Climate conferences is one example on how to empower, enrich and benefit from the manifold gifts of our young communion members.
It shows that by seriously engaging young leaders of the LWF in topics that are challenging the entire LWF communion much progress can be taken.
It has provided them capacity building, capacity for advocacy and brought back to the LWF communion the energy and hope in contemporary challenges, spiritual reflection and powerful advocacy work for the poor and vulnerable.
How can the LWF increase those opportunities and improve its mandate to uplift „Youth participation as a crosscutting priority“ in all its programs and governing bodies as it is stated in the LWF strategy 2012-2017?
Clearly there are three dimensions of participation that need to be considered:
a) Spiritual participation- Youth are taking part in the spiritual and theological development of the church.
b) Social participation- being in relations with others, other generations, other peers, being in and forming the communion
c) Political participation- being part of decision making bodies and churches governance, having a voice to speak out and being listened to
Only with those three together can we reach better youth participation and making it an aspect of each and every aspect of churches life.
The LWF delegation to the UN Conference on Climate change did not stop there. They gave interviews to 40 different national and international media. They used the chance to meet the UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Ms Christina Figueres, to hand over the „Interfaith Call to Fast for the Climate“ they had initiated and to discuss with her the engagement of faith communities for climate justice. This lead into LWFs delegation into the “International faith-based Liaison Committee to the UNFCCC Secretariat“ to represent the LWF and the young generation. The delegates continue their engagement locally and globally by forming the “LWF working group on Climate Justice“ in 2014.
The young woman from India, Ms Pranita Biswasi, 24 years old, has now gone further with her engagement. Her church and their partner church offered her a scholarship to study one more year environmental science in a German Univerity- following the goal to become an excellent leader for a church, that was hit hard by effects of extreme weather events and needs young Lutherans to speak out, be listened to and act.
What does LWFyouth do?
The LWF Youth Desk carries on the responsibility and accountably to more and more involve those young talents in the development and on-going reformation of our churches.
Please join us in supporting; trusting and giving space to those young leaders of our communion that are not only the leaders of tomorrow but already of today.
Download and start using the LWF Mapping of Youth Participation and Leadership.
by Caroline Richter, LWF Youth Secretary