A high energy, “fuller than usual” crowd of thousands welcomed sixty Unitarian Universalist high school youth into young adulthood Saturday evening, June 24, at the UUA General Assembly (GA) in New Orleans.
Traditionally a Friday evening GA event, the Saturday bridging service, planned by a team of high school youth and young adults, took place in the Great Hall of the New Orleans Convention Center and focused on a theme of being “in the middle” of their lives, according to rising high school senior and Denver resident Elliot Farrell-Carretey.
The worship ceremony featured several youth and young adult speakers, as well as music from the GA band and lead vocalist Leon Burke, among others. Leaders attributed the higher-than-usual attendance to a combination of a renewed push to get UUs of all ages to support the faith’s young people, the worship’s move out of the Friday dinnertime slot, and the announcement of the UUA presidential election results that immediately followed Synergy’s end.
Colleen Lee, a bridging senior from Eliot Unitarian Chapel in the St. Louis area who co-led the worship, said the service aimed to “speak to the experience of a bridger, and also to the broader human experience—and to this moment the faith is in.” Lee, who will attend the University of Missouri in the fall, hoped after the service to connect with the minister in Columbia, Missouri (the Rev. Molly Housh Gordon), and figure out how to continue going to church as an adult. “Bridging isn’t ending a book, but it is ending a chapter. It’s on to a new segment for many of us,” Lee said.
Farrell-Carretey, who served as the youth of color “Thrive” coordinator at GA, told those assembled, “As a leader in my youth group but not yet in the wider world, I am in the middle. As a biracial boy and having dual nationalities, I am in the middle.” Farrell-Carretey went on to say in his reflection, “I feel like I have a lot of leadership to give, but at the same time, I have a lot to learn.”
Farrell-Carretey, a member of the First Universalist Church of Denver, and one of the most involved youth leaders in the UUA’s Pacific Western Region since January 2016, said after the service that being on stage for his faith’s national gathering was “encouraging and empowering.”
He continued, “It felt like all the hard work I’ve put in—and my friends from the MDD have put in—is being rewarded. It’s like the faith saying, ‘we see you.’ [My friend and fellow Colorado UU youth] Ramona and I joked that it’s like the Drake song—‘started from the bottom, now we’re here!’”
Farrell-Carretey was not the only Denver UU to take the stage for Synergy. Guitarist and vocalist Melissa Monforti, a member of the First Unitarian Society of Denver, opened with a rendition of “I Will Rise” that got many out of their seats, with others raising arms in celebratory affirmation.
Other speakers included the New York City-based Marissa A. Gutiérrez-Vicario, who crew thunderous applause when she reflected on November’s presidential election results, saying, “While the results of the election were devastating for me, they were not the end of the world, nor the beginning of a resistance movement. . . . We are actually in the middle of a resistance movement—one that undocumented immigrants, trans folks, women of color, and incarcerated folks have been in the middle of for a long time.”
Weaving through the youth and young adult reflections were verses from Rabbi Shoshanna Meira Freidman and Yotam Schacter’s song “The Tide is Rising.” Introducing the song and echoing the ceremony’s theme, Leon Burke told GA worshipers, “Each of us is in the middle of our own journeys, and our world is in the middle of a climate crisis.”
Bridging seniors moved across stage, said their names and congregations into the pulpit microphone, and then were greeted by Interim Co-Presidents Sofía Betancourt, Leon Spencer, and William G. Sinkford, and also by UUA director of youth and young adult ministries Bart Frost.
Eric Broner, a two-time GA Youth Caucus dean from the Atlanta area, was the first to “bridge” across the stage. Broner, a white man, has been involved with national-level youth ministry for muh of his high school career, and reflected on the current conversations about white supremacy happening in the faith. “I have to keep asking: am I amplifying the voices truly needing to be heard in this time?” Broner said that the 2017 Youth Caucus met with New Orleans-area under-age-25 organizers, and otherwise had a meaningful week together.
Frost called the Synergy service “some of the best church I’ve witnessed lately. Synergy is unique to our faith, honoring these youth like this.”
Colleen Lee expressed a similar sentiment, and hopes that future General Assemblies will show up and support the youth, even without UUA presidential election results as a draw. “Come next year! We need mass crowds every year to support this transition. Youth and young adults lead this faith and make a big impact.”