Ed Inman of LRY (Liberal Religious Youth) LSD (Lower Southern District)
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?
LRY Jackson, Mississippi mid to late 70s. Part of the Lower Southern District but our local was mostly pretty isolated from fed activities.
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?
Presbyterian (PCUS). My dad's family was Methodist, my mom's family was Baptist, so they compromised.
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?
My mom was invited to present a program at the UU Church & I tagged along, meeting some of the teenagers in the process. Later attended an LRY Sunday with the youth in charge of the service. Quite impressed.
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?
They complimented each other well but would vary significantly by region.
How did your experiences affect your life in the short term and long term? Were you UU as an adult--why or why not?
Yes I joined the UU Church in Jackson and stayed there for a long time. Served on the board and as "Nuusletter" editor at one time. Gradually lost interest, but still identify with the congregation spiritually to some extent. Most of the people I was friends with are long gone, but there are still some great people who attend there. I wouldn't completely rule out rejoining at some point if the time feels right.
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?
Well, we tried to save LRY and carried our fight all the way to General Assembly. And LRYers had a certain imprint on what was to become YRUU. To whatever extent that is a "legacy," it's not one that is widely understood, acknowledged or talked about in UU circles anymore. But we believed in the youth-run organizational model as beneficial to youth and I still believe in it. The fact that the UUA has now killed a second youth organization in my lifetime (YRUU) is very disappointing. No continental conference, no formal organization, no youth elected to represent their peers full time at the denominational headquarters, not even a national youth council of any sort. Just the integration of a few youth onto adult committees (such as the youth position on the UUA Board of Trustees). While I certainly don't disrespect the youth today who take advantage of those positions, I do believe there is an undercurrent of tokenism in the system, where a handful of youth are given voices only where they are overwhelmingly outnumbered by adults. I also don't believe that, as a spiritual and educational developmental opportunity, allowing a few youth to sit on adult boards is a replacement for allowing youth to debate issues among themselves within formally organized youth boards. It's not the UUA I remember and loved, but evidently many ministers and RE directors find this model less threatening. I just find it sad.
What was your sense of youth-adult relations between the youth group and the host congregation? The youth group and advisors?
Varied widely from church to church and district to district. The local in Jackson was always quite small and there was rarely any major problem, partly due to a very tolerant minister back then named Gordon Gibson. But things got really ugly for LRY when the SCOYP Report came out in 1978. One of its primary authors had been an LRY advisor in Birmingham, AL. So life for LRY was not as peaceful elsewhere in the South. The bigger churches in Atlanta and Birmingham were among the first to suddenly ban LRY in the fall of ‘78 and some ministers in Florida tried to arbitrarily set up "UUY" as an alternative. Things got very polarized and more than a little ridiculous very fast. One of the ironies is that SCOYP (the Special Committee on Youth Programs) which more than any other committee served to destroy LRY, had initially been formed at the request of LRY executives as a way to improve and strengthen the organization. I suppose there is a lesson in there about being careful what you ask for, no matter how well intentioned.
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?
Among other things, I think the 70s was the halcyon era of youth-oriented underground and alternative newspapers. Advances in web offset printing for the first time gave anyone with a typewriter the ability to be a "publisher," and LRY's People Soup was very much a model of that. It gave UU youth a voice of their own--without censorship from adults whatsoever. And it was a medium that gave our generation a permanent archival record of our voices. That same freedom of speech is largely taken for granted by youth today due to computers and the social media. I wonder about the archival part, though. Digital archives, where they exist, can be easily corrupted over time. And with no formal youth publication or organization anymore within the UUA, it seems that any long-term "voice" of today's UU youth has effectively been suppressed. And again, this makes me sad, though I'm sure there are still many great youth and youth advisors in the denomination deserving of support.
Added 2014 March 26th.