EAY General Assembly
Wuppertal, Germany, May 1994
Rev. Dr. Dölf Weder, Secretary General
The YMCA in a Changing World
Since 150 years, we have YMCAs in Europe. Since 150
years, the lives of thousands and thousands of young people have been deeply shaped and
blessed by the YMCA. And since 150 years, young people have experienced in this YMCA the
living reality of Christian love and faith, and have been called to get involved
themselves in the extension of God's Kingdom among young people.
It is only with deepest thankfulness to our Lord and
Saviour and to the thousands of committed YMCA leaders and members that we can look back
on this blessed history of ours.
But there is also the other side:
Some 50 National Movements are identified by the World
Alliance as movements in crisis. A fair number of them belong to the European Alliance.
We also find quite a number of YMCAs in Europe who only
repeat the programmes they have always run. No innovation, no new programme ideas, no
creativity. In several cases, membership is permanently shrinking, while a small group of
YMCA leaders faithfully, but without vision, tries to keep it alive.
And we have to talk about those YMCAs who benefitted from
the big money made available by social and political authorities. Now, the golden years
have passed, and the European governments are cutting back social expenses. Those who
cannot activate a committed membership are facing serious financial problems.
These problems within the YMCA are reflections of
considerable change around us.
The YMCA likes to speak about change. But it seems we
feel everybody has to change - except we, the YMCA.
Established institutions - and we are one of them -
experience change mainly as a threat and not as a chance for something new.
In a changing world, new approaches and new programmes
are needed, new ideas and new qualifications required, sometimes even new leadership. That
threatens our present position.
But change is happening. And the speed of change is ever
If tomorrow the YMCA is the same as today, we tomorrow
will be of yesterday.
"YMCA - on the Go for Tomorrow?" The theme of
this General Assembly is formulated out of a certain concern:
Are we enough aware of the changing environment? Or are
we simply repeating our traditional programmes?
Is what we are doing relevant for today's and tomorrow's
young people? What is the YMCA's mission in today's and tomorrow's European realities?
Our rich history is no guarantee for a successful future.
Our rich history is a starting capital for the future. Not more.
I here do not go into an analysis of the present changes
in society. That is the task of tomorrow's Key-note Speaker.
Instead, and in the context of our world-wide mission
review process, I want to point out five polarities, in which each YMCA has to position
The YMCA as
a Christian Movement:
Experienceable Reality - or Reference to History only?
We here in Europe agree - at least on European and
National level - that we want to be a Christian movement.
But this is not enough.
The word "Christian" is no longer a selling
point when working with young people. In contrary.
For the majority of young Europeans Christian dogmatics
are irrelevant, traditional Christian worshipping no longer meaningful, and they criticize
the power structures of the established churches.
But our young people are very open for religion in a wide
sense. They often discuss how to live a meaningful life. And they all want to experience
life in its fullness.
It is, therefore, not enough to have some committed
Christians in the YMCA boards and as General Secretaries, while all daily activities are
led by any type of person who happens to have a certain competence in a programme field.
But on the other extreme, also attempts of religious
indoctrination will be rejected.
If we want to be a credible Christian movement, then
young people must be able to experience in our YMCA a different quality of life.
Different from life in other, secular organisations.
Young people must experience God's love for them.
God's love which becomes tangible in the love of leaders and of YMCA friends.
They must find people who talk with them about life,
about its fundament, and how to make it a meaningful life.
And thirdly, these young people must be encouraged to
become Jesus' disciples themselves and pass on God's love to other people.
Only this way, Christian life in the YMCA becomes an
experienceable, credible reality - and not a reference to history only.
Fellow Workers - or Consumers only?
Our European statistics roughly show 2 1/2 million
persons involved in some 7000 local YMCAs in Europe. We call them "members".
Because we understand the YMCA as a membership movement.
John Valentine's Fitness Club, calls itself a club and
its customers "members".
Is there any difference between a YMCA member and a John
Valentine's Fitness Club member?
In our YMCA history, there has always been a big
difference. And this difference is already expressed in the Paris Basis.
According to the Paris Basis, the YMCA first "seeks
to unite young men"; seeks to bring them together, to integrate them into a group, to
make them friends.
The second element in the Paris Basis is that these young
people have or develop a "desire". They "desire" to be "His
disciples in their faith and in their life". They start to live a new life, a life in
love and faith.
And thirdly, the Paris Basis speaks about young men
"associating their efforts for the extension of His Kingdom amongst young men".
With this third element, the young people, - who got
united and who desire to live a life in love and faith - become active towards the
outside. And this as a group, not as individuals only. They associate their efforts for
the extension of God's new world among young people.
It is an organic process of coming together and going
out; of going out and coming together.
It is the process successful YMCAs have always used.
The YMCA gathers young people and unites them in
interaction. The YMCA changes young people and helps them to live a life in love and
faith. And the YMCA sends these young people out to serve others, to work for God's new
This means that any young person who enters the door of a
YMCA is not a consumer, and not a beneficiary of a social service only. Any young person
who enters the door of a YMCA is a potential fellow worker, a worker for God's new world.
And any of these young people entering our doors bring
with them a wealth of gifts, talents and creativity.
It is our task as YMCA leaders to encourage and allow
these young people to serve other people with these, their gifts, talents and creativity.
This is the difference between a YMCA member and a member
of John Valentine's Fitness Club: In the YMCA, a member is never a consumer or a social
case only. Every, really every YMCA member is a fellow worker for the extension of God's
new world and he or she has to be given a place to serve.
People in the YMCA:
Youth Empowerment - or Youth carrying out Pre-Designed Activities
This third polarity is closely linked to the
understanding of YMCA membership.
If all YMCA members are fellow workers, or at least
potential fellow workers, - and not customers and social cases only - then these young
people must be the subjects of YMCA activity and not its objects only.
It means that adequate authority and power must be given
to the young people to make themselves the decisions which concern them.
With other words: We must work for the empowerment of
Today, within the YMCA, young people are complaining that
they are not taken serious with their ideas. That power and control is kept and executed
by a comparably small number of older, well established YMCA leaders. John Casey's recent
article in "YMCA World" on this subject is most self-critical and challenging.
Older people do not need to be thrown out of the YMCA to
give space to the youth. There must be a partnership of generations, where every age group
brings in its special gifts and experience.
But it is by far not enough to add one or two alibi-youth
to a well established board of management.
What we need in our YMCAs is the fundamental
understanding that young people cannot only be seen as objects, as customers of well meant
YMCA programmes; or as young leaders only carrying out programmes that others have
designed for them.
This way, the whole creativity and imagination of these
young people remains excluded from the YMCA. And even worse: Instead of developing
critical, active citizens with a wide horizon, young people who are able to swim against
the streams of society, such YMCAs train them to become obedient, well adapted youngsters,
who, without questioning, nicely and quietly carry out what others tell them to do.
In a successful, true YMCA, the power to give shape to
the different programme fields is decentralized and delegated. And the young people
themselves are empowered and given the competence to make use of all their critical
thinking, their creativity and their youthful enthusiasm.
Tomorrow's YMCAs must be sub-structured in sub-units,
within which young people find enough freedom to develop their feeling of responsibility,
their critical thinking, their creativity and their commitment.
Tomorrow's YMCAs must have "youth appeal".
Youth appeal is created by young people for young people.
Systematic Leadership Development - Or Permanent Improvisation only?
We can observe it throughout the world: The most critical
success factor for YMCA work is its leadership. No success without systematic Leadership
This is even more important if each member is considered
a fellow worker. The gifts and talents need to be discovered and developed.
It is interesting that a lot of YMCAs still live without
any systematic Leadership Development concept for their young volunteers - if such young
volunteers exist at all...
And the development of professionals and board members in
the majority of movements still is a matter of constant improvisation.
But any YMCA wanting to have a future cannot be without
developing an adequate concept for systematic Leadership Development, ranging from young
volunteers up to YMCA professionals and board members.
Relevance and Creative Innovation - or Repetition of Tradition only?
The problem of good and relevant YMCA programmes is that
one day they are no longer good and relevant.
Because people and societies change.
We sometimes complain: The YMCA has been a pioneer in
this and that. And now others are doing it, too. Often even better, because they
specialize in this one thing.
It has always been the strength of the YMCA to analyze
the actual needs of young people, and this in a global context. And to respond to these
needs in a new, creative way, applying the holistic concept of body, mind and spirit in
sound social interrelations.
We, therefore, often are the first in a new field; but we
seldom remain the best in this field. Because we move on. We want to meet new needs, want
to fill new gaps in provision.
YMCA work, therefore, is and must be in permanent change.
YMCA work permanently needs critical self-analysis and sensitive social analysis. And then
creativity and innovation to put the findings into relevant practice.
The problem starts when YMCAs only repeat once successful
programmes. They then become method-oriented, instead of needs-oriented.
They ask: How can we bring more young people in our
programmes? Instead of asking: What are the needs of today's young people and what must
our programmes look like to meet these needs?
In today's world, the lifetime of a certain programme
type is getting shorter and shorter, whereas to develop new programmes becomes more and
Mutual sharing of ideas and creativity is an absolute
must. And it has to happen across the borders of countries and even continents.
Isolated YMCAs will not survive.
We must learn from each other and develop new ideas and
concepts in international, including global, dialogue and exchange.
I am deeply convinced that the YMCA has a great creative
and innovative potential.
But innovation does not happen automatically. We must
work for it, together, - on the go for tomorrow.
Is the EAY on the Go for Tomorrow?
In the second part of my presentation, I want to
concentrate on the European Alliance. Are we on the Go for Tomorrow?
Looking back on the last five years, we can say without
exaggeration that the EAY has gained a considerable dynamic.
And this not only because of some more European staff,
but because we succeeded in better mobilizing our National Movements and getting them
involved in European work.
Today, laymen and professionals from all over Europe are
active in some 20 EAY groups and committees, co-operating with each other, exchanging
ideas, people and financial resources. Today's EAY is really relevant to quite a number of
national movements and local YMCAs.
Negative is that some of our movements somehow missed the
train. They remain in isolation, and this keeps them away from the stimulating effects of
international co-operation. In several cases, it is also a symptom for a lack of vision on
the side of their leadership.
My second concern is that we still do not sufficiently
reach the local level.
It is not enough to produce financial resources for
international work on national level, it is not enough to be represented in EAY working
platforms and events, if what is happening on this level does not reach the local YMCAs.
We must strive for the involvement of the young people on
local level, and for making European co-operation and exchange an experienceable, living
reality for them. "Nothing is real until it is local".
This certainly is the field where most international
interaction has developed over the past years.
With the end of the Saphir Initiative, we will be back on
a more modest level in financial terms. Our Western and Southern European movements will
not be able to produce more money than until now.
For some of our Central- and Eastern European YMCAs this
means an hour of truth and maybe of financial crisis. More self-dependency will be
required to survive. And non-financial support will become even more important: exchange
of people, know-how and ideas.
This can only be achieved, if we considerably strengthen
the involvement of our local YMCAs and of their young people. There are already some
impressive examples for the positive effects of such grass-roots involvement.
Regarding EAY professional staff, we are extremely
thankful that out of the three scenarios presented in my last year's report, it is not the
worst-case scenario which became reality, but the middle one.
Financed by contributions of the YMCAs of Germany, USA
and Norway, Johan Vilhelm Eltvik serves the EAY in a new capacity: as EAY Executive
In this position, Johan Vilhelm acts as my right hand in
the field, and this in the whole of Europe. He will concentrate on Leadership Development
and YMCA Development work.
To Michael Wardlow, our Saphir Programme Executive, we
have to say good-bye this summer for financial reasons.
He and Johan Vilhelm have done a tremendous job over the
past three years. We warmly thank both of them for their most extraordinary work and
Our thanks also go to the YMCA of the United States,
especially to Dale Vonderau and Bruce Knox of the Office for Europe and to the staff of
the International Division in Chicago. We hope this partnership will continue and will be
fruitful in other fields, too.
With this year, a five-year period of IMC work comes to
an end. The future will look differently. We will focus more on the whole of Europe and
will promote even stronger all kinds of cooperation, and not financial support only.
The EAY Executive Committee has decided to work out a new
IMC strategy for the years 1995 to 1997. Everybody is warmly invited to submit creative
inputs into this process.
European Programme Field
Our EAY events reached last year a new record: More than
1'000 participants, most of them young people, and a bit more than 50% female. The great
highlight was the first European Ten Sing Festival.
The new Programme Group "EMRAS", dealing with
questions of Migrants, Refugees and Asylum Seekers has successfully started its
A new Programme Group for YMCA Scouting and Jungschar is
under discussion, and will hopefully come into formal existence during this Assembly.
The "Interpoint" programme is facing a
difficult time. National movements must decide these days whether they are still
interested in a European scheme. With only a few movements really committed, such a
European network cannot be maintained - and certainly not be extended.
and Leadership Development
In Christian Orientation, a lot has been achieved during
the past years. Besides the annual Christian Orientation Workshops, since last year a new
"C"-Workshop takes place, gathering young leaders in the age of 18 to 22 years.
Wille Riekkinen has resigned from his responsibility as a
Vice-President of the EAY and member of the Executive. We would like to warmly thank him
for the spiritual leadership he has given us during many years.
In the field of Leadership Development, the EAY has taken
important steps last year with the implementation of the In-Service Training scheme, the
introduction of "Training the Trainers" courses, and the new employment of Johan
Now a comprehensive strategy becomes necessary, covering
all Leadership Development activities already carried out or still needed. Again, all good
ideas and suggestions are very welcome.
The EAY has a group of good junior- and
senior-representatives and a very active chief-representative at work. This
results in a clear profile of the YMCA in international bodies.
During the past years, the need has developed to re-define
the role of the EAY in the Global Dialogue and in YMCA Inter-Area
Cooperation. A Work Group and the Plenary of this Assembly will deal with
National movements are also invited to come up with
nominations for further young people under 30 who can be introduced into the
work of an EAY representative.
The new EAY Communication concept is not yet fully in
place. But we are working on it, and several brochures are in print. The
gaps should be closed during this year.
Nick Bibiris, leader of EAY Communication, has resigned
and is leaving the EAY Executive Committee with this Assembly. We thank him
for the ideas he has put into this work.
EAY Finances are in a balanced situation due to a careful
finance policy and a strict monitoring of accounts. However, a lot of
efforts are required in the coming years to cope with the consequences of
the actual volume of EAY work. It is only with the good will of all National
Movements that we shall be able to retain the financial balance also in the
coming years. A new formula for National Contributions, based on statistical
facts, is absolutely necessary. The presently applied EAY fees have become
more and more unfair. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that the idea of an
EAY Travel Fund can be realized in the near future.
Youth and Programme
Finally, I would like to mention this youngest EAY Working
With special support of the Danish, Norwegian and Swiss
YMCAs, three programmes have been launched and are gaining speed: