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Thursday, February 14, 2008

YRUU, C*UUYAN funding decisions not entirely clear.

Anxiety and anger are sweeping through networks of Unitarian Universalist young people following the release of two letters this week, one each from the governing boards of the UUA's two "sponsored organizations" serving young UUs. The steering committee of the Continental UU Young Adult Network (C*UUYAN), an organization of 18- to 35-year-olds founded in 1986, announced Tuesday that the UUA was discontinuing funding and staff support for C*UUYAN. Coincidentally, another letter came out Monday evening from the steering committee of YRUU (Young Religious Unitarian Universalists), an organization of UU youth founded in 1982, saying that the UUA was ending financial support for YRUU at the continental level. The YRUU steering committee has set up two blogs in response, one called YRUU UUlogy ("to distribute information about the end of YRUU continental leadership structure") and the other, YRUU Institutional Memory Project, to host comments and reflections of current and former YRUU members. Lots of other blogs are discussing the news, too, and a Facebook group has sprung up to call for a new, independent course for these groups.

In the midst of all the discussion, it seems important to note how much information isn't yet in circulation about these decisions. Neither of the staff groups involved has issued an announcement or statement about the decisions. (The C*UUYAN steering committee's letter, however, includes explanatory material from Tracey Robinson-Harris, the acting director of the UUA's young adult and campus ministry staff group, so at least some aspects of the staff's perspective is explicitly reflected in that document.) This is important because some people seem to be interpreting the end of funding and staff support for C*UUYAN and continental YRUU as the end of all funding for youth and young adult programs across the board. I am quite sure that we'll see that this is not the case, but we are still waiting to hear about the big picture.

By way of disclosure, this is one of those UU topics that I find hard to blog about. As editor of UU World, I'm trying to understand what is happening so I can help the magazine's reporters provide accurate, fair coverage. My primary goal is to get the story right. Furthermore, I'm not a spokesperson for the UUA. I don't have the answers, and I'm not in a position to field questions, especially speculative ones, about the motives or objectives of my colleagues.

Final bit of disclosure: I became a UU in college. I was a congregational young adult group leader from 1991 to 1996, when I also served as a middle-school youth group advisor and AYS instructor. I was elected C*UUYAN facilitator at Opus in 1995 and participated in the consultation on young adult ministry at the 1997 General Assembly that paved the way for C*UUYAN's "sponsored organization" status. And, from 1997 through 2000, when I was a seminarian, I was the advisor to the youth group at the First Parish in Concord, Mass., a large congregation with an active youth community that wasn't especially connected to district or continental YRUU. My roots are in congregational ministry with young people — and although I've been involved at the denominational level and have my own lingering doubts about the adequacy of a strictly congregational understanding of Unitarian Universalism, "con culture" and the politics of the continental youth and young adult organizations have not been significant parts of my own UU life. For what it's worth.

Copyright © 2008 by Philocrites | Posted 14 February 2008 at 8:26 AM

Previous: This week at Love, Kenya, Appalachia.
Next: Sinkford asks for patience on youth, young adult changes.





February 14, 2008 11:51 AM | Permalink for this comment

Background: UU World has been reporting on the UUA's revisioning process around youth ministry for several years.

  • Two-year process re-examines UU youth ministry (Spring 2006)
  • Survey sheds light on youth experience (4.7.06)
  • Report on youth ministry urges new vision (10.12.07)
  • The revisioning process itself has been called the Consultation on Ministry to and with Youth; the section of the UUA website linked here is home to several reports and many related resources from that process.

    Dudley Jones:

    February 14, 2008 12:03 PM | Permalink for this comment

    "have my own lingering doubts about the adequacy of a strictly congregational understanding of Unitarian Universalism, "

    What is that all about?

    h sofia:

    February 14, 2008 03:20 PM | Permalink for this comment

    It sure would be nice to hear the word from the UUA of what on earth is going on.


    February 14, 2008 04:58 PM | Permalink for this comment

    UUA President Bill Sinkford has issued a letter urging patience. "Let me assure you that the new course has not yet been defined and decided," he writes. "Both the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Administration and Board remain committed to the creation of vital and effective youth and young adult ministries. Our task is to determine, together, what structures can move us toward that mission."

    He adds: "Within a week I will distribute widely the emerging direction and try to address as many of the good questions that have been raised as possible."

    ("Letter from William G. Sinkford Concerning Youth/Young Adult Ministry Transition," 2.14.08; crossposted with comments at YRUU UUlogy)


    February 14, 2008 11:12 PM | Permalink for this comment

    Dudley, I mean to come back to your comment a bit later, but the basic idea is this: One view of what Unitarian Universalism is identifies the religion with liberal religious congregationalism; one can't "be" a UU without being a member of a UU congregation, at least not fully. This view seems to have especially strong support right now on the Board of Trustees and in some other leadership circles, where the Association's congregationalism -- its "congregational polity" -- is, in my view, taken more absolutely than makes sense.

    I say this because I don't think it's true that "Unitarian Universalism" exists only in congregational affiliation. Most of our congregations don't regard children (or teens under 16) as "members" of the congregation, yet they do encourage the kids to think of themselves as UUs. Many young adults are so mobile, for so many years, that they don't make a strong or enduring connection with a congregation, yet they may still maintain many other connections to UU life, through social networks, camps, online communities, etc. I think these people are speaking truthfully when they identify themselves as UUs, even if they haven't been members of a congregation in years.

    There are different aspects of affiliation with a religion. Congregational membership is important -- and, in congregational traditions like ours, it is especially important -- but it is not quite the same thing as doctrinal agreement, cultural affinity, or sociological identification. I think a lot of people confuse "Unitarian Universalism" (a religion) with "Unitarian Universalist congregationalism" (an organized denominational expression of the religion).

    (Update! I've expanded this comment and posted Rev Elz's response in their own entry: Limits of Unitarian Universalist congregationalism. Please continue that conversation there. Thanks! —Philo)

    Rev Elz:

    February 15, 2008 07:52 AM | Permalink for this comment

    For an an interesting historical background to the current UUA super-focus on congregations, check out J.D. Bowers' Introduction to his fantastic recent book, Joseph Priestley and Unitarianism in North America. This is the clearest, most concise statement I have ever seen of the roots of the conflict between theological Unitarianism, which finds its home wherever it is, and in whatever social structure works -- family, individual, small group -- versus New England's tightly congregational Puritan polity, regardless of individuals' theologies.

    For most of my life, I have been a strong activist in congregational democractic rights, especially the right to elect its own clergy and leaders. But as a liberal, I have become more and more aware of how our current congregationalism (smaller groups with only one minister and a DRE) do not fit most UU's lives. Sadly, I have come to believe that the insistence on congregationalism for our members is hurting us the same way the insistence on celibrate clergy has hurt the Roman Catholics. Trying to impose a one-ideal-lifestyle-fits-all form of participation undercuts right relations by making examples of people who over-sacrifice personal health and growth. It fosters secrets among people who don't want to shake the power structure. And it gives undue power to people who can manipulate marginal members, in our case, big donors who let small donors slide by.

    Meanwhile, the actual theologies for which our martyrs died have been almost completely lost, treated as anachronistic relics. Yet many of our new members still come in through the same path as our forebears -- they were put to reading the Christian scriptures and within them found a clear message of a human Jesus with a saving love from God. And while we still try to cultivate the conscience, our polity insistence on uniformity has atrophied our former skills at supporting diverse political conclusions derived from different readings of the same principles.

    It is time to abandon this smug, quick judgemental commitment to forms and get back to remembering the functions of our faith. Great reformers everywhere have made a primary commitment to ministering to people wherever they are in spiritual need. But great religions let themselves be changed each time they find a new way of collecting committed people who are in basic agreement with the views and beliefs of their members and leaders.

    Does that mean a return to credalism? No: you can be some kind of Unitarian Universalist while basing your spiritual practices in Buddhism or Christianity or paganism or Judaism or whatever. Our principles are historically derived and clearly stated. They differ dramatically from the fundamental theologies of those faiths: Buddhism, for instance, is not democratic.

    Judaism is still our closest kin, especially once one learns to read the prophets and wisdom literature. So it behooves us to remember that our founders learned from those who read and carried the Torah. They offered literature, not congregations. They preached theology, not bylaws. And they have created a variety of meeting forms -- family, minyan, congregation --according to the various circumstances in which people of a diaspora make covenants to carry on their heritage.

    (I've posted mine and Elz's comments about congregationalism in a separate entry. Please respond to them at Limits of Unitarian Universalist congregationalism. Thanks! —Philo)


    February 27, 2008 10:24 PM | Permalink for this comment

    See UU World's coverage of the YRUU and C*UUYAN situations:

    Both stories provide lots of links to background materials and related resources.

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