YRUU A Five-Year Review of Programs for Youth 1989 - Introduction

YRUU Five Year Review

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YRUU 5 Year Review - Introduction


During the summers of 1981 and 1982, Unitarian Universalist youth and adults gathered to create a new structure for UU youth programs. The old structure, Liberal Religious Youth (LRY), suffered from mistrust between youth and adults, behavior problems, and a lack of adult involvement. (Footnote 1) At the two-week-long Common Ground conferences at Carleton and Bowdoin Colleges, delegates engaged in extensive dialogue, consensus-building, and decision making. The result was a new youth organization, Young Religious Unitarian Universalists (YRUU). which replaced LRY on January 1, 1983.

In its first five years, YRUU has had much to overcome. The Special Committee on Youth Programs (SCOYP), which conducted the last major evaluation of UU youth programs in 1976-77, found the programming then in existence to be "inadequate and a disservice to youth," and noted a "massive abdication of adult responsibility." (Footnote 2) SCOYP recommended, among other things, increased activity by adults in youth programs, increased funding for youth staff by the UUA, the separation of programs for college-age youth (now more often known as "post-high youth") from those for youth in junior high and high school, and a "Continental Dialogue," which took form as Common Ground.

The Common Ground meetings were uncommonly spirited gatherings. "There was a sense," said the 1982 report, "that the whole week was one worship service, one long liturgical process." (Footnote 3) The experience united and excited a generation of youth and adults, some familiar with and some new to UU youth programs.

Like LRY, YRUU was designed as a religious organization dedicated to such purposes as "fostering spiritual depth, creating a peaceful community on earth and peace within us, and clarifying both individual and universal religious values as part of our growth process." (Footnote 4)

YRUU differs from LRY in its close institutional tic to the UUA and the participation of adults with youth at every decision-making level. LRY depended on the UUA for most of its Income, but generally functioned as an autonomous, all-youth institution. The YRUU Youth Council and the YRUU Steering Committee have a ratio of one adult to every three youth. The transition from LRY to YRUU was a shift from "youth autonomy" to youth adult collaboration. YRUU is less independent; the agreement of the UUA is needed for decisions about budgets, staffing, and bylaws.

The new institutional arrangement was reinforced by the commitment to ensuring that YRUU is, as its bylaws say, "clearly identified as an organization of the Unitarian Universalist Association." Like UU adults in the same period, UU youth have become more willing to identify themselves as Unitarian Universalists and to see involvement in a local congregation and in the UUA as an important part of their religious commitment.

The primary purposes of Common Ground, and of YRUU, were to revive youth programs where they had atrophied, and to restore trust where it had waned.

In June 1987, pursuant to proposals from the Religious Education Advisory Committee and the YRUU Steering Committee, the UUA Board of Trustees initiated a review of the first five years of YRUU. The work of the Five-Year Review Committee, unlike SCOYP'S, is not occasioned by despair or crisis, which, in itself, says something about the success of Common Ground in renewing youth programs in the UUA. Ours is a routine evaluation; we hope others like it will happen regularly in the future. Our charge is as follows:

  1. To conduct a review of YRUU in the context of all UU programs for youth, in consultation with the YRUU Steering Committee;
  2. To include in this review a study of YRUU history, promise, progress, present concerns, and future directions;
  3. To analyze how YRUU relates to the UUA, to the Religious Education Department, and to other youth programs in terms of organizational structure, responsibility, etc.;
  4. To analyze the relationship between YRUU's structure and its function and purpose;
  5. To make recommendations for the maintenance and improvement of youth programming. (Footnote 5)

It was the intention of the board to have, among the members of the committee: a director of religious education, a member of the UUA Board of Trustees, a youth member of Youth Council, a youth active at the local level, a youth who was at Common Ground, an adult advisor, and a minister with youth experience. The Committee on Committees was successful on all counts except the first; we have missed having a local religious educator (ideally a specialist in youth ministry), but have sought to make up for this shortcoming through interviews and consultations.

Our overall view of YRUU, and of the changes in UU youth programs that have occurred since Common Ground, is positive. Participation, as measured by the size of the YRUU mailing list and by attendance at continental events, has increased greatly. District delegations of youth and adults to the YRUU Youth Council have been nearly full each year. Youth programs at every level are better balanced than was the case in 1980.

We also see signs that young people are more active in all aspects of the life of local congregations. Youth participation in denominational affairs, including the General Assembly (GA), has also increased. One of the most heartening signs of this is the movement of YRUU leaders into important UUA posts. For example, Ben Ford, a member of the GA Planning Committee, and Julie-Ann Silberman, chair of the UUA Nominating Committee, are both recent YRUU leaders. Our aim is to advance what YRUU has already accomplished.

We are grateful to all those who have helped us with our work. The Reverend Ellen Brandenburg, Youth Program Director, and Andrew Moeller, Leia Durland and Jason Happel, members of the Youth Staff have given many hours of time and masses of information. All those who we interviewed (see Appendix A) were generous with their expertise; we wish our budget would permit us to publish more of their thoughts. The YRUU Youth Council and Steering Committee have been both frank and patient as we have learned from them about issues they have dealt with many times. We also thank those who responded to our questionnaires and those who wrote to us. Our special thanks go to Gene Navias, who as staff liaison and fellow committee member fed us, entertained us, and kept us on schedule through a task that was a new experience for most of us.

1. For a recollection of the reasons for the Common Ground meetings, see Wayne Arnason interview, Appendix E. [BACK]

2. Report of the Special Committee on Youth Programs to the UUA Board of Trustees (UUA, November, 1977).[BACK]

3. Common Ground 1982, p. 8. [BACK]

4 YRUU Bylaws, Article 11, Section 1 (Appendix B). [BACK]

5 Minutes, UUA Board of Trustees, June, 1987. [BACK]


Translated from the original text document to htm by Lorne Tyndale, YRUU Programmes Specialist September 1993 - August 1994. The document was on lryer.org. I have placed the document on this site as I've been notified that lryer.org appears to be down.

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