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

YRUU Five Year Review

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YRUU 5 Year Review - III - Findings and Recommendations

D. Program content

We believe that balanced programming for a UU ministry with youth includes five components:

  1. Opportunities for religious growth and learning through structured study-discussion programming.
  2. Social programs with peers, inter-generational groups, and adults.
  3. Worship and spiritual exploration and expression.
  4. Hands-on projects for service and social action.
  5. Education and experience in self-governance and leadership skills.

In all of the above areas, inter-generational contact is an enriching factor. At the UUA General Assembly (GA), the Youth Caucus works with Its adult supporters to formulate viewpoints on GA resolutions, which young people then ably present on the assembly floor. This activity has done much to raise the image of YRUU in the eyes of adult delegates to the GA and is one model for Youth adult collaboration at all levels.

We regret the lack of a widely shared guiding philosophy in much UU youth program work. Where a philosophy exists, it too often is one dimensional, advocating a single technique or style. We believe that our practice of youth ministry needs to be informed by the kind of reflection contained in the attached paper, "Visions for Youth" by Eugene Navias (Appendix I).

The following reflects our findings with respect to each of the five components listed above:

1. Structured programming
The trend in our congregations toward the use of structured study-discussion programs to complement other styles has been welcomed by both youth and adults. The YRUU Youth Council passed a resolution in August 1988 to put "the religious" into YRUU by calling on the UUA Youth Office to work with the Curriculum Office "in developing an RE program for the YRUU age group. . . . This programming should emphasize UU principles and ideals, UU heritage, personal spiritual growth and the exploration of other world religions."

Some excellent programs have been in place for years. The UUA's program About Your Sexuality (AYS) has long been significant both in providing sound sexuality education and in building vital relationships among the youth and between the youth and their adult leaders. The cry for materials to follow AYS was first met by the successful Life Issues for Teenagers (LIFT). Now, some of the needs listed above should be met by the World Religions curriculum, released in 1987, and the new Life Journey program designed forjunior highers.

On the Path a program on spirituality published in January 1989, is designed for senior highers and adults. The UUA Curriculum Office publication schedule shows materials using a variety of program topics and approaches that will be available for use in the next few years on peace and justice, Unitarian Universalism and gender identity. Existing adult programs could also be adapted for use with youth, and all materials might well be reviewed with the thought that they might be led by youth.

These programs will provide congregations with structured program resources for youth groups and classes with a fullness unknown in this denomination for generations. While this provides support essential to attracting dedicated and enthusiastic adult youth group leaders. we believe that depending exclusively upon structured curricula can stifle a group's creativity, spontaneity, and commitment. The most effective leaders encourage group participation in program planning and presentation, and are flexible enough to incorporate the group's ideas and needs as they arise.

Our observations suggest that the quality and balance of local youth programming varies greatly depending on the congregation's clarity of goals, its investment in planning and conducting the program, the involvement of ministers and staff, the quality of youth and adult involvement, the coordination among those who sponsor programs, participation in district and otheryouth programs, and so forth.

In addition, we note that some congregations have retained the kind of laissez-faire "hang-out" youth programming that was temporarily popular in the 1960s and 1970s, but the majority have not.

2. Social programs
Youth need enriching friendships with each other and with trustworthy adults, and YRUU often is a place where this can happen. With planning, YRUU can be and often is a place where Unitarian Universalist values improve the quality and depth of relationships.

Curricula such as About Your Sexuality (AYS), World Religions, and Life issues for Teenagers (LIFT) speak to the social and bonding needs of young people, and offer specific suggestions for peergroup building. The YRUU Program Handbook gives ideas for sustaining a social group.

We find less help for those planning social programsforjunior-highyouth groups- thesecould be included in aguide onjuriior-high programniing.

Like all human beings, youth have the need for building enriching relationships across the generations. They want to be an integral part of a congregation that affir-ms their worth and provides community. They need to see that many of their attitudes and values are shared by adults in the congregation. These goals can be satisfied by a variety of programs that bring the generations together in meaningful activities.

Little is written by UUs on intergenerational social programs. We did find a few educational and worship programs in the REACH packet, a regular mailing to religious education leaders, but little that directly helps with building social ties across the generations. Many congregations have intergenerational events such as picnics, theater productions, and social action projects; these successes deserve more publicity. The intergenerational dimension applies to all facets of youth programming, and helps young people to feel that they belong to the whole congregation and to the larger UU movement.

3.Worship and spiritual exploration
Worship services are an important ingredient in youth programs. Most of these services are now led by the young people themselves, with or without adult guidance. In addition, many youth classes and groups conduct an annual Youth Sunday or participate in other congregational worship, or worship as part of their regular meetings. In planning and conducting such services young people express spiritual thoughts, feelings, and ideas and lead others in spiritual exploration and expression. This is especially true when the young people freely create their own services, write their own materials, create their own liturgy and choose poems, readings, music, songs, and liturgy which speak to and for them. Some program guidance for worship is available in The Local Youth Group Handbook.

However, the UUA lacks any overall publication on the philosophy and practice of worship with young people. Nor is there any hymn, song, or service book containing resources for youth worship. In the YRUU youth camp and conference communities, aswell as inmanycongregations, the young people knowandusesongstheyhaveleamed and pass around their UU youth culture, and some of these find their way into adult worship when youth introduce them. We applaud the UU Musicians Network plan to compile a camp and conference songbook.

It is also important thatyoung people are helped to know and feel at home in the adult worship services in their local congregations. These tend to be more formal and more intellectual than YRUU, camp, and conference services, but this need not be an impassable barrier. "Coming-of-age" programs in a local congregation can include an introduction to the congregation's worship philosophy and practice, with ministers providing some explanations. "Youth pilgrimage"trips can expose young people to a variety of forms of UU worship. Continual reminders to both youth and adults, that youth are welcomed and expected toj oin in worshipping with the whole congregation can make a big difference.

The 1988 YRUU Youth Council members pledged themselves individually to work toward the goal of "Welcoming Youth into the Church." Among other things, their resolution suggests that the total worshipping community would be "enriched by the inclusion of youth and youth culture" in Sunday worship. (Footnote 11)

4. Social service and action
It is important for youth to have educational experiences that help them learn what they can do to put their faith in action, and skill-building experiences that help them to do so. They need to see that the world can be changed and that what they do can make a difference.

The UUA Youth Office periodically provides infon,nation and programs of social-action education and suggestions for social service, social action, and social witness. Individual issues of Synapse are devoted to issues of peace andjustice and give information on how to become active for a given cause.

The Youth Office has cosponsored the UU United Nations Office Conference, the Washington Workshop for Social Justice, and the Peace Trip to the Soviet Union.

Coming-of-age materials made available from the Youth Office include suggestions for service projects in local congregations and communities. Forthcoming peace and justice curricula invite young people to explore actions they can take for becoming people of peace and justice.

When they feel welcome to do so, youth sometimes join social action committees in their congregations. Inthiswayyouthtakepartinplanningand carrying out programs of education, service, action, and witness jointly with adults.

This kind of collaboration can work both ways. For example, a local YRUU scheduled programs on AIDS that motivated the members to ask the congregation to raise money and give service with them to persons with AIDS.

5. Self-governance and leadership
Youth programs are an important place for young people to develop a vision of self-govemance, democratic principles, and leadership skills. Historically, self-govemance has been a unique feature of the Unitarian, Universalist, and Unitarian Uriiversalist youth movements. Experience in UU youth programs has inspired many young people over the years to become UU ministers and lay leaders.

A surprising proportion of our denominational leadership over the years has had experience as leaders in our youth organizations. Our committee visits to the YRUU Youth Council meetings showed this group to have a sound philosophy and practice of democratic self-govemance. Among this body were young people who demonstrated superb leadership skills in the conduct and process of business. Many plan to continue being active with the UUA as adult lay or professional religious leaders.

The original Common Ground Planning Committee decided to establish a delegate ratio of three youths to one adult. (Footnote 12) This ratio has continued to be standard in YRUU leadership bodies. When it is achieved (which it too often is not, for lack of interested adults) it represents a considerable increase in adult involvement and a shift in the adult role from LRY days. The concept of "youth autonomy" has been replaced, in theory, by youth-adult collaboration.

At its 1988 meeting in Tulsa the Youth Council shifted its priorities and reduced its business schedule to make time for leadership-training workshops for youth and adults. (This change coincides with a similar shift in recent years in the UUA General Assembly program.) This change met with general approval.

The YRUU philosophy of empowering young people to take increasing responsibility for their own lives and to be able to govem their own organizations works for many young people who rise to leadership in the district and continental structures. We hope that, with greater attention to strengthening the supports for YRUU at the district and cluster levels, more young people will be enabled to gain such life and leadership skills.

At the district level, the quality of youth and adultleadershipismixed. Districtsvaryinhowwell youth conferences are organized and conducted. At their best, district YRUU conferences are well planned by skilled and experienced youth leaders and adult advisors. The program is attractive, widely publicized and smoothly conducted. Sleeping arrangements and food are suitable and adequate; behavior codes and sanctions are plainly explained at the beginning. Such conferences are a good experience for both youth and adults, and youth leaders, especially, gain competence and feel satisfaction for the success achieved.

At their worst, whether sponsored by the district YAC or by a local youth group, conferences are problematic. As letters and reports to this committee state, many conferences have suffered from too little skilled youth leadership and weak or nonexistent advisor support. Poor planning leads to spotty publicity, disappointing programs, ambiguous behavior expectations, and an inability to handle problems. Under such conditions, conferences become a series of crises: "Forty were expected, 110 came;" "There were too few workshops"; "Three people violated the Behavior Code and were not caught." Such conferences leave hosting congregations, visiting advisors, and even youth participants and leaders saying, "never again."


1. We recommend that the Youth Staff collaborate with all UUA departments responsible for supporting a UU ministry to youth to state the UUA!s philosophy of youth ministry. This philosophy should address itself to the whole 14-to-20-yearold age range, the UUA and YRUU statements of principles, and to each of the five dimensions of youth programming listed above. We recommend the attached "Visions for Youth" paper as a starting point for this process.

2. We further recommend that the Youth and Curriculum Offices review current materials and programs in process. This review should include an evaluation of the types of materials that are actually used at the district and local levels. We recommend that a high priority be given to making resources available to provide new materials to fill any gaps that are found. We also recommend that existing adult materials be reviewed to see which could be used (perhaps with a supplemental leader's guide) with youth groups.

3. We recommend that all congregations make a quality audit of their supports for and their practice concerning youth ministry. Such an audit should include participation by youth and adults. It is our belief that most of our congregations could set their sights much higher than they do. Even small congregations could offer, however informally, planned opportunities for each of the five dimensions of youth programming listed above. We recormnend that copies of the "Visions for Youth" paper, and of the UUA youth ministry philosophy statement (recommended under number 1 above) be made available to congregations as a starting point for this process.

4. We recommend the creation of a new guide for group worship experiences for youth. This would include sample worship services, songs, hyrrms, and readings. and would be developed by the Worship Office in cooperation with the Youth Office.

5. We recommend that the Youth Council agenda continue to balance leadership training for youth and adults with the business deliberations of the council.

11. "Resolution on Welcoming Youth into the Church" #2, 1998 Youth Council Minutes.[Back]

12. Common Ground 1981, p. 4 (See Online!) [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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