Karen Daniel, of LRY (Liberal Religious Youth), Fairfax (VA) Unitarian Church 1966-67 and Annapolis (MD) 1967-68
What was the youth group to which you belonged (also city, and congregation if you care to identify it), region, and what were the years?
Fairfax (VA) Unitarian Church 1966-67. Annapolis (MD) 1967-8.
Was your family UU (or Unitarian or Universalist) and what was their generational history as far as involvement in UU? Had family members been involved in former UU or Unitarian or Universalist youth groups and do you know what their experience might have been? If you were from outside UU, what was your religious/spiritual/social upbringing?
My parents weren't churchgoers. But somehow I was always attracted to religion. When I lived in Uruguay (Navy brat) in 1956-57, I saw a sign on a post asking if I wanted to be saved. I was 6, but somehow, I thought I needed to be saved. I went to the address listed, walked, by myself, and knocked on the door of perfect strangers. Without asking permission. What I remember most was the bowl of fake fruit. They said a prayer over me and I was saved. Once back in the states, and even before Uruguay, my parents did send us kids to Sunday school at the nearest Presbyterian church. I loved Sunday school. I even taught Sunday school when I was 12 or so at the church on the Naval base in Newport RI. (Developed a mutual crush on one of the older boys in my class. We were probably the same age. Nothing came of that.) In 9th grade I began questioning Christianity because of Paul Newman in Exodus. Well, it was more than that. I couldn't understand why people were sent to hell because they weren't Christians. And James Bond books introduced me to sex. And a guy I liked was Jewish, and he couldn't date me. Ironically I was in a hot bed of Unitarians in Newport, RI, but we never made contact. Who knows how much difference that contact would have made?
How did you learn of the youth group, or what attracted you to it? What kept you there? Why and when did you leave? Did it provide an environment that was missing elsewhere in your life? Were you looking for spiritual experience, social consciousness activities, intellectual stimulation, personal friendships? How were these things fulfilled or not? What growth/change did you feel?
From Newport RI, we moved to Fairfax VA. From cosmopolitan small town (Folk and Jazz festivals introduced me to Bob Dylan, et al, black kid friend and vp of the student council, Greeks, Portuguese, Jews, all happy together) to "backwoods" suburban development (the girl across the street told me she was so upset because in DC she had to take an elevator, and a Negro was in it! I said, So? For a while I tried to fit in with the in crowd. Ate lunch with cheerleaders, wore makeup, curled my hair, painted my nails. (I had cut all that stuff out in Newport. My father hated my "folk singer hairdo.") But I had questions. I asked the girls, Do you believe in god? No response. One of my English classmates found me and told me about the LRY at Fairfax Unitarian Church. He took me to my first meeting. (After that, he disappeared. Don't know why). The topic of discussion that night was, as I heard it, Youth in Asia. Turned out, it was euthanasia. The next meeting was, as I heard it, the numerality. Actually, the new morality. I was clueless. I also made major faux pas. One of the first meetings, a kid was playing Arlo Guthrie's Thanksgiving song (what's it called?) and I asked What's it called? And they all acted as if I were so uncool. I was into classical and folk music, but hadn't heard that one yet. Also, one of the leaders of the group was singing a Joni Mitchell song, and I said, I really like the way Judy Collins sings that. Not only did I insult the singer by comparing her to others, but I didn't know it was really a Joni Mitchell song. I just wanted to let everyone there know I knew who Judy Collins was. Oops. And there was a really nice scarf tied around the tree in front of the church. I took it. I didn't realize someone put it there for whomever it belonged to. I still have that scarf. I still feel guilty about it. I never wear it. I was looking for spiritual experience, social consciousness activities, intellectual stimulation, personal friendships. I did find all of those things. What I regret is that none of the connections continued.
What were your experiences local and non-local (conferences)? Did you prefer one over the other or did they complement each other well? Was non-local experience accessible?
I was only able to go to Greater Area Washington Federation (GWAF) conferences. It was hard enough to talk my father into letting me go to those. They really woke me up, especially one that took us to Anacostia, where I learned that you can't pull yourself up by the bootstraps (my father's words) if you don't have any boots. My father didn't like that, but he would have liked other things a lot less. Our FUC LRY went to a cabin in the woods for a weekend. We all slept out in sleeping bags together in front of the fire. I was thrilled that the boy I wanted more than any other showed an interest in me. Petting, no actual sex, but that probably did go on elsewhere in the room. There was weed, but I didn't partake. Stupid me. Conferences at River Road, Triangle (Easter moon!), Assateague, so much. The themes of the conferences were very mind opening.
How did your experiences affect your life in the short term and long term? Were you UU as an adult--why or why not?
LRY showed me that I didn't need to keep trying to fit in at high school. I did find the drama kids, non-LRYers, who introduced me to the summer theater group where I played violin in the pit and did scene painting and backstage moving. Then my father moved us to MD, and I tried the Annapolis church, but it was too conservative. I went off to Dickinson College (my fall-back. Wanted to go to Antioch--wait listed) and tried to find salvation in philosophy, drugs, and true love. That didn't work. As an adult, I was told by psychologists that I needed to build a social network, so I tried local UUs. That worked for a while but not for long. Too much like work. Committees, fund raising, etc. And people were so judgmental. It was no fun.
What was your awareness of the group and its activities as far as being youth-directed and the history of youth-direction in UU youth groups? If you hadn't much awareness of the history of UU youth groups, would you have been interested in learning more? If you hadn't awareness of the history of the UU youth groups, would education in that history have further molded your experience and expectations of yourself and others? Would it have affected a sense of legacy? If you were interested in legacy, did you feel you were able to contribute beneficially or not?
What was your sense of youth-adult relations between the youth group and the host congregation? The youth group and advisors?
I didn't have any sense of legacy. I was only aware that the adult advisor was just an advisor, and I appreciated that. He let us be. I only found out recently that youth leading was a big deal.
It seems to me it would be useful to not just learn what individuals found beneficial or not about their experience in the youth group, but to contextualize it generationally. What was going on in your area outside the group in other formal and informal groups of individuals of similar ages? What was going on societally that you feel affected your experience of and participation in the youth group?
In 1966 I was thinking about a career in the foreign service. I applied for a summer abroad with American Field Service (came in second place, as always). A woman at one of the mixers asked me what I would say if someone asked me about the US involvement in Vietnam. That really got me thinking. When my father decided to retire from the Navy and move us somewhere else for my senior year, we had people come to look at the house as a possible purchase. One was an African American Army colonel. My parents said it wouldn't be right to sell the house to him because he wouldn't fit in. Goddamned bigot, my father was, and my mother just went along. When we moved to Severna Park MD for my senior year, I continued my involvement with the anti-war movement to the point that after they showed The Green Berets at an assembly I demanded of the principal that he let me show a movie on the other side--equal time. He said ok. I got a really good documentary film from the Quakers about the history of the whole Vietnam mess, and it was actually shown in a whole school assembly. I don't think I could have done that without LRY, even though I wasn't really involved with LRY at that point. At Dickinson I got lost. The anti-war moratorium in 1970 ? was stupid. I had to pay my own tuition (emancipated student, broke off from my father). Everything else from there had nothing to do with LRY, although I wonder if some similar group would have helped. But at this point, even though I am even more lost than I was pre-LRY, I figure it's too late. I've got my dog and cat and garden and occasionally my grand kids. That should be enough. Right?
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