our calling

 Contents: UU World May/June 2002
Contents: May/June 2002

Bridging the gap

It is impressive how many of our current ministers, religious educators, and continental leaders formed their Unitarian Universalist identities in our youth programs. It is certainly true of me.

Liberal Religious Youth (the organization that became Young Religious Unitarian Universalists, or YRUU) was the religious home I thought I would never find. My local youth group at the First Unitarian Church in Cincinnati and district and continental youth gatherings were places of inquiry and support, of celebration and commitment, of safety and challenge.

My experience is not unique. Reannon Peterson, co-chair of the UU Young Adult and Campus Ministry in Madison, Wisconsin, found Unitarian Universalism at the University of Wisconsin, where she is a junior. "Without this group I don't think I would have become a Unitarian Universalist," she says. "I wouldn't know what it is."

Eliza Galaher, the youth advisor at the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence, Massachusetts, speaks of youth groups as places where youth can "rediscover a sense of awe in their lives." After the September 11 terrorist attacks this youth group of two dozen organized a peace vigil that drew a crowd the local newspaper estimated at two thousand. Galaher says the youth group offers the congregation a "continued sense of hope about the present and the future."

Our youth and young adult ministry is thriving, so the Northampton congregation is hardly alone in this sense of hope. Now hundreds more of our congregations sponsor youth groups than did ten years ago. And we have developed new approaches to ministry to young adults. The Rev. Marlin Lavanhar developed the Soulful Sundown worship experience while serving at the First and Second Church in Boston. Lavanhar, a young adult himself, is now the senior minister at the 1,017-member All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where the weekly Soulful Sundown often draws more than 200 young adults.

That's the good news. The bad news — our challenge — is that we have so much more to do.

A UU college student recently talked to me about the emptiness she felt on September 11, about how much she longed for a UU community that day. On her campus, like hundreds of others, there is no UU ministry. Hundreds of congregations also lack ministry tailored to youth and young adults even though young adults are often just waiting for an opportunity to participate. The Rev. Gregory Stewart of the Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church of Pasadena, California, posted a sign-up sheet one Sunday for people interested in young adult programs. To his surprise, he got 35 names. At the Unitarian Church of All Souls in New York City, 43 of the 139 new members last year were young adults.

For decades, too few of our youth and young adults have remained committed to Unitarian Universalism. We simply have not been providing enough bridges into our congregations for the youth who grow up UU.

There is no part of our work together to which I am more committed than building the needed bridges. I want to personally ask you and your congregation to help by participating in Youth and Young Adult Ministry Sunday next fall. This effort is a part of the UUA's capital campaign and is designed to fill the "gap" in our youth, campus, and young adult ministries. The money will be used for:

  • Hiring and supporting youth advisors and young adult coordinators;
  • Creating student groups on college campuses;
  • Developing worship and training resources;
  • Funding experimental youth and young adult programming.

Please join me in supporting our youth and young adult ministries. Contact the Youth and Young Adult Ministry Sunday Coordinator, Alison Miller, for more information.

The future of our movement is at stake. There is nothing more important.

In faith,
President, Unitarian Universalist Association

 Contents: UU World May/June 2002
UU World XVI:3 (May/June 2002): 5

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