Participation, encounter, enthusiasm

Members of the Presidium of the VELKD General Synod with youth delegates from member church synods and the LWF, and other guests. Photo: VELKD

VELKD Synod raises issue of youth participation

(LWI) – The 2018 General Synod of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (VELKD) has made proposals for the participation of youth and young adults in its member churches and governing bodies.

Convening 8 - 10 November in Würzburg, the plenary concluded with the wish for “more participation, more ecumenism, more diversity, more inspiration.” Speaking as vice-chairperson of the steering committee, Rev. Jacqueline Barraud-Volk added: “We need everyone on board to keep the ship on course. That naturally includes youth and young adults.”

The synod theme, “‘Do not say I am too young’ (Jeremiah 1:7) – together.ecumenical.inspiring,” set the tone for the practical implementation of the governing body’s decisions. Synod members mandated the VELKD leadership to act as follows: firstly, to explore ways of increasing opportunities for young people’s participation in the general synod to the point of giving voting rights to members who are under 30-year-old. Secondly, to initiate a broad-based process to heighten visibility and develop a diverse culture of worship and participation. Other decisions dealt with the funding of international, ecumenical youth gatherings. The results of these actions will be presented at the general synod in 2019.

Different models in the member churches

Prior to voting, Dr Rainer Mainusch (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover), a legal expert who is a member of the preparatory committee, had presented the different models in the VELKD member church constitutions with respect to involvement of youth and young synod members.

He noted that some member churches do not explicitly provide for young people’s participation in their constitution. Others state their right to speak but not to vote. Yet others have included full synod membership rights in their constitution – the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria did this in 2017 and the Hanover church has drafted a constitutional amendment to this effect for its upcoming synod.

Young people with international experience

Young adults spoke up themselves during the proceedings. Julia Braband, a member of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Council and a theology student in the Evangelical Church in Central Germany, introduced the topic. She called on synod members: “Don’t be afraid of involving youth. Don’t be afraid of leaving familiar paths and trying new things, and don’t be afraid of the dialogue between the generations and young people’s ideas about life.”

Braband also referred to the Synod of Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church that she had attended in October 2018 as a representative of the LWF, on the theme “Youth people, the faith and vocational discernment.” A letter from the Synod Fathers to the young people of the world was one of the documents adopted at the synod. It concluded with the words: “The Church and the world urgently need your enthusiasm. Be sure to make the most fragile people, the poor and those wounded by life your traveling companions. You are the present, be a brighter future.”

Tim Sonnemeyer (Bavaria) presented examples from LWF’s experience with youth participation. He reported on the Global Young Reformers’ Network and Living Reformation Projects in the lead-up to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation: “We have seen how creative, committed and vibrant Lutheran churches are all over the world!”

Helena Funk (Northern Germany) spoke to the synod via a video link, reporting on her experience as part of the LWF delegation to the 2017 United Nations climate conference in Bonn, Germany: “International, interfaith and intergenerational.” She will again be part of LWF’s delegation to the upcoming conference in Poland, promoting one of the communion’s cross-cutting priorities, climate justice.

Sally Azar (The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land) brought a greeting as an international guest. She is a member of the LWF Council and currently studying theology in Tübingen.

The United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany is made up of seven Evangelical Lutheran regional churches within the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD). Its aim is to promote and further develop the unity of Lutheran regional churches.

VELKD was founded on 8 July 1948 in Eisenach. Today its members are the regional churches of Bavaria, Brunswick, Hanover, Central Germany, Northern Germany, Saxony and Schaumburg-Lippe. It represents just under 9 million members of VELKD congregations.