Young adult summer internships combined service, spirituality

Young adult summer internships combined service, spirituality

14 UU college students took part in Summer of Spirituality and Service.
Jane Greer


Fourteen young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 took part in a unique six-week program this summer combining social service internships and spiritual reflection.

The Summer of Spirituality and Service, sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Young Adult and Campus Ministry Staff Group and the Ballou Channing District, brought seven young adults to Boston and seven to Providence, R.I., June 1 through July 14, 2007.

Participants worked three days a week at their internships. The remainder of their time was spent in classes on UU history, spiritual practices, small group ministry, antiracism and antioppression, leadership development, and worship planning led by program director and UU seminarian Lissa Gundlach. The groups also had opportunities for sightseeing.

What provoked this group to spend six weeks in New England with little pay during prime summer job season?

“I really wanted to do an internship over the summer,” said Stephanie Miller, a sophomore at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania, who is considering the possibility of studying for the UU ministry in the future. “When I saw a description of the program, I thought it sounded ideal!”

For many, the program offered a chance for spiritual reflection. Ben Stevenson, from Atlanta, is a junior at Rice University in Texas. “This summer was a great opportunity to get in touch with my own spirituality and to see other UU young adults from around the country struggling with some of the same issues,” he said. “For the past two years I had let my spiritual life slip a little.”

“The program made me feel a lot more connected to Unitarian Universalism,” said Annie Gonzalez, a junior at Macalester College in Minnesota.

Being in Boston, with its long Unitarian history, had an impact on UUs from other parts of the country. “It was really interesting for people from the south or west to see the roots of Unitarian Universalism here,” Stevenson said. “I didn’t know that much about UU history.”

As a final project both groups had an opportunity to conduct worship services reflecting their experiences, the Boston group at First Church in Boston, and the Providence group at the First Unitarian Church of Providence.

Planning worship was a significant experience for most of the program’s participants. “The planning process was stressful,” said Caitlin Cotter, a senior at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, “because we were planning it as a group. But the service we came up with was amazing! Doing it ourselves led to its strength.” Like Miller, Cotter is interested in the UU ministry.

“This program was life changing for all of the participants, myself included,” said Gundlach. “The participants feel empowered within their congregations. They feel like they can take risks with their spiritual identity and practice as Unitarian Universalists.”

“The program gave me a good sense of Unitarian Universalism and our place in the religious world—and in the world,” Miller said. “It was really grounding. It deepened my commitment to Unitarian Universalism.”

The fourteen UU college students, four men and ten women, hailed from 12 states including Vermont, Pennsylvania, New York, Missouri, Kentucky, South Carolina, Georgia, Texas, South Dakota, Minnesota, Illinois, and Tennessee.

The Boston group had internships at the Dudley Literacy Center, Friday Night Supper Project, Bikes Not Bombs, Grassroots International, Renewal House, and the UU Service Committee. The Providence group volunteered at AIDS Ocean State, McAuley House, MERI, the Rhode Island Food Bank, Rhode Island Pride, and the South Side Community Land Trust.