Written by Daniel Hazard
UCC youth delegate Claudia De La Cruz, speaking during several decision-making plenary sessions at the World Council of Churches' ninth international assembly in February in Porto Alegre, Brazil, expressed concerns about a lack of youth representation.
On behalf of other young people attending the assembly and a pre-assembly youth event, De La Cruz expressed frustration that the percentage of youth/young adult nominees to the WCC Central Committee stood at 15 percent, rather than a stated 25 percent goal.
"Will the WCC offer leadership roles for youth?" she asked. "Young adults want to participate in changes if the WCC will allow that."
As a result of De La Cruz' comments and those of other delegates, the assembly created a representative body of young people to facilitate communication and coordinate roles among young adults related to the WCC.
A statement prepared by youth delegates and stewards before the assembly called for strengthening youth contributions to WCC programs, ecumenical formation and connecting member churches on youth concerns.
"We realize that representation of youth is not only the responsibility of the WCC, but also the responsibility for member churches to mentor youth and promote youth leadership," said De La Cruz, a member of Iglesia San Romero De Las Americas UCC in Washington Heights, N.Y., and a student a Union Theological Seminary.
Among about 700 youth or young adult participants - those age 30 or under - about 100 were delegates. Of about 45 UCC delegates, 15 were young adults.
'We can't be isolated'
Jeremy Hylen, a student at UCC-related Chicago Theological Seminary, likened the assembly to a UCC General Synod but with more focus on global issues.
"I am impressed how churches with vast differences united around a few core issues for social justice and advocacy," Hylen said. "As someone in ecumenical and interfaith work with youth, the assembly reassured me that I am not alone."
Nicole Diroff, a member of Tabernacle United Church in Philadelphia and a student at Philadelphia's Lutheran Theological Seminary, appreciated learning from some of more than 300 workshops, worship services, cultural events, exhibitions and seminars - called mutirão in Portuguese.
"I met several authors whose works I have read and I heard perspectives I do not hear in Philadelphia," Diroff said. "My experience there was a gift. I'm thankful the UCC has placed involvement with the WCC as a priority."
The Rev. Petra Malleis-Sternberg, pastor of First Congregational UCC in San Bernardino, Calif., came to the assembly "to engage with the world about the future of the church, wondering if there is a future for the institution."
In that setting, she found the church bigger than what she had known. She believes there is need to connect with people around the world to discover what they are doing as they love God and love their neighbors.
"We can't be isolated islands. The body of Christ is not dismembered," said Malleis-Sternberg, a graduate from UCC-related United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities and a pastor for five years.
"I struggle with what it means to be a Christian voice in today's context of secularism, capitalism and globalism," she said. "Within my denomination, as in the WCC, there is great diversity of perspectives.
"I went hoping to hear how people in other parts of the world are being Christian today. In ecumenical conversations, I was surprised that in southern California, we are dealing with the same issues as South Africans, Latvians and Greeks," she said.
The Rev. Jane McBride of Falcon Heights UCC in St. Paul, Minn., attended because her partner, Jennifer Nagel, was a delegate to the assembly.
"One day, I was in Bible study with a man from Bangladesh who said that if the temperature of the climate rises two degrees, Bangladesh will not exist any more," McBride said. "I had heard about the interconnection of the world in the abstract in the past, but in Porto Alegre, I came face-to-face with the ways unjust policies and over-consumption affect the lives of other people."
McBride noted that it's easy for her generation to feel disconnected from church, especially as an institution. As she wrestles to help the church find a way forward that has integrity and meaning, she said, "realizing that we are part of a global church gives perspective and hope."