World Council of Churches Office of Communication
150 route de Ferney, P.O. Box 2100, 1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland
E-mail: media


1 September 1999


They come from all regions of the world and represent a wide variety of language groups, cultures and Christian traditions. But they share one thing in common: youth.

They are the stewards who work behind the scenes of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee meeting in Geneva 26 August through 3 September. Ranging in age from 20 to 30, these 39 young men and women keep the meeting flowing smoothly by receiving and delivering telephone messages, supporting simultaneous translation at plenary sessions, distributing documents to Central Committee members, duplicating press releases, operating video cameras, leading worship and many other essential tasks.

For many of these stewards, the work is their first exposure to the ecumenical movement -- and for most the lessons will be long-lasting. Some stewards return to the WCC years later in key leadership positions. His Grace Archbishop Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim (Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East), now a Central Committee member, is a former steward, as is former WCC general secretary Philip Potter.

"That’s only one reason we should treat all stewards with respect," said a Council staff member with a smile. "Not only do they provide support for our meetings -- you never know if they’ll come back someday as your bishop or boss."

If that happens, some stewards will bring strong opinions about council governance, especially about the Central Committee itself. "I find they talk too much," said a steward from Asia, beaming an innocent smile.

Two stewards who have seen Central Committee members at their best are the Rev. André Spivey, 25, a youthful ordained itinerant elder (African Methodist Episcopal Church), and Lilit Sargsyan, 23 (Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church). André, of Colgate-Rochester Divinity School in Rochester, New York, USA, and Lilit, of Yerevan, Armenia, have been charming delegates with their talents in morning worship.

For Lilit, the conductor of her youth union choir in Yerevan, the opportunity to see other styles of worship "has been very interesting for me." Her choir specialises in the beautiful, ancient liturgies of the Armenian church but also does occasional concerts. "I like to get acquainted with all traditions," she said. "This week I’ve especially enjoyed songs from South Africa, North America, Asia." Some of those musical traditions will find their way into youth concerts when she gets home, she said.

Lilit, who works as an English interpreter for UNICEF and other international organisations in Armenia, has been introduced to a wide range of musical styles. She attended a festival of religious songs in Moscow when she was 15, and went to London at 17 to study classical guitar.

André, a pianist, pipe organist and conductor, has also travelled widely with his music. In 1996 the Morehouse Glee Club, of which he was a member, toured Russia for three weeks.

"We were in Moscow for two days," André recalled. "For the rest of the time we sailed the Volga and stopped at different cities. It was an unforgettable experience. We met people who had never seen an African-American, or not since the days of Paul Robeson (U.S. singer, actor, attorney and human rights activist) in the 1950s."

Another memorable experience was a trip to Southern Africa in 1997, André said. When he got to Geneva last month, he learned that the ecumenical world is often a small one. "I knew I would meet a steward from Swaziland so I brought my pictures from Swaziland to show her I had been there. When we arrived I realised I had already met her on my visit!"

André plans to get a doctorate in liturgy, worship and homiletics, and is trying to decide whether he will teach or enter parish ministry. "I want to focus in both arenas, academics and parish, with more emphasis on the parish because I like to work with people, empower people," he said.

For some stewards, the first Central Committee meeting may be a bewildering experience of thorny issues, piles of paper and seemingly endless speeches, and all are anxious to learn more about the overall work of the Council.

"I had a little information about the WCC in Argentina," said Roberto Albarracin (United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina and Uraguay), who at 20 is one of the youngest stewards. "Even now I don’t fully know the real work although I think it’s very important for so many churches to gather together. The unity of churches is the unity of human beings, a way to achieve peace in the world."

Roberto, a youth leader in his church in Argentina, works in the main conference hall during plenary sessions, handing out headphones and cleaning up afterwards. His most visible job is putting the names of delegates in red lights on the screen that identifies speakers. "It wasn’t easy at first," he admitted. "There are so many different ways to pronounce names."

Roberto hopes to become a social worker, perhaps in conjunction with the church, when he graduates from university.

Hannah Chetwynd, 23 (United Methodist Church, Norway) is a minister’s daughter who has been active in youth programmes at home and spent a year in the Taizé Community in France. She has enjoyed living with young adults from around the world. "It’s like Taizé in the experience of living together," she said.

Hannah, who works in the WCC press office, said her most memorable experience took place during a six-day training seminar held for stewards in Lausanne, Fribourg and Bern prior to the Central Committee. "We were in Fribourg in a Roman Catholic Cathedral from the Middle Ages, and I was standing with an Orthodox girl and a Catholic girl, singing and praying. It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life, involving friendship, prayer and music."

For more information contact:
Karin Achtelstetter, Media Relations Officer
tel.: (+41 22) 791 6153 (office);
e-mail: media
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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 336, 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.