Board urges transparency in youth ministry transition

Board urges transparency in youth ministry transition

At April meeting, UUA board approves funding for youth ‘transition team’ in place of YRUU.
Jane Greer


The UUA Board of Trustees affirmed its ongoing support for youth ministry despite funding cuts for the continental youth organization Young Religious Unitarian Universalists (YRUU). The cuts, which were approved by the board at its April meeting, are part of the UUA’s larger effort to evaluate and revise its approach to youth ministry.

In other business at its April 18–20 meeting in Boston, the board heard a report on its Congregations Come First initiative; passed a motion requiring all UUA committees to submit biannual reports on their antiracism, antioppression, multicultural training; voted to put a bylaw change on the General Assembly agenda concerning the review process for ministers charged with misconduct; commissioned a letter from the UUA board to the board of Antioch College, asking that the college not be closed; and authorized fundraising at General Assembly to support a UU volunteer center in New Orleans.

The future of youth ministry, however, dominated the meeting. One of three youth-related resolutions adopted by the board directs the UUA administration to make the “transition in youth ministry” an institutional priority. Although the budget approved by the board does not include funding for YRUU’s governing body, the board also approved a budget addendum that will fund a youth transition team using funds that used to be allocated for the YRUU Steering Committee. And the board approved a business resolution for the 2008 General Assembly focused on “youth and young adult empowerment.”

In February, a 15-member Youth Ministry Working Group met for the first time to begin implementing recommendations from the multiyear Consultation on Ministry to and with Youth. The Consultation had reviewed current programs and surveyed more than 5,000 UUs about their wishes. At a summit last August, youth and youth allies distilled the survey feedback into 60 recommendations for ways that the UUA could improve its youth ministry.

Controversy erupted at the end of the February 8–11 meeting of the Working Group, however, when the YRUU Steering Committee announced that the UUA would stop funding YRUU at the end of the current fiscal year. In a February 15 letter to the steering committee, UUA President William G. Sinkford wrote, “There is broad consensus that the current structure for continental youth ministry is not serving our faith well. It is true that continental YRUU, as we have known it, will be replaced at some point by a new structure that will serve us better.” Sinkford wrote that no decision could be made about the funding until the board approved the UUA’s budget at its April meeting.

The UUA had also announced in February that it planned to merge its Youth Ministries office with its Young Adult and Campus Ministries office. Both YRUU and Continental Unitarian Universalist Young Adult Network (C*UUYAN), which have been designated “sponsored organizations” by the board, received support from these offices.

After meeting with the Youth Ministry Working Group at its second meeting in April, the YRUU Steering Committee issued a statement April 22 detailing their concerns about the Working Group. “The Working Group was chosen by poor youth/adult power dynamics,” they wrote, contending that “the selection of Working Group members was not transparent and is staff heavy. . . . There has been a lack of communication and authentic collaboration with YRUU Steering Committee this year.”

UUA trustees reacted to the many concerns raised by youth by passing a resolution at the April meeting charging the UUA administration with ensuring a smooth transition from old structures for youth ministry to new ones. It mandated that the process “be transparent” and that “those responsible for implementation must be in authentic relationship with the youth committee and its elected leadership.” The UUA administration will be required to submit monthly statements to the board, detailing progress.

Some youth expressed concern about the possibility of a vacuum in youth programming during the transition. “You always have to have something going for youth at some good consistent level,” said Charlie Burke, the board’s youth trustee, during a later interview. “Otherwise you will lose a generation of youth even if it’s for one or two years.”

The board voted to add a “Youth and Young Adult Empowerment Resolution” to the General Assembly’s agenda. The resolution, which was written by Kimberlee Tomczak, youth and young adult coordinator for the Central Midwest District and YRUU Steering Committee member, and Victoria Mitchell, a youth from the Central Midwest District, charges the UUA, its districts, and congregations with developing ministry to youth and young adults, investing in youth and young adult leadership bodies, providing support for leadership and antiracism training for youth and young adults, and attending to the needs of youth and young adult constituencies with marginalized identities. The resolution is considered a business resolution, which requires a two-thirds vote for passage.

The board heard a report from the Congregations Come First Team, a group assembled in 2006 drawing members from the UUA board, the District Presidents Association, the Annual Program Fund Committee, UUA district staff, and UUA national staff, to “recommend systemic changes and influence culture and practices that will ensure a more equitable and effective allocation of resources to support our congregations in their missions.” The team applauded new initiatives including partnerships among districts and different UU organizations, and effective new UUA programs for congregations. But it also asked why Unitarian Universalism’s growth has been flat for the past 46 years and why 1.5 percent of UU congregations have accounted for 25 percent of the Association’s growth. It also raised the issue of whether Unitarian Universalism was evolving to meet changing social needs. “While future-oriented organizations effectively develop and use networks—multilateral collaboration that connects them not geographically, but according to interest and need—we have little expertise in social networking or the technology that supports it,” said the report.

In his report to the board, UUA President William G. Sinkford noted that in his travels, he had begun to see evidence of the “congregations come first” emphasis. “There’s more talk of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations,” Sinkford said. “Leaders are beginning to understand; the mentality is beginning to take hold.”

The board also passed a motion requiring that all UUA committees commit to regular antiracism, antioppression, multicultural trainings and submit progress reports to the board every two years. The UUA committed itself to racial justice by passing the “Toward an Anti-racist Unitarian Universalist Association,” in 1997, urging “all Unitarian Universalist leaders, including ministers, religious educators. . . and Unitarian Universalist staff. . . to engage in ongoing antiracism training.” “It’s intended to strengthen and clarify expectations around AR/AO/MC,” said Pat Solomon, trustee from the Ohio Meadville District and head of the board’s Committee on Committees.

The Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt, trustee from the Metro New York district agreed. “We need to give people the tools to do the right thing,” she said “We’ve come too far for us to behave as if it was optional.”

The board authorized the GA Planning committee to conduct a fundraising appeal at General Assembly for the UUA/UUSC Gulf Coast Volunteer Center. The volunteer center will support UU groups who want to come work in the Gulf. The money raised from the first two fund-drives for the Gulf Coast, amounting to more than $3.5 million, has already been spent.

The Ministerial Fellowship Committee put a bylaw change affecting the appeal procedure for ministers accused of ministerial misconduct on the GA agenda. The changes have been made to make the bylaw language clearer and less legalistic.

Board members approved the writing of a letter to the board of trustees and the chancellor of Antioch College, in Yellow Springs, Ohio, asking that the school not be closed. Many Unitarians and Universalists have played a role in Antioch’s history, including Universalist minister and women’s rights advocate Olympia Brown, who graduated from the college in 1860, and Unitarian, educator, and abolitionist Horace Mann, who served as Antioch’s founding president, 1853-59.

In other business, the board:

Accepted two new congregations into the UUA: the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Chesapeake, in California, Md., and the Washington Ethical Society of Washington, D.C. The Washington Ethical Society, part of the Ethical Culture Society, will be a federated member, meaning that it is a member of two denominations.

Approved a $2 increase in the Annual Program Fund charge per person, from $56 to $58.

Approved the fiscal year ’09 operating and capital budgets.

Authorized the UUA to enter into a legal agreement with HIVOS (a Dutch nongovernmental organization) to support the UUA’s Holdeen India Fund partners.

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