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

YRUU Five Year Review

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Visions for Youth

Appendix I.
by Eugene B. Navias

The charge to "review YRUU in the context of all youth programming" is both a logical and a sizeable one. It is logical because YRUU provides a vital part but not all of the programming for UU Youth, ages 12 to 22 years, sponsored by local. district, and continental agencies. In order to evaluate the contribution and current workings of YRUU it is important to see them in the context of the whole of our Unitarian Universalist ministry to youth. The charge, however, also represents an enormous task because it suggests that an adequate review of YRUU involves a review of all we do with and for youth.

A summary of our ministry for young people ages 12 to 22 years reveals that it is offered at four basic levels:

Local Congregations through:

  • Church school classes and courses

  • Coming-of-Age Programs and Trips

  • Local congregation youth retreats and trips

  • Membership classes for older teens

  • Youth choirs

  • Junior-high youth groups

  • Senior-high youth groups (frequently called or identified as "YRUU")

  • Post-high and college center groups

  • UU Young Adult Network (UUYAN) groups

  • Invitations and involvement of young people as participants in congregational life as committee members, congregation school teachers. worshipers. etc.

  • The counseling, pastoral care, preaching, and other ministries of the congregation

Districts, Councils, Area Groups, and Clusters through:

  • District and interdistrict conferences

  • Rallies

  • Camps

  • Training programs for youth leaders, youth and adult

Independent Conference Sites through:

  • Youth camps and conferences

  • Family or inter-generational conferences that include youth

Continental Programs Sponsored by YRUU through:

  • The YRUU Continental Conference

  • The YRUU Council and Steering Committee

  • The Youth Caucus at the General Assembly

  • The UU-UNO Seminar

  • Youth participation at the National Workshop for Social Justice International Understanding Trips such as the 1988 trip to the USSR

Faced with the magnitude of this ministry with youth, the committee has found it important to focus on those programs and activities at the local, district, and continental levels that are most central to the experience of the majority of young people.

In order to make such an evaluation or review, it is important to start with a vision for Unitarian Universalist young people.

1.What is our vision for UU youth?
We claim that it is the goal of a Unitarian Universalist ministry to youth to foster the religious growth of young people as they progress from late preadolescence to adulthood in our liberal religious community.

In this vision, there are viable programs appropriate to the changing social, physical, intellectual, religious, spiritual, and service needs of young people as they grow through their teens and into their twenties.

In this vision, young people find a series of places within an enlarging religious community where they feel supported and welcomed as they explore an ever larger liberal religious world. They become and remain active and enthusiastic members of our movement. They consider this their religious home. There are meaningful attachment and action points for them at every age.

In this vision, young people do not graduate from elementary school, junior high, or high school to a void where there is no programming, no community of peers, no UU youth ministry for them. In this vision, young adults do not have to wait until they have children to have an excuse to return to congregational life to find appropriate programming. In this vision there is a sequence of opportunities that provide an inviting environment for growing youth and young adults.

Within our religious household, young people find a place where they can "put their own visions, where they can put their passion and their values into action."

a) The vision of Young Religious Unitarian Universalists
In its statement of purpose fashioned at the Common Ground conferences in 1981 and 1982, YRUU has ably stated its own vision in Article II of its bylaws.

Section 1. Young Religious Unitarian Universalists shall serve its members for the purposes of 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 growing process. Our purposes are to provide and manifest a greater understanding of Unitarian Universalism, and to encourage the flow of communication between youth and adults.

In so doing we shall nurture the freedom and integrity of the questioning mind, and embrace all persons of diverse backgrounds. We shall encourage the development of a spirit of independence and responsibility.

We shall strive to support our members and member groups with educational resources, with a communications network, and with love.

These purposes shall assist us in developing an effective system for social actions, and serve to raise our levels of mutual respect, communication, and community consciousness.

Section 2. The continental level of Young Religious Unitarian Universalists shall assist District and local member groups in fulfilling the purposes stated above.

b) The Vision of UUYAN, the UU Young Adult Network
Formed in 1986, the Unitarian Universalist Young Adult Network (UUYAN) is seeking to meet what it considers the unmet needs of young adults ages 18 to 35 years. It has stated the purposes of its continental organization to be:

  • to support and nurture our UU community;

  • to represent young adults to the UUA;

  • to nurture the vitality of individual spiritual and religious search;

  • to be a communication network of ideas and people among diverse communities;

  • to promote living in accordance with one's own religious principles;

  • to share resources and information among UU young adults-,

  • to sustain a continental UU young adult identity; and

  • to grow as a community of action.

As we review the purposes of YRUU and of UUYAN we find these consistent with the Principles of the Unitarian Universalist Association and with our own visions for young people ages 12 to 22 years.

c) What are our visions of human growth?
The persons we are considering come into our vision as they move from childhood into their teens. In the eleven years from 12 through 22 they will have the capacity for enormous change. They will greatly benefit, in using that capacity, from the support and enrichment that our congregations, religious leaders and organizations can help to provide.

In these years, we will want to encourage their growth from a faith primarily inherited from parents and other authorities. through a faith primarily influenced by peers and significant persons, to a faith self-fashioned, affirmed and claimed in community. We will want to foster and accompany this growth.

In these years, they have the potential of moving from relational modes of dependency through stages of counter-dependence to independence and interdependence. We would hope to nurture such movement, for it is never automatic.

In these years, they will move from pre- or early pubertal growth to fullness of stature physically and mentally. They will grow from an early understanding of who they are as men or women to some clarity and security in their sexual and role identity. We will want to provide education and support for such growth.

In these years, we will want to assist them in moving out of childhood understandings of Unitarian Universalism to a knowledge of a broader and deeper movement, richly grounded in the history of liberal religion.

From the smaller arena of their congregation and its neighboring religions. we will want them to find themselves in the larger world of religion, to discover truth and inspiration from a diversity of sources, and to gain some sense of what they share with other traditions and faith groups and of what they especially prize in Unitarian Universalism.

From "at-homeness" and identity with a local church school class or group. we will want to encourage their enlarging knowledge of, participation in, and loyalty to a congregation, a district, a denomination, and a continental and world movement. Those enlarging circles include the youth organizations of our association.

From the ability to cooperate in groups planned and led by adults, we will want to sponsor them in learning to participate in the making of decisions that affect them, and progressively to learn the arts and skills of forming and governing their own groups with the support of caring adults. Clearly, we shall want them able to take charge of their own groups and organizations just as we shall want them to learn to take charge of their own lives. In this process we envision their responsible and effective participation in the governance of local congregations, districts, and denominational structures.

From heeding the ethical rules for the good life made by others, we envision their growing capacity to consider, fashion, and apply ethical and humanitarian principles to daily living.

From partaking in worship and spiritual expressions led by adults. we envision them launching their own deepening spiritual search, finding and sharing in community their own sources and spiritual insights. Some among them will become skilled in the arts of leading worship that satisfies the soul and the mind and provides strength for living. In these years, we hope they will become familiar with and find value in the worship practices of adult UU communities as well as in those of their youth community.

From financial dependency on parents and others, they will in these years be learning, reaching, and acting with increasing self-sufficiency. From a time when they are dependent on the life work, occupation, or profession of parents or surrogate parents, they will prepare for and begin their own life work.

The changes possible for most 12 to 22 year olds are mega changes. They invite YRUU, UUYAN, and the UUA, its member congregations and agencies, to provide a significant ministry to youth. Such a ministry is demanding!

2. What are the components of a vital ministry to youth?
As we consider wisdom and practice from within and beyond our denomination, we conclude that a vital ministry to youth requires a suitable and supportive environment, balanced programming, and effective leadership.

a) A supportive environment
Most young people in the lower years of our 12-to-22-year-old range come to Unitarian Universalism as they grow up in local congregations. Many congregations plan for the religious education of younger children with thoughtful planning and skill. Some congregations then run out of steam or expertise or leadership when they come to planning and conducting programs for young people.

Good programming for young people requires an environment which is both physically and attitudinally supportive. Young people need appropriate space and facilities for the balance of activities which will serve their needs.

Even more important, they need to be valued by the congregation and its ministerial and/or lay leadership. Although most congregations would speak ardently of the importance of their youth "as the future," we believe that many do not follow their words with appropriate action. Indeed, we would hope that congregations would think of the importance of youth to their congregation in present rather than future terms. Any congregation that has lost a generation is greatly impoverished.

It would be easy to blame congregations for their lack of caring, but we suspect that this is not fair. We believe that many congregations do not know what a viable ministry with youth consists of They are not clear on goals, structures, and activities for good programming, and the leadership good programming requires. Indeed, they do not feel they have the skills to provide such leadership. A clear vision of youth ministry, a philosophy of youth ministry, and good leadership are crucial. Leadership training is a prime need!

We believe that to educate the congregation so that it provides a supportive and conducive environment for young people, that someone in the congregation must be informed and persuasive. That includes the parish minister, minister of religious education or director of religious education, or youth coordinator if there is such. We would urge such leaders to become more informed about youth ministry so that they can be agents of support for it in their congregations.

Such support includes advocacy for youth as a vital part of the congregation, advocacy for good youth programming and facilities, financial support through the budget, support for those who work with the young people as teachers and advisors, and the support of being with and known by the young people. In congregations served by ministers) it is vital that the young people feel themselves a part of that ministry. Ministers need to find viable and mutually agreeable ways of being with the youth.

b) Balanced programming
The wisdom from our own survey of model UU youth programs and from the current interfaith literature defines good youth programming as having a balance of opportunities that are relevant to the ages and needs of the young people.

We believe that balanced programming has five components:

  1. opportunities for religious growth and learning through structured programming;

  2. social programs with peers and times with 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.

Congregations vary greatly in their arrangement of classes and youth groups, and we find no problem with this. We suggest, however, that every congregation survey its offerings for youth to check out its own balance of programming.

Most often we found structured courses for junior highers such as About Your Sexuality and World Religions being offered under the aegis of local religious education committees, with social programs and worship being included in junior-high youth group programs. Service projects were frequently included in "Coming of Age" programs for thirteen year olds.

In the high-school years, there is great variety in the programming of congregations. Some congregations have senior-high classes on Sunday mornings and groups (named YRUU or something else) on Sunday evening. Some have programs that stretch from Sunday at 11:00 A.M. to mid-afternoon, including a structured learning experience, a meal, and a youth led-adult advised group activity in the afternoon. The variety is enormous.

The development of leadership skills is a clear goal of most YRUU groups, and practice in governing itself is assumed to build skills whether or not there is conscious leadership education. In fact, however. there is a need for much more attention to this element of balanced youth ministry.

In addition. we found an enormous need to improve communication between the various parties who contribute to youth programming at the local, area, and district levels. In a local congregation there needs to be good communication between an RE committee and a youth committee who may be planning programs for the same young people. There needs to be good communication between YRUU and the congregation and its agencies. An effective local youth-adult committee can fill that need. If there is an UUYAN group it needs good communication with the appropriate church bodies- the program council, the adult religious education committee, or the board of trustees, and with the minister and staff, if any.

The same kind of communication needs to take place at the area or district level. As we studied reports from district RE committees, presidents, and youth-adult committees, we found little evidence that many district structures brought these three entities together in any effective way. The need was obvious. District RE committees usually had responsibility for providing leader training for such programs as LIFT, About Your Sexuality, and World Religions. District YACs had responsibility for conducting youth rallies and conferences and for any youth leadership development programs (whether titled YRUU or not).

1. Structured Programs
Most congregations recognize the need for planned programs to help young people to increase their knowledge of Unitarian Universalism, to gain knowledge of sexuality, and to explore life issues. In many congregations such programs are offered under the aegis of the church school. Some offer these same programs in a structured portion of a youth group meeting. The high quality and success of the UUA's About Your Sexuality and LIFT have helped win approval for such programming, both among young people and adults. In fact, congregations are asking for more of such structured programs. At the time of this writing, many are beginning to use World Religions with junior highers and are looking forward to the spirituality program, On the Path, for older youth.

Many congregations help young people learn about Unitarian Universalism through "coming-of-age" programs. The UUA Youth Office reports a considerable demand for help with such programs, and it supplies this need as requests are received by mailing out a sizeable packet of program suggestions at cost. Pilgrimage and other educational trips are an important part of many of these "coming-of-age" programs.

One key to a vital ministry to youth is that it contains programming with youth, rather than simply for youth. This means that the interests and input of the young people are entered into the plans. About Your Sexuality makes successful use of junior highers' questions and concerns by using them to fine tune the contents, depth, and sequence of resources available in the kit. LIFT focuses on life issues that are keenly apparent in the lives of most senior highers. The format and process of both these programs provides models of programming with young people. YRUU groups, and many others which do not call themselves YRUU, ordinarily are youth-led with adult guidance; such groups plan their own programs and include what meets their interests. A ministry with youth involves a sharing of leadership between youth and adult leaders, and good communication among all of the participants.

Many congregations that use structured programming report that they invite young people to discuss the range of program possibilities, to express their interests, and to take part in creating the plans. Such congregations pay attention to young people's growing abilities by investing more decision-making power in the young people as they move up from junior high into and through high school.

Post-high groups and local UUYAN groups may either be led entirely by young adults or be facilitated by ministers or adult leaders. Obviously such groups will not succeed unless they respect the autonomy and meet the needs and interests of young adults.

2. Social programs
As young people grow from early teens to adulthood, their social needs and skills change greatly. Good youth programs help young people develop comfort and skill in relating to peers of both sexes. They help bonding occur among the class or group of young people.

We would also uphold the goal that youth programming encourage young people to bond or identify with the congregation. Through planned interaction with adult members of the congregation, youth can build bonds of affection and regard for adult members, and vice versa.

We would affirm the recommendation of such programs as LIFT that youth classes and groups start the year with a special retreat that will serve social needs and goals and engage young people in decision making about the year's program.

Camp and conference programs, district and cluster rallies, the YRUU Continental Conference, and the UUYAN Opus Conference all respond to social needs and can help young people learn new social skills and grow in an expanding social world.

3. Worship
Author Sharon Parks, states that one of the most important functions of good youth programming is to provide "spiritual highs." (See Footnote 17) YRUU conferences, youth retreats, youth camps and youth conferences are often the place where such "mountaintop worship" takes place with great meaning for young people.

We affirm that young people need the inspiration, insight, and motivation that comes from good worship. Indeed they need it far more frequently than they can get it in the retreat and camp setting. Worship experiences should be a regular part of local youth programming.

We believe it is natural that young people explore new horizons of spirituality through the worship at camps and conferences beyond their own congregation. Often worship at these places away from home is more deeply emotional than that in the services of their local congregation. Often it adds to and celebrates a sense of interpersonal and group connectedness to a camp or conference or to a larger YRUU or youth community that is their prime spiritual home at this time in their lives.

Young people are searching for something transcendent that lifts and connects them to one another and to a spiritual way of living in the world. This is revealed in the worship they provide for themselves at continental conferences for instance. Young people, as much as adults- or perhaps even more than adults, need to have experiences that provide them with faith in themselves and with hope for the future of the world.

As they grow, young people can increasingly plan and conduct their own services, and they can take on important roles in conducting worship for congregational occasions. Some ministers and adult worship leaders have been effective in working with young people to aid them in increasing their skills in worship leadership, and young people who have had such an apprenticeship have valued the experience highly.

In addition to their own worship occasions, young people may want to elect times when they attend the congregation's worship services or are included in the leadership of the worship events of their congregation. If young people are given a free hand, they may well create services that express their own depth of feeling, conviction, and spiritual search in ways that are not familiar to the local congregation. Congregations may need to open themselves to receive these unfamiliar forms of worship and to see them as sincere gifts of sharing. Some congregations whose worship patterns are unvarying may find themselves experiencing new possibilities. In addition. it may be important to hold up the vision that the worship of our adult congregations meets the spiritual needs of our young people.

4. Hands-on service and social action
The young adult years are times of high idealism and energy. Young people have strong visions of an ideal world and are often deeply concerned when they see that reality is so unlike their ideal. (Indeed, adults are sometimes astonished to see how seriously young people have taken the ideals espoused by their congregation.) Today's young adults are particularly concerned with Issues of peace. They understandably wonder whether there will continue to be a viable world throughout their lifetimes. Programs need not only to study issues of paramount concern to youth but also provide hope and alternatives for action. Richard Gilbert's classification of alternatives for socially responsible living into (1) social education, (2) social witness, (3) social service. and (4) social action needs to be used with young adults to help them envision their own possibilities for changing the world. (See Footnote 18)

Good programs can help youth learn how to take action in support of their ideals. Cooking and serving in a local soup kitchen. working in a Habitat for Humanity construction project, and participating in a Walk for Hunger are only a few ways that groups have become involved in social action and service.

In addition some groups, as part of a "coming-of-age" program, serve their local congregation through grounds clean-up projects or by joining a project to paint the congregation's building. Although these may be done solely by the group, there is special value in projects in which youth and adults work together.

5. Education in leadership
One of the greatest program opportunities we have in Unitarian Universalism is to foster the ability of young people to take charge of their own lives, individually and collectively. The structures and visions of YRUU count on the growing abilities of young people to plan and conduct successful youth programs at the local. cluster or district, and continental levels.

One of the visions of YRUU is to apply such Unitarian Universalist principles as respect for persons, equality of opportunity, and the use of the democratic process to the decision-making process that takes place in the meetings of the YRUU Youth Council and the Steering Committee.

That vision includes teaching by the example of the leadership style and manner employed at such gatherings. We see young people who have developed impressive leadership skills through their experiences in taking on increasingly demanding responsibilities in a local youth program, in organizing and leading area and district youth programs and committees, and in serving on the YRUU Youth Council, Steering Committee, and on the Continental Youth Staff.

We see such YRUU experiences as a major training ground for 'church person ship,' lay leadership in the congregations and agencies of our UU Association, and as preparation for the Unitarian Universalist ministry. Frequently however, and especially at the local or district levels, there is no conscious help provided to youth in building the skills of organization. group decision-making, chairing of meetings. and planning of events. We believe that leadership theory, skill building, and practice could be built into youth programming with great benefit.

If nothing more, we would hope that young people will gain some understanding of ways of inclusive decision making and good planning by the modeling of the adult leaders who work with them. To achieve such a balance in their ministry to youth, congregations need systems that promote good communication and coordination. Since congregations vary so much in the size and situation of their youth population, there are a variety of successful models of balanced programming.

If a congregation has a small number of youth, one program or group may be offered for a wide age range of young people providing a variety of activities to meet the needs of program balance.

In congregations with a larger number of youth, a youth-adult committee (YAC) may provide a balance of programs by regularly bringing together youth and adult representatives from the various youth programs. The YAC may decide, for instance, that social, social action, and service programs will be part of the YRUU or senior-high group and that other educational and worship programs will be part of a Sunday morning class format.

c) Effective leadership
1. Adult leaders- the keystone of good youth programming
We have received an avalanche of opinions about the importance of good youth leaders and teachers for programs for junior- and senior-high youth. It came in some form from all the surveys we conducted-whether of local leaders, youth, district presidents, or religious educators. Good adult leadership is essential for facilitating good youth programming. Many of our respondents said the most pressing need was for good adults willing to work with youth, and for solid training opportunities for those adults.

The evidence is that in many congregations, clusters, and districts there is a grave shortage of persons willing to work with youth. In addition, there are far too few opportunities for youth leaders to get training to help them understand young people, to gain a philosophy of youth ministry, and to envision the parameters of good programming and to gain the skills to facilitate it.

We do not accuse Unitarian Universalists of being heedless of the needs of our youth: rather we suspect that the UUA Youth Office and YRUU need more resources than are currently available for sharing the importance of youth programming, a solid philosophy of youth programming. training in curriculum and program techniques, and general leadership skills for working with youth.

2. Youth leaders of youth
We have already mentioned the importance of including leadership training for young people in local youth programs. Such training should also be included in district and continental programs offered by district YACS. YRUU, and the UUA.

Senior highers, for example, can learn to work very effectively alongside adult leaders in working with junior highers, and they have the special gift of being admired as next-stage models for junior highers. Often junior highers can learn a great deal from seeing the ways in which skilled senior highers relate in social or other situations, relate to adults with confidence, etc.

Some post-high young adults feel a serious desire to be mentors and models for junior and senior highers. They can be effective junior advisors and camp and conference counselors in the years before they are eligible to become adult advisors. And they, too, can benefit from leadership-training programs.

Conference centers that provide programs for junior and senior highers can also provide training programs, apprenticeships, and incentives for young people to take on increasing responsibilities and develop leadership skills as they progress through the teen years, graduating from the role of camper / participant to camper/leader and finally to leader. A youth leadership development program that could be a model for other conference centers is routinely conducted at The Mountain.

d) Good communication
In arriving at our visions, we found ourselves with some incidental concerns which seemed significant. One of these is communication. There is an enormous need to improve communication among the various parties who contribute to youth programming at the local, area. and district levels.

In a local congregation there needs to be good communication between the RE committee and a youth committee who may be planning programs for the same young people. An effective local youth adult committee can fill that need. Ministers, DREs, and other congregational leaders need to be engaged in the communications network about youth.

The same kind of communication needs to take place at the area or district level. As we studied reports from district RE committees, presidents, and youth-adult committees we found little evidence that there are many district structures that bring these three parties together in any effective way. The need is obvious. District RE committees usually have responsibility for providing leader training for such programs as LIFT, About Your Sexuality and World Religions. District YACs have responsibility for conducting youth rallies. YRUU conferences, and any youth leadership development programs. These two groups needed to share their knowledge, visions, concerns, and concrete plans.

At the district level board presidents and district executives need to be engaged in the communications network about and with youth. It is obvious from the reports we received that some district executives, for instance, play an important role in working with the district YAC and youth programming, but that others have almost no contact.

Young people have only a very few years to rise to develop leadership capability and to rise to leadership positions in district structures before they are out of high school and into the world of work or college, so leadership turnover is by nature rapid. Continuity of leadership of district YACs is important and hard to come by: the result is a roller coaster rise and fall in the district YACs' functional success. Someone or some system needs to help district YACs to maintain continuity. In addition, the founding and rapid rise of UUYAN speaks to the need for communication between it and YRUU. As we write, YRUU invites young people from 12 to 22 years to participate in its events. UUYAN includes young people aged 18 to 35 years. Ways need to be explored for helping young people move from YRUU to UUYAN. where UUYAN groups exist. Congregations without post-high programs need to be in communication with their older teens who are going to remain in the community to find out how they can provide entry points for such youth into the life of the adult congregation. All of the people of our congregational family are precious! Good communication that helps us plan for all the members of the family will help us keep the UUs we have throughout their life spans.

We would recommend that adults who want to keep in touch with Continental YRUU read Synapse, the YRUU newspaper published three or four times a year, and that those wanting to be informed about continental UUYAN subscribe to its newsletter, Connexion. Both periodicals share news and views of their continental and district or local groups. as well as some programming ideas.

In addition, it is important to note that Synapse and Connexion are sources of vital communication among the UU youth and young adults. They provide a medium for free expression, for the giving and receiving of ideas and news that are important in the youth years. For the post-high youth, these publications can provide a way for youth networking to continue so that the readers feel a sense of belonging to a larger UU world.

It is not accidental that Synapse is distributed to some 10,000 young people and interested adults, for it is an expression of one of YRUU's primary purposes- of creating, sustaining, and giving voice to a continental youth community.

We have now outlined a Unitarian Universalist vision for youth programming, as well as our understandings of some conditions and ingredients essential to serving that vision. In this vision, we serve our youth with a vital ministry! In this vision, there are enough adults willing to work with youth: youth advisors and teachers, DREs. MREs. and parish ministers. In this vision. the adults who are willing to work with youth are enabled better to do so through training programs. In this vision there are no age gaps in our ministry. In this vision, we keep our youth and they become lifelong participating members of our congregations, enriching our communal life.

Such a ministry is not going to happen just because we want it, nor can it happen with the resources currently available. To serve this vision we must commit new energy, intention, and money at the continental, district, and local levels.

There is a lot at stake.


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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