Susan Stephen of LRY (Liberal Religious Youth) MVF (Missouri Valley Federation)

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?

I belonged to the Lincoln Nebraska LRY group from 1972-1975; we were part of the Missouri Valley Federation. I interned (?) at 25 Beacon for 3 months in 1976 as well.) I also participated in SRL (a college-aged follow-up) for 2 years.

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 Dad was the minister of our church; my mother "converted" him to Unitarianism while they were dating. My grandmother was the first Unitarian in our family, making me a third generation UU. Both my parents were LRY advisors in Melrose Massachusetts during the time my father was in Divinity School -- 1956 to 1958, I think. They went to Starr Island for several summers in that capacity. Not sure what the district was called in suburban Boston at that time. I believe my mom also was a member of LRY during high school, but I don't remember hearing many details about that.

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?

I was not a kid who was "looking" for much -- I went to LRY because it was there, and I had always been involved in our church (duh, PK). We had great advisors who encouraged us to participate. Initially it was just an extension of my community; the development of great and deep friendships, intellectual challenges, spiritual growth and leadership skills was a fabulous bonus that we got because of the adults willing and able to get us to conferences and offer us experiences and discussions that encouraged us to grow and to think. It was, for me, the critical learning period of my life, and much more because of LRY than any other "learning" context. The values and understanding that I cemented during that period have never come undone.

I wanted very much for my own children to have a comparable experience with their peers, but things had changed a lot by the time my kids were in high school.

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 went to most area conferences within the MVF, and a couple of continentals. I was involved with planning our local group and the cons. we sponsored, so I would say I was a "leader" in that way. Virtually all of my conference experience was good, or better. I learned really interesting and useful "things" and "skills", plus huge lessons on psychology, interpersonal relations, human and power dynamics...both my husband and I still think the LRY experience was pivotal in shaping who we are today -- in a very positive way.

How did your experiences affect your life in the short term and long term? Were you UU as an adult--why or why not?

Short term: strong commitment to the local church, which generally empowered us; strong commitment to friendship and community; great group of peers to work through the struggles of adolescence with. Long term: Lifelong commitment to UU -- still an active member of a UU church, my kids attended UU church school and youth group, etc. This is no doubt partly because my Dad is a UU minister, but my other siblings aren't still active in UU churches, so it has to be partly attributable to LRY and its effects. I am immensely supportive of developing youth community that is unencumbered by adult values and allows youth autonomy. Two of my kids attended Sudbury Schools, as well...a democratically run, student-centred school structure that has shades of the LRY of my youth.

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?

Our group had a lot of information about the LRY history and structure, and my participation in "leadership" gave me more insight. I think that did have a large impact on my understanding and expectations of our group and its relationship with the church. I have less memory of holding any sense of legacy until my children were teens and I wanted them to get more than they were getting from their youth group experience. Legacy is a challenging concept for me anyway, but I do want to see the history maintained and supported.

What was your sense of youth-adult relations between the youth group and the host congregation? The youth group and advisors?

We had a generally strong communication, one of our youth attended church Board meetings, we invited advisors rather than having them volunteer, so we were, as a group, very volitional and in 'charge' of our group most of the time. Of course there were occasional conflicts and issues that had to be resolved, but we were generally very lucky that our advisors supported us and the church Board remained faithful to the agreements we made. The biggest difficulties surrounded the About Your Sexuality course and how appropriate it was for us to participate in it. We won that argument, but there were some unhappy parents.

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?

This may be the hardest question. As I said, I came of age between 1972 and 1975 -- the end of the Vietnam War, the civil rights struggle turned angry, the feminist movement erupting (especially through us as adolescent women), the drug culture fairly pervasive, sexuality challenging the adult norms...there were lots of issues on our table, and we dealt with them all in one way or another. Perhaps that is why our group was particularly strong -- we had serious and worldly questions to discuss, and we understood both implicitly and explicitly that our decisions had an impact in the larger society, which was a kind of new understanding. LRY was also a respite and a safe space from the world and a society that wasn't particularly friendly to young people at the time.

Added 2014 March 29th.

Return to Voices from the '70s.