23 October 2004

Essay on Unitarian Universalist Youth Ministry, Young Adult Ministry, and Our Future As a Faith Community

This afternoon while web-surfing, I discovered an essay ("YRUU, UUYAN and the Future of Unitarian Universalism" by Jim Sechrest) that is worth checking out. Here's a few brief selections from James essay:

"Currently, there is still a young adult gap in our churches. Most of our high school graduates never return to the denomination as active participants. The young families that we do see joining our congregations are mostly new UUs. However, the desire of young adults to participate in Unitarian Universalism can be seen in the grass roots development of the Continental UU Young Adult Network in recent years. Many young adults have felt alienated from our denomination because of past intergenerational conflicts or because churches often lack stimulating (or familiar) worship services or other young adults. Most individuals who have been raised in our congregations have had little experience with our church worship services or the content of their sermons. The type of spirituality found in our youth groups (as well as the incredible amount of peer support found there) is not often nurtured by our denomination for individuals of college age (or for older young adults).

Amazingly, our denomination raises its own children in a religious environment that not only differs in the way our adults have been raised (mostly in other churches) but also in a different way than our adults practice Unitarian Universalism. Our children and youth are raised in an atmosphere that teaches appreciation of all of the religions of the world without any of the dissatisfaction that their parents express for their former denominations. As UU children grow up, they don't often develop the same uneasiness towards other denominations that their parents have. (It is not difficult for many young UUs to adapt to other religions to suit their marriages.) Our youth are spiritually inquisitive and interested in exploring spiritual matters which many of their parents dismiss. And, very little secular humanism is emphasized in the religious education of UU children or in youth worship circles, although it is a common viewpoint among the older generations of our denomination. Most interesting, much of the emphasis that has been placed on a rational perspective of religion throughout the history of our denomination is not often emphasized in youth and young adult worship circles or workshops. In a way, UUism is not made up of one "church" but two. There is an adult church (of mostly intellectual professionals) and another, closely related but distinctly different church, made up of their own children, youth and young adults. For the young adults, the adult church is not (currently) a substitute for the UU youth group that inspired them as youth. Many UU young adults simply don't feel much meaningful relevance in the adult church when they age out of the UU youth group. It has been this way for decades. Most of our young adults drift away from the church whether they become involved in another denomination or not. Perhaps this is to be expected in a denomination without the type of dogma found in other churches."

"It's appropriate that we find differences in worship styles and discussion topics between different age groups in our denomination. In all circles of our faith, however, we need to become more in touch with our use of reason in religion and our awareness of our spirituality during worship. To have reason without spiritual depth would be to accept a future for our denomination which is spiritually dead. To proceed without embracing the use of reason, we risk cultishness and, to some degree, dogmatism. The interconnectedness which we create in our sanctuaries (and our coffee hours) as professional adults needs to be interwoven with the interconnectedness created in the worship circles and discussions of our youth and young adults. We have much to give to one another and a deep responsibility to ourselves to extend ourselves to one another. We can strengthen our faith by becoming more united across generations. Let us consider the future of our denomination."

For many older adults, intergenerational learning is simply older adults imparting "superior" wisdom to youth and young adults. There's an ageist assumption to this attitude. As an older adult, I've learned so much from working with youth and young adults. I would hope that intergenerational learning in UU settings becomes more multi-directional and less uni-directional.

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