Apostle Otten was previously involved with the organisation of the European Youth Day 2009 (EYD) and is now using his experience again for the International Youth Convention 2019 (IYC). How will the IYC be? What will it have in common with the EYD and what are the differences? Spirit wanted to find out.
spirit: Apostle Otten: What are your fondest memories of the European Youth Day 2009?
Apostle Otten: The joy that the youth were able to come together in such a large circle, the atmosphere, and the celebration of Holy Communion with 40,000 other people.
More than 40,000 participants attended the divine service, although relatively few from the younger generation were there, isn’t that true?
Around 35,000 young people, together with their delegates and counsellors, took part at the EYD. We filled the remaining seats in the Arena by inviting our New Apostolic brothers and sisters from the surrounding districts to attend.
An attendance of around 30,000 is anticipated at the IYC. Chief Apostle Leber had said in an interview previously that if such an event were to take place ten years ahead, the attendance figures would be significantly smaller reflecting the diminishing divine service attendances. Why, therefore, are you planning on so many coming?
Firstly, we have raised the age limit to 35 years – independent of family and marital status. This means that we must also plan for the hourly care of the three to six year old children of the young attendees. We also believe that many of the youth who were at the EYD will also want to come again to Düsseldorf. I hope, also, that many will be there who perhaps no longer visit their home congregations so regularly.
Chief Apostle Leber also said then that it would be good if all the New Apostolic youth were able to attend such a youth event at least once. Was that the reason in planning such another major youth weekend?
There has been a close relationship between Northern Germany and North Rhine-Westphalia from the time as the then District Apostle Leber had responsibility for both district Churches. It was during this time that the idea for the European Youth Day was born. A few years later, during one of the last journeys with District Apostle Brinkmann, we sat together with District Apostle Rüdiger Krause and Apostle Uli Falk to think about what we could come up with for the youth in the coming years. The result was another pan-European youth convention. Chief Apostle Schneider liked the idea, but exchanged the “E” for an “I”, because he wanted an international event.
Is this expansion to an international scale causing you headaches?
Basically not, only the practical implementation is forcing us to stretch our minds a little. “I” means greater distances, higher costs. Not every District Apostle Area is financially viable to allow young people to participate. The District Apostles will give serious thought whether and to what extent they will actually be able to implement the “I”. We who are responsible for the organisation will do everything possible to make this youth convention international.
The overall planning for the IYC lies with a planning executive, consisting mainly of ministers and not of the youth. Why is that?
Each district Church has sent a representative to the planning team, mostly the Bishops or Apostles who have responsibilities for youth spiritual care in their respective districts. There is no other option, because the meeting sessions often take place during the week. A young person who is studying or has an occupation would have to sacrifice much holiday time and we couldn’t expect that. Our aim is to involve the youth at an early stage in planning the contents of the event. For that reason we have started a survey, which asks for the youth’s expectations and wishes. Also, they can send in their programme ideas and working groups have been established in the district Churches where the youth are closely involved. The planning team is occupied with the general framework and in acting on the interests of each district Church. Furthermore, the Apostles and Bishops act as multipliers in their District Apostle regions and to their respective Church leadership. What really matters is that the youth are providing the contents and the music.
What are the arguments in favour of holding the IYC, just like the EYD, in Düsseldorf? ?
We compared offers from European trade fair cities to find the best price. The Düsseldorf trade fair and exhibition grounds made significant concessions, because the decision-makers said, “We have never had such an emotional event as your Day of the Youth.” I could hardly believe my ears. After all, they regularly stage concerts and shows. But the staff said, “We are still talking about your Day of the Youth.” Even the city mayor wrote to me. Ten years ago he was sceptical about us and wasn’t willing to make a speech at the EYD and now he wrote to me, saying, “We will do all that we can for you to choose us again”. So much has happened in ten years!
That means that the New Apostolic Church has received a stronger awareness.
This is especially due to the youth and the brothers and sisters in Düsseldorf. They took part in many activities following the EYD. The youth helped in a municipal clearing up exercise for which they received the “Golden Broom” award from the city mayor, in recognition of their involvement toward a clean and tidy city. That was a wonderful piece of public relations! After that, the city of Düsseldorf asked us if the New Apostolic Church would like to run a booth at the next city festival. We have now created a good image with the city – thanks also to the European Youth Day.
Is the memory of the EYD still so vivid because of the problem we had then with the grass in the stadium?
On that particular weekend, as the EYD was taking place, there was also supposed to be a football match to be played in the stadium. It was the last game of the season. Fortuna Düsseldorf, the team which normally plays in the stadium, was prepared to shift the game to another location, but then they had had such a good season that they were shortly before the chance of promotion to the second division. Everything depended on this final game. As the club president explained to us, they would have played in Duisburg or Bochum, but none of the fans would have understood or accepted that, if the last and decisive game wasn’t played in the home stadium. We couldn’t ignore the situation and I was rather worried because of the tradition that if the club was promoted, the fans would each take a piece of the turf home with them. After the game I could see the first fans with their pieces of turf leaving the stadium. We then went with some of the exhibition and stadium staff on to a balcony, from where we had a view overlooking the stadium. The grass looked disastrous, the terraces were full of rubbish and it stank of beer! I never thought that we would be able to celebrate the divine service there the next day. One of the members of the exhibition administration then said to us, “We had anticipated this would happen and are fully prepared”. Lo and behold – the administration staff had mowed the grass in the open spaces of the city beforehand and gathered the cuttings in huge sacks. They filled the large holes of the football pitch with earth and spread the grass cuttings on top. I am still absolutely in awe that they had the foresight to do that.
You are the managing director of the charitable company for the IYC, just as you were previously for the EYD. Can you tell us something about it?
We founded a company with limited liability, a charitable company. Since such a company serves the greater public good, the state waives part of the sales tax that is generated. This way we will likely be able to save an estimated one million euros.
What are the planned total costs for the International Youth Convention?
The costs for the grounds and the stadium will amount to four million euros. That is about the same as in 2009. But this time we are getting more for our money. In 2019 we will be using the stadium for four days. During the EYD we only rented it for two. In 2019 we also have all the exhibition halls and the Congress Centre, which we were not able to use in 2009. We have a total budget of nine million euros.
What will the other five million euros be for?
We need the money, among other things, to equip the exhibition halls, for catering, for the events, and the welcome package. In addition to this, the safety of the participants will play a key role.
For the EYD 3.6 million euros in donations and sponsorships were received. That was almost half of the entire budget. Are you counting on the same kind of generosity of the members this time too?
The willingness to donate in advance of the EYD was outstanding. District Churches will make contributions, as will NACI, but that will not be enough. In 2009 many brothers and sisters were focused on this event and were happy for the youth and donated generously. I hope this will be the case this time too. We absolutely depend on it.
Despite this the youth will be required to pay a fee of 125 euros.
Yes, that is also necessary. But remember, this includes accommodation, meals, and admission to all events in the stadium.
What must the youth be aware of before they start activities to help toward the entry fee?
Such activities must not be undertaken in the name of the Church for tax reasons. Privately, of course, the youth can do what they want.
The youth are being encouraged to bring frriends along with them to the International Youth Convention. Do they also have to pay the entry?
Just as in 2009, all participants will be required to pay the entry fee – that includes the Apostles and the Chief Apostle; also the helpers, with their many hours of voluntary assistance. I believe that everyone can understand that each person must help in contributing toward the cost of such a major event. The price will not be a hindrance when there is a real interest to be at such a great festival of faith. I am truly looking forward to this weekend when our youth can take the chance to invite their friends and partners and show them: this also is the Church.
Will there be financial support for young people from abroad?
The charitable company is responsible for the organisation in Düsseldorf. How the young people will get there will be the responsibility of the District Churches. Whether there will be financial support will be decided by the responsible District Apostles, because the situation is different from country to country. I couldn’t imagine that the youth from many of the African countries would be able to pay for even a portion of the entry or travelling costs. In other regions it may be possible for individuals to pay for entry, but the Church must cover the travelling expenses.
Could young people from Germany make donations so that young people from other countries can participate?
We have to be careful with pursuing this officially on the part of the Church because it quickly becomes unfair. In Angola there would probably be 50,000 young people who would love to come. Whom do you pick? The youth can do this in local initiatives, of course. That would be OK. The youth of North Rhine-Westphalia are currently raising money in activities to allow some of the youth from other countries to be at the IYC.
Will those who will not be able to travel to Düsseldorf at least be able to participate via live stream?
As the Chief Apostle announced on Pentecost, we cannot promise anything, but we are working on broadcasting the divine service and, possibly, some of the other events.
By far the most New Apostolic young people live in Africa. Did you ever consider having the International Youth Convention there?
We thought about other countries in Europe. In many places in Africa there is a lack of infrastructure. It is precisely the number of young people would have made the organisation of such a youth convention practically impossible.
Back to Düsseldorf: Will all the youth be accommodated overnight on the exhibition premises?
Included in the entry fee is a sleeping space and anyone who wishes can sleep in one of the allocated exhibition halls. Those who prefer to go to a hotel or youth hostel, with somewhat more comfort, are welcome to do so, but will still be required to pay the full entry fee of 125 euros. As an impulse for the EYD we had the idea to integrate the youth into the local districts around Düsseldorf, where we could find guest families for some of them, but we saw, during the registering process, that they preferred to enjoy the communal spirit together in the halls.
Will there be more shower units than at the EYD?
We are planning for sufficient shower units and of course, once again, the legendary hair dryers. There will also be a cost-free WLAN and another question is on our minds: how can the smartphones of 20,000 youth be charged in the dormitory halls?
Will the internationality of the Youth Convention be reflected in the choice of meals?
That is not planned for. Those who come to Düsseldorf must eat European. Provision will be made in the food arrangements for vegetarians and vegans.
How can the youth specifically become involved in the planning of the IYC?
Further surveys will be carried out, where anyone can add their wishes and ideas and also register themselves with that which they want to do, whether it be a musical item or some other programme item.
What criteria will decide what will actually be in the programme?
The respective district Church will firstly appraise the applicants input. A second filter will be to analyse the balance and implementation of the item.
Can you say something about the central programme events?
There will be several major events in the Arena, beginning with the opening ceremony on Friday morning, later a musical evening, a surprise event and, of course, the divine service on Sunday.
Will an ecumenical element be included?
We will certainly invite representatives of other denominations to talk and join in discussion groups.
How can you ensure that the IYC doesn’t become an image of the EYD?
That lies within the hands of the youth themselves. We are only able to make the organisational arrangements. The IYC will be alive through the youth, through the atmosphere which they create with their enthusiasm. I am fully convinced that the youth will make something rather special out of the IYC.
The main criticism of the EYD was that many older people deprived the younger ones from seats at some of the events. What will be done to ensure that this doesn’t happen at the IYCt?
Many of the people who sat at the events of the EYD were there as helpers. I have some understanding that they didn’t only help there but also wanted to enjoy something of the atmosphere, but to do so at the cost of the youth was unfortunate. Therefore, we are planning various measures for 2019, for example prior booking for the smaller events, so that the situation isn’t repeated.
The International Youth Convention means an enormous investment in terms of energy and money. Is this really worth it from your point of view?
Oh yes! The youth are our future. These young people really excite me. Their joy and how they identify with our faith and promote our Church are incredibly motivating. The goose pimple feeling, the sense of belonging, and the friends that were made at the European Youth Day didn’t start to fizzle out on the way home, but have endured in the ranks of the youth. I am sure that we will make the same experience again in 2019.
Text freely translated from: "Spirit – the young magazine for New Apostolic Christians", edition no. 04|17, pages 22 - 24 © Verlag Friedrich Bischoff GmbH, Neu-Isenburg (Interview of April 2017, led by Annette Conrad)
The magazine “Spirit” has been publishing news and facts about the International Youth Convention since March 2017 under the heading “IYC Countdown. This the second article in a series of 12 planned.