by Anthony Tucker, Sierra Leone/ USA
Next week in Stuttgart, youth participants will present three issues that they believe the LWF should take action on in a youth message. In order to decide these issues with full participation participants of the Pre-Assembly utilized a process known as open space.
According to Rev. Roger Schmidt, LWF Youth Secretary, said the small group format of the open space model allows for effective participation, since young people that are shy to speak in public can speak up and the small group atmosphere allows for in-depth deliberations on the pressing issues affecting church and society.
The process began with participants sitting in a big circle and naming issues they are passionate about and wish the communion to challenge. About 24 issues were identified for deliberation and put up on white paper on the walls. They included: mission; youth involvement; the visibility of the LWF; spirituality; education; gender justice; HIV/AIDS; human trafficking; ecumenism; sustainability, climate change and food security and minority integration.
After a list of potential issues was identified, three rounds of small groups met for in-depth discussion, which participants were free to leave or join at any time, depending on the importance of the discussion. Then participants voted for the three issues they think the LWF should act on and challenge for the coming years: 1) sustainability 2) gender justice and role of youth in the LWF.
Overall, participants were happy with the format. “I like the process because it give us an opportunity for our voices and opinion be heard by the leadership of the church,” said Heidrun Tobler from South Africa. “I felt the process was good, the atmosphere was relaxing and the talks were very open. There was flexibility to allow participant to move around the discussion tables of the different issues. I feel it was democratic,” said Alfredo Cobo from Chile.
However, Anders Moller-Stray from Norway was disappointed that some of the delegates didn’t take the opportunity to move from one discussion to another rather than sit at just one table. But he was happy with the approach because it gives the young people an opportunity to share what they think.
The message that came out from the discussion was clear: Give young people a place and a voice in all aspect of church life, including decision-making. Meaningful and effective youth participation will build a stronger foundation upon which the future premise of the church will be built.