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Monday, February 18, 2008

Sinkford: Continental YRUU will be replaced.

In a letter to the YRUU Steering Committee (and copied to the Board of Trustees), UUA President Bill Sinkford acknowledged Saturday that "Continental YRUU, as we have known it, will be replaced at some point by a new structure that will serve us better." He said, however, that some of the information in a letter from the Steering Committee last week announcing the imminent end of YRUU was incorrect and attributed it to miscommunication by UUA staff. The key paragraphs in the letter follow:

The findings of the Consultation demonstrate that there is a broad consensus that the current structure for continental youth ministry is not serving our faith well. It is true that Continental YRUU, as we have known it, will be replaced at some point by a new structure that will serve us better. It is the task of the Youth Ministry Working Group to recommend that new structure. The decision to hold the Working Group meetings at the same time as your meetings this year in February and April was intended to maximize the opportunity for Steering Committee input in the development of the new structure.

Unfortunately, as a result of failures in communication within the UUA staff, some incorrect information was shared with you at your recently completed meeting. You were told that the Continental YRUU structure would end in June of this year and that there was no funding in the UUA's budget for Youth Council next summer. The reality is that the UUA's budget for next year will not be presented to the UUA Board for approval until its April meeting. No firm decisions have been made about ending support for the Continental YRUU structure. And because of YRUU's status as a Sponsored Organization, the UUA Board will have to approve any decision to end support for the organization. I apologize for the distress that incorrect information has caused.

He added that the Youth Ministry staff will be preparing a Frequently Asked Questions document this week about the process of revisioning UU ministry that began with the Consultation on Ministry to and with Youth.

For background, see "YRUU, C*UUYAN funding decisions not entirely clear" and "Sinkford asks for patience on youth, young adult changes" (Philocrites 2.14.08).

Copyright © 2008 by Philocrites | Posted 18 February 2008 at 11:19 AM

Previous: Limits of Unitarian Universalist congregationalism.
Next: This week at C*UUYAN's funding cut.



tim fitzgerald:

February 18, 2008 02:22 PM | Permalink for this comment

I don't buy it, unfortunately. Here's why:

The body that announced the decision -- the YRUU Steering Committee -- has on it a representative from the UUA Board of Trustees, Paul Rickter. Paul Rickter represents the Massachusetts Bay District and was party to the SC decision to announce the funding cuts.

Sinkford is backpedaling here. To act as if the cuts were never real, is to assist their information control strategies.

This Board, and this Administration, deals with information the way the US Military does -- as part of a political strategy, where you manage all information so that democratic reactions to the truth on the ground are slowed or impossible. I've been there when they've talked about it, I know how they do. And the fingerprints of that completely undemocratic approach to governance are all over the timeline of these events, from 2004 til now.

I'm really terrible sorry to have to be such a voice of cynicism when people undoubtedly are looking for a reason to trust the administrative head of their faith. But this is just another slap in the face of youth, to pretend that mistakes were never made.

h sofia:

February 18, 2008 02:40 PM | Permalink for this comment

Hmm; I didn't want to be cynical or "beat a dead horse," but Tim said very well what I was thinking

tim fitzgerald:

February 18, 2008 03:14 PM | Permalink for this comment


Also, why wouldn't he have mentioned this in the first response?

And for all those in districts and congregations with YRUU programs they are proud of, here's your notice: this isn't just about continental YRUU. You and your district will be expected to conform to the new programming. And if we don't push hard enough to force them to approach the next model in a democratic way, it will serve their governing philosophy, and not youth.

Robin Barraza:

February 18, 2008 05:19 PM | Permalink for this comment


Now wait a minute. How can anyone expect us to "conform" to the UUA's new model of youth programming? We never have been expected to conform before. That's congregational polity, right? We don't "have to" do anything, nor are we "expected" to. I don't know any congregations that respond to UUA "mandates"...there's really no such thing, is there?



February 18, 2008 05:29 PM | Permalink for this comment

I'm unclear on exactly what was "incorrect" in the YRUU steering committee's letter. Here's how I interpret this confusing series of letters: We now know that the steering committee was correct in saying that the continental YRUU structure will end. Sinkford says it will be replaced with a new structure that still needs to be developed (by the task force appointed by the president to implement the Consultation's recommendations). He suggests that Continental YRUU may not expire right away and that no "firm decisions" have been made about ending UUA support for YRUU in the meantime. But if the YRUU steering committee believes it has no future, and if Youth Council does not take place in 2008, continental YRUU's discontinuation will simply be a matter of fact, won't it?

On the question of funding: The steering committee said that funding would cease at the end of June; Sinkford says only that the budget has not yet been approved by the board. He does not say, however, whether the staff and administration plan to continue funding — and that's the much more salient issue.

The administration is currently working on the fiscal year 2008 budget (July '08-June '09), but the UUA's staff groups have already submitted their budget proposals for the year. The UUA administration would already know what the staff group (Youth Ministry) and its department (Lifespan Faith Development) want to fund. But the leadership council (the UUA's senior staff) have not finalized and balanced the budget yet, so I assume a lot of competing priorities and programs are still up in the air. And we now know that Congregational Services department and Lifespan Faith Development department are planning to merge the Youth Ministry office and Young Adult and Campus Ministry office, which adds a level of complexity to budgeting. Nevertheless, I suspect that the steering committee didn't conclude that their funding was ending without some justification.

tim fitzgerald:

February 18, 2008 10:48 PM | Permalink for this comment


The UUA will build something new, which it will fund, and even if it leaves YRUU alone to rot, districts will shift their focus, and it will go without saying that the youth are expected to follow that focus. The question isn't whether adults will be forced to choose, it's that youth will.

I wonder how many youth will fall into the gap during the transition between the two organizations. Some districts may vault that gap, if they are in a strong place now and are willing to make the leap. But the strong place that most districts are in is a direct result of the supporting, connecting structures of Continental YRUU.

h sofia:

February 19, 2008 01:10 PM | Permalink for this comment

Please, somebody help me out here. The Feb 19 letter from Paul Rickter, UUA Secretary, says "In short, no decision has been made about the future of YRUU or C*UUYAN and no decision will be made until, at the earliest, the April 18-20 meeting of the UUA Board." (Letter found here.)

How can this possibly be the case? Does this would mean we've all been talking about nothing for the last three weeks?


February 19, 2008 02:13 PM | Permalink for this comment

Regarding the letter from the UUA Board of Trustees: Pay close attention to the two things the board says it has the authority to do: approve a budget and bestow "sponsored organization" status. They haven't approved next year's budget because that's not on their agenda until April. They haven't reconsidered "sponsored" status for YRUU or C*UUYAN because it hasn't come up. Read my earlier comment for more on who actually decides what to fund.

Unless the board decides it wants to push back on the general drift of the Consultation on Ministry to and with Youth (a process which the board formally initiated), nothing in Paul Rickter's letter suggests that the board is contradicting anything in Sinkford's letters.

tim fitzgerald:

February 19, 2008 03:05 PM | Permalink for this comment

Given that this has been either an intentionally or unintentionally piecemeal, 4-ish year process of dismantling YRUU, I believe these recent communications are a response to outcry: not because they intend to change direction, but because they realize that it is the clarity of "No more YRUU" that is allowing this outcry to happen.

By backing up a step, and making the issues seem once again unclear, they hope to mute the response. I think it is imperative that all UUs who are concerned about youth ministry maintain attentiveness to this issue even as the UUA tries to move us from red to yellow alert.

Robin Barraza:

February 19, 2008 04:21 PM | Permalink for this comment


Is it possible that a new thing could be good for us all? I just received the Summit on Youth Ministry report, and at first glance, it looks rather exciting (and gathered a very large cross-section of folks, youth and adult, to the table). Is it possible that we could be doing youth ministry better, and still empower our youth to minister to one another? As someone who has worked for years in this field, it is thrilling to get new, inventive, well-researched ideas in advancing the work of youth ministry in Unitarian Universalism. I am not a youth anymore, but I'm one of the people who has to be continuity as youth age in and age out--the institutional memory, the person who develops what programming should look like, etc. We need good models with good content for when we don't have any youth who are interested in being leaders, or for when noone shows up for an event they promised they'd run. I'm the person with whom the buck stops, and I'd like guidance. I'd like training for my youth advisors. I'd like good stuff for my congregation. I think district and continental youth programming is great. For leadership-oriented youth, it is wonderful and inspiring. Incidentally, I'd like it not to go away. But it doesn't build my youth group, and it doesn't help my youth advisors. I'm still waiting to see what we're going to put in place in YRUU's stead. I'm not convinced yet that it's going to be a vacuum. I know you are, but I don't believe it yet. I guess I'm an optimist by nature.

h sofia:

February 19, 2008 04:41 PM | Permalink for this comment

I think Tim is right (again). Robin, like you, I'm an optimist and I would hope so - what disturbs me is that while you and many other folks have been able to articulate some great possibilities, the UUA has not! At least, not in any of these letters. To a person looking in, there appears to be no plan. I'm not saying there isn't one; if there is, I'd love to hear what it is?


February 19, 2008 04:58 PM | Permalink for this comment

I don't know how vividly a plan is taking shape, but the group that is supposed to be doing the planning was given voluminous guidance in the final report of the Consultation on Ministry to and with Youth. Here's UU World's news coverage of that report; here's the report itself (13M pdf), which Robin mentions having just received.

tim fitzgerald:

February 19, 2008 05:28 PM | Permalink for this comment


There's always potential for good things to grow. I respect your optimism.

However, I'm not sure you have the full picture here. Your youth group is one that has a history of district involvement. From what I hear, there have been some crises in Mass Bay District, so that district influence may have been muted recently, or there may even have been a sense of distancing between the district and its stakeholders. On a personal level, that makes me sad and disappointed, because I put a lot of personal energy into Mass Bay District YRUU, and I thought it was ready to continue. I'm sure we could have a rich dialog about why that didn't prove to be the case. But on my shortlist are particular adult advisors and the UUA leadership, district through continental, who have underinvested in, and been uncommitted to, the same youth ministry that they now have decided to destroy -- an active and diverse ministry which has thrived even amid the system-wide neglect.

Incidentally, Milton youth before the recent era of being empowered by district activities, were not supported by the church at all. As a result, there was no real youth group, and the Milton youth who did not end their participation altogether became involved in district YRUU. They were some of the most inspiring folks in the district, and they would have been left in the cold without MBD YRUU.

From your comments I'm surmising either 1 of 2 things is true: either your youth group is strong and you don't feel that district programming can help you build it, or your youth group is weak and you see no help coming from district structures.

If the case is that your youth group is strong, you are blessed. And you have a lot of recent Mass Bay District YRUU history to thank for it, even if recently the history may not have seemed so helpful (and I believe that change happened because of failures of adult alliance towards youth more than by any youth).

If the case is the latter, the weakening of the district, again, is not about a systemic failure. It's the result of specific adults failing to do their jobs properly, and UU adults in general. And I submit that it is the lack of a strong district that makes the district unhelpful to you in your efforts, rather than the district itself.

I have seen this equation work numerous times, and it takes the same youth empowerment mentality at the local level that any new youth programming is going to require. Districts and local youth groups have a symbiotic relationship, and when that relationship is well-served by all involved, both entities will grow to incredible heights.

There is an effect I'm trying to come up with a snappy name for... for now I'll call it The Loop. This is the process by which local youth are nurtured in their congregational youth groups, which encourage them also to participate in district YRUU. These youth go to district YRUU events, maybe only 1 or 2 youth at a time at first, but when they come back the next week, they are energized, empowered, and exciting to other youth around them. They have new ideas and a bigger sense of what's possible, both for themselves and for their youth group. The next conference, a couple more youth go. Eventually, most members of the youth group -- but not all -- are participating in conferences, as well as coming to youth group most weeks because it is an equally empowering platform once they have been given the tools to make it so. In this scenario, all youth are being served by district YRUU, even the ones who are not participating in it, and all of the youth are being served by their local group, including the ones who are spending time outside of it.

Why doesn't it happen like this all the time? The Loop is often blocked by disempowering DREs and youth advisors. There are a number of possible scenarios, of which here are two:

1) If a local youth group is a disempowering space because the adults in charge of it are not trained or not effective in creating safe spaces in which youth can explore their own spirituality, individually and collectively, then youth won't return after participating in healthier, empowering district-level events. They will restrict their participation to healthy spaces. These same adults will throw up their hands and declare that district YRUU has stolen their yoots, but the truth is that it's best for everyone that youth not be subjected to that kind of ministry.

2) DREs can pre-empt The Loop by hiding the existence of district or regional YRUU from their youth. Often new youth are reached by YRUU via con fliers mailed to congregations. That positions those congregational leaders directly across a bottleneck, and if they choose to block that bottleneck, they're not only betraying their youth's trust, they're justifying those youth's inevitable eventual departure from the congregation. YRUU didn't steal these youth, and they're not participating in their youth group so they can't be part of a survey. But they are casualties of the same neglect nonetheless.

The reason I oppose all of these changes -- besides the decidedly screwed-up way they're being implemented -- is that none of them fix the underlying problem, which is a lack of sincere commitment to principles of justice when it comes to how we relate to our youth. If the UUA would take steps to show adults how to be allies to their youth, then these problems wouldn't manifest, and YRUU would serve all youth, even those who do not participate in it. Because it has steadfastly refused to take those steps, it has justified its own actions. I see the UUA acting like the adults in examples a and b, not as the empowered adults that are required to manifest healthy youth programming regardless of whether YRUU is involved or even exists.

That's why this is all a circus of deception to me. These same leaders promised commitment to YRUU and to youth structures of governance and accountability. That commitment included advocating for youth programming, funding youth programming, and fighting ageism in our congregations and the denomination at large. In the end, they totally declined to follow through on those promises, and that neglect has created the very situations that justify their actions. Their survey measures exactly what they wanted to measure with the result they intended. If you can't see the Consultation results with the same cynicism I can, I ask you to consider the improbability that this attempt to dismantle YRUU just happens to coincide with a broader philosophical mandate to do away with all organizational relationships between the UUA and other structures. The truth is that the Consultation couldn't have possibly done a better job of affirming the plan they had conceived of even before they'd conceived of the Consultation. A healthy dose of skepticism is well-advised.

tim fitzgerald:

February 19, 2008 05:55 PM | Permalink for this comment

I meant to say, the UUA is acting in a disempowering fashion, *"Not as the -empowering- adults" neeeded.

Also, I will say that if you are looking for more help from the district, the best thing you can possibly do is invest in it. That's how the district grows, it's how The Loop takes hold. Any notion you have that your church is equipped to serve the dreams and potential of your youth should be checked by a sense that there is more for them to do. As crucial as your youth group can and should be to its members, many DREs fall prey to a parentalism that seeks to keep congregational youth in-pocket. That's a big mistake and it's a main reason why both scenarios above come to pass. That attitude may make sense with younger folks who are participating in congregational RE, but it won't work for youth.

Also, youth advisor training will help with your advisors. That happens on the district level and is coordinated by the continental level -- it's also a program developed by youth who came up from congregations through districts up to continental roles, and their adult allies.

Robin Barraza:

February 19, 2008 07:23 PM | Permalink for this comment


You're talking to me like I didn't use to work for the Mass Bay District as the District Youth Coordinator, and for UUA headquarters. I know what the district offers for youth advisors and youth programming...I used to be the one offering it! :)
And trust me, it wasn't enough for the different constellations of congregational youth programming.

I appreciate your perspective, I really do. And I do understand that it feels as though this was in the plan. I don't disagree with you that it was, incidentally. I guess what I'm puzzled about is why we're all so mad at Bill Sinkford and the board for trying to do what we elected them to do--to serve congregations. It just doesn't seem surprising that the board has voted to eliminate support for affiliates who they didn't see as fulfilling their mission. I saw this coming too, but I was never sure it wasn't positive. If not positive, at least rational.

I happen to have a thriving and robust youth program right now, and I don't "blame" the district for anything...I'm just looking forward to more recommendations for how to make it better from continental leadership. What I have noticed, contrary to what I was preaching when I came in the door (as District Youth Coordinator) as the new DRE, the most popular and thriving programs we offer are OWL for 8th graders, and Coming of Age for 9th and 10th graders and a structured "chat group" on Sunday mornings. Youth have given us the feedback that they want to "do stuff" in youth programs, so we had to go back with the YAC and really plan big time. The youth group died out because it wasn't using it's YAC effectively, and kept complaining that the advisors told them that they had to run everything, so they just sat around "checking in" and talking about what they were going to do. So, they just stopped coming 'cause nothing was happening. In order to empower youth, you have to model what leadership looks like first, right? That wasn't happening, and we had a whole host of "youth empowering" youth advisors in and out the door in the many years before I came. But I don't blame the district for this. Milton's relationship with the district was good--we had a bunch of con-going youth who really benefited from that (one's on the board of trustees now...hi Charlie!)

Anyway, I have different theories than you do as to why youth programming has fizzled in the last two years in MBD (it was still strong when I left, and that was only two years ago), and I think you are right that it does have to do partly with congregations' concerns around safety. Remember that safe congregations' policies (generally a good thing) have drastically effected the way we all do youth programming. If an event falls under the auspices and liability of an organization like the Mass Bay District, it actually would behoove us all (particularly the youth) to adhere minimally to safe congregations guidelines.

But you talk about DREs as if they have some sort of sinister plan to foil youth empowerment by "blocking mailings" and twirling their mustaches. Can I just say that, as a DRE and former District Youth Coordinator, I know that this is simply just not true? DREs and youth advisors have many reasons why they don't give mailings that come into their mailboxes for myriad reasons. Perhaps they are a new DRE (we have dozens) that have never heard of cons. Perhaps they simply don't get paid enough hours to advise at a con, and they don't want to be the default person who has to give up their weekend. Perhaps they are constantly in between youth advisors and the mailing sits in the youth advisor mailbox, waiting for a new youth advisor to be hired (this has happened to me this year). Perhaps the youth on the District Youth Steering Committee consistently mailed out the flyer the week before the actual con was going to happen, and the youth service was already planned for that weekend (this happened for every single con last year...flyers were either mailed out late or not at all). There is no DRE plot that I know of to take down district YRUU. There are over-tired, under-paid, under-appreciated religious professionals making time management and safety decisions, yes. And there are certainly some churches who do not have any confidence in district YRUU because they don't trust teenagers to run programming. But mostly, we're all just human doing an imperfect job. And that includes the youth, the district staff, the religious professionals, and dare I say it? Bill Sinkford.

tim fitzgerald:

February 19, 2008 07:47 PM | Permalink for this comment


I know that you were the District Youth Coordinator for MBD YRUU. Far from reassuring me, it's surprising to me how hard it is to reconcile the point of view you're articulating -- including the concept that -you- were the one offering district youth programming -- with that fact.

DREs don't have a conspiracy to destroy YRUU. However, they do have religious education training aimed at serving children, and time and time again I have seen them do great damage when trying to serve youth, by failing to understand that the role of DREs vis a vis youth is not a supervisory role at all. Here:

Perhaps they are a new DRE (we have dozens) that have never heard of cons. Perhaps they simply don't get paid enough hours to advise at a con, and they don't want to be the default person who has to give up their weekend. Perhaps they are constantly in between youth advisors and the mailing sits in the youth advisor mailbox, waiting for a new youth advisor to be hired (this has happened to me this year). Perhaps the youth on the District Youth Steering Committee consistently mailed out the flyer the week before the actual con was going to happen, and the youth service was already planned for that weekend (this happened for every single con last year...flyers were either mailed out late or not at all).

Not one of these examples you gave is acceptable justification for blocking communication that is obviously not intended for the DRE as the end reader. In the case of the new DRE who doesn't know what a con is, they should ask their youth. If they don't get paid enough hours to advise at a con, or can't be available, they should bring the information to their youth so they can seek their own advisor. If they are 'in between youth advisors', they should bring the information directly to their youth. If the scheduling is bad, they should still tell their youth what's going on! If their youth get mail, the DRE or youth advisor has a trusted obligation to bring that mail to their youth. Their own priorities are absolutely immaterial. Note that simply forwarding this information to their youth groups carries absolutely no obligation.

There cannot be any confusion about this. DREs are not in charge of whether youth attend the youth group; youth are. Period. Denying them the information they need to make an informed choice about that role simply hurts the entire process. The only hope DREs have of starting -- much less maintaining -- a healthy youth group is to go the full 9 yards in trusting youth to make their choices for themselves. Anything less will be met with frustration. I maintain that this gap between what DREs learn about their roles, and how their relationship to youth must be seen as an exception to every facet of that learning, is the weakest link in UUA's youth ministry.

tim fitzgerald:

February 19, 2008 07:53 PM | Permalink for this comment

And if I may be so blunt, if you and other DREs are resigned to doing your job imperfectly, you probably shouldn't be advocating for the destruction of time-tested youth organizations because they're not perfect either.

tim fitzgerald:

February 19, 2008 08:03 PM | Permalink for this comment

Also, Sinkford may well have not been elected if it weren't for the institutional clout (not to mention delegate votes) of YRUU. And we definitely did not vote for him because we wanted him to dismantle our organization that we and previous generations had gone to so much effort to build and maintain, without even an attempt to grow it into something we could all agree would work better. It's in fact the exact opposite of what we were promised. Maybe that'll help you understand why we're so upset.

Robin Barraza:

February 19, 2008 08:04 PM | Permalink for this comment

Oh, Tim, I am not saying it is perfectly acceptable for DREs to fail to give their mail directly to youth, I'm just saying it happens 'cause we're human, not because we are trying to circumvent empowerment. DREs are not "the man" (we are a bottom up faith, not bottom down...why are we forever fighting the man?), and many of us care very much about youth ministry and empowerment. I am just pointing out that we are all in this faith tradition together, we all care about it (and our youth!) and we all make human mistakes. That certainly doesn't mean that we want youth to be subjugated or "supervised" by us. We just want quality programming that they love!

And about the district: I'm sorry I've disappointed you. I don't expect the district to provide anything beyond cons and advisor trainings...that's what we're able to offer. Both are helpful, and I use both. I'm just hoping to really get into the youth summit recommendations and find out what they have to say about strengthening congregational youth programming beyond youth advisor training 101 and cons. I think that would have been helpful in my role as DYC too, and as a DRE, I can't wait! Maybe I'm being optimistic for no reason, but I will remain so until I see that there really is a big old vacuum where YRUU used to be (that would, I can agree, be a crying shame).

Robin Barraza:

February 19, 2008 08:08 PM | Permalink for this comment


yes, that was blunt. I am resigned to do everything imperfectly 'cause I'm human. That includes my job. And I also forgive the youth on DYSC for forgetting to send out flyers last year. They are imperfect too, and I empathize.

tim fitzgerald:

February 19, 2008 09:07 PM | Permalink for this comment

I'm imperfect too, as is probably made clear by my struggle to maintain an effective tone in dealing with these issues.

I'm not saying that imperfections aren't OK. What I'm saying is that the reasons why so many DREs make the same mistakes have nothing to do with "being human". They are institutional. Institutional, like -isms, including ageism and parentalism.

What I'm asking is that DREs take responsibility for these failings by learning better rather than continuing to obstruct the healthy spiritual growth of UU youth. These are the same struggles we ask white folks, class-privileged folks, gender-privileged folks to embark upon in our faith. Because these issues stand between us and justice.

I don't want to make too big an issue of language, but viewing cons as a resource for DREs, or a resource provided by the DYC, hints to me at a misunderstanding of who's really responsible for, and in control of, youth ministry.

I hear DREs advocating to protect their areas of influence, but it's insanely rare that I hear them articulate the fact that it's not OK for advisors to decide the issue of whether or not to participate in cons for their youth, the fact that it's not OK for DREs to go beyond safe space concerns to the point of applying their own personal, rather than community concerns... the fact that it's not OK for DREs to treat youth as constituents on the same level as the rest of the youth they are expected to serve. That's the kind of advocacy DREs need to embody when it comes to youth. But I know blessed few DREs who understand and articulate why those things are so important -- so blessed few who even know and take seriously the fact that ageism exists.

I also challenge your assertion that we are a bottom-up organization. This Board of Trustees believes differently, unfortunately. They are determining the entire structure and future of youth programming in the UUA, and many, many people on the district and local levels will follow suit without a moment of skepticism. Some will even greet these results the way they are presented -- as the end of a long process of consultation and consideration. The fact that that process was a sham won't cross most minds. The key to success with youth ministry isn't about giving DREs more tools for dealing with and ministering youth. DREs are not the best trained people in our denomination to minister to youth -- youth are, and their advisors. DREs have a different job that, as you say, they are overworked enough trying to do. The unfortunate fact that our institutions put them at a bottleneck point in communication between youth is not evidence that that's where they ought to stand.

Robin Barraza:

February 20, 2008 09:09 AM | Permalink for this comment

Well, I mostly have the opposite experience. My one youth on DYSC, my advisors, and me (the DRE) at my church try and BEG the youth in youth group to go to cons. They choose not to 'cause they don't want to. No conspiracy about it...they're not interested. I mean, I'm not sure how much harder we can push it. We have someone come and talk to our youth group every single time a con is coming up, and advisors clear their schedules (it's written in their job description that they must advise at cons). The youth still don't want to go. And we still need to provide programming for them regardless of the fact that they don't want to go to cons 'cause that's our job. [I know you think it isn't my job, but my congregation heartily disagrees with you so it's actually written into my job description.] So far, the youth like the programming the YAC has put forth for them, so they show up in droves. They still don't want to go to cons (maybe because they are happy with just their congregational youth group activities? I honestly don't know). :shrugs: We'll still try to convince them to go. I personally like cons a I don't think it's me that's "bottlenecking" as the ageist DRE. As a congregation, we need to serve the actual youth that we have at the time that we have them. It's what we get paid to do as staff. They have articulated what they want, and so we, as congregational leadership, are charged with helping to bring their vision to fruition. We can't force them to go to cons and "be empowered" if they don't want to. Is it possible that there are myriad reasons in addition to DRE age-ism that cause congregational youth to forgo district conference participation? I'm wondering this honestly, because you seem to be discounting many other issues that contribute to fizzling participation in YRUU.

Robin Barraza:

February 20, 2008 09:44 AM | Permalink for this comment

"I don't want to make too big an issue of language, but viewing cons as a resource for DREs, or a resource provided by the DYC, hints to me at a misunderstanding of who's really responsible for, and in control of, youth ministry"

I'm sorry, I meant to answer this, since you've mentioned it twice now. District services are a resource to the constituents we serve in the Mass Bay District. Constituents include youth, DREs, ministers, youth advisors, parents, and congregations as a whole. These services are provided by district staff working in conjunction with empowered, elected district leadership, which includes youth and adults elected to the District Youth Steering Committee. It absolutely was my job to help provide a service--to all constituents--to further the cause of Unitarian Universalist Youth ministry. It was not my job alone, it was done in conjunction with youth and adult leadership. And if you're getting paid to do a job, you absolutely have responsibility for that job getting done. This isn't to have power over, this is to have accountability to, your constituents and the organization you work for.

I hear a lot of "DREs need to learn" from you, and then a lot of "the district youth and adult leadership shouldn't provide resources to DREs". Which is it? Is there a way to gently train adults in the ways of youth empowerment, honoring the many gifts they bring to the table, or is it truly "you get it or you don't"? 'Cause that sucks.

If YRUU wants to be autonomous from the districts and from the UUA, than yay! I'll support that. Whenever someone else controls the purse strings, there is going to be a level of accountability and safety demanded by the institution. And it's not because of "parentalism", it's really because of liability. Parentalism actually sounds nicer. But speaking of parentalism, all of this sounds a lot like "I hate you, can you drive me to the mall?" If YRUU truly wants to be autonomous, than why does it want to be sponsored by the UUA? The UUA is going to ask for safety and accountability and cooperation. It has to as a responsible institution, right?

Jeff Wilson:

February 20, 2008 10:32 AM | Permalink for this comment

Robin, there are indeed myriad reasons why youth don't want to go to cons, beyond alleged DRE age-ism. I grew up in a New England UU church, and was a member of the youth group for all four years of high school; I served for two of those years as the youth group rep to the church Board of Education and in my senior year as the president of the youth group. Ours was/is a fairly large (600+ active members), relatively self-sustaining church with a very healthy youth group. This was in the 1990s. All of this is offered by way of background.

People in my youth group rarely went to cons. I attended a couple, but not many. Our reasons never had anything to do with interference on the part of church leaders or adults. The primary reason was lack of interest. We simply weren't very impressed by con culture, though most of knew other young UUs who did enjoy it. Much of our lack of participation was related to not wanting to have to drive/fly all the way to a con, not wanting to pay the costs of cons, and not wanting to miss things going on at home, whether it was time for homework or hanging out with our friends.

Another big factor was that we thought of many of the con people as snobs. Cons struck me as cliquish the few times I attended, and other folks in my youth group voiced the same opinions to me. We had a vibrant, supportive youth culture at our own church (for most of us, other UU kids from our church or nearby churches made up a very significant proportion of our friends): why would we want to travel a long way in order to hang out with a bunch of strangers who seemed to us somewhat exclusive on the one hand, and (how do I put this gently) sometimes a bit maladjusted on the other?

Bottomline: the several dozen youth in our group never felt empowered by cons. We felt empowered by our congregation. We were never convinced that cons offered us anything of sufficient value that we couldn't get at home. Cons simply felt extraneous to us. This is not meant to say that cons didn't offer other youth something worthwhile or that other people didn't feel empowered. This is just a response to the question of why some youth don't participate in con culture. Your mileage may vary.

Tim Fitzgerald:

February 20, 2008 11:34 AM | Permalink for this comment


I never meant to suggest that there were no valid reasons why local youth don't go to cons. There are. I never suggested that youth should be forced to go to cons... they shouldn't. As I said before, MBD's been through some violations of safe space that I'd actually pin responsibility for onto [some youth advisors] and onto the UUA itself.* That's my own personal theory, based on dialog with district youth, and past conversations/debate with said former advisors, so take it for whatever it is or isn't worth. I'd never ask youth to participate in something they weren't into just because I felt like it was good for them.

I'm talking about long-term, rather than any specific example -- and I certainly did not mean to imply that you are personally responsible for ageism or that your situation (of which I know only what you've told me) as DRE indicates that you are ageist, or anything like that. Long-term, when youth step into youthhood in our churches, they need to have resources ready for them -- and those resources need to be genuinely present for their benefit, and not (ultimately) because it is their job to be there or because they have institutional goals of their own. Too often adults are building for youth, from scratch, as they show up.

DREs, YACs, DYCs, are all resources for youth, even if they report to adults. They're intermediaries... I'd like again to mention the institutional aspect I raised before. The fact that you feel pressured by forces aside from youth in your work with them might be part of the explanation I've been trying to find for why DREs so often seem to find themselves at such crucial positions. It's a lot of responsibility because it means that your decisions alone can have a huge impact on the relationship youth will have to their church and to their district.

I'm just suggesting that perhaps DREs should not be expected to switch back and forth from the kinds of roles they need to play with children to the kinds of roles they need to play with youth. Even if DREs generally manage the youth group, it's got to be different from how they manage other RE groups, even if there's pressure from the congregation to treat them the same way. I don't think it's about "getting it". I think it's about letting youth get it for themselves, noticing coercing or obstructing them. And it's about recognizing that youth advisors are not natural-born, they're trained, and that that training is not necessarily always in line with the kinds of training DREs receive.

Regarding parentalism, and why YRUU should be sponsored by the UUA: YRUU is not UUA's child. It's a partner organization serving a constituent need. "I hate you, drive me to the mall" is a really poor description of the relationship between the two organizations for over two decades. In recent years, the more the UUA violates its covenant to YRUU, the more YRUU has been forced to push back against it out of self-preservation, and in order to maintain its ability to serve its role. Parental, age-based metaphors for the two organizations' relationship absolutely blur more than they reveal, because this relationship is like the relationship between any subsidiary organization and its umbrella -- when the umbrella supports the subsidiary organization, it will thrive, and when it doesn't, it will need support before it can thrive. And the truth is that the UUA holds the strings because Unitarian Universalists are the ones who will decide whether we want to minister to our youth or keep them in-pocket. It's an either/or proposition. Lately we've been making a lot of very bad choices in that regard.

[*Comment lightly amended with author's approval. —Philo]

Tim Fitzgerald:

February 20, 2008 11:38 AM | Permalink for this comment

And RE: liability... the word sends shivers down my spine. I think liability is a bogeyman that sometimes is seized as a way to mitigate a sense of -personal- risk, not institutional, and not legal. Legally, liability is nowhere near as important as some congregational staff make it out to be, and congregations are at nowhere near the risk they often imagine it to be. Concerns about liability, in my experience, are often raised first by the least empowering adults. I agree that at some point those concerns do become valid, but usually that point lies far, far beyond its first mention, and the whole issue is thusly suspect.

tim fitzgerald:

February 20, 2008 11:47 AM | Permalink for this comment

I think it's about letting youth get it for themselves, noticing healthy and unhealthy patterns, and neither coercing or obstructing them.

Gotta stop tryina pound out these responses during fleeting pauses at work.

Robin Barraza:

February 20, 2008 12:17 PM | Permalink for this comment

Well, there's something we agree upon: liability. It's why I said "parentalism" is a nicer word. That phrase was coined by you in this discussion, not me...I don't think of the UUA as my "parents" as I agree that imagery is completely inaccurate...I see myself as an autonomous member of the UUA. You and I are the UUA, after all. It's why I don't get all of this "them and us" language. And liability maybe ugly, but lots of organizations pay close attention to it.

So youth advisors and DREs are not natural born youth empowerers, they're trained, you say. But you also said that district services are not for them. Which is it? I'm genuinely confused by this. I want more training for the youth advisors who work for me, not less. MORE! Tons and tons of training. I agree that youth advisors and DREs are not natural born, and there isn't enough training coming from the current structure in place. Does that mean one has to dismantle the structure to get better service? I personally don't think so, but I wasn't at the Summit on Youth Ministry, so I don't know yet what their recommendation is for the future of continental youth structures(although I did just read the report, which I found illiminating). It sounds to me, Tim, like there will definitely be something in YRUU's place. I'm still not convinced that this something is bad...I haven't seen it yet.

[Comment abridged at author's request. —Philo]

tim fitzgerald:

February 20, 2008 12:38 PM | Permalink for this comment

So youth advisors and DREs are not natural born youth empowerers, they're trained, you say. But you also said that district services are not for them. Which is it? I'm genuinely confused by this.

I didn't say district services weren't for them. I'm saying youth ministry isn't for them. It's not something that's provided by the district on behalf of the adults who may or may not want their youths to be ministered. That's the angle I wanted to contest.

Personally I feel like people should be accountable for their actions. Out of respect, I'll leave it at that.

Robin Barraza:

February 20, 2008 12:53 PM | Permalink for this comment

"Personally I feel like people should be accountable for their actions. Out of respect, I'll leave it at that."

Well, I do too, but I think there are better ways to hold people accountable, and I do believe that direct communication is better than public shaming, in general. Anyway, I do appreciate your respecting that...I think we all would appreciate the same treatment the next time someone has a beef with us.

Still confused, though. I know youth ministry isn't for DREs and youth advisors, but don't they need to be trained at the very least on how to be good adult allies? As folks who work in the realm of youth ministry, youth advising, ministry, and religious education, we would certainly benefit from good training on how to do youth work well. I don't care where the training comes from...I just think we need more of it. I think you agree, but you've lost me somehow.

Heather Vail:

February 20, 2008 02:06 PM | Permalink for this comment

Well, this whole conversation has lost me somehow. Though I'm glad y'all are having it, because I think it's good to hash these things out, and it's helpful, at least for me, to think about these issues.

That being said, a couple things.

Whether or not you agree that it should be the job of the DREs (and, actually, I do), the reality is that right now youth programs generally are the jobs of DREs. If they were to not be, we'd have to have a conversation on where the cutoff would be. You could argue that religious education (via DREs) should end at 14, when youth programming begins. However, it has always been my belief that religious education should be a life-long process (that the UUA renamed the office "lifespan development" seems to reflect a similar idea).

With that in mind, I think DREs should be regarded much more as ministers than as teachers. In fact, I'd like to argue that even adult ministry should be partially handled by DREs. I think that DREs could be an amazing resource for creating a whole different kind of UU ministry to complement traditional church services/worship styles. A ministry focused on sharing education. A ministry with the potential to much more effectively serve youth and young adults, for example. Small group minstry is just one example of a model developed primarily by DREs (I think? correct me if I'm wrong about that) that has been incorporated into the offerings in most churches. By it's very nature, small group ministry has the capacity to meet the spiritual needs of youth and young adults much more effectively than traditional Sunday service, generally speaking.

Which is why it's my belief that DREs should be a very big part of ministering to youth. Which is not to say that they should have the same role as a youth advisor - certainly not, that would be disasterous - but that youth can and should be under the realm of groups served by DREs. Further, it's always been a source of great distress for me that our youth empowerment model (when it exists) begins abruptly at 14. I've been holding my breath and waiting for a long time to see some curriculum for 11-14 year olds. I think youth empowerment is a gradual process, and should be treated as such.

All that being said, the institution of DREs (as opposed to the people, and that's a crucial point) have been monumentally failing at this task, in my mind. DREs are NOT trained in youth empowerment the way that they should be, they are not taught that youth ministry is a completely different approach than ministry to children (they could learn a lot from OWL there!), and they are not challenged to actively practice anti-ageism the way youth advisors are. DREs have the potential to be some of the strongest allies in theory - in practice, they are often the greatest enemies.

As I think Tim may be getting at, that's not just a problem of resources being available (which, I agree, there is definitely a need for more). It's also a problem of the entire culture of training DREs. It's a problem of the DRE mentality and job description, too. That whole thing needs re-vamping. I'd love to see that included in the new structure of YRUU, but I am so far away from being optimistic about that.

I still firmly believe that this is NOT a time for blind faith in the system because youth voices and concerns are NOT being accountably considered in the dialogue. This is, without a doubt, a step backward for youth empowerment. Nothing that comes out of this process will be accountable because the process itself is not accountable. And, as Tim said, the report from the Consultation looks great in theory, but it's skewed. Even outside of that, the entire lengthly process was largely disregarded by the UUA administration in this recent decision anyway, so it doesn't matter if the steps leading up to it attempted to reach out to the appropriate constituents (which I don't believe it effectively did).

Matt Moore's comment on the UUlogy blog regarding youth representatives to the Board of Trustees very aptly represents my feelings on that institution. What was once a great vision for youth empowerment was twisted and carefully manipulated into not youth empowerment but youth bribery. I continue to mourn the underrepresentation of youth and young adult voices in concerns about ministering to them, nevermind about concerns about defining Unitarian Universalism in general. And I continue to mourn the sacrificing of youth empowerment to broader concerns for youth ministry.

What made YRUU so special - and so radical - was that it actively modelled youth empowerment when it was working. Very few congregations succeeded at doing that, and those that did had phenomenal DREs, ministers, staff, advisors, institutional support from the UUA, and a whole bunch of resources. There is no doubt in my mind that some new system will be developed to serve youth. Many youth probably won't even notice the difference, or care. But the difference will be there, and those of us that experienced what was beginning to look like real empowerment will know the difference. Instead of radically practicing the idea that youth should be included in all levels of decision-making - should be trusted and treated as if they can design their own programs - youth groups will retreat into the standard idea of youth groups from other faiths: primarily social groups with a little social action and maybe some worship. That's a very different model of youth ministry than youth actively participating in all levels of local governance, which is what YRUU was actively advocating for. Which is exactly what the UUA is backing away from.

They wonder why youth and young adults leave the faith. This is why. No marketing campaign - no attempts at recruiting new members - will solve the institutional problem that we are a hypocritical faith in action. We preach radical inclusivity, but we lack the metaphorical balls to stand up and fight for it when it counts. And that's why most people who grow up UU don't stay UU.

That consultation cannot measure how many people have been disenfranchised and dissillusioned by the faith. I can tell you based on just people I personally know, the number is monumental. Hundreds and hundreds. Of people who were once very active. That's only getting worse.

Last point? I'm going to hold that Bill Sinkford is lying here, until I hear otherwise. After all he and the institutions he represents have done to youth ministry and youth designed and led structures in the last three years (blatantly disregarding the wishes of democratically elected youth council in 2004 is just one example), I've got no trust left in that relationship. And optimism in the face of that strikes me as not only naive, but absurd.

tim fitzgerald:

February 20, 2008 02:10 PM | Permalink for this comment

I certainly agree that training is important -- I feel like I said a couple times that training is how good adult allies are made, but looking back I guess I didn't give it as much emphasis as I had thought. That's really the key. It's training, funded by the UUA; advocacy, engaged in by UUA leaders; revisioning, led by youth and their adult allies. I disagree that these things aren't being provided sufficiently by the "current structure", though, if by that you mean YRUU. Youth need adult allies and if the UUA shares that belief then it ought to take responsibility for organizing adults in such a capacity. The current youth structure does a lot to train adults, while the UUA has refused to take any active administrative stance at all on youth empowerment.

I agree that something great could come of this but I don't see it getting better before it gets worse, if current trends continue. Based on what I've seen, I don't believe that the UUA leadership is done trying to squeeze youth back exclusively into congregations.

I also think that the way that we treat each other in the democratic process is the difference between practicing what we preach and going through the motions. It's disheartening to me personally because the way this process has gone makes me question why the faith I've grown up with continues to deserve my committment. But it's also upsetting because I know that this is the way the UUA is treating the youth it is currently ministering to, and that means that our denominational youth ministry program right now includes a large dose of disempowerment and disrespect. That means we're not fulfilling our promises to our youth, and I don't believe that right ends can be achieved via wrong means.


February 20, 2008 03:34 PM | Permalink for this comment

A few notes:
a) I have known RE professionals who intentionally trash con flyers in an attempt to prevent "their" youth from learning about cons... and I've seen at least one of those be unaware that "their" youth have other ways of learning about cons, eg word of mouth. My preference is to pass on the flyer with a brief note explaining my concerns about cons.
b) I've seen what looks a lot like the "con clique" relying on word of mouth, because they care a lot more about getting their friends to cons, than about outreach to youth they don't already know, and thus the flyer is an afterthought. That tends to break the "loop" effect.
c) The Consultation and Summit Report read to me as very top-down documents, re-envisioning what work congregations and districts will do according to the top-down vision. I don't see much, or really anything, about supporting whatever work congregations choose to do. Which incidentally dismisses any empowerment of youth *in congregations*, and empowers only the youth who have entered the denominational leadership track. If the youth at my church have a vision other than that of the Report, then too bad for them, their local advisors might support it but the UUA and Youth Office have a Report to follow.

Robin Barraza:

February 20, 2008 04:13 PM | Permalink for this comment

Well, Heather (hi Heather!), I agree with what you said about DREs and would extend it to ministers as well.

And I also agree that a few people leave UUism because they feel disenfranchised and disillusioned by 25 Beacon St. But not most. I think the reasons are much less complicated than denominational politics (like they don't like church or organized religion, or they decide to become Catholic or because they marry a Jewish person, or they think that UUs "don't believe anything", or they never went to church services because they were down in the basement so none of it is familiar or compelling). Most folks do not have access to continental leadership and/or information, so I'm quite sure they don't leave because they are feeling disillusioned by UUA headquarters. Your friends may and my friends may, yes, but most UU folks? Does that disillusionment account for "the gap?" Uh-uh, I don't think so. There just aren't enough UUs involved in YRUU to have that account for The Reason Why We Don't Keep Our Youth.

Steve Caldwell:

February 20, 2008 11:57 PM | Permalink for this comment


One interesting UU denominational demographic I've seen is that we’re 80 to 90% adult converts in our congregations.

This may suggest that we may need to do a better job at keeping youth and young adults who were raised as Unitarian Universalists in our congregations, camps, and conferences.

I would recommend checking out “Children of a Different Tribe: UU Young Adult Developmental Issues” by Sharon Hwang Colligan.

You can find this online here:

Sharon created this resource using a presentation that she did on UU young adult developmental issues at the Nashville GA in 2000.

Sharon suggests in her paper that our churches do an excellent job at reaching out to and providing ministry to newcomer converts but we don’t do that well at reaching out to the former children and youth who were raised in our church basements.

Sharon's resource was used in creating the "Bridging" curriculum published by the UUA:

Robin Barraza:

February 21, 2008 11:24 AM | Permalink for this comment


I've read that article before, but thanks for highlighting it here. I think it is certainly illuminating. I personally am one of those young adults that grew up going to church services. I personally hate circle worship; I get nothing out of it. I don't like it when we attribute one form of worship to one demographic. We are all different, and we all respond to different forms of worship as a result of our diversity.

I'm also familiar with the phenomenon of "losing our youth" and the fact that we who grew up UU make up 10% of our denomination (I'm one of the 10%). I'm also familiar with the phenomenon of catering to our converts. We had a great meeting at GA last year about this subject, and there were many complicated reasons for why we (as folks who grew up UU) gave for why we think this is so. I hope that the Board took the conversation to heart.

I have many different theories on why this phenomenon occurs, and I think it has more to do with a lack of theological depth and a confused identity since merger than it does have to do with a lack of institutional support for Young Religious Unitarian Universalists. YRUU has been a powerful organization over the last 31 years that I have been a UU, and we still lose our youth.

This is a different subject, however, and I'm sorry to take us off on that tangent.

Heather posits that my optimistic view is "naive". I don't think I'm naive about the way the UUA works, however. I did work at Headquarters during the UUA presidential election (for one of the candidates!) for the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, mostly on ministerial misconduct cases. I'm hardly naive about politics and corruption in our ranks.

What I do know is that I like the people I have covenanted with to serve our faith tradition. I like the many members of the board I know, I like Bill Sinkford, I like Gini Courter, I like Jesse Jaeger, I like the many YPSs I worked with at the UUA, I like the youth in YRUU that I worked with in the district, I like DREs, I like ministers. I have great respect for all of them. We all share a common passion: Unitarian Universalism. And I have a deep love and concern for the faith that raised me from when I was born, and I am positive that they do too. I'm absolutely positive that they care about youth and youth ministry as well. I certainly have been involved in enough conversations with these folks over the years to know that. To say that they don't is just ludicrous. Do they have different ways of going about things than some of us do? Yes. But what possible motive do they have for destroying youth ministry in Unitarian Universalism?

What I abhor is the ridiculous vying for power and control that I see happening in the upper echelons of our denomination. That's what I see in this conversation. I see the YRUU youth participating in it; I see DREs and ministers participating in it; I think we teach our children that this is how it should all work. We seem to teach them that empowerment, and worse, religion, is all about obtaining power. BS. It's power shared, or it's go home and take your marbles with you.

I think all of it distracts us from our real work, which is nurturing the faith tradition that we love. I know that the people on the Board and the people in YRUU and Bill Sinkford and the people on the MFC and ministers and DREs and youth coordinators and District Executives and the people in our pews and the good readers of this blog share the same love of Unitarian Universalism that I do. I refuse to fight with all of them for power when I could be working with them to do better for our movement.

Period. If that makes me disempowering to youth, then so be it.


Heather Vail:

February 21, 2008 12:53 PM | Permalink for this comment

A few things:

RE why youth leave: You're right - I was definitely oversimplifying. There are a lot of reasons people leave. I would put amongst them lack of campus ministries, a lack of depth in our ministry, our denomination's seeming inability to effectively minister to people who grew up UU (I wrote an article about this shortly after GA this summer that's accessible in the archives of - oh, wow, I forgot you were at that workshop too, Robin!!), and local youth ministry being more about "youth group" in most churches than building UU youth identity.

However - this is the point I was trying to make - I think YRUU had the effect of creating a UU youth identity for many people. What this decision is doing (and it's really the last in a string of decisions) is alienating people who are the most likely to continue to identify as UU. This is alienating the future ministers, DREs, and committed youth advisors. This is alienating the future leadership that UUism has come to depend on. This is alienating the kind of people who have tattooed chalices on their bodies because that identity means so much to them. I think this is a huge mistake.

Yes, we need more effective youth and young adult ministry and identity building for all UU youth. Absolutely. But in the absence of that (and there really hasn't been much talk of how to build that kind of identity in local congregations, if it's even possible), why get rid of the one organization that has already been nurturing and developing future UU leadership?

RE Children of a Different Tribe: got some good points to make for sure, but pretty problematic (especially in its dealings with race), if you ask me. Just read it with a grain of salt, please.

RE Optimism: I'm sorry - I got a little caught up in what I was writing. I don't know that optimism is naive, persay, but I think there needs to be an understanding going into this dialogue that this decision (as the last in a string of decisions) represents a fundamental breach in trust between the UUA and its youth (especially it's REALLY INVESTED youth). Before many of us can feel comfortable trusting this process, we need to be shown that they are interested in engaging honestly, transparently, and accountably with us. So far, all of their communication has shown just the opposite. For me, and for so many others, asking for optimism is like a slap in the face. It's adding insult to injury. Why should we be willing to trust _again_ in an organization and in individuals who have repeatedly betrayed that? If they really care about youth empowerment, they will start to recognize this fundamental breach in trust and start to work on repairing it. That, in my mind, is on them.

RE power: To me, this entire conversation is about power. Never has been about anything else. Power is the important part of "empowerment." Eric Swanson has made some very key points about this concept elsewhere in the blogosphere.

YRUU is and always has been about power. Youth ministry - without youth power - pales in comparison to what it once was, what it could be, and what I believe our UU principles demand of it.

They don't have a motive for destroying youth ministry, certainly. But they do have a motive for destroying youth power. It's threatening. It's always been more radical than the rest of the UUA. It means taking chances, it means radically trusting, shit - it even means opening the door to potential liability. There's definintely a motive there for them to walk away from that. Matt Moore talks about this more in the UUlogy blog - and I think he's precisely on point.

Power has never been shared with youth. Once, we were in dialogue with the powers that be about how to make that happen. Once, we had a great vision for youth voices being included in all levels of denominational governance. That vision has been destroyed in the last several years. Pessimistic and frustrated adults (and youth, too) have gradually begun to give up hope that power even can (nevermind should) be effectively instilled in youth. I refuse to give up on that vision, on that dream. It's what has made me who I am today, and it's the reason why this decision has made me so angry and has been so painful for me.

I think that the real work is about acquiring power. You might think that that's nasty and crude, but it's the way the world works. Insisting otherwise feels to me to be similar to a "colorblind" goal - why can't we all just get along? Because the power balance is unequal. This is about radically trying to rectify that. And to me that's something worth fighting for.

Finally, RE Relationships: These conversations have been heartbreaking for me. I've been in and out of tears for about 10 days now. I know others have had the same experience. THIS SUCKS.

People I love and respect are falling on both sides of this conversation. I want nothing more than to give up, to quit, because I know it's hurting relationships and communities that we've worked so hard to build over the last few years. A friend of mine and I are currently struggling in our friendship because we both feel passionately about this, and disagree. This dialogue is even straining my relationships with my own mom!

Still, I remain committed to the idea that people who love and trust each other can engage in this kind of dialogue. In fact, I see it as central to my expression of my faith.

And I can't not speak up about this. Because as much as YRUU (and UUism) is about the relationships and about the community, it's also about the institution. And it's about the identity. Were it just about the relationships and the community, I never would have cared so much to risk speaking out against - vocalizing my distrust for - people who I have admired and respected for years in this community.

I, too, know almost every who's been publically involved in this dialogue. It isn't easy. But it's essential.

I hope at the end of the day, everyone stuggling with the effect that this decision is having on their relationships will have as much support as I do to fall back on. Because I fear that otherwise, we may all be hurting ourselves irreperably.

(This whole thing just keeps bringing up reverberations of the 1968 GA walkout for me. I hope the UUA Board is making that parallel in their minds, too. Because if this isn't handled delicately, I believe this decision has the potential to lead to a similar massive de-investment in the faith similar to that one.)

Robin Barraza:

February 21, 2008 02:10 PM | Permalink for this comment


Yes, I was in your small group at that workshop, remember? It was a delightful conversation, as always. I really wanted to be done with this conversation, but I have a couple of questions for you.

One: how come there is no mention of the ways in which the continental youth steering committee violated trust and right relationship with other leaders? Do the folks on steering committee not get held accountable for their part in the dismantling of YRUU just 'cause they're youth? Being empowered means being accountable to the people you serve and the people you serve with (I don't care if those people are adults and have more power--they still deserve respect 'cause we all do), and I have heard some really awful stories about the way those youth were treating other adults and other youth. Why hasn't that been mentioned by anyone? I'm sure that human beings of all ages in the past two years made all kinds of mistakes in their interactions with each other having to do with YRUU, which sound anything but loving. It sounded to me as though YRUU leadership effectively tied the hands of the UUA board and administration by refusing to be in relationship with them. It's hard to have sympathy for their consequent removal of affiliate status. Again, I don't understand an organization who wants to be in relationship, but doesn't hold up it's end of the bargain. This is what you are complaining about when it comes to the UUA board and administration...why no complaints about the other party in the relationship?

Two: folks keep mentioning breaking trust, and being dishonest and doing things in a way that disempowered youth. Which youth? Who did this? How? It seemed to me an excellent idea to engage youth who have not been empowered before in continental YRUU as in the Summit. People keep alluding to how youth were disempowered, but I have to admit I really don't actually know how. This is a genuine question.


Donald O'Bloggin:

February 21, 2008 03:27 PM | Permalink for this comment

I see a lot of things going on here.

The biggest problem I see with this entire conversation is a simple one: Youth aren't a single body, and never have been.

There are plenty of youth in every district that go to a con or two, don't like them, don't find them spiritually fulfilling, and don't go back.

There are youth in every congregation that go to a youth group, don't find their needs met there, and find other things to do in their congregations.

YRUU, at its best, has been an organisation that has produced some phenominal programming in concert with the Youth Office, and served youth who found their some of their needs in a space other than the congregations they were a part of.

As time has gone on, and especially over the last decade, YRUU has produced less and less, and the Youth Office subsumed (with or without the YRUU YC/SC permission doesn't matter) much of the actual work hours. C*UUYAN is no different. It has produced nothing in the way of work product for years, and there are those of us that have been working WITHIN the YRUU and C*UUYAN organisations for 10 years trying to get those organisations to be relevant to our district and local structures.

Michigan/Heartland District has cited the lack of relationship between the YRUU continental organisation and the district organisation EVERY SINGLE YEAR for the past 10 years, and our YCRs and both youth and adult members on the Steering Committee have raised these concerns.

I personally, as a member of a congregation that pays dues to the UUA, at this point would love to see YRUU do the respectable thing: Make its own money and stop spending mine. C*UUYAN can do the same, as our young adults have made the same kinds of commentary to that organisation.

It's totally possible. In fact, for the first third or more of the lives of both these organisations, that's exactly what they did. In the Michigan District, the District Office once asked for a LOAN from the youth, because we had $15,000 in savings, and they fell a bit short. And that came just from running $35 cons, and taking unprompted donations.

The best thing YRUU and C*UUYAN can do for themselves, is just do what they think is best for the people they choose to serve, and for our faith in general. If the organisations are meaningful to their constituencies, and listen to the people on the ground, then in time they will be indispensible to the UUA. As of right now, they are nothing but a source of pain, and damage to our faith.

Tim Fitzgerald:

February 21, 2008 05:43 PM | Permalink for this comment

One: how come there is no mention of the ways in which the continental youth steering committee violated trust and right relationship with other leaders? Do the folks on steering committee not get held accountable for their part in the dismantling of YRUU just 'cause they're youth?

None of these events occurred prior to UU adults violating right relationship with Youth. The best examples of "wrong relationship" between YRUU SC and the UUA involve refusing to accept the terms of the discussion. It's totally unfair to blame them for refusing to accept unfair terms. To the UUA, it was "our way or the highway", and to YRUU SC, it was "we're not comfortable proceeding on these terms." The UUA chose to proceed on its own terms rather than trying to maintain accountability to YRUU... and then blamed YRUU for being in wrong relationship. It made no sense then and it makes no sense now.

As far as violations of right relationship between youth and other youth, I can't comment.

But the idea that YRUU SC is somehow equally responsible for the break in relationship and communication just totally flies in the face of actual events. I feel like this point has been made in several other people's narratives. If you follow the history of the events as they occurred, it is clear that it is the UUA who has unilaterally, consistently advanced wrong relationship here.

Tim Fitzgerald:

February 21, 2008 05:47 PM | Permalink for this comment

If the organisations are meaningful to their constituencies, and listen to the people on the ground, then in time they will be indispensible to the UUA. As of right now, they are nothing but a source of pain, and damage to our faith.

Donald, you've outdone yourself here.

Tim Fitzgerald:

February 21, 2008 05:51 PM | Permalink for this comment

Robin, please make sure you've read all of the accounts and histories posted on the uulogy and YRUU Institutional Memory Blogs. They detail the ways in which youth have been disempowered by the UUA in this process.

Robin Barraza:

February 22, 2008 10:36 AM | Permalink for this comment

I've read every single comment on that blog, and still don't see it. I think I need it spelled out for me rather than talked about in UUA "lingo".

Tim Fitzgerald:

February 22, 2008 12:33 PM | Permalink for this comment

Well, word. I'm going to have to think about how to convey it better for folks who weren't involved. For me it comes down to the fact that youth built a structure to organize themselves, were empowered to do so by the UUA, and then once the UUA decided it wanted youth to be organized in a different shape, for their own purposes, all of that work and consensus and culture-building, lots and lots of time and energy (probably more than ten thousand person-hours, paid and volunteered) spent shaping a youth organization so that it would be in a better place to expand and function in accordance with the 7 principles... it all went down the drain, just because the UUA decided to pull the purse strings.

I know there is this meme/idea that YRUU doesn't serve all youth. And I know that in practice it does not. But YRUU is the bigger overarching structure of empowerment that youth can step into when and if they are ready. And if it has the investment from the larger, intergenerational community that it truly deserves (because it is a damn unique and special organization), then it has the ability to be in a very good position to serve youth who want to be served. The fact that the immenseness of YRUU's potential and impact has been systematically diminished by leaders who don't like it for reasons they are not owning is deeply tragic.

And again, the survey process is slanted to such a degree that although it has given credence to the "YRUU doesn't serve all youth" idea, that doesn't mean that idea is valid. The survey disproportionately sought out youth who hadn't been exposed to YRUU -- not youth who had decided they didn't like YRUU. To me, that looks like a strategic decision that ensured that the Consultation would have a biased pool of data to consider, and it's also an exploitation of the various types of disinvestment I've mentioned previously. Even if it wasn't strategic, it was a decision made with an unowned bias. And the fact that even that disproportionately biased representation of youth was a small minority of people on that Consultation... it's just not a legit process. I was on the Board of Trustees when the gears were set in motion.. it's easy for me to see how predetermined this outcome was. I'll need to work harder to find a way to express that to people who didn't witness so many of these events.

The only thing this process has convinced me of is that continental YRUU needed to be refocused on governance and inter-district organization. Of course, if fewer districts drove their most inspired youth away, it wouldn't have become so topheavy. And if fewer congregations drove their most inspired youth away, districts wouldn't be so distracting from congregations either. Those are the concerns I see weighted most heavily in this process, and they're both questions of how adults in our denomination deal with the youth of our denomination, far more than they are questions about how youth organize themselves.

I like systems. They are easy to understand. Within them, everything happens for a reason. There are lots of reasons to work out for why YRUU has the problems it's had. But that's not what this process was created to determine. It was created to determine the best justification for getting rid of youth who don't identify with congregational UUism. Regardless of their trajectories, regardless of whether they started in a congregation or will end up there. They want everything to run through the UUA's governance structures and having a parallel government just doesn't work for them. Unfortunately, being ruled by adult power structures doesn't work for youth. I guarantee you that if things go down the way they seem headed, we're going to lose a lot of our soul, and a lot of our membership, as a direct result.

So here's a list of ways youth have been disempowered in this conversation, just for starters:

* UUA Board withholding information about their goals (information YRUU doesn't have access to)
* Lack of balanced stakeholder representation in the consultation (something YRUU does not have the power to influence)
* UUA information control mentality defining denominational perceptions of events in a political, rather than honest, way (a power YRUU does not have)
* UUA breaking of covenant by refusing to hire more YRUU Progam Consultants -- a step taken in response to a minor disagreement, blown out of proportion using their information control power (step one of a two step process)
* UUA re-instating hiring, but hiring employees unaccountable to YRUU (this is step two.)
* UUA proceeding with Consultation without Youth Council buy-in, even though they only tried at one Youth Council to get that buy in, and then when they didn't get it, acted unilaterally
* UUA Board completely ignoring all youth voices asking for renewed push for support of youth-directed ministry in congregations and districts... including voices elected to the Board of Trustees
* President Sinkford and UUA never delivering the millions of dollars in youth funding promised by the Mind the Gap campaign

that's just for starters... and it doesn't get into all the specific instances in which youth leaders have been condescended to, ignored, or otherwise treated as meaningless by the UUA power structure. And it only covers my memory of the process, which has recently been as much an outsider's point of view as anyone's. I really don't know how else to explain this. If people think that the UUA has the right to do whatever it wants, and that's paramount, there's little I can say. This will only mean anything to people who feel that promises should be kept, information should be freely available so that democracy can exist, negotiation should be engaged in even if the power exists to act unilaterally, and processes should be named in accordance with their design, not in accordance with how their initiators would like their design to be perceived. None of these principles have been followed by the UUA.

Donald O'Bloggin:

February 23, 2008 12:04 AM | Permalink for this comment

While we're speaking of memory, let Me bring up one that sticks in My craw.

A Youth Council resolution was passed in... 1998 I think, but I could be off a year or so in each direction. This was a resolution to create, a site to preserve information about YRUU, be it worship, business, games, etc etc. Surely, the Institutional Memory Project of its day.

Now, this site was run by a couple YCRs, and previous YC and SC members, with content provided by any youth or adults that were willing to submit it. Pretty nice place, all in all, it had all the games from the YRUU games book, with even more variations on them, all the songs from the songbook as MP3 files for people to download, Business archives going back the entire way to common Ground 1, including copies of resolutions that were NOT passed that never made it into the official records that you could access through the Youth Office.

The problem was, the Steering Committee didn't like the site. They'd suggested that it not be passed, and that these things should be integrated in the site run by the Youth Office, but it was passed anyways. By October, the resolution that had ordered the site created has disappeared from the Youth Office run website, though the rest of the resolutions from that year were intact, and as time went on, the Youth Office was less and less willing to communicate any information to the people running the site, or anyone else associated with it. When asked point blank why, their only answer was "The Steering Committee has asked us not to provide any information to"

So when it comes to information manipulation, I'm not debating that the UUA administration has done that. That's a GIVEN at this point, and they've done similar things to both YRUU and C*UUYAN. I'd say the sadder part of all this, is that YRUU somehow managed to lose their ability to do the same. There was a time, when YRUU could have the ear of anyone they wanted, and a lot of people tried to get facetime with the organisations leaders. Over the past 10 years, the YRUU leadership has so insulted and riven away so many of its own supporters (mostly older youth), that they've lost many of the allies they could have had, and lost much of the knowledge and finesse they've needed to adjust to new realities in the way congregations and the UUA are working.

In the past few years, there's even been in-fighting within the GA youth Caucus between the staff and the Steering Committee to the point there have been youth trying to figure out how to divorce the Caucus from the YRUU organisation.

YRUU is in the situation it's in, because it forgot how, and then lost the ability, to define the rules of the game in which it's playing.

Steve Caldwell:

February 23, 2008 02:39 PM | Permalink for this comment

On 21 February 2008, Robin Barraza wrote to Steve Caldwell:
"I've read that article before, but thanks for highlighting it here. I think it is certainly illuminating. I personally am one of those young adults that grew up going to church services. I personally hate circle worship; I get nothing out of it. I don't like it when we attribute one form of worship to one demographic. We are all different, and we all respond to different forms of worship as a result of our diversity."


This isn't (and shouldn't be) a "circle vs rectangular" worship discussion. We could broaden it into the observed reluctance of Unitarian Universalism to incorporate contemporary worship ideas.

There a collection of contemporary worship resources on the UUA's Young Adult and Campus Ministry web pages:

The "Theologies of Contemporary Worship" section of this page has a paper titled "Cresting From The Ocean: Creating Profound Worship" by Elisabeth Frauzel Bailey. The paper can be read online here:

Elisabeth suggests the following in her paper:

"Worship is the heartbeat in the life of the church. It is the crown jewel. But in nearly all of our congregations we worship in a model that is a poor fit for our character and values. The typical order of service in a UU congregation is based on a historical Christian model, a model in which the minister has a corner on specialized knowledge--as given by God and seminary--and bequeaths it to his (mostly silent) parishioners as they sit and face him. If we wish (as many of us do) to grow as a vibrant movement, both in commitment and in numbers, we must start change there. Minister-dominated, boring worship drains the energy from a congregation. We cannot expect the spiritual practices of religious education, social justice, or church mission to grow and flourish if they are not included in the worshipful heart."

As a 48 year old person, I haven't been a youth or a young adult for many years. And I didn't grow up as a youth in LRY (my high school years were spent in Methodist Youth Fellowship aka MYF).

However, I have experienced worship in camps and conferences that tell me that we are missing the mark when it comes to Sunday morning worship. And this isn't just the case in my local congregtion.

I have found this to be true when I visit most UU congregations on most Sunday mornings.

Spiritual connection doesn't happen for me in the sanctuary where most adults are on most Sundays listening to a lecture.

For me, I experience more spiritual growth and exploration in RE and youth settings. I find that's even true for adult RE settings.

Maybe I'm just an odd adult?

Then Robin wrote:
I have many different theories on why this phenomenon occurs, and I think it has more to do with a lack of theological depth and a confused identity since merger than it does have to do with a lack of institutional support for Young Religious Unitarian Universalists. YRUU has been a powerful organization over the last 31 years that I have been a UU, and we still lose our youth.

Robin -- I agree that part of the confusion comes from a religious identity that is mostly implicit. As soon as someone starts trying to frame what Unitarian Universalism is in explicit terms, the suggestion gets shot down.

Last summer, during a local congregational board and program council retreat, we were "brainstorming" ideas for what our strengths were for growth and outreach. I suggested that we could look at our UU implicit theology of salvation that I heard in a talk by Rebecca Parker back in 2002.

On this day, we were using Dogbert's rules for brainstorming -- that is "the first rule of brainstorming is to openly mock the opinions of others."

The word "salvation" was just too radioactive for use in church marketing in our town -- at least that's what the others in leadership thought that day.

However, I've heard youth testify about how YRUU at the district level saved their lives. This suggests that we offer salvation through our YRUU youth ministry in spite of the institutional bias against YRUU that I witnessed during my time on our district's board.

I also think that we also offer salvation in our lifespan sexuality education programs -- to borrow from Rebecca Parker, OWL is one way we offer salvation from those things that deny life or make it less whole.

Take care,

Heather Vail:

February 25, 2008 10:46 AM | Permalink for this comment

Sorry for the gap time in responses - it's been a crazy couple of days.

To be honest, I'm not quite sure how to answer your questions. Partially, I think the things Tim is pointing to above are accurate. I also think - like you said - they paint an incomplete picture.

It's been clear for a long time that there was something very wrong with YRUU. I haven't been involved in continental youth leadership (or district or local, for that matter) in something like 4 years - since roughly around when Tim and I wrote that article. I can't speak to how exactly the culture transformed, but I think it's clear to everyone involved in this conversation that it certainly did.

The incident that comes out most in my mind was the affair when the YRUU Steering Committee asked Youth Office Staff (and UUA Staff) to leave during a portion of the meeting. I wasn't there, and I know the dynamics involved in that situation were complicated so I don't feel comfortable commenting on whether that was a good or a bad decision, but I do know this. It was clear to me then just how messed up YRUU was. If our staff and our volunteer leadership are at such odds with one another - as that action clearly portrayed - something is very wrong. I assume this may be the violations of trust you are speaking of between youth and other youth?

There is definitely some blame that can be laid at the feet of a generation of leadership of YRUU. That has always been the case. As long as I've been involved in YRUU on all levels, I've always had my fair share of criticisms about the ways things were run. Continental YRUU structure, in particular, alienated me in a lot of ways. I can empathize with the many scores of youth who feel similarly.

That being said, I think there's an important difference here when we talk about right relatinship. Youth leadership turns over VERY quickly. UUA leadership turns over slowly. That's why I see it as an essential role of adult allies to help youth organizations with institutional memory. Train youth leaders in passing on leadership, discussion, secrets, programming, etc. That piece fell apart years ago. Without that leadership, 14, 15, 16 year olds are left to re-design a program each year. And the easiest way to do that is by recruiting one's friends. And that's exactly what happened.

I watched as many of the adult advisors I grew up working closely with disengaged in YRUU. I can understand them getting burnt out. I can even understand (to some extent) the decisions some made to walk away for fear of being associated without something that could be considered a liability. Watching that was painful, but I could understand it.

I don't know that I can forgive those adults so easily for turning their backs on youth-led structures without ensuring that there were people who could take their place. Yes - a functioning, youth empowering framework would have a structure (preferably composed of both youth and adults) for continuing to churn out adult allies/advisors and blocking burnout. In my local congregation, this was one of the main responsibilities of the Youth/Adult Council. As much as I have always wished YRUU did, I don't know that YRUU has ever had a structure that functioned like that. Perhaps that's a hope for a new continental organization. Even if such a structure existed, I'd hope that adults heavily involved in youth ministry would work to build subsequent adult leadership. I haven't seen that happen. In fact, I've seen youth scramble to try to find adult allies. Which only adds to their responsibilities to also train new youth leadership. And is a frustrating endeavor in and of itself to recruit good adult leadership when it feels like pulling teeth to get anyone to care.

Unless something bad happens. And then all of a sudden it's everyone's business.

This is just a developing thesis, but here goes. Because there is so much turnover in YRUU, a lot of what gets passed on is rather intangible. Favorite worship songs, energy breaks, traditions, etc. I think hurt and pain got passed along the same way. I think an entire generation of youth was actually trained by other youth to be distrustful of adults (and the UUA in particular). Because the youth leadership before them had let them down. That might be destructive, but it's also valid. How could youth leaders not pass on that lesson, if that was their experience? How could youth leaders not pass on that distrust? Not doing so would almost be ingenuine.

I don't really know what the answer is, but having this conversation has definitely sparked some of my creative juices. Thanks, all.

Heather Vail:

February 25, 2008 10:49 AM | Permalink for this comment

Sorry - that should say:

I think an entire generation of youth was actually trained by other youth to be distrustful of adults (and the UUA in particular). Because the youth leadership before them had been let down.

Heather Vail:

February 25, 2008 10:56 AM | Permalink for this comment

Sorry - that piece about adult advisors leaving was unclear.

It could be said that YRUU alienated those adults, and they saw it fit to walk away. Okay, maybe. But I see that as a huge cop-out. I mean, come on.

If you are really dedicated to something, and you see it falling apart, is your first reaction to walk away and not look back? That's what I saw happening, and it broke my heart. I'd like to think that one's first reaction would be to try and fix it. Not save one's own tail. At the expense of a group of youth that will be completely different two years down the line.

That being said, I like that this decision has prompted some good dialogue, and I can respect the urge to fix YRUU because it is so clearly broken. But I continue to hold my breath and wait for a genuine effort to be made to fix it in an accountable way. Shutting youth leadership out of the dialogue is not the answer.

Maybe - just maybe - the UUA is starting to realize that. Now.

Robin Barraza:

February 25, 2008 04:52 PM | Permalink for this comment


Thank you for taking the time to write all of that. You make a whole lot of sense. In fact, it hit home pretty hard for me when you suggested that it really stinks that adults have walked away rather than stick around to try and fix YRUU. I also appreciate that you understand the reasons why that might be so. It was at the very least an empathic statement, one that I haven't actually seen in this conversation, in support of the many adults who have helped to lovingly nurture YRUU because they care deeply about it, only to be accused of single-handedly dismantling it. It's quite true that YRUU needs supportive adults to live (institutional memory being only one really good reason why, yes?), and alienating them is obviously not a good idea.

I know many really skilled adult leaders who care about UU youth ministry that basically say that they would rather eat glass than be on Continental Youth Steering Committee, and whatnot. I'm one of them; I'll admit it. The reputation that it has even among "youth empowering" adult allies is poor, and that's really too bad; you're right. It also may be unfair. I just think that the reputation is not just the fault of the adults, but likely the fault of everyone in leadership in all facets of the UU youth movement (and I'll include myself in that accountability structure, as well).

What I am seeing over and over and over again in many constiuencies of the UUA is a lack of trust in its leaders. It makes me very sad and admittedly a little angry. We are all responsible for growing this faith tradition, and we all need to take responsibility for our part when it strays from its mission. We also need to trust each other and our leaders in good faith. It's part of living our principles. I still have not heard a good reason for what motivation our leaders could possibly have for destroying Unitarian Universalist youth ministry (beyond a need for power for power's sake, or because losing power feels dangerous, and I don't buy that, nor do I have much empathy for that cause). I have only heard of different opinions about how to do youth ministry well.

What I think we can all agree on is that it's not being done all that well given our current structure. And that's great! Let's work together to fix that, rather than fighting against each other about who gets to have power in the process and how much. It's destructive, and it hurts our faith tradition.

Robin Barraza:

February 26, 2008 09:34 AM | Permalink for this comment

Meant to answer this:

Steve says: "As a 48 year old person, I haven't been a youth or a young adult for many years. And I didn't grow up as a youth in LRY (my high school years were spent in Methodist Youth Fellowship aka MYF).

However, I have experienced worship in camps and conferences that tell me that we are missing the mark when it comes to Sunday morning worship. And this isn't just the case in my local congregtion.

I have found this to be true when I visit most UU congregations on most Sunday mornings.

Spiritual connection doesn't happen for me in the sanctuary where most adults are on most Sundays listening to a lecture.

For me, I experience more spiritual growth and exploration in RE and youth settings. I find that's even true for adult RE settings.

Maybe I'm just an odd adult?"

I don't think you're an odd adult, you just have different taste than I do (illustrating my point that attaching worship style to generation is silly). I'm a young adult, and I love a Protestant liturgy, a minister who knows it all, a pulpit, lots of standing up and sitting down and pews, traditional hymns, etc. I need prayer and God and preferably a little Jesus. I have been to my share of circle worship services (Oh Lord, have I ever), and while I appreciate that they are meaningful to folks, they don't "do it" for me like rectangular worship does. This is not to say that this kind of worship is for everyone, but it's for me, despite the fact (or maybe because of the fact?) that I grew up UU and despite the fact that I am considered "young". I do appreciate the use of the ecstatic, and clapping and hooting and shouting "Amen", contemporary music (if it's good) and so forth in the traditional worship service every now and then (so I'm not opposed to contemporary elements). But mainly, I love a good sermon. Not a lecture, a sermon. And I think prayer should be the centerpiece of the service. It's often missing from circle worships I have been to altogether, leaving me cold.

:shrugs: Sorry, this is so off-topic.

tim fitzgerald:

February 26, 2008 06:46 PM | Permalink for this comment

Robin, I'm glad you get so much out of congregational worship. Two things:

a) what do you mean by prayer?
b) I think it's important that both congregational and non-congregational UUs who participate in organized UUism defend each others' ways of practicing. If congregational worship communities were threatened I hope I would stand up for their preservation and support the same way I hope congregational UUs recognize the validity and need for circle worship forms and their venues.

Robin Barraza:

February 27, 2008 05:05 PM | Permalink for this comment

Tim, I'm not advocating for dismantling circle worship. I simply said that I don't like when circle worship gets attached to my generation, as though individuals in my generation don't have different tastes around how we worship, just like "older" adults do. If anything, I would argue for more diverse worship styles being incorporated into UUism. We aren't all down with circle worship 'cause we're 20, and we aren't all into "rectangular" worship 'cause we're 57. And you and I have had this conversation before.

What do I mean by prayer? I mean, I like to pray during worship; without prayer, worship is not all that worshipful for me, personally. Corporate prayer. I'm not sure what you are asking me.

tim fitzgerald:

February 27, 2008 06:21 PM | Permalink for this comment


I apologize -- I'm not accusing you of trying to dismantle circle worship. What I'm saying is that youth and young adult communities that exist outside of congregations have been the place where circle worship has been born, bloomed, and been sustained. Congregations have tried to incorporate aspects of it and in my experience have generally failed, save for the success of a few formats that happen in certain places -- mostly because the formats do have many differences and mixing them doesn't always make sense. I worry that without strongly denominational youth and young adult communities, this form of worship will die, and in many ways, so will my organized spiritual practice. For me, this practice is just as much a part of UUism as congregational worship, even if -- and especially if -- it isn't mixed with congregational styles of worship. I feel that I'm observing its rejection and decline, and it brings great sadness.

As far as prayer, I agree, prayer is crucial for me too. Prayer is also a central, crucial part of circle worship. I'm just wondering what your sense of it is -- trying to understand the disconnect, the difference between your practice/concept of "prayer" and my own, or that of others. Just curious.

Robin Barraza:

February 27, 2008 11:08 PM | Permalink for this comment

Ah, good. I haven't been to circle worships with prayer (except for the few we've had at my church). I don't think a circle worship precludes prayer, but I haven't experienced prayer in youth/young adult worship. It would be great to experience prayer in those contexts, since I find little meaning in worship when there is no concept of thinking beyond oneself or beyond one's community. That's just developmental, not "circular" though. The last thing I want is for circle worship to go away...I think circle worship and small group ministry are how community is built in our churches, yes? I can't think of a scenario in which it would be good for those things to disappear. Have you been to a church that has a good small group ministry program? Alternative and circle worship weekly? Evensong? They exist.

tim fitzgerald:

February 28, 2008 08:01 PM | Permalink for this comment

Robin, again, I think it depends on your definition of prayer. Circle worships that address larger themes often functionally explore their day-to-day, personal manifestations, but do so in inquiry of a broader picture or broader force. I do think that what you're saying highlights my concern, though -- the difference between circular worship and congregational worship isn't just practical, it's cultural. People who were raised on a circular spirituality have a hard time relating to congregational worship culture, and vice-versa even though similar purposes are behind both. I think people from both worship cultures misunderstand how similar they are, in a way that's typical across cultural gaps of all kinds.

That's why the examples you offered to me aren't sufficient ones. Small group ministry may occur in a circle, but not only is "small"-sized worship not typical of circle worship, the culture of small group ministry is the same as the congregational culture.

I think it's problematic for UUism to foster two separate worship cultures that understand each other poorly. But I worry that if proponents of one of those worship cultures is in charge of integrating the two, the other will be done little justice. That's the process I'm seeing happening here. The shots are being called by people who don't know where the value of circle worship lies, and therefore have no idea how they may not be doing it justice, or how they may be undermining its evolution or even existence. If the intended future of circle worship culture is small group ministry, then it doesn't seem to me to have much of a future at all.

Heather Vail:

February 29, 2008 10:09 AM | Permalink for this comment

"Small group ministry may occur in a circle, but not only is "small"-sized worship not typical of circle worship, the culture of small group ministry is the same as the congregational culture."

Small group ministry is a lot more like circle worship than you might think. Especially when you're talking about circle worship on a local level - 8-15 people - as opposed to circle worship on a district level - 60-150 people.

I don't think it's very similar to congregational culture at all. It's discussion-based. And it's a lot closer to fulfilling the desire for alternate forms of worship than anything I've seen offered so consistently in local congregations.

And I say that even though I have yet to have a really positive experience with small group ministry. I guess I just really believe in it, and in the positive accounts I've heard. Also, our local YA group bases many worship services on that model. I'd be surprised to hear if small group ministry wasn't largely based on - and in reference to - circle worship.

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