Tuesday, February 12, 2008

YRUU Steering Committee - UUlogy for YRUU


Anonymous said...

what's the word on ysjt?

Noah h. said...

ysjt is not happening. the youth office reconfigured their staff for this year, and there was no staff position for ysjt. so it got cut.

will floyd said...

technically, ysjt wasn't cancelled, just postponed a year. but if there isn't pressure for it to happen, it surely won't.

Anonymous said...

I also imagine the YSJT, if it happens again, will get restructured so that it's not about movement-building and organizing so much as about legislative advocacy (which is also important, but not so much part of the radical history of UU youth movements and more mirrors the adult-centered social justice efforts within the UUA)

Anonymous said...

The survey doesn't offer the option: "This seems like a positive step for UU youth ministry." or some such positive language.

Anonymous said...

Because it isn't, it is an attack on Youth Empowerment. It is only a step forward for Adult leadership subjugating and controlling Youth. Not Adults mind you, but those in power in Boston, who see Youth Empowerment as a very real threat.

Geoff said...

What was the UUA's rationale for this decision?

victoria mitchell said...

So for UU youth programming, I guess we just have a youth office, and then it jumps to the district level? Are the Chrysallis training programs still considered continental since the whole continental level is wiped out? How is the YRUU steering committee going to interact with CAYAC/are there any objectives for YRUU steering committee's future role? (Can you tell that I have lots of questions?)

Much love and peace.

Eric Swanson said...

I was trying to keep this brief, but I'll settle for shorter-than-a-novel length.

I'm a long-time adult advisor on many levels, and as a youth I was a delegate to Common Ground 2. My resume overlaps with those from previous posters Matt, Tim, Betty Jeanne, Sara, and others. 'Nuff said on that front.

First I want to talk about history, and what it felt like to be part of the birth of YRUU. When I arrived at Common Ground 2 in Maine, I was a 15-year-old who had never known LRY. My colleagues there were a mix of folks from districts where LRY had stayed functional and reasonably sane (like my current home district, PCD), districts where LRY had collapsed or been shut down and something new had been started already (like my district at the time, PNWD), and districts where LRY was failed or failing and nothing was starting yet. This led to hugely diverse discussions -- there was a lot of really thoughtful talk about which parts of LRY constituted baby and which constituted bathwater. As someone who didn't know much UU history, I got a massive lesson in a big hurry at CG2.

But the "common ground" we all really shared there was that we had all arrived knowing our job was to start something new. We had the representation to do the job credibly, we had the authority to act in a binding way, and we had the shared/overlapping/distinct goals of all the delegates present, from long-time LRY veterans to folks like me who had experienced a glimpse of something new.

This sense of what ground we actually hold in common seems to me to be missing from the current process. While the summit and its related process have solicited input from many quarters over the past couple years, the actual authority to act has been held in the UUA's back pocket.

For that matter, the entire process of the Consultation on Ministry to and with Youth has been proceeding on (what appeared to me to be) predetermined lines. Some of the earliest documents during formation of the Consultation process referred to exactly the goals that are now claimed as the result of the process -- notably that a congregation-based approach will be the emphasis.

Rather than "common ground," this feels to me like "designated ground" -- I feel that the Consultation staked out a patch of ground based on its initial biases, which has biased who came to the ground to talk, which of course biased the final result.

This brings me to my next point: In the years since CG2 I have worked constantly as, with, and near UU youth in various settings. And one thing I know for sure about adolescents (especially early adolescents) is that they need to place themselves in a context of something larger than a typical church youth group -- larger even than a phenomenally huge local church youth group. As 11- to 14-year-olds pull their identity strings loose from their parents, they have their first opportunity to form an identity as part of something big, something that transcends the scale of their family-centered life experience. I have seen YRUUers become lifelong UUs in a matter of hours or days when they realize that they can exercise their power on the world stage in a way that is significant by getting together with others of like mind.

My experiences in this area have led me to the firm belief that focusing on local youth programming at the expense of district and continental youth programming is simply a wrong choice -- that the sense of a larger community is a core need of youth in this age range. I fear the cost to the UU movement of this misguided decision.

This leads me to my final point: We have been here before. During the 1990s when Continental YRUU shortened its age range, Youth Council (and other bodies) cited the idea that YRUU's long age range was stifling development of other programming for early adolescents and young adults, and that cutting off the age range would stimulate growth of new programs. In fact, no such thing happened. Young adult programs had only a slight increase in younger membership, and early adolescent programs have remained entirely absent at the continental level and terribly limited in districts. The theory that a program vacuum creates programs has in my view been entirely debunked by this history.

What creates programs, of course, is people working on creating programs. Whether it is by soliciting a massive volunteer effort or funding paid staff positions, forming something new takes lots of work. And it doesn't happen overnight. Of all the problems with the UUA's decision, this is perhaps the most troubling -- we are being told "not here, not this way," but there's no "over there, try that thing" yet. I'm struck by the parallel with what we get when young adult "bridging" doesn't work -- I call it "cliffing," which paints a word picture I'm sure will be familiar to some.

And so I complete the circle: CG2 was an event for youth creating youth programs. As nearly as I can tell, the UUA administration has no plan to give youth the power to do any such thing as part of the current UUA. If I could convince myself that we were seeing an act of creation here, I'd sigh deeply and get on board. But all I can see right now is destruction.

Eric Swanson, SF Bay Area

Anonymous said...

Thank you so so so much for being here, Eric. I think you really hit it on the nose. The problem is that it's not YRUU the Board lost faith in as much as youth empowerment, and that they started the Consultation with the end result already a cohesive part of their plan. Bring on a new Common Ground, bring on some evidence that this is not about changing power relationship between youth and adults in the UUA, and I'm on board. But we know better. What kind of denomination are we going to be?

Eric Swanson said...

Tim -- good to hear from you too. I also just read your and Heather's full article in that 2004 Synapse -- mad props for some of your points in there. I particularly like the self-contained point-counterpoint aspect, as in "we aren't successful enough with AR work" and "our emphasis on AR work limits our leadership pool." Good stuff.

But your response reminds me of one more thing I cannot help but harp on briefly:

empower (v): To give permission or power to do something.

Empowerment is about power -- specifically about giving power away. It's one of the words we UUs love to use because it sounds so groovy and inclusive, but we sometimes forget what it means.

With that definition in mind, I am all about youth empowerment, and about the empowerment of ethnic minorities, oppressed classes, and anyone else who has been systematically denied power. It frustrates me to believe that those at the helm of my denomination don't share my views on that front.

Jessy said...

Thank you Eric! You have expressed many of my thoughts since hearing of this. My mom went through LRY in the 70s, and my experience in YRUU has been a valuable one for me, although I still feel as if YRUU is/was a castrated/bastardized (I really wish I had a better way of saying that) version of LRY. This is due to my feelings that much of the youth-driven aspect of LRY was lost in YRUU, and is now being cut out entirely. I wish I could be more eloquent in this, but I seem to have lost that ability.
I was a member of youth council 2005 and 2006, and the Consultation process never seemed fully authentic to me, and now I guess I know why. I just hope that it won't completely destroy what has been worked for in the history of UU youth movements.

Anonymous said...

The only reason I am even remotely involved in YRUU is because one weekend in the summer of 2006 I went to a conference. In my local church as I'm sure it goes in so many congregations our parents make us go to church until we're teenagers and even though some people try to keep youth groups together it never works. I won't have a place to worship in the way I feel I get the most out of it without conferences. I won't have anyone to relate to as a YRUU kid.

Anonymous said...

Why does it seem to me that once again a committee of largely adults don't actually know or care about what is best for their youth?

L said...

I tried to write a reply here but it went on for pages! Find it on my blog: http://lsinha.wordpress.com.

Riley37 said...

Having attended the PCD consultation with Eric Swanson, I share many of his concerns on process. I also share the thought that something larger than a church to belong to is important to youth. My own contribution on that front is planning and staffing intercongregational Coming of Age retreats, which combines getting to meet youth and advisors from other congregations, with congregational roots. But that's a one-year event for each participant. More is needed.

On another hand, the UUA has a mission and purpose; it should fund its own programs which serve that mission and purpose; why should it fund an organization which has its own agenda, and which does not feel any obligation to the UUA?

I'd like to see more and better programs at General Assembly and district gatherings, so that the big-belonging youth events are connected to big-belonging all-ages events, and youth might meet more adult UUs other than advisors.

Rev. Dr. Daniel O'Connell said...

I think Eric Swanson's comments are persuasive. Hey Eric!

At first glance, there appear to be two contextual items: (1) youth autonomy; (2) budget cutting.

I was in LRY in the late 1970s, and in C-UUYAN in the 1980s. I served in a variety of leadership positions.

You can read in Wayne Arnason's histories of the U and U youth movement that our youth movements were the first to be autonomous-- the youth put up the structure and drove the programming.

This kind of thing wouldn't be allowed in more orthodox traditions. It was a great concept and still is. Have some adults provide appropriate boundary setting, and then let the youth run wild with creativity and experimentation in worship, social justice, etcetera.

In fact, this idea of a group of elders setting limits, but then allowing whatever creativity and activity that feeds into mission, vision, and values loose is precisely the idea behind policy governance that so many of our districts, congregations, and now even the UUA board, espouse. So, it is a little ironic to decimate decentralized national effort.

Things changed for the UU yough movement, because of the 1960s and 1970s, where many UU families went through upheaval.

Spouse swapping, divorce, drug use, you name it were in our congregations. And that was just the adults (one day I'll have to write a memoir...).

Some youth advisors basically abdicated their limit setting abilities, and some youth conferences degenerated to the point that even youth didn't want to attend anymore.

Then the collapse came, and eventually common ground and yruu, a more structured version of lry.

But it is easy for those in an administration-- whether the UUA administration or any other-- to centralize power and programming, rather than decentralize it-- there are more examples of this than I can name.

Once we heard that YRUU and UUYAN offices were going to merge, it became apparent what was going to happen. You don't merge when you expect growth. You merge as a pre-condition to decreasing program, etcetera.

Side note: Frankly, I'm surprised how much money UUYAN has gotten over the years. In our early years, UUYAN was entirely self-funded. Then we became trendy, and the UUA did a capital campaign, part of that money was to support YA programming.

Finally, I have to point out that it is somewhat ironic that the letter from the YRUU Steering Committee says that:

"youth programming on the district and congregational levels will continue relatively unaffected."

Why is that ironic? Because the UUA doesn't pay for any of that, and has no control over it. Districts and congregations-- ultimately adult UUs pay for it.

Rev. Dr. Daniel OConnell
President, Central Midwest District of the UUA
Lead Minister,
Eliot Unitarian Chapel
100 South Taylor Ave.
St. Louis, MO 63122
(314) 821-0911 (office)

Anonymous said...

As an adult member of a congregation I have these three observations to offer: YRUU was an effective way to empower some of our youth, YRUU disconnected those youth from our congregation and they no longer contributed to the accomplishment of our mission as a congregation, and YRUU only worked for some - not even most - of our eligible youth.

I don't know if this was reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater but I hope whatever emerges out of this painful time will provide the opportunity for all of our youth to gain a "continental" identity of strength, wisdom and inspiration so they can be power-sharers not just at a district or national level but most importantly at home.

Anonymous said...

lsinha - your description of what happens to youth programming is spot-on to what happened at our congregation. That it might be the same for YRUU is intriguing.

Your comments on youth empowerment vs youth entitlement are eye-openning and pertinent.

For those how missed it...here's the blog:

tim fitz said...

I want to respond to "an adult member" above: let's please consider the possibility that the reason YRUU resulted in empowered youth becoming disconnected from their congregations wasn't because of YRUU but rather was a result of problematic dynamics between youth and adults in that congregation. Blaming YRUU for youth wanting to distance themselves from their congregations seems to ignore the root of the problem -- the same problem that creates the need for YRUU in the first place, which is the fact that our congregations minister to youth very poorly. It's very ironic to me that the UUA's idea of improving this situation starts with dismantling YRUU rather than doing anything to challenge ageism and a lack of respect for youth at the local level, which I think should have been Step 1, and a real act of support for our denomination's youth.

Also, I'd like people to please consider signing their anonymous comments.

Eric Swanson said...

A quick note jumping off Rev. Dano's last point, on the quote "youth programming on the district and congregational levels will continue relatively unaffected."

While that's certainly true in the short term, the long-term district and local effects of this change are likely to be huge, even if no further action is taken at the UUA level.

I keep coming back to the proper meaning of "disenfranchise": to strip of authority or legitimacy. The absence of a continental YRUU will undercut districts' sense of legitimacy, authority, and ultimately identity, with catastrophic results for YRUUers.

My prediction: Over the next few years, various districts' adult governance bodies will feel freer to launch new programs, for but not by youth. They will feel free to give these programs new names or the same name, but not build them around the shared principles we now call the YRUU way. Consequently the sense of shared mission and identity as YRUUers will fade over the coming few years.

I further predict that the UUA will do damned little to fill this void. The consolidation of Youth and Young Adult Offices speaks to a scantier investment, and I have seen no evidence that any kind of large institutional investment is planned.

In some sense, this comes down to a disagreement about how easy or hard it is to build quality congregation-based youth programming. My experience suggests its damned hard at best, and nigh-impossible in smaller congregations -- particularly when the goal is empowerment but even when it's just about community or education. I get the impression Sinkford sees it as a natural by-product of the other work the UUA will be doing to focus on congreation programming at the expense of district and continental programming.

There may be good reasons, in some areas, to emphasize congregation support at the expense of larger "movement" programs. But as one who's acutely aware of the impact it will have on youth and young adult programs, it just feels to me like they are passing the buck.

Anonymous said...

I'd also like to respond to an "adult member."

I am one of those youth you referred to. But you seem to misunderstand what tends to happen.

I never really had a Youth Group at my Congregation. We had RE, and I went to that until I was 12-13. I got tired of coloring pictures of Martin Luther King, of talking about Christianity, and of being led by a string by the loving, committeed, volunteer teachers. I stopped going to Church because of a lack of adequate programming for me there. There was nothing for me to do.

I did not attend District YRUU events regularly until after I had stopped regularly attending my Congregation. YRUU offered me a spiritual home, where I had none. It offered me a sense of worth and empowerment, and many other things. It's the only reason I consider myself a UU today.

YRUU kept me in the faith, so to speak, when my congregation failed. You've got it turned around.
Kenneth Sime

Nat said...

From my understanding, district youth activities, like conferences, were not going to be effected by this cut. Am I wrong?

Jennifer said...

Hello Mimi ( who informed me of the madness) and all youth currently and folks who were youth . Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? This is crazzazzzzy.
This is the first news of this I have received. Stunning and fucked up.
Would love to know the politics? After all we worked for and struggled for...3 generations of my family were involved in LRY/YRUU. My grandfather helped get LRY started, his children all were in LRY, and one of his children, my mother, spoke fondly of LRY. I grew up hearing tales of empowered youth marching on Washington for Civil Rights. My mom's Boston youth group went to hear MLK speak in DC and heard his "I Have a Dream Speech" They stayed up late and sharing how they understood the universe. I heard of youth planning and creating amazing worships together. I know this is why I joined LRY when I was 12 in Vermont and stayed involved until college. Sadness sweeps across my heart, but also so does the spirit of hope and revolution. "Do not go gentle into that 'good' night."
I will read this blog and contribute were I can.
"Rage, rage against the dying of the light"

Now is not the time for sadness, but for organizing. Who's to say that LRY or some new autonomous youth collective of liberal religious youth and adults who support them can't get organized? Rise up from the ash, like a Phoenix from the fire.

I was pissed when Con Con was dismantled and I said to myself, where are the youth who are empowered enough to say, "uh we can get our shit together enough to run this from the district level"? but alas...

Spring is the time of hope and the time of all things being born.

Maybe there is a way to start something new, balderdash the institution who has so often tokenized youth work.

I think the anti-racist work could also use some breathing room from the strangle hold of the UUA's particular way of focusing this issue. The youth always seemed to me to be light-years ahead of the adults in trying out new ways of dealing with racism and problematic institutional structures.

Maybe it is freedom that we all need to envision, a new truly youth friendly, anti-racist, shared ministry with youth fully at the helm.

I don't know what this might look like but I trust that the vision and voice of youth on this blog to give us a clue as to which way we should jump.

Thanks and would love to hear from you all on this site or off.
Jen Devine (formerly Harrison)
Formerly Kick-Ass Youth Programs Director of the UUA

In the words of Sweet Honey in the Rock "To me young people come first, they have the courage where we fail/ And if I can just shed some light as they carry us through the gale/ The older I get the better I know that the secret of my going on/ Is when the reins are in the hands of the young, who dare to run against the storm/ Not needing to clutch for power, not needing the light just to shine on me/ I need to be just one in the number as we stand against tyranny."

Keith Christopher said...

I have a background as youth advisor in the past, and had two children age through and out of YRUU. One was deeply involved in YRUU as a Youth Council Representative, and the other never resonated with CONS and only participated in the local youth group. Both are active UU young adults today.

Can anyone provide a succinct history of the issues or problems confronted by YRUU in the recent (5 years?) past, and the efforts made to solve them? I am feeling a significant lack of context for this decision which leaves me reacting emotionally, and with no rational basis to judge what has happened.

This isn’t a case of “we have a better idea, so we are going to make a change”. Rather, it looks like “quick, we need to get rid of this, and then maybe we can think of something new to do”.
Generally when an organization kills a program without a defined plan to replace it, the implication is that the program was so broken or irrelevant that it deserved a quick end. Certainly that is the “brief history” I have repeatedly heard about LRY.

If there is a history of YRUU leadership being confronted with issues and declining or being unable to deal with them, the abrupt termination of YRUU is sad but understandable. Otherwise it appears as a capricious and short sighted power play by the UUA board and leadership.

A couple other points:

Just what should be the respective roles of local churches and the denomination? For years we have been hearing about the problem caused by the lack of involvement by association churches and their members in the denomination. In our own church it has taken a long time to increase awareness of Unitarian Universalism as something beyond the local church. For two consecutive years it was the youth who comprised the ENTIRE delegation from our church to GA (as delegates, not in youth caucus). It was our daughter who convinced my wife and me that we should become involved at the denominational level and attend GA. YRUU provided the exposure for our youth to a broader idea of Unitarian Universalism which most of our members never see or appreciate.

Youth empowerment is a misunderstood and grossly underappreciated concept. Providing a safe environment for young people to dream, plan, negotiate, delegate, and, sometimes, fail is extraordinarily important to their becoming effective adults. The lessons many of us learned as youth or youth leaders in YRUU permeate everything we do as RE teachers in our local congregation. Is there any point to our encouraging and building our young children’s empowerment if there is no place for them to exercise it when they reach high school?

Anonymous said...

To Tim Fitz and other anonymous - this is "adult member" replying. Your comments have helped me see that we adults may view YRUU as "programming" for our youth, whereas it seems you and others view YRUU as your spiritual community - a continental congregation of youth. This is an "a-ha" moment for me and helps me understand the loss and anger evident.

Following that idea, our youth "leave" the home congregation and join the YRUU congregation. It is very much in the vein of "separate but equal", but I can appreciate that - alot. Our youth have to have someplace to feel safe and welcome to explore and celebrate their UU identity. Do you think this can only work if it is "separate but equal"?

So you have helped me understand one part of all this. Maybe you can also address something else I wonder about. How does YRUU actually empower youth? I appreciate that it can do all that is mentioned above...but the power equations that most impact youth involve their family, their school, their jobs.

I imagine YRUU sort of like a cheerleading squad or support group, encouraging youth to be empowered but I don't know how they teach youth to struggle with the real power structures they inhabit at home. I see YRUU and the UUA establishment engaged in power struggles but that feels like infighting and navel-gazing to me. "Hey, lets fight about how much power we each have." Rather than, "We want to advance our faith and transform the world so what is my power and role in this and what is yours and lets strive to maximize the power both sides have to accomplish this goal."

And the place to advance the faith and transform the world is in our families, our schools, our jobs, our local world.

I see the value of YRUU as a religious community for youth and for that reason alone I hope whatever comes next provides this, but does it actually help our youth explore their power where it matters - their local world? I just don't know.

PS. I agree...whatever happens, my congregation needs to deal with its ageism and the UUA should begin advocating for and supporting programming that addresses this right now.

Marlene Abel said...

I'm a DRE in a small California congregation, and have three adult children in their 20's who were raised UU.

I've belonged to two congregations with small youth groups, which meant that my children depended on UU Camps and YRUU to develop friendships and community with large groups of UU youth. My youngest was very active in leadership roles in both the camps and YRUU, and developed poise, self-assurance and a deep commitment to our faith. She longed for a larger youth group in our congregation, so that the church would have a richer program, such as an OWL class, but that didn't happen during her youth.

I understand that the UUA is emphasizing congregations right now, but I don't understand taking support away from YRUU, which has been life transforming for many youth. I read that youth activities at the district level won't be affected, but I fear that district boards will follow Boston's lead.

Wouldn't it make more sense to build strong congregational programs for youth, before cutting off YRUU from financial support? I used to think that our denomination threw young people off the cliff, so to speak, at 18 or 20. Now, we've decided to throw them off at 12 or 14. I am upset and angry at my beloved denomination for devaluing our youth.

Robin Bartlett Barraza said...

Hi friends,

I appreciate reading all of these comments, and I still am a little puzzled about the outrage...I guess I'm still trying to figure out who this effects and how.

I am a life-long UU, born and raised, a DRE, former UUA employee (dept. of ministry), and the former District Youth Coordinator of the Mass Bay District.

I read this letter, and my first thought was "Oh no! This will be devastating to my many friends and colleagues in the continental youth community", of which I know many, and I care about them a great deal.

My second thought was, "how does this effect my 40 or so UU youth in my congregation that I serve?" And then I thought, "Oh yes, none of them even know that this continental youth structure exists, nor do they care." Now this is not to say that the youth in my congregation haven't reacted positively to the concept of youth empowerment as inspired by YRUU...they have a very active YAC, and they are working on sharing power with adults to do some of their own programming, and their programming is robust and thriving. But, truly, the continental youth steering committee does not represent their interests or needs in the least. This isn't a judgment, it's just likely a fact of continental leadership. It's not representative because it was impossible to make it so under our current (former) system.

My next thought was, "how does this effect my beloved district youth?" and I can't figure out how. In my experience, many of the district youth who got heavily involved in continental stuff, came back to district youth steering committee kinda sneering about how the younger, non-continental youth "didn't get it" and just seemed to have more acronyms in their arsenal. They often left soon after that, frustrated by our podunk little operation. :) I love them all, but really, they had no use for our little district anymore once they hit the big time...we wanted them to come back and share what they had learned...empower us all with their new knowledge and skill. In fairness, some did, some didn't. I used to joke about this a lot with them..."don't go to GA or youth council...you'll leave us forever", but I hated "losing" our best youth leaders to continental stuff, never to see them again, just like many folks hate losing youth to district youth programming, never to see them in our congregation again. Continental leadership is supposed to trickle down at least to the district, right?

So I don't get it. I know we're upset, and there were a bunch of youth who got a lot out of continental stuff (truly, I get that...when I worked at the UUA, I was friends with many YPSs from the youth office and was inspired by their work) but why is this the worse thing ever? Can someone explain? Does this really mean the end of youth empowered programming forever? It's really hard to figure out how dire these circumstances actually are.

The congregations I have worked in are desperate to have growing, thriving youth programming...they just want to know how to do it. Telling folks about youth empowerment has never really worked by itself...it's not instructive enough and it sounds great, but no one really gets what that looks like (including the youth). I, frankly, am EXCITED about having more direction from the youth ministry leadership at the UUA about how to set up successful local youth ministry and good district programming.

Really, aren't you guys?

Finally, I do want to be supportive, so please let me know if I'm missing something here. I care about you, and UU youth ministry more than I care about most things. So if I'm completely off-base, let me know.

Lots of love,


Anonymous said...

Dear "Adult Member" who was replying to Tim Fitz,

about YRUU helping youth be empowered in their day to day lives -- I would say that YRUU does help youth empower themselves in circumstances that are not YRUU (such as school, family, other organizations, other groups).

Empowerment is not Only about the youth leading the youth-group discussion, or having a youth on the board. The trust and support from adults that creates that type of relationship allows us to create a community in which youth can find their own power to lead, speak, contribute, and take responsability. A beloved former youth group member, Anya Brebner, wrote that "Empowerment in YRUU is not about advisors giving power to the youth, or about youth taking power away from the advisors. It involves youth finding the power within themselves to take responsibility for their actions."

Speaking for myself, I can say that YRUU has given me a safe place to find power inside myself, to develop my own confidence, stretch myself, test my courage, figure things out about myself. Taking on leadership positions, and simply participating in the YRUU community has helped me develop knowledge about myself, other people, and community, that is very helpful in other circumstances, helps me understand the world and its potential better.
Finally, YRUU has allowed me to know what it feels like to be empowered. When you're in high school (generally a pretty youth-disempowering place), that is amazing and fortifying. Knowing that that kind of love and community spirit can exist, and having proven to myself that I have the power to speak up and do many things such as lead, facilitate, contribute to "adult" discussions, speak in public and spread those types of supportive relationships with other people... this knowledge has certainly made me more able to empower myself, on an inner level and in many other situations in my daily life.

I also believe that being empowered in my spiritual community is as important to me as in other areas of my life.

(Canadian at Large, Youth Council)

Jo said...

I have been working on this post for 2 hours, and have much to say that I'm not ready to share yet. I am also struggling with how to explain my thinking. I hope that this makes some sense.

I think that we have 3 main issues:
1) lack of trust
2) lack of communication
3) lack of transparency

What I've been mulling about is how I can be an agent of change. These three things are all interdependent -- without one, the others don't happen.

Trust is the hardest one for me, especially when I disagree strongly with someone about something I care deeply about. But I feel I have to trust that we come from the same place of caring, and work from that commonality rather than from our differences.

I was thinking about all this, and realized that these things are happening. I think that all of this current conversation on blogs and Facebook is a start on transparency. Unlike a conversation at a board meeting, what I write can be read by all. If all players are aware of these forums, then we have a start, as well as a start on communication. People are finding places to share their perspectives, and read others. And trust, too, trust that all on these forums are speaking with honesty and a belief in our faith movement and true empowerment of all people.

We have started, and I make a commitment to be a part of continuing this process. I am going to work to bridge the communication barrier, trust in other’s intentions, and be as transparent in my work for positive change as I can. Please forgive me when I fail. I hope you’ll join me in trying.


Jo Victoria
Redwood City, CA

** proud witnesser of an amazing PCD YRUU organization which is lovingly inclusive and accepting, embraces true youth-adult partnership, and a has deep commitment to the R in YRUU. **

nan said...

For a week I have been trying to find the words, and I have written pages and pages of what is on my mind, mostly for myself, I guess. I have been reading the blogs and then I step away because I find this situation very unsettling….something is not correct. When I read the first letter from Rev. Bill Sinkford I actually had some hope because there was a sentence in there that said, “I ask for your patience. UUA leadership and stakeholder constituents are still in dialogue to solidify a plan of action.” It was the “still in dialog” that gave me hope. And when I hear “stakeholders”, I ask myself who are the “stakeholders”? Do you know who they are? I guess the “stakeholders” are the empowered folks who will determine the fate of YRUU along with the BOT. It would be helpful to understand the factors in choosing stakeholders and have a list made public…..hmmm….my vote is transparency….it keeps us trustworthy.

About the consultation process - I have tried to keep an open mind. As the adult-at-large member of Steering Committee in 2005-2006, we had a SC meeting at P&E viewing charts and power point presentations on the consultation. Many of us on SC could not wrap our heads around the process, or outcome of the consultation. We couldn’t understand why it was taking so much money to go through this process laid out by the UUA and what the results would mean for YRUU. I was still on the fence whether I thought it was going to be helpful and did not comprehend the long-term goals or effects. Still trying to keep an open mind and wondering if I had missed something, I attended the consultation presentation for the Ballou-Channing District, and I wanted to support the youth office. It was at that BCD presentation I realized that the consultation data being used to determine the future of YRUU was based on only about 10% of the youth voice in our denomination. That really did not make sense -- to me.

Where are we now? Are we visioning youth ministry to be low maintenance or growth with sustainability? I believe we are in a very fragile state and I believe the UUA should be concerned. Some folks have spoken on this blog, but not everyone feels safe writing on these blogs, and many folks are silent. What comes to my mind is RECONCILIATION, and I think about the work of Paula Cole Jones. If something is not done to begin a reconciliation process with the UUA leadership and YRUU leadership (past and present), we will move away from growth, we will silence leadership for change, which some people would call the radical voice.

I remember I went to see Thich Nhat Hanh at Wellesley College a short while after September 11th. Someone asked him, about the state of affairs with conflict among world leaders and what we should do. He was quiet for a while and then said something like this “ We need to bring the world leaders together, somewhere like Plum Village (which is a retreat center in France). We would take time to sit and meditate together, and we will take time to deeply listen to one another….times of silence and times of deep listening”. We don’t need to go to Plum Village but a retreat space with an invitation for PAST and PRESENT Steering Committee members, Groundwork trainers, a long line of overworked YPS’s/YMA's, ministers who have been physically present to YRUU and ministerial support at events (who are mostly/all Ministers of Color), ministers and/or professionals who are skilled in conflict resolution, and UUA institutional leaders with reconciliation as the goal. Feel, deal, heal comes to mind. We are feeling things now. The next step it to deal with the discord before healing can be realized. Stagnation, disharmony and unresolve will remain if we ignore the strong voice of concern. This is an important moment for the future of Unitarian Universalism. It would be a mistake to underestimate the power or the impact of these events and discussions that have happened over the last 10 days.

Finally, on the blog Joseph Lyons wrote: “Lastly, I know a lot of youth and adults have given considerable love and found their passion within YRUU networks. Thank you to all of you, your work matters greatly” -- Thank you Joseph for extending words of appreciation to youth and adults alike. Wouldn’t it be amazing that as a faith community, we looked each other in the eye and said, “I appreciate your commitment to the youth community – it matters.” ~nan moore

My youth experience -- adult support person in YRUU for many years; in congregations – DRE in the Ballou-Channing district for 12 years; a youth advisor in a congregations for 7 years; BCD liaison to the District RE Com and adult member of YAC; Hosted at least 7 district cons; adult support continental YRUU for 7 years in various capacities such as: serving on youth council as the adult-at-large for 5 years – 2 non-consecutive terms, attended 2 YSJT events (Chicago and New Orleans); served a one-year term as the Adult-at-Large on Steering Committee, co-trainer of Youth Office Chrysalis trainings for 7 years, was a member on GA Youth Caucus staff for 7 years; continuing development of Commit 2 Community for 6 years; and I have never been to Con Con

Donald O'Bloggin said...

Thanks, Eric, for your comments. Every time I've seen you, you've managed to say something that's stuck in my head for a long time afterwards, and re-directed where I was going.

I think you're right about vacuums not creating growth of programmes... at least in the youth world. I think the institutional memory is too short for the vacuum to have enough effect, as too quickly you have people who think the "vacuum" is normal, and it ceases being a vacuum. In other situations, where there is a longer memory, I think vacuums tend to work more.

I don't like to use the word empower, for exactly the definition you provide.

In situations like this, I remind people I'm working with, whether peers or youth, that we must seize the power we feel we are responsible enough to wield.

There is nothing to prevent YRUU from continuing as it has, without UUA funding, if there are people willing to put in the effort.

Unlike what the YRUU leadership has been told by Youth Office staff of the past, there is nothing that prevents YRUU from fundraising on its own, and its money is its own to do with as it pleases without any oversight from the UUA.

Go forth, find your allies, and do great work. Any time any UU group does work that commands respect that it can wholly claim as its own, one of three things happens:

1) it's ignored (usually because the group doing the work doesn't have good PR skills)

2) The work is adopted by others and repeated (including by the UUA Offices. They specifically look for congregations, districts, and other groups of UUs doing worthwhile things, so they can repeat them. This is one reason they send so many people to GA, so they can see what people are promoting)

3) The Work is attacked by those who believe it threatens them.

Whatever YRUU chooses to do, it shouldn't appear to directly threaten the UUA, or work being done in congregations and districts. This means making sure that the people doing the work are MORE informed of what everyone else is doing, than anyone else. Period.

Youth leaders in a district should be working to know what EVERY single congregation is doing on every given Sunday. Our youth should be examples of best practices in intra-congregational partnership and ministry. This will threaten DREs and congregational leaders at first. They must be approached with understanding, and efforts must be made to involve youth from several congregations in those efforts. Never again should there be a Social Justice Con that is not intrinsically linked with the social justice work that the host congregation is doing, and that con should show that congregations members how deeply that work can be embroiled in their faith.

I've said it many times, in many places, but I'll show this example:

I live in the densest area of congregations per mile than anyplace in the world outside MA. Right here in Southeast Michigan. I've been to every one of them in the past several years, many more than once, and asked their DRE, Minister, or a random congregation member to name the three closest other UU congregations to them, and NO ONE has ever gotten it right. Usually, it's not even a miss of one, but two, and a few times, missed the closest THREE and gone to others further away. (and this in a state where most of the DREs meet on a monthly basis.)

This isn't uncommon in our UU world. We are TERRIBLE about talking to one another. Our youth and young adults have the ability and the numbers to do some amazing things, but it will take organising in ways we're not the best at, but that we are the best equipped to do of any group of UUs that exists, anywhere.

YRUU can do this. All on its own.

Embryo said...

My view is that YRUU cannot exist without UUA funding, and comments to the contrary have completely failed to account for how expensive it is to minister with youth, how important an investment that is to make, and how much that kind of money really is to young people. For the UUA to endorse YRUU but not fund it would make us a deadbeat denomination.

Eric Swanson said...

[Donald: Good to hear from you; you've always provoked my own thinking. I hope you're well.]

Embryo, all:

I've been chewing on your assertion that "YRUU cannot exist without UUA funding," and I'm not sure that's true. That said, however, I think there are tons of good reasons to focus on working with/within the UUA structures.

First and foremost: The UUA is where the UUs are. If YRUU (and other identity-based organizations) want to reach UUs and cooperate with UU congregations and organizations, the UUA is the obvious place to do it. While the current administration seems relatively hostile to this sort of thing, the UUA is still where the UUs are. And for good or ill, the UUs are my people, so here I am.

With that in mind, here are today's key points from me:
- Continental and district YRUU activities are one effective form of youth ministry.
- There exist other effective forms of youth ministry, but they are not widely practiced throughout UUism.
- Many of these other forms of ministry require substantial funding to work.
- YRUU probably does not require substantial outside funding to work at any level.

The idea that YRUU programming doesn't require funding at any level may be a point of disagreement, but I'd like to address it only briefly right now. Let me just say that the YRUU organization here in the PCD is a money machine. It clears a couple grand a year without even trying, and conference costs are quite reasonable. There is room for fees to increase, and it would be quite easy for that to cover insurance and something vaguely akin to the UUA's "fair share" contributions if that were PCD's part of funding a continental organization. I'm less intimate with the finances in other districts, but I believe an independent YRUU could have substantial surpluses in most places, which makes the money part possible.

What YRUU does need, however, is legitimacy. Legitimacy assuages the fears of parents and DREs. Legitimacy gets free church floors to sleep on. Legitimacy gets better insurance rates. Legitimacy gets meetings with heavy hitters who won't acknowledge rabble. The legitimacy question is far bigger than the money question.

In case it's not clear: I have a much bigger problem with the delegitimizing effect of the UUA's decision than with the defunding effect. While something new could/can be formed, I believe the UUA can claim ownership of the YRUU name, and that if a fully independent organization wanted to call itself YRUU the administration could and would stop it. There goes legitimacy.

With that, let me set aside organizational viability and come back to effective ministry -- which is what it's all about for me.

My real passion here is about the assertion -- clearly questioned by the UUA administration -- that YRUU programs are an effective form of youth ministry. I've said some of this in nearby threads, but here are two of my favorite points:

- Around age 12 or 13, youth go through a developmental change where their identity is stops being centered on the parent and becomes centered on the peer group. Adolescents' views of the world are far more influenced by their peers than by their elders, and YRUU (when it's working right) gives youth a chance to work with those peers on responsible, faith-centered goals determined by that peer group.

- As UUs, we raise children to question assumptions and question authority, but when the peer-centered worldview kicks in parents stop finding this adorable. YRUU is a healthy, affirming, peer-centered place for youth to continue this development, avoiding that boot-on-the-spine feeling that comes of working with disempowering adults. For me, this points connects with why YRUU-style programming is a particular need and a particular skill of Unitarian Universalist communities -- more authoritarian denominations neither want nor need to give this kind of power to young people.

Anyone who knows me can attest that I'm a true believer in YRUU values (and in the kinds of training provided by the Youth Office), but what might be a surprise is that I also support these things:

- High-quality RE programming that engages youth as full participants and not necessarily leaders, and that treats youth viewpoints with respect. This goes double for spiritually centered sexuality education.

- Well-run district and local Coming of Age programs that are run by adults but affirm the personal experiences and viewpoints of youth participants.

- Adult-facilitated local and cluster programs for younger youth that let middle schoolers start to taste power and learn leadership skills in an environment where the adult safety net is thicker and parental concerns are explicitly catered to.

- District and continental social justice events coordinated or led by adults to help youth voice their own concerns on a larger stage.

- Growing local youth groups, led or co-led by adults as needed -- whether focused on activities or on training or on empowerment or on partnership with the adults in the congregation on issues important to the church.

- Lots more things I can't think of right now!

All these things need investment, probably more than continental or district YRUU does. I totally affirm the idea of shifting some money into some of these programs.

But (for all its admitted flaws) YRUU works now. Delegitimizing (and defunding) the only form of ministry to adolescent UUs that can be demonstrated to actually reach thousands every year with a UU message, a peer-led ministry that actually has its own momentum -- well, that's just irresponsible.

Heather said...

"I have a much bigger problem with the delegitimizing effect of the UUA's decision than with the defunding effect."

Thank you for framing this point this way. This is exactly why I think that this decision is going to be harmful for local and district youth ministry, too.

Rick Roehlk said...

What Eric said...

Many of the descriptions of what we hope to achieve sound exactly like what we had.

I'm reading everything and trying to make some sense of everything. I've been out of the loop since my stint as adult on SC. After my experience with the BoT I no longer felt supported as an advisor.
Nan, jo, all of you that I miss so much.
I'm working on organizing some of my historical info for the institutional memory.

Jennifer said...

Hello all again,
Thanks for the wise and well thought out words of many. My initial post was full of emotion and expletives. Calmness and rationality has returned. Eric, thanks for your detailed narrative. Rick R, thanks for reconnecting. Doug and Nan for your concern expressed. Everyone who is posting obviously cares a great deal. Just wanted to post a thanks to all who are posting and stratagizing about what to do next.
With love and faith,
Jen Devine (formerly Harrison, former Youth Programs Director)

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