20 March 2005

Unitarian Universalism, Youth, and Young Adults

Scott Wells on his "Boy in the bands" Unitarian Universalist Christian blog writes the following about current efforts in UU youth and young adult ministry:
Oh dear: the younger generation. A quick disclaimer. From the first time I stepped into a Unitarian Universalist church (at age 15) I have avoided (Unitarian Universalist) youth and young adult activities respectively, and I’m looking to my next birthday (36) with a certain amount of relief. I know people are different and bring different gifts and have different needs, but UU youth and YA stuff comes with so much drama that I’ve always found it unsettling rather than inspiring or invigorating. When I read YA concerns that the leadership is elitist, I read self-selecting within a culture of drama. I well remember the shy teen girls (sisters perhaps) who came to the UUCF table a few years ago looking for literature because they didn’t feel welcomed in their home church youth group. But what I remember most about them is how normal they acted and looked, and I wondered then if that was the real problem.
As a parent of two Unitarian Universalist youth (ages 17 and 12), religious educator, and a long-time youth advisor (1999 to present), I find the "how normal they acted and looked" comment to be very insulting to many youth and young adults I have worked with over the years.

It's true that some UU youth and adults will very easily slide into extended Christian-bashing and we need to address this bashing when it happens (see my comments on Peacebang's blog about this)

Yes ... there is drama in UU youth communities. But there is also drama in UU older adult communities. Unfortunately, there's not enough of it.

The major difference with older adult communities is the drama stays mostly hidden with adults leaving disappointed or pissed off. It's rare in my congregation to see a town-hall meeting where an issue is fully aired and explored.

Then Scott wrote:
But UU youth and young adult culture expends so much of its energy on self-tending that I don’t see a lot of results. No great projects. Few leaders. Opting out of being a feeder into congregational life.
I don't see this as a youth and young adult community only issue. It's not just youth and young adults opting out of older adult church culture. It's also an older adult church culture that isn't doing its part in terms of "affirmative action" or "Welcoming Congregation outreach" with respect to ageism issues. How many congregations engage in outreach by recruiting youth to serve on committees, boards, task forces, etc? How many congregations do any sort of campus ministry outreach in their communities?

Breaking this congregational age barrier isn't just a responsibility of those who are disempowered through institutional ageism. It also requires outreach from those of us reaching across from the empowered age demographic.

1 comment:

Joseph Santos-Lyons said...

Thanks Steve for bringing this to our attention. Clearly Scott is coming from a personal experience that has been very formative to the point of influencing his ministry to and with youth and young adults. I grew up in a UU Congregation, a Fellowship in Portland OR and in that space and place there was not only a strong sense of synergy with the larger congregation, from youth to adult, but as a youth remember well the intense theological conversations we would be engaged in. At the time I was more of "normal" student to use Scott's words, wearing my letterman jacket, only staying loosely connected with my youth group peers during the week, and active in my home school and neighborhood. True when I was in my 11th grade year I stepped into 2 years of amazing youth leadership and opportunities that changed my worldview. There are some assumptions worth examining in all of our stories, particularly as they relate to our ministry to and with youth.