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UUA considers new plans for youth ministry

Youth Ministry Working Group developing new approach, wants youth leaders 'embedded all over the place.'
By Donald E. Skinner
5.5.08

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A group charged with creating a new structure for ministering to and with Unitarian Universalist youth met for the second time April 11-14, accepting a formal charge to come up with a new framework for the UUA’s services to youth, and announcing that its work would take about a year.

The Youth Ministry Working Group, a 15-person group of youth and adults, was formed earlier this year by UUA President William G. Sinkford. The group is charged with prioritizing recommendations that resulted from a just-completed three-year review of the UUA’s ministry to and with youth.

The Working Group met for four days in Newton, Mass. For two hours they also met with the Steering Committee of YRUU (Young Religious Unitarian Universalists), a continental organization of UU youth. Much of the UUA’s current support of youth is channeled through YRUU, but that will be changing.

Some UUA staff and religious education professionals as well as youth believe the YRUU structure is not serving the majority of UU youth in congregations, but primarily serves only a few hundred youth who are active participants in YRUU district and continental activities. YRUU supporters point to the continental organization’s legacy as a youth-led and relatively autonomous structure that fosters connections among young people at the district and continental level.

Judith Frediani, the UUA’s director of Lifespan Faith Development, said the April meeting was productive. Frediani facilitated the Working Group meeting with the Youth Ministry Office’s Sara Eskrich.

Frediani said one of the group’s initial conclusions is that youth should be involved in all levels throughout the Association, including congregational life and district activities, rather than being “isolated” in a separate group like YRUU. “They should be included on many committees and commissions and in more than a token role,” she said. “We need to find ways to make that happen. We want youth embedded all over the place.”

She said another focus of the group will be to move youth services closer to the congregations. The Working Group will be prioritizing recommendations made last summer by the UUA Summit on Youth Ministry, which followed the three-year Consultation on Ministry to and With Youth, to which 5,000 UUs, including hundreds of youth and congregations contributed information.

The Working Group met for the first time in February. Some UU youth reacted in anger at that meeting when they learned that support would end at some point for YRUU. At that time Sinkford said that no final decisions had been made about YRUU funding. But he also confirmed that YRUU would be replaced at some point by a new structure.

The budget approved by the UUA Board of Trustees at its April meeting does not include funding for Continental YRUU after June 2008. The board urged the UUA to fund a transitional group of youth leaders, proposed by the Steering Committee, which will work with the Working Group. (See companion article.)

Frediani confirmed this week that the implementation of a new youth structure would take some time. “So we’re going into an interim year of answering the question of what a new youth ministry structure will look like,” she said.

She acknowledged that some youth feel “pushed aside and disrespected” by this transition. “They have legitimate grievances. We did not always keep them informed as well as we could have.”

The Working Group met with Sinkford during the recent meetings in Newton. UUA Executive Vice President Kathleen Montgomery met with the YRUU Steering Committee.

The Working Group received a charge, which is to recommend to the administration and the UUA board a framework and strategic vision for UU youth ministry that supports the findings of the Consultation on Ministry to and with Youth and the recommendations of the Summit on Youth Ministry.

In a prepared statement the Working Group said it envisioned a youth ministry “that is central to the articulated mission of Unitarian Universalism, offers multiple pathways for involvement in our faith communities, and is congregationally based, multigenerational, spirit-centered, counter oppressive, multicultural, and radically inclusive.”

The Working Group created a draft of what it hopes to accomplish, including strengthening youth ministry in congregations, using the UUA’s financial resources and staff to build youth ministry at district and regional levels (possibly including a fulltime staff person in each region). Frediani said the Working Group also wants to create more opportunities for youth to gather continentally for social justice and “spirit-centered” reasons.


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