29 March 2005

The 2005 Consultation on Ministry To and With Youth

So ... when did "youth empowerment" become a dirty word in Unitarian Universalist circles?

My question is prompted by the thread on Philocrites blog ("Consultation on UU youth ministry") and I also posted a link to my comments there.

Why is it a bad thing to create youth groups where youth and adults work in partnership to learn, worship, share and celebrate joys, share and comfort sorrows, and work to make this world a better place?

Perhaps the problems we are having with youth ministry and our not raising our youth to be Unitarian Universalist when they grow up are partly congregational problems.

What would a congregation that valued youth involvement, youth contributions, and youth leadership in wider congregational life look like?

What would youth-friendly and adult-friendly worship look?

How would board meetings and committee meetings look if we truly wanted youth and adult participation?

In short ... what would a "youth-friendly congregation" look like?

Well ... I don't think a youth-friendly congregation that was also welcoming to older adult would look like a YRUU con.

But it wouldn't look like the typical UU congregation either.

One of the secular partners that helped the UUA and UCC develop the "Our Whole Lives" comprehensive sexuality education program is the organization Advocates for Youth. You really need to check out the October 2001 edition of their Transitions quarterly journal:

This edition is dedicated to creating effective youth-adult partnerships and there are plenty of resources in this journal edition that could be adapted for UU congregations so youth have a greater role in wider congregational life and leadership. This resource dovetails nicely with the UUA Youth Office resource created to promote awareness of youth opportunities for wider congregational life.

Instead of complaining about a congregation having a "paid but non-theologically-trained youth 'advisor'", why don't you lobby that the congregation spend the money for workshop fees and hourly wages for your youth advisor to attend 1 or 2 "renaissance modules" (professional education for DREs and others interested in lifespan faith development)? The "UU History" and "UU Identity" modules would provide some of the theological grounding that you want (I'm assuming here that your congregation has already sent your paid youth staff person to UU Youth Advisor Training and the "Leadership Development Conference" as these provide the basics for creating a safe youth-empowering community).

Or perhaps you could lobby to send your youth advisor to your district's leadership school for some UU theological education?

The hard part about all these suggestions is they cost money and too many UU congregations are unwilling to fund well-funded youth ministries at the congregational, cluster, or district levels.

The open secret that everyone seems to be overlooking here is that continental and district UU youth ministry reflect the UUA in microcosm (based on my experiences in the two congregations and the two UUA districts I've lived in) since 1992.

Most UU youth and most UU adults are not involved in Unitarian Univeralism beyond their congregational walls.

In my district, a complaint that district UU youth programming is flawed because only a small percentage of our district's youth participate is often voiced. It's often said that district youth programming needs to meet the needs of all youth.

What I think we overlook here is the same observation and the same complaint could be made about district programming for adults. In an 8000+ person district, our summer institute is lucky to get a 500 person enrollment. Our fall leadership conference and spring district business meeting are lucky to get 200-300 participants.

We don't say that this adult programming is a failure because most adults don't participate. Rather we acknowledge that the adults are looking for faith development enrichment opportunities for themselves personally and for their local UU congregations.

I suspect that the same may be true for many youth who attend UU youth events away from their congregation. Rather than punish youth for seeking these enrichment opportunities, why not acknowledge that they exist while simultaneously develop the best UU youth ministry materials we can for use in our local congregations?

Good night,
[The theologically "untrained" youth advisor who has read Conrad Wright's Congregational Polity, The Essex Conversations, the Commission on Appraisal's reports on congregational polity and membership issues, Rev. Bob Hill's book on small group ministry, and ... once or twice in the past ... has been able to use words like "soteriology" and "eschatology" correctly in a sentence.]


fausto said...

All thoughtful and constructive remarks, Steve.

Yes, poorly directed youth programs are a problem in many congregations, including mine, and when that occurs the congregation needs to take the responsibility for fixing it. In our case, we've got a search going for a new DRE and we're listening carefully to the candidates' ideas for how to improve our youth ministry and education. But I would also say that weaknesses in the UUA bureaucracy's youth programs have contributed to the problems that are common in many congregations, by failing to offer effective programmatic responses to the needs that do exist, and by offering programs that emphasize self-affirmation and an external socio-political agenda over personal ministry and personal faith support.

fausto said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
fausto said...

(Sorry, the blog page host hiccupped and posted me twice, so I deleted one.)