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Monday, March 28, 2005

Consultation on UU youth ministry.

Bill Sinkford, president of the UUA, and Megan Dowdell, the UUA's youth trustee-at-large, released a report today on the Consultation on Ministry to and with Youth. The consultation brought 30 youth and adults together in late February to start envisioning a new and expanded model for Unitarian Universalist youth ministry.

The consultation identified five priorities:

  • Youth Ministry needs to be served at a more robust, flexible, diverse level than YRUU currently offers.
  • Denominational youth work needs to serve local congregations and their youth ministry.
  • YRUU and UUA administration need to define an authority structure that respects the rightful role of institutional youth and adult leadership at the same time that it supports the growth and empowerment of all UU youth.
  • Anti-racism and anti-oppression work is an important part of youth ministry, although there is not only one way of doing it, and the "right" way depends on individual identities. We need to move this work ahead.
  • There needs to be more and better communication among continental, district, and local levels, and within congregations.

Sounds like a good beginning to me. The youth-and-young adult community at FUUSE is also discussing the report.

Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 28 March 2005 at 5:46 PM

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16 comments:

fausto:

March 28, 2005 06:28 PM | Permalink for this comment

So youth empowerment, anti-racism and anti-oppression are expressly affirmed as priorities, but not age-appropriate RE, faith development support or grassroots charitable work? Sounds as though they're still missing the boat.

Tom:

March 29, 2005 08:49 AM | Permalink for this comment

hmmm, is there any sacred cow that President Sinkford has not measured for a bun?

Fausto, I think that you are missing the subtlities of this kind of "acknowledge but eviscerate" statement. The key statement around the anti-racism, anti-oppression is that there is not only one way to do it.

The first three statements all point back toward refocusing the UUA support of youth ministry away from negotiating with the designated youth leaders at 25 and toward actual congregational work. The distinction drawn between 'institutional youth leaders' and 'all UU youth' in point 3 is crucial.


fausto:

March 29, 2005 11:45 AM | Permalink for this comment

That's awfully subtle. I think what is needed is more of a whack-on-the-head-with-a-2x4 approach.

In my congregation we have a youth "group", youth "activities", and a paid but non-theologically-trained youth "advisor", all under the aegis of a congregational "Youth-Adult Committee" and the UUA District's institutional youth hierarchy. However, we have no ongoing program to help support youth in their need to consider, determine, and practice what they actually, personally, believe. Our youths' religious ideas are dismayingly uninformed, vapid, naive, and uncritical -- and those are the ones with enough commitment or curiosity to participate at all. When we offer the Coming of Age program, few if any of the kids sign up, because it's viewed by most of the kids as a lot of extra "homework" without much in the way of substantive learning or payoff -- and they're not wrong. I've been a youth mentor in COA myself, and the program was stale and badly run.

What we need in our congregation is a more effective youth faith ministry, and not so much concern for activities or social workers or empowerment models or diversity sensitivity training. The kids need a minister or other religiously educated advisor who's there for them and can guide them as they learn to take responsibility for developing their own personal faith, but our youth program doesn't provide that, and I assume ours is typical. The UUA could help by redesigned the Coming of Age program to make it a more appealing/satisfying and more substantive experience for the kids, and by integrating it more deeply into the rest of the youth program model to make it a more essential element of the entire UU youth experience.

fausto:

March 29, 2005 01:24 PM | Permalink for this comment

Although maybe what you're saying is, Sinkford knows that, but he needs to speak very subtly in order to get it to happen.

Tom:

March 29, 2005 03:30 PM | Permalink for this comment

Well, Remember that I don't actually KNOW anything, either. I am just another prisoner in the Gulag who catches a glimpse of a communique about a big meeting about a sweeping new reorganization of the upper floors of the Bureau of Petty Humiliations in the Office of Political Rehabilitation in the Ministry of Rectification in the New Empire of Universal Improvement, and based on those few sentences harbor the secret hope that the Guard will stop spitting in my food.

But the whole thing read to me like someone telling the "institutional youth leaders" that no, the whole purpose of our youth ministry was not to make them feel important, nor to let them cherry pick a cadre of revolutionary activists out of all of the UU youth around the country.

fausto:

March 29, 2005 08:55 PM | Permalink for this comment

Whoa, the scales are falling from my eyes. Of course, anyone so gifted in the art of expressing metaphorical truths de novo would not need to fall back on the Bible as a crutch to support new prophecy!

Obviously, I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. I had heard of you by the hearing of my ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.

Tom:

March 29, 2005 11:05 PM | Permalink for this comment

Oh dear.

Have I been overbearing and offensive?

My metal detector is buzzing and beeping -- must be a rich load of irony around here somewhere.

It would be nice, really I am being serious and straightforward here, if amidst all the huffing and puffing about youth empowerment etc. someone made a straight forward commitment to a positive program and direction for uu youth -- age appropriate religious education, support for faith development and grass roots charitable work.

smcisaac:

March 30, 2005 12:05 AM | Permalink for this comment

No, no, you haven't been offensive at all, Tom, and in fact I suspect we may both perceive similar shortcomings in UU youth programs.

I was referring back to the other conversation about whether it is necessary to invoke the Bible to prophesy effectively. With your metaphorical gifts, I can see why you wouldn't have found it necessary to fall back on well-recognized Biblical metaphors to make your points more vivid. (I'll also admit that prooftexting for its own sake, as if that were all that were necessary to validate a point, is a silly exercise -- which I think you were also trying to say.) My point of view agrees with yours in one important respect -- that Biblical values and principles or other similarly universal moral imperatives, if not necessarily Biblical rhetoric, must underpin real prophecy.

(The reverse of this is currently being demonstrated by our Washington Office, which imagines itself to be awesomely prophetic, and is currently promoting a nationwide interfaith campaign to hold "Blessing of the Taxes" services in April, complete with Bible readings and layings-on-of-hands over the congregants' tax returns. They've wrapped it up in Biblical trappings this time, yes, but as usual they fail prophetically anyway, because they are not promoting a Biblical or otherwise universally revered moral imperative.)

All I meant by that quip in the last post was that since I am not so blessed with the gift to invoke vivid metaphors of my own (hoping that the guard will stop spitting in your food? Brilliant!), I must humble myself, like Job.

fausto:

March 30, 2005 12:15 AM | Permalink for this comment

Who's smcisaac? Pay no attention to the man behind the screen. I am Oz, the Great and Powerful!

Steve Caldwell:

March 30, 2005 12:53 AM | Permalink for this comment

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

My comments on this subject can be found here.

fausto:

March 30, 2005 06:26 AM | Permalink for this comment

Oh, I'm sure many people would say it hasn't.

I would say it did when it began to be seen as an end in itself rather than as the means to achieving some other end. (Empowerment to do what, exactly?)

I woud say it did when it began to crowd out more substantive youth religious education and youth religious ministry. (What good is it to be given power if you don't know what you believe, and don't know enough about the different available belief systems alternatives to evaluate them intelligently?)

fausto:

March 30, 2005 06:44 AM | Permalink for this comment

By the way, from your comments on your blog it appears to me that you do have a good idea of how to approach "empowerment" effectively as a means rather than as an end. I'm not sure everyone else involved in UU youth programs does, though.

If "empowering" youth means including them in the religious life of the congregation and ministering effectively to their spiritual development needs, I'm all for it.

If, however, it means setting them up with their own committees and their own budgets and their own chaperone/"advisors" and their own social activities and their own self-image of "I am Youth, hear me roar!", but neglecting their need to develop a more-than-superficial spirituality and failing to integrate them into the religious life of the rest of the congregation, it's a bad idea.

It looks to me as if too much of the latter goes on, in part because of where the UUA youth bureaucracy has directed its efforts. Perhaps Tom is right that the winds of change have begun to blow.

(I know, it's a trite one, but at least it's a metaphor. I'm trying, Tom!)

Steve Caldwell:

March 30, 2005 09:10 AM | Permalink for this comment

On 30 March 2005, Fausto replied:
-snip-
"By the way, from your comments on your blog it appears to me that you do have a good idea of how to approach "empowerment" effectively as a means rather than as an end. I'm not sure everyone else involved in UU youth programs does, though."

Fausto,

I'm not sure what this means, but every bit of youth advisor training I've had -- both the formal trainings using UUA-developed curricula and the informal "implicit curriculum" presented by more experienced advisors at district events -- mentions the importance of youth empowerment.

The difficult thing here about "youth empowerment" is it can be very situational. "Youth empowerment" isn't a binary "on/off switch" -- it's better envisioned as a "volume knob" where the youth empowerment level fits the individual situation.

Then fausto wrote:
-snip-
"If "empowering" youth means including them in the religious life of the congregation and ministering effectively to their spiritual development needs, I'm all for it.

If, however, it means setting them up with their own committees and their own budgets and their own chaperone/"advisors" and their own social activities and their own self-image of "I am Youth, hear me roar!", but neglecting their need to develop a more-than-superficial spirituality and failing to integrate them into the religious life of the rest of the congregation, it's a bad idea."

Personally, I think you're presenting this as two mutually exclusive choices -- an "either/or" choice. It's possible for us to create congregations where youth can have their own spaces to learn how to "do church" through their youth group activities (the six components of balanced youth programming - worship, learning, leadership, community building, social action, and youth-adult relationships - are part of an implicit curriculum to "do church.") If used properly, YRUU youth ministry can provide a leadership lab setting for our youth.

The other part of the problem -- getting youth involved in wider congregational life -- means educating adults on how to work with youth to create effective youth-adult partnerships. This is harder because some adults may not be tempermentally suited to this work.

I really recommend going to this link on the Advocates for Youth web site:

http://advocatesforyouth.org/publications/transitions/transitions1401.htm

The October 2001 issue of their Transitions quarterly include tips for youth working with adults so they better understand their concerns along with tips for adults working with youth so they better understand youth concerns.

The "Barriers to Building Effective Youth-Adult Partnerships" article is something that anyone looking to include youth on boards and committees should read.

Then fausto wrote:
"It looks to me as if too much of the latter goes on, in part because of where the UUA youth bureaucracy has directed its efforts. Perhaps Tom is right that the winds of change have begun to blow.

The UUA youth leadership structure (in theory) is created by congregational representatives voting for their representation on YRUU Youth Council and Steering Committee. Whether this is an effective representative process or not can be debated.

I think the "problems" we have with youth governance in the UUA are the same problems we have with adult governance at the UUA. What happens at GA and district business meetings may be disconnected from congregational life.

It's easier to arrive at an authoritarian "because we said so" solution for fixing this issue with youth. "Because we said so" isn't practical with adults -- they would object to an authoritarian solution.

Mike:

March 30, 2005 05:37 PM | Permalink for this comment

I've said some of this before, but as a parent of 3 UU kids, ANYTHING that helps UU kids eventually decide to stay being UU's, without brain washing, is welcome. YRUU failed my oldest, she is now lapsing into fanatasy land Christianity.

Joseph Santos-Lyons:

March 30, 2005 09:35 PM | Permalink for this comment

I find this conversation mesmorizing, and am just beginning to realize the depth and breadth of all the issues and all the people talking about youth issues. I only hope that this is fruitful in the long term. I'm at the UUA and not "in" on this reorganization, if it can even be called that.

In response to Mike, I remember my days in YRUU and really never thought much about being a UU after high school. Didn't come up much at conferences, in youth group, in the congregation. Sad eh? It is almost like there is an institutional expectation (manifested at all levels, although I'm working at the association level to change/challenge/transform it) that youth will NOT be coming back for a decade, two or ever. We are happy to gain one or two each year when a member passes away or moves on. That cannot be enough.

Mike:

March 31, 2005 08:40 AM | Permalink for this comment

Joseph,
Yes, that was my impression of my daughters' experiance. She was even the YRUU chair for Florida when she was a senior. It seemed that the focus was socializing over everything. I don't want to resort to brain washing, but I think requiring some connection to the congregations is crucial. I'm taking a different tact with my sons, we talk about UU almost daily and how it enriches our lives. They groan some, but admit that UU is important to them as well.



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