Hearing the voice of people under 30

Paula Göhre (left) and Tim Sonnemeyer of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria welcome their synod's decision to strengthen youth participation. Here they meet with Rebecca Lühmann of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover at the LWF Twelfth Assembly. Photo: LWF/Albin Hillert

Two German church synods decide on more youth participation

(LWI) – Two German member churches of The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) – the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Saxony – passed resolutions during their synods in November on increasing youth participation in decision-making bodies.

Since the Seventh LWF Assembly in 1984 in Budapest (Hungary) the member churches have been urged to raise the participation of youth and young adults under 30 in their decision-making processes to a quota of 20 percent. The matter was taken up again recently in a resolution adopted at the LWF Twelfth Assembly in May 2017 Windhoek (Namibia): “The Assembly calls upon the member churches to act on the implementation of 20 percent youth participation at all levels within the churches to ensure youth involvement in decision-making, planning, strategizing and a right to vote.”

Bettina Westfeld, the lay vice-president of the Saxony Synod and a member of the LWF Council, welcomes this: “In view of the valuable suggestions and ideas raised by youth delegates at the Twelfth Assembly, I feel particularly motivated to promote youth participation in the German churches as well.” She is convinced that the special perspective of people under 30 needs to be heard. “Above all, if they are enabled to participate in church decision-making bodies that will guarantee the life of the church in future.” Westfeld herself was elected as a member of the Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Saxony at the age of 26 and is still grateful that her home pastor encouraged her to stand for election. “We should all encourage young people to play their part in governing bodies,” she says.

Full voting rights for youth members of synod in Bavaria

“At the next session of Synod they will be called ‘youth members’,” stated Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bayern in a Facebook post. “Because today our Synod adopted a legislative amendment giving youth members full voting rights in Synod! I am delighted!”

Until now there have only been three youth delegates to the Bavarian Synod, who could speak but not vote. The amendment to the church constitution now means that they will have full voting rights in future. At present there are 108 members of the Bavarian Synod. As from the next synod meeting there will be five youth members, which is an increase from the two currently elected members of synod who are under 30.

In addition, the participation of young people in church work is to be promoted more vigorously in future. The Synod encouraged them to play a more active part in church decision-making bodies.

Saxony: Firm places for youth representatives in church boards and district synods

The members of synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Saxony passed two resolutions. By the spring session in 2018 a legislative amendment is to be drafted giving one firm place to an appointed youth representative on church boards at congregational level and two places in district synods.

Hitherto it had only been possible to appoint a young person under the heading “consideration of the diversity of church life”. That made it hard for under-30-year-olds to get a place on a church board or in a district synod.

The Saxon church executive has already appointed the chair of Saxony’s Protestant youth ‘parliament’ (Landesjugendkammer) as an ordinary member of Synod. In addition, two of the regularly elected members of Synod are under 30. The Saxon Synod has 80 members.

The second resolution was to draft a legislative amendment lowering the age at which young people can be elected to decision-making bodies in the Church of Saxony from 18 to 16. At the same time, the maximum age for synod membership is to be raised to 69.

LWF Youth Secretary Caroline Bader welcomes this. “These steps towards increased youth participation are encouraging as they provide opportunities to shape the church in the present and in the future. Youth are full members of the church and take on responsibility when given the chance to do so. Every generation should be actively involved in decision-making processes. The two LWF member churches took important steps in this direction.”