Common Ground II
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
by Wayne Arnason
(Reprinted from Youth Advisory # 11
On July 2, 1982 at about 9:00 PM, we had a birth in the family. The second Unitarian Universalist Youth Assembly completed approval of the Bylaws bringing Young Religious Unitarian Universalists (YRUU) into being as the successor organization to Liberal Religious Youth.
There are many stories that can and will be told about the second Youth Assembly, Common Ground: Coming of Age. I choose to tell the story of the name in these pages because the naming process we went through was "sacramental," i.e. it was a rite of passage that points to and symbolizes central concerns of our faith and our youth movement, especially on the local and District levels. The name of our youth organization poses a challenge for youth advisors and youth leaders, and that challenge needs to be spelled out.
The name "Liberal Religious Youth" was (like most major institutional decisions) a compromise, reflecting the fact that this youth organization was the home of youth from two not-yet-merged denominations, and that their common name had to be broad enough to include everyone. "Liberal Religious" became the appropriate substitute words for "Unitarian" or "Universalist" or both. At different times during the history of LRY, the meaning of the words in the name was explored. LRY'ers asked themselves whether "liberal" was a word that really described them, politically or religiously. Successive generations of youth at conferences and local meetings had programs on "The R in LRY," seeking to articulate what was religious about their youth group within a church which had so few of the usual "identifying characteristics" of mainstream religions.
For two years now, since it first became a possibility that LRY might have a successor organization, we have been speculating about a name. Dozens of suggestions, from the sublime to the ridiculous, were put forward, formally and informally. The Continental Youth Adult Committee found no name so compelling as to warrant its clear endorsement.
So, at Common Ground: Coming of Age, a ballot box for receipt of names was set up at registration. All names submitted were put on an initial ballot, and the top vote-getters were placed on a run-off ballot to be voted on during the final business session. "Liberal Religious Youth" was one of the names on the final ballot, but when the order-ofpreference ballots were counted, the choice of the delegates was clear: they wanted a new name, and they wanted it to include the words "Unitarian Universalist."
Two possibilities were at the top of the ballot: Unitarian Universalist Youth, and Unitarian Universalist Youth Fellowship. In the free-flowing "Committee of the Whole" discussion that ensued on the assembly floor, it gradually became apparent that neither name would be met with an overwhelming consensus or show of positive feeling. The "Fellowship" in UUYF had sexist connotations for many delegates, and this could not be resolved. For others, the name UUY had strong emotional baggage from the days of the Special Committee on Youth Programs Report, when that name was suggested for an alternate (rather than successor) youth organization to LRY.
In the debate that continued, "Young Religious Unitarian Universalists" kept bobbing to the surface. It had been suggested in one small group session during the week, but had not been submitted in time for the formal ballot. Although not liked by everyone, there was no overwhelming sentiment against it, as with the other names. When finally put up for a straw vote, over ninety percent of the delegates voting endorsed it.
What has brought YRUU to the, top of our bubbling stew of names? I think there are several answers to that question, and that the answers are important for our church.
"Young Religious Unitarian Universalists" clearly designates our youth organization as a part of our church, and this reaffirms the recommendations and the sentiment of -the first Common Ground Youth Assembly. Yet it retains two of the words and initials from "Liberal Religious Youth" (with their order reversed). It is striking that the word this group of young people wanted to retain in their name was the word "Religious a word that was a constant focus of questioning' discussion, and debate in the old name. Even though it really doesn't fit, even though it makes you wonder whether there are any "young secular Unitarian Universalists," even though it doesn't make a cute and easy acronym, our youth organization wants to live with the word "Religious," to grapple with it, understand it, and make it into a word that describes who we are as Unitarian Universalists.
The acronym that does arise from the name when the first letters are simply spelled out asks us two questions: Y.R.U.U.?
Why Are You YOU? This is the question that young people ask themselves as they enter that period of their lives most involved with seeking a personal identity to carry them into and through adulthood.
Why Are You Unitarian Universalist? This was the question of this year's Youth Assembly, and an ongoing question which needs to be discussed in our churches, fellowships, and Districts with the same intensity with which we were ready to discuss behavior codes for youth conferences last year.
Much to the surprise of the Youth Assembly leadership, the most controversial issue of the week was not about youth-adult ratios or voting power on governing boards. Instead, it was about whether young people had to be involved, and whether adults had to be members in Unitarian Universalist societies in order to be considered as candidates for the top leadership offices within the new organization.
The Assembly first voted one way, then another, on this issue. As it stands, any candidates for top office who aren't members of local UU societies need to submit a letter of recommendation from UU society members in support of their candidacy.
Here once again the youth of our movement were raising and grappling with a major denominational issue: the meaning of membership in our denomination. The shallow approach many of our societies have in regard to membership has come home to roost.
"Why should we take membership in a society so seriously, when so many churches take it so lightly) 1) some delegates asked.
"Many of the best youth leaders of various LRYs and YACs are not UU members," other delegates pointed out.
"Most of us can't be members of our societies because they say we're too young," most delegates fumed.
These questions hit home for local and District youth advisors. All of us know that there are young people who come into our church youth groups who are not members of UU families. We welcome them. No one wants to keep them out. It is the appropriate institutional level at which a young person can discover and explore Unitarian Universalism. This will continue within the new youth organization much as it did within LRY.
The question we are asking ourselves has to do with the point at which involvement in and commitment to our youth movement must become connected with the larger commitment to Unitarian Universalism. How do we make this connection? Where does it begin?
Young people with four or five years of involvement on the local and District levels are understandably disturbed to hear that they might be required to become UU members in order to expand their participation to continental leadership positions. They are disturbed because this is not consistent with the messages they get at home. Many of them interpret our church as a place where you can believe whatever you want to; so why is membership such a big deal? Many of them know that their home societies heive lots of "friends" who never join the church yet are asked to take on positions of responsibility. Many have never been through any program, course, or seminar to help them understand what Unitarian Universalism is about, to help them make a decision about membership. Many have never been encouraged to become members because the voting age in their church is so high, or because people in the church simply don't remember or care.
What is the age for membership in your local society?
Is there any program offered to young people during this time in their lives which would allowthem to consider the meaning of church membership and to decide whether or not they wish to join? Is there any "associate membership" status available for people too young to be full voting members?
Does your youth group offer a regular orientation session for new members who aren't from UU backgrounds, to give them an idea of what kind of church this youth group is part of?
Are the youth in your church encouraged to attend annual meetings, or to be delegates for District conferences?
Does your District Annual Meeting have a planned program for youth, with opportunities to attend business sessions as well as workshops and social occasions designed expressly for them?
These are the questions that are raised by the name YRUU. During this first "interim year" of its operation, we will see many groups and Districts tryii-ig the name on for size. Since what our Youth Assemblies have done is establish a continental service organization, and have not set up affiliation requirements or mandated particlar District structures, there will continue to be diversity around the continent about what our youth programs are called.
In other words, you don't have to change your local youth group's name to "Young Religious Unitarian Universalists" if you don't want to. Some District youth programs which have functioned strongly under the LRY name may also continue to use it.
What is most important for our local and District youth programs is not what we call ourselves, but that we begin to answer the questions posed by the new name of our continental organization:
Why Are You YOU?
Why Are You Unitarian Universalist?
Translated from the original text document to HTML 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.