what in the World?
UU youth moving ahead, and other matters
The following questions, based on this issue's contents, are designed to stimulate spiritual reflection and adult education group discussions.
by Jane Greer
CAMPUS CHALLENGE. Neil Shister writes of the attrition of young UUs when they go to college. "Young people raised in the faith, and active in their home congregation, too often fall away when they go off to college. Estimates of how many never return range as high as 90 percent." ("Liberal Evangelists on Campus," page 23).
Question: What factors contribute to students' religious alienation during the campus years? Is it simply a lack of denominational presence on campus? Are other factors at work at this stage of their lives? Looking back over your own life, can you track stages of spiritual growth? What circumstances provoked this growth?
OUTREACH TO CAMPUSES. Kim Mason, head of campus ministry for the UUA's Joseph Priestley District, talks about congregations' reluctance to start and sustain campus ministries. "To do a campus ministry requires volunteers and commitment," she says. "The congregation has to give up the idea that there will be tangible returns." But she also argues that students have needs. "They're part of the interconnected web and we need to offer outreach to this underserved community." ("Liberal Evangelists on Campus," page 26, and "What You Can Do," page 27).
Question: Do you have a college or university campus close to your congregation? Is there a UU presence on campus? If not, would you or your congregation be able to invite UU students to your services? Are there other ways your congregation could support a campus ministry?
UU YOUTH WORK CAMPS. Heather Robb speaks of the shock she felt when administrator Lyle Whiteman asked her group of high school and college students why they had come to the work camp in Crewport, Washington, and discovered that their good intentions could be viewed as patronizing. She also describes her surprise at the actual face of poverty. "We expected, I suppose, makeshift shelters of cardboard and dirty sheets, hungry people drinking out of puddles, and doe-eyed children staring blankly into the camera," Heather writes. "Instead, we found a town of well-kept houses, with colorful gardens flourishing in every yard." ("Work Camp," page 29).
Question: If you have been engaged in volunteer work, can you remember what your expectations were when you began the job? Did you have certain ideals that you hoped to uphold? Did you experience any disillusionment?
CHANGING THE WORLD. Heather Robb cites anthropologist Margaret Mead, who wrote, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." ("Work Camp," page 30).
Question: Do you agree with Mead's statement? Have you had personal experience of seeing changes made by small groups of people-for example, legislation passed, rules modified, a mission clarified? How did these groups start? What kept them going?
RESPONDING RELIGIOUSLY. Theologian Rebecca Ann Parker writes about the increased violence in Afghanistan and the Middle East, "The events of our time call us to make a religious response-publicly, proactively, and persistently. Our calling is to speak and act theologically." ("Against Vengeance," page 15).
Question: What do you think a religious response to violence consists of? Are there things you can do both personally and in your congregations to respond religiously to the situation in the Middle East? How do you reconcile the idea of concerted group action with the fact that there may be many different views about what should be done?BEACON PRESS. UUA-owned Beacon Press was a subject of intense debate at GA. One of the country's last remaining independent publishers, Beacon has been steadily losing money to the point where the UUA has begun to reexamine its responsibilities and relationship to the publisher, in light of falling revenues. According to financial advisor Lawrence Ladd, the UUA's "human and financial resources would be more productively allocated to direct growth and public witness strategies and to more modern communication technologies such as the internet" ("General Assembly Report," page 36).
Question: Do you think the UUA should be financially responsible for supporting Beacon Press? What does Beacon Press contribute to the UUA or the denomination? Does the UUA have a special obligation to the press because it is one of the few independent publishers left? Do you think book publishing has a future?
UU EVANGELISM. Donald E. Skinner talks about the reluctance many UUs feel about promoting their church. "Even if we know people who we suspect might love to be UUs," he writes, "we're reluctant to reach out to them. After all, many of us grew up in churches that pushed religion and we couldn't get away fast enough." ("Finding Ways to Spread the UU Word," page 43). The Rev. William Sinkford, UUA president, also talks about the importance of sharing the UU good news in his column "Our Calling," (page 9).
Question: How does the membership in your congregation feel about expansion? What are the pros and cons of growth? Does your congregation have an outreach or publicity program to attract new members? What does Unitarian Universalism offer to people in spiritual need?
Jane Greer is associate editor of UU World.