An international church at the service of young people

Young leaders from The United Methodist Church in Central and Southern Europe recently met in Budapest.
Around 20 young men and women met from September 15-17, 2023, in the United Methodist church on Kiscelli street in Budapest. 20 people from different backgrounds, representing 10 countries of the Central Conference of Central and Southern Europe: Poland, Romania, Albania, Serbia, Czechia, Hungary, North Macedonia, Austria, Switzerland, and France. Invited by Bishop Stefan Zürcher, they gathered to discuss a specific topic: working with children and young people in The United Methodist Church.
The aim of this meeting was twofold: firstly, to enable leaders involved in working with young people and children in the different countries of the Central Conference to get to know each other and to make contact with each other. Secondly, to reflect on possible steps that could be taken jointly to build a Church in which young people and children have their rightful place.
So, the meeting started by sharing local and national experiences; an opportunity to find out what's being done elsewhere, and to get a taste of the diversity of forms that work with the younger generation can take: camps, weekly meetings in congregations, musical evenings, support for orphans...
All these local experiences bear witness to the desire of young people to come together to experience the joy, freedom and love proclaimed in the Gospel. So, the first part of the working day was devoted to finding concrete steps that the Church could take in favor of young people. From these discussions, two areas were deemed essential: firstly, the creation of a working group, working together and maintaining regular contact to coordinate and support each other in the commitment to young people in the different countries. Secondly, it was considered to be important to create international events enabling young people to experience the richness of a Church transcending the boundaries of language and nation.
For projects of this kind, it is crucial to be able to reach out to younger people so that they feel welcome! This was the subject of the second part, which focused on how to approach and involve young people in the local churches. What emerged from the various discussions was a common recognition of the need for the Church to reach out to young people where they are, by opening the Church to their interests, tastes, and problems, and above all by allowing them to have a real role and commitment, within a secure framework. This implies a certain letting go on the part of Church leaders, in order to leave a serious place for young people and children.
The last part was devoted to reflecting on the relationship between this working group and the Central Conference. On the one hand, it was deemed essential for the younger generations to be represented within the Central Conference, where their voices should really count. On the other hand, the Central Conference could help to develop youth work, in particular by providing funds to facilitate international travel, which is often costly. Other needs expressed include the creation of a structure to enable communication and the sharing of resources between youth leaders in different countries, as well as the creation of a possible post of coordinator for actions aimed at the younger generations, at the level of the Central Conference. The latter could particularly save a substantial amount of time for the leaders in the various countries, by taking care of administrative tasks and the organization of international meetings.
The meeting concluded with a time of celebration on Sunday morning in Budapest's Kiscelli church, during which Bishop Zürcher preached from the Gospel according to Mark, announcing the imminence of the Kingdom of God and the renewal of all things in Jesus Christ. Speaking of renewal, it can only be hoped that this meeting was part of it: the beginning of a large-scale work with young people, who are not only the Church of tomorrow, but first and foremost the Church of today, as Bishop Zürcher emphasized. And if, at a local level, actions exist and are being developed, the task now is to link them together so that they are mutually enriched by their differences within a Church united across borders and cultures. In this work, the choice of means is crucial: “Will we succeed in taking paths that are in line with the purpose we are pursuing, namely the progress of the Gospel among the younger generations?” But here again, the path to follow has already been indicated: the personal relationship, from individual to individual, remains the foundation with which to build the Church today. By coming together, people from different nations yet united by the same Spirit, by sharing bread and the Word together, a first step has been taken towards this beautiful project: that of a Church concerned to show the Lord's love for the least of these.
Author: Matthias Joseph, France / Photo: Dušan Tordaj, Serbia