Catherine Livingston, of LRY (Liberal Religious Youth), out of Houston, Texas
What was the youth group to which you belonged, years etc.?
I belonged to the Houston, Texas, First Church LRY from 1968-1971.
Was your family UU? what was your religious/spiritual/social upbringing?
My father took me to the Unitarian Church after I asked him why we didn't go to church (like my friends in the neighborhood). Very much a humanist, and a self-described atheist, he decided that we would go to church there. I was going into fifth grade when we started attending the church.
We lived in a city neighborhood by the University of Houston, with 1200 sq. ft. (or so) houses that backed up to the RR tracks. On the right day, we could smell the stockyards. A blue collar neighborhood, probably.
How did you learn of the youth group, or what attracted you to it? What kept you there? Did it provide an environment that was missing elsewhere in your life?
I began to go to the youth group as soon as I was old enough. Others in my Sunday School classes were going as well. I liked having a place to go where others of my own age were free to interact, and I naturally looked up to those older than myself who ran the group. I stayed because it became the only place I felt accepted and safe. It was my family, in a sense, since my own family was very small and without cousins, aunts or uncles, siblings, etc., I longed for a feeling of belonging. Once my mother threatened to ground me from LRY, and I realized that I would actually run away if she did because it was the only family I felt I had.
Why and when did you leave?
As I stayed in LRY, I grew up and became interested in serving on the executive committees. I did so, and helped run conferences, manage my local group, and generally enjoy being a part of the older kids. The summer before I became a senior in high school, it was time for elections for the next year. I was the only one running for President, and I was aware that LRY was changing, and I didn't feel I was the best person to manage conferences and other activities at that point.
Sometime in that summer or so, our SWLRY (Southwest LRY) had been split in two by the adults in the church - a northern region and a southern one. Most of my one-year-older friends were in the northern region, called TOAK (Texas, Okla., Ark., Kansas) and the southern region (SEAFOAM) had experienced some demographic changes. The year above me folks were headed to college, and those of us left were pretty busy as well. In addition, a goodly number of gay teens had joined LRY that summer, none of whom I knew from church, and who kept to themselves a lot. It seemed to divide us as a group and I had no idea how to manage that. I felt someone, possibly younger, would be a better fit to lead the next group of teens in LRY. So I bowed out of the election, someone else was elected, and LRY took a backseat to a busy senior life getting ready for college.
Were you looking for spiritual experience, social consciousness activities, intellectual stimulation, personal friendships?
Certainly, I was looking for all of that, like most teenagers. As LRY functioned as a family for me, I did most of my growing up in all those areas in LRY.
What were your experiences local and non-local (conferences)?
I particularly enjoyed the conferences where I learned things in workshops and developed personal relationships. A bit shy, I wasn't particularly popular, and tended to keep within the folks I knew. It was my social life, both locally and at conferences, and where I learned about relationships. Through LRY, I participated in social consciousness activities, and this suited my personality very well. I was always a vocal activist at my high school and in general. I went to Washington D.C. where we protested the Vietnam War with LRY friends.
Locally, we were a close group, often getting together for coffeehouses, raising money, visiting each other's houses, etc. Every Sunday we would go to the "Hill", a nearby park in central Houston, where we met up, went places from there, and then went to the Church for our Sunday evening meeting. It was wonderful to have Sundays filled with friends and activities.
Both seemed just part of the LRY experience. I never thought to separate them.
I went to one Continental conference, but knew almost no one and was very shy. It was uncomfortable, and I was glad when it was over. Everyone was older than I was and I felt out of place.
Were you UU as an adult? Why/why not?
No, I wasn't. I went to college in a small town and didn't go to church at all. It never occurred to me.
Later, when I had children, my husband was an atheist and did not want to go to church. When I became a single mom, I visited my local Unitarian church but never felt comfortable there. It was a very intellectual church and I needed more than that at the time, I felt. I ended up going to Unity, where my husband and I still go today. It seems to give me a spiritual foundation that I need, and always something each week that I can take out into my life and make the week a little better. I would have loved for my children to have LRY, but Unity had youth groups, and I simply didn't feel that the Unitarian church gave me the spiritual uplifting that I wanted.
What was your awareness of LRY and its activities as far as being youth-directed and the history of youth-direction in UU groups? Would you have been interested in learning more about this? 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?
I don't know. I certainly had no sense of any LRY history, UU youth groups, etc. I doubt I would have been interested too much because I was so busy just trying to survive and grow up. My family was difficult and I really sought sanctuary.
If there had been a heavy sense of legacy, I would have enjoyed knowing that I was carrying on a proud tradition, if you will. On the other hand, our newsletter and our group was spontaneous, the writings a product of our here and now, and, in that sense, a real picture of who we were. It wasn't done because it had “always been done.” And if there had been a tradition of one kind or another, perhaps I might have felt intimidated? I'd only been in since 5th grade type of feeling? I'm just not sure.
What was your sense of youth-adult relations between LRY and the host congregation? LRY and advisors?
The youth-adult relations were, at times, problematic. The minister could be quite autocratic, refusing to allow what were really reasonable requests. He seemed to be threatened by us and attempted to exert control when he could. It got personal at times, and we argued a fair bit. Other adults in the congregation didn't seem to care, particularly. Our advisors were great, and we depended upon them quite a bit for guidance, friendship, understanding, hospitality, and acceptance. They were very important to us. We never had an advisor that was a problem.
Contextualize your LRY experience. What was going on in your area outside LRY in other groups of similar aged teens? What was going on societally that you feel affected your experience of and participation in the youth group?
My generation had a lot going on. In my high school, I organized a strike so the girls could wear pants on cold days. Students were accused of being members of the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), a group that was considered radical at the time. We got sent home from school for wearing black armbands for those who hought and died in the Vietnam War. There were lots of student issues that schools had to confront, and our student bodies generally had a vocal liberal anti-war contingent in them. We sang free love and anti-war songs at sit-ins and conferences, and generally felt very bonded to each other because we all felt the same way about these issues. Women's lib was getting started, and the girls were very clear that things weren't equal when they should be. All of this was part of LRY in one way or another. We were proud that we didn't want the world of our elders.
Added 2014 July 29th
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