Friday, February 15, 2008

Letter from Nick Allen - YRUU Steering Committee Representative on the Youth Ministry Working Group

Dear YRUU Friends and Allies,

As the YRUU representative on the Youth Ministry Implementation Working Group, and as someone who has been involved with the consulting and implementing of this youth ministry initiative for the last year and a half, I would like to speak to what happened this weekend with the ending of continental YRUU. These are my personal thoughts and they do not necessarily agree with the UUA’s position or YRUU Steering Committee's position.

First, I want to express my regret. One word that has been thrown around a lot at last weekend’s Implementation Working Group meeting is “transparency.” Continental YRUU’s disbandment has been an unspoken administrative objective for years, but it has not been made explicit to those whom that decision most deeply affects: youth. I am dismayed that, after so much talk about multigenerational relationships, multigenerational communication effectively broke down out of fear of retaliation. The end of continental YRUU should have been clearly in the cards from the start, not sprung upon the youth as a “final step.”

That said, we cannot choose to accept this with the finality with which it was presented. It has been demonstrated to us, on so many painful occasions, that this continental leadership structure does not work. It does not efficiently disseminate information to district and congregational levels of youth leadership. It does not give youth a strong and influential voice within the institution. It is not accessible to the great majority of Unitarian Universalist youth. And, most importantly, it does not provide authentic empowerment to young folks, especially Queer/Genderqueer youth, Youth of Color, and otherwise marginalized youth. As stated at the Summit on youth ministry, YRUU cannot continue to function as it does: with great ineptitude at a high cost to all. What exists is beyond resuscitation.

It’s clearly time for something new. But starting again, unlike letting go process, cannot be an administrative mandate. If we’re going to take this back, then let’s do it. Let the staff and the administration know how you feel. Send emails and calls to Jesse Jaeger (617-948-4359,, Judith Frediani (617-948-4373,, and Bill Sinkford (617-948-4301, Tell them you’re pissed (I did), but tell them where you see us going from here. Just don’t, for your individual higher power’s sake, do nothing. Without feedback, this process will become patronizing and even more damaging than what is in place.

It should also be made clear that aside from providing them with more financial and staff resources, this does not yet affect the current structures of the youth movement at the district or congregational levels. Our youth groups and cons will only change as much as we individually wish them to.

We, as a faith, fight what it aged and out-of-touch. We are a faith about awakening the spirit, not imposing individual creed on others. We are a movement that challenges old standards and revisions our practices towards more equitable ends, not one that is complicit with the status quo. We, as a people, challenge and constantly renew our convictions; we do not, and will never, accept mandates as Truth. Change is a rejuvenating process for us, and as long as we are liberal, inquisitive, courageous, and open-hearted, Unitarian Universalism will always remain a Young Faith.

To borrow the words of a dear friend:

Let’s forgive ourselves. Let’s forgive each other. Let’s begin again in love.

Yours with Faith,

Nick Allen


Duncan said...

Okay. I have spent a lot of time thinking about how I feel about this. I have spent a lot of time thinking about what I want to add to this discussion, and I want people to read these things as organized as I see them as most to least important. A bit about myself, my name is Duncan Metcalfe. I served as the Youth Council Rep. from Mounatain/Desert District (96-97) Con-Con co-dean (98), Steering Committee member (97-98), and Youth Program Specialist (99-00) and now serve as an advisor and the adult chair of MDD YRUU.


The most important thing for people to know who are part of YRUU is that this decision stems from a feeling among our leadership, particularly ministers, that YRUU as an organization at every level is not serving youth. From conversations with adults in power in MDD and within congregations people fell as if the YOUTH GROUP MODEL OF YRUU doesn't serve the needs of ALL youth. They want to see local churches get rid of traditional youth groups as we currently know them in favor of a more curriculum based group with more of a religious and less social dimension. These same people feel that cons are a waste of resources and take to much energy for youth groups to plan. The solution is to stop sanctioning cons, thus stripping them of the all important insurance.

The UUA doesn't have control over churches or districts, but that doesn't mean these changes can't/won't carry over.


I think that if I trace back to where I think the event happened that started all this is the youth council in 1996. I know that that seems a long time ago, but bear with me. That was the first youth council to attempt to pass a resolution to get a youth on the board of trustees, and the first YRUU event to include an AR training. The board resolution failed 2 years in a row before finally gaining the support of Phylis "P-funk McD" Daniels (then the board observer). Also that is where YRUU began it's path towards anti-oppression work.

As Steering Committees went on, they became increasingly radical. They worked with the youth office stratagize towards hiring another staffer, the new structure of Youth Caucus, and by the time I have entered that radical planning and talking resulted in the idea for Common Ground III. But certainly what has happened is extremely divergent from what was talked about then. Back then Common Ground III was about getting everyone together in a similar way to the original common grounds but to instead of creating a new organization, to take a look at the structure of YRUU and address the institutionalized oppression build into it. To restructure YRUU so that it was by its very nature fighting oppression. It sucks that the UUA took an idea that was supposed to be about changing the structure of YRUU toward an actively anti-oppressive institution, and used it to destroy it.

We rocked the boat to much though. Behind the scenes the Youth Office staff met with the executives of the UUA to address ageism in the office, and to have a conversation about trying to get the UUA to ive out the priciples (for example, there was no recycling). We were dismissed after being told "YOU ARE MISTAKEN. THE UUA IS A BUSINESS AND A RELIGION." We published an Art and Censorship issue of synapse which contained swear words. We blacked them out, but you could still tell what words were under there. We were told that we should have censored the works, and editorial control was taken from the youth office and given to the head of the department .

The changes in Youth Caucus made the youth voice dangerous. We led the charge on lots of radical issues (prison reform), and because youth were so connected and largely radicalized they tended to vote as a block. And when 10% of your delegates do that, that is an amazing amount of power.

We wanted youth on committees. We wanted action. We wanted our lives to be MODELS of our faith, and wanted to transform YRUU, and the UUA to look like that too.


Both these things, in my experience at the UUA are false. When I was in the youth office we were very concerned with providing services to congregational youth groups. we tried to develop anti-racism resources for youth groups to try to take that work to the local level. We talked about how to make everything we do accessible to local youth. That was one of our primary concerns. The one direct outlet the Youth Office had to local groups was Synapse, which was the first thing cut by the UUA out of the budget. The ONLY way the youth office could really communicate with youth groups.


I called it then. They had the reasons, they had to decision making, and they had the money.

This also makes me really sad. The process sucked. Ultimately I thought YRUU needed to change. It needed to make the same changes the UUA needs to make.

The hardest part for me is acts like this make me loose faith in OUR FAITH. It breaks my heart.

I loved YRUU. No it was not perfect. But getting rid of the model of youth group, which voices in our faith want, is not the way to go. With heavy heart and joyous memories....


PS. I want also want to credit Jen Devine as pushing YRUU to try to see its fullest potential, and encouraging everyone to reach for those goals.

Anonymous said...

On this Sunday during our church's time for joys and concerns I plan to light a candle of sincere and deep concern for YRUU and the future of youth programs. And I will use the opportunity to direct every member of the congregation to these blog pages and the passionate words contained herein.

Hopefully, some reason and common sense will prevail before YRUU and youth empowerment are completely destroyed by this administration.

I invite those of you with like minds to please consider doing the same.

just sign me,
Joe Taco

Anonymous said...

Nice to hear from you again Joe Taco.


Ms. Suzy Creamcheese

Peter said...

Nice to hear from Duncan. I was in the Youth Office with Duncan, Super-Nathan, Abbey, Robin, Jen... A big affirmation to the YPS's doing their best to serve the movement at the local, district and continental level.

As for this funding thing, I can't wait to hear what's next. From the outside it looks like the UUA really has no clue what to do, but knows it wants to put the breaks on things as they are.

Unfortunately you can't evolve something if you squish it. Our continental youth and YA organizations are alive. Just like each of our congregations - vital living systems. And, as Duncan mentions, some of the most vital and "dangerous" part of our movement. Problems, sure. But don't tell me the rest of the UUA doesn't have them as well.

To all of you who are hurting, know that you are our movements Fountain of UUth. Unitarian Universalism needs you. I need you. Our world needs you.

I left the UUA after post 9/11 conflict with my supervisors in the development department. We were all SO stressed out. Tip: never tell your boss you think its time you all had some therapy. That's the institutional "eject button" even at the UUA.

Anyhow, that experience changed my view not of our faith, but of the institution. As we say, our faith is a living tradition. IT IS NOT the sum total of GA, the Board of Trustees and the UUA Staff. Unitarian Universalism is so much more and you are all at the core of THAT.

After leaving the UUA I did what I was raised to do - put my faith in action without worrying about the UUA. For years I've been guest preaching, leading trainings, calling UUA staff members and telling them what I think our movement needs... and now they call me for my thoughts.

Unitarian Universalism needs our congregations. It needs strong congregationally based youth ministry. But it also needs those of us who are going to take it to the streets, to congress, to the School of the Americas, around the world and right back to 25 Beacon Street.

I hope this serves as a catalyst for you to get organized, to take our ministry to the next level, and to go beyond where the UUA admin can see.

So imagine this...

What would all of you do if a meteor crushed 25 Beacon Street and all of the organization and funding was destroyed in one fell swoop?

Me, I'd make sure you all stay connected online. I'd start checking in with the two candidates for UUA president 2009. I'd start going to church and lead there, making it a home base and support structure while all of this gets sorted out.

Getting organized and freeing this vital core of our faith's ministry from the UUA institution may, in the end, be a great step forward.

The UUA as a structure is a slow, fat beast slowly wading through years of accumulated gunk and goo. I love it, good little beastie, but it is flawed. And they know it. They're working on it. But they do need your help, inspiration and leadership - even if they don't know it.

So imagine what could be accomplished if an independent organization to support youth leadership development, worship, service and social action was formed. Done right the donors, large and small, would line up.

As Gini Courter said at my fall district conference, "What would you do if you were ten times as bold?"

In faith,
Peter @

Robin Edgar said...

Wonderful analogy there Peter!

I dare say that I have had my own bitter experience with that slow, fat beast slowly wading through years of accumulated gunk and goo. ;-)

Anonymous said...

@Duncan - thank you for providing some specifics and grounding for this conversation. Yours is the first statement on this whole thing that makes some sense to me. The official announcements obscure more than they illuminate, I'm afraid. I'll keep reading for other perspectives, but I think you should publish this, or even expand on it, in an easier-to-reach place.

@peter - right on - channel the energy into brainstorms, ideas, plans, and action!

mattmoore said...

@Duncan. Thank you for saying something you're amazing.

There's another reality of this whole situation that I think is worth pointing out. While the UUA has decided to stop funding the continental youth programs, they are simultaneously investing an enormous amount of money into a national advertising campaign. For those of you that have not seen yet, this campaign has been featured as full-page spreads in Time magazine--with a readership of 20 million each week, this is not a cheap project.

If you look at the message of this campaign, it is aimed at growing the denomination by enticing people that have become disenfranchised from their religious upbringing (e.g. “Is God keeping you from going to church?”). In other words, when the UUA is thinking about investing in the future of UUism, the biggest opportunity for growth (as they see it) is as a haven for those with religious baggage. Growth is NOT about youth and young adults. They can raise money for a national ad campaign but they can't fund Mind the Gap. What happened to the two million dollars that youth programs was promised?

Is reaching out to the religiously destitute a long term strategy for stable, healthy growth or a get rich quick scheme?

Elisabeth said...

Found this on the UUA website, along with a lot of other questionable things under "Now is the Time", the evangelist movement that Matt is talking about.

"It is well known that congregations with paid youth ministry/advisory staff have larger and more diverse youth programs and are better equipped to serve diverse needs. Unfortunately, many of our congregations do not have the capacity to hire professional youth ministry staff."

They also have in italics at the bottom "anyone wishing to fund our $1,000,000 project, give us a ring" but, in different words I suppose.

I just find this very interesting. Any thoughts?

Robin Edgar said...

Very well said Matt Moore. I dare say that I somewhat waggishly said elsewhere on the internet that the UUA had to cut something to pay for its somewhat dubious national marketing campaign. Unfortunately the UUA seems to be investing in, and a haven for, some rejected ministers from other denominations who have rather problematic religious baggage. . .

:Is reaching out to the religiously destitute a long term strategy for stable, healthy growth or a get rich quick scheme?

Maybe it's just a desperate survival strategy from "a tiny fringe religion" that has finally realized that there is a "gap" that is likely to grow over the next few decades. Famous U*U P.T. Barnum once said, "Without publicity a terrible thing happens... nothing!" Unfortunately however it is possible to spend millions on publicity and still have nothing happen if the product is a lemon or is otherwise undesirable.

Anonymous said...

robin edgar, you seem to have an agenda other than standing in solidarity with youth and young adults whose power and self-determination is being wrestled away from them right now. Kindly be respectful to the work at hand and wage your personal crusade elsewhere than this blog. Thanks, we love you.

Robin Edgar said...

My "personal crusade" has everything to do with the UUA incompetence, corruption, undemocratic and anti-democratic procedures that this YRUU fiasco arises from. The YRUU fiasco is simply the latest manifestation of serious problems that are endemic to the UUA. I am standing insolidarity with UU youth in their fight against UUA incompetence and corruption etc. by providing information that may well help them to hold the UUA accountable for its incompetence, corruption etc. Need I remind you and other U*Us that my own power and self-determination, and that of other victims of other U*U injustices and abuses including clergy sexual misconduct by U*U ministers, was wrestled away by the UUA and individual U*U "churches" years ago?

What about the power and self-determination of the rightful recipients of the funds of UUA controlled charitable trusts that the UUA wrestled away from them years ago? I don't see a huge difference in principle between the UUA's alleged unethical financial grab of YRUU funding and its earlier highly questionable and seemingly quite unethical financial grab of the funds of charitable trust that were intended to help other people, including the poor in India. . . I am simply trying to open the eyes of YRUU youth and their adult allies to the fact that the current YRUU situation is a symptom of much bigger institutional problems with the UUA such as questionable financial dealings, undemocratic and outright anti-democratic policies and procedures, the paternalistic authoritarian attitude of UUA officials and staff and UUA censorship and suppression of legitimate criticism and dissent etc. etc. etc. So kindly be respectful of the work at hand oh so anonymous one.

Robin Edgar said...

Re Elisabeth's comment. Isn't it interesting that, on the one hand, the UUA was somehow able to find $1,000,000.00 to fund a risky U*U "mega-church" project in the Dallas Forth Worth area that was a total flop and now has a whopping 80 members if I am to believe the only testimony of UUA Presidential candidate Rev. Peter Morales (that UUA officials and staff would probably characterize as "unsubstantiated rumors") but, on the other hand, it has not funded a $1,000,000.00 Youth Ministry Staff Grants Program. Likewise the UUA can find millions to spend on a national marketing campaign that may well prove to be a similar flop in terms of "growing" the UU movement but it cannot fund existing and proposed programs for the many UU Youth who could become "lifelong UUs" if they are not abandoned by the UUA. Again this looks a lot like a class issue and a money issue in some ways. I would expect that most UU Youth do not have lots of money to contribute to UU congregations and UUA coffers so the UUA is spending its money in trying to attract middleclass and upper-middleclass Americans to the UU "church" via expensive marketing campaigns to the detriment of funding youth programs. Funding that I am led to believe was "promised" to UU youth a while back.