New conferences bring UU young adult leadership training to the local level.
The first Radius conference, for young adult leaders in the Northeast, was held April 21 to 23 in New Haven, Connecticut, drawing 40 participants. A Western regional conference drew 53 to Denver, Colorado, May 5 to 7. The Southeast regional conference drew 9 last weekend in Durham, North Carolina. A Midwestern conference is scheduled for July.
The regional conferences are designed to reach young adults—defined as those aged 18 to 35—who might not have attended ConCentric, the annual national conference for Unitarian Universalist young adults. “Sometimes people at the continental level don’t realize how detached people in the congregations are from what’s happening nationally,” said Meleah Houseknecht, a young adult member of First Unitarian Society in New Haven, and a conference workshop co-presenter. “These conferences are a great way to reach out to people where they are.”
The Radius conferences, cosponsored by the UUA’s young adult and campus ministry office and the Continental UU Young Adult Network (C*UUYAN), include presentations and workshops on leadership, young adult resources, organizing and maintaining campus ministry groups, creating worship services, and antioppression training. They also include time for spiritual reflection and socializing.
Joseph Santos-Lyons, the UUA’s campus ministry and field organizing director, said the regional conferences represent the third generation of a 20-year process of strengthening and developing young adult leadership.
“The first generation was the decision to have a young adult voice beyond the congregational level, with the creation of C*UUYAN in 1986,” he said. “The second generation was the decision to organize C*UUYAN as a representative democracy setting expectations for broad geographic participation more intentionally at the grassroots level. In 1999 we held the first continental ConCentric and tried to get representatives from every district. The third generation is taking our best practices and vision and directly engaging at the local and district level, bringing young adult ministry full circle.”
When the UUA began to track them in 1998, there were only 30 campus and congregational young adult groups active continentally. Now there are more than 250, Santos-Lyons said. The UUA did no organizing for young adults in the 1970s and early 1980s, he said, but C*UUYAN, which was formed in 1986 as a means of networking and developing young adult leadership, changed that. Campus ministry, too, was underrepresented until 1998, when the UUA’s Office of Young Adult Ministries expanded its mission to include campus ministry.
The decision to provide leadership training to UU young adults has been crucially important to many. Justice Desiree Waidner of Tulsa, Oklahoma, told uuworld.org by email, “Young adult organizing kept me connected to Unitarian Universalism during those transient years of college/post-college life and gave me numerous organizational tools that I have carried with me into my associational, district, and local work.” She added, “It was a truly transformational spiritual and leadership journey.”
The final Radius conference this year will be held in Rockford, Illinois, July 14 to 16. The Office of Young Adult and Campus Ministry is hoping to repeat the conferences next year.
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Jane Greer is a former senior editor of UU World magazine.