By Bruce Best
The idea was good. It would be an assembly with padare and, as WCC general secretary Konrad Raiser put it, that would "serve as an indicator of the growing points, the problem points, the open questions, the new horizons that people are beginning to explore".
And the experience of padare? Positive things can be said about it. "A good experiment" is one way staff co-ordinator Myra Blyth sums it up. "The atmosphere in padare is very open, people are listening to each other, and thats certainly what we hoped for. That process of dialogue, learning and respect is evident."
But many other people have visited padare events or exhibitions and come away feeling disappointed or, sometimes, angry.
"The first action of the incoming central committee should be to offer a public apology to the padare participants for the way their presentations have been treated. The padare concept was basically good but eventually got lost in the poor planning of the event," said the Rev. Ron OGrady, now retired but an ecumenical staff person for many years.
In brief, the criticism is that events were hard for people to find, that exhibitors were placed in booths and tents in out-of-the-way places. The local vendors seem to receive more attention from assembly participants than the people whose efforts went in to the padare.
"Those are genuine criticisms and they are valid. Some (sessions and stands) are much less strategically placed than others. The padare ideally would be much more concentrated," said Blyth. "We will learn a lot from this. We see lots of ways to be better next time."
But she is convinced that the evaluation of the padare will find that its not only location that determines attendance.
One of those is the number of offerings for an event the size of this assembly. One working basis is that only about a third, or maybe a half, of those attending will go to any padare event. And the padare at this assembly was "designed for a larger number than were able, or wanted, to take part in it".
Another is about the environment. "We know from this experience that location and accessibility are very important." But surely any sensible organiser knows that before the event? Yes, but the arrangements here were "the best options we had for this particular site and out of the discussion with the university. They wanted us to use their facilities."
As it stands, both sides of the story seem to have happened the good and the bad.
Unity sessions have been some of the best attended, and padare workshops on globalisation and on debt have attracted good crowds. Another session on the viability of the ecumenical movement was packed out (about 60 people), while an inter-faith padare drew more than 100 people and generated very strong discussion.
Predictably, sexuality events had been very well attended, she said. Less predictably perhaps, "the atmosphere (was) extremely good. ... There have been extremely well conducted conversations."
Each of those positives, however, can be matched by at least one story of disappointment and frustration.
For example, some African women came with a carload of books for their padare stand. They ended up so far away from the popular pathways of the assembly that no one came by their stand. And Christine von Weisecker, a world figure in the area of biotechnology, was here for two padare sessions but "no one knew about it. The whole padare thing is a mess," said a person involved with that visit.
Nils Carstensen, in Harare for the joint churches agency Action by Churches Together (ACT), said he felt and so did a number of small groups with stands near his that it was a waste of time being involved in the padare.
"Why bother to come all this way? Its quite an investment, and my impression is that the investment is not paying."
He felt "geographically pushed away" by the assembly, he said. Not many people passed by. The ACT workshop held the previous day had attracted four, and three of those came only because another event nearby had been cancelled.
As Ron OGrady put it, "It is particularly unfortunate for some third world organisations who have spent many thousands of dollars bringing personnel and materials to Harare, only to find that their presentation has been lost in the confusion and dispersal of the display locations.
"More padare participants assumed that the WCC would at least take their concerns seriously because the preliminary publicity claimed that the padare process would feed into the WCC structures. However, the way the events have been structured, they are isolated and random presentations."
Blyth said the average number of people at workshops has been about 40-50, but she knows about small numbers, too. She did one padare (on gender and diakonia) and only four people came.
"Its true that some (padare organisers) have been disappointed when three or four people turned up when they had hoped for 40 or 50 to attend," she said, but added that "people go to these things because they want to have a discussion".
Related documents and articles:
Read other articles in this issue:
Union wants WCC to tackle Mugabe on banning strikes
Padare: the good and the bad story
Africans put their case to the West
Take Black Theology seriously, WCC told
Polygamy issue resolved
African 'gentility, humility' model for next millennium
Africa's gift of Ubuntu
Don't turn other cheek, women victims told
Churches want state to re-regulate markets
Malawi president won't sign death penalty
Chaz is all over the campus
|8th Assembly and 50th Anniversary|