World Council of Churches Office of Communication
Press Release
150, route de Ferney PO Box 2100 1211 Geneva 2 Switzerland E-mail: media

1 December 1998


The 400 participants in the World Council of Churches (WCC) Pre-Assembly Youth Event (PAYE) have recommended to the Council that one of its new presidents be a young person.

The Youth Event was held on the campus of the University of Zimbabwe in Harare (28 November - 1 December) prior to the WCCís Eighth Assembly, which meets 3-14 December. The participants in the PAYE included youth delegates to the Assembly (the Council designates ages 18 through 30 as "youth"), stewards and visitors.

If the Assembly delegates approve a constitutional amendment proposed by the Councilís "Common Understanding and Vision" (CUV) planning document, the power to elect WCC presidents will pass from Assembly delegates to the WCC Central Committee. The Central Committee could elect a "president or presidents", according to the proposed amendment.

Priyanka Mendis (Church of Ceylon) of Sri Lanka, was a youth when elected one of eight presidents of the WCC by delegates to the Seventh Assembly in Canberra, Australia, in 1991. She told the PAYE that if the Central Committee decides to elect more than one president, "I would want one of them to be young."

Mendis told the gathering that the presidency is a largely ceremonial office in the WCC and traditionally has gone to men and women around the world with long years of experience in church and ecumenical work. Even so, she said, "The youth presidency has been a very useful tool in bringing young people to the forum."

Mendis acknowledged that she has not been "very comfortable" in the office, given the general understanding of the presidency as a position that should be held by mature leaders of some stature. The WCC Constitution needs to call for a "youth president" if that person is to feel at ease in the position, she said.

"I can live with no president in the WCC" because of the largely ceremonial function of the office, Mendis said. "I can live with one president... but if there is going to be two presidents, I would want one of them to be a youth."

The call for a youth presidency came Tuesday morning when the conferees discussed a policy document of the WCCís Mandated Working Group on Youth, calling for greater participation of young people in the WCC. The proposal to amend the document to include a call for a youth president came from Kristine Thompson, a Central Committee member and a member of the Presbyterian Church (USA). The proposal was approved by acclamation.

Other proposed amendments rejected by the body included a suggestion that the WCC refuse to seat delegations sent by member churches if less than 20 percent of the delegation members are young people. Even so, the policy document recommended that the WCC continue to encourage churches to require 20 percent youth membership in assemblies, committees and other WCC meetings.

The Pre-Assembly Youth Event also affirmed the documentís recommendation that "the Stewards and Internship programmes should be further developed and serve as models for future work" and that the WCC should maintain programmes "which respond to particular concerns of youth as well as affirming their participation in addressing wider issues".

Contact: John Newbury, WCC Press & Information Officer
Press and Information Office, Harare
Tel: +
E-Mail: WCC media

The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 332, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the Assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.