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On Friday morning, a collection of youth advisors, youth and adult lay leaders, religious educators, ministers, youth, and parents of youth came together to hear from the Consultation on Ministry To and With Youth Task Force of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). The members of the task force described their two year process and the vision and direction for Youth Ministry which appears to be emerging from it. Task force members Julian Sharp, Sean Capaloff-Jones, Megan Dowdell, Tera Little, Sara Eskrich, and Youth Office staffers, Jesse Jaeger and Beth Dana, explained the process and timeline. They had received input from and conversed with more than five thousand stakeholders drawn from youth members in congregations, religious professionals, lay leaders, UUA leaders and staff, and members of affiliate and youth organizations. The current phase of the consultation will culminate in a summit in the Boston area to be held in July of this year for sixty youth and adult participants.
In conversations held over the course of a year with the stakeholders, several common themes appeared. Three were described in a power point presentation as ministry areas to be supported in the local congregations, the places where dedicated resources can touch the greatest number of youth. These areas of greatest interest and need are
After more fully defining and explaining these ministry areas, workshop leader, Beth Dana, invited those present to form breakout groups and to share with each other their roles and experiences in youth ministry. She also provided art materials and invited the members of each group to create a piece of artwork which symbolized that individual's ideal youth ministry.
The small group discussions were lively, and at the end of the session, spokespeople reported to the reassembled large group. The question, "What does success look like?" was asked by one small group. The answers to that question were varied and diverse, with one group identifying problems and another group asserting that they had strong opinions about what worked and what didn't. The responses from all the groups included an understanding that, while concerns and issues seemed universal, the solutions and responses to those issues and concerns were not.
The success of youth ministry was predicated on a number of factors, including but not limited to, congregational size, district or continental involvement, busy lives of youth members, availability of congregational youth leadership opportunities (teaching, serving on committees, leading or contributing to worship etc.), acknowledgement within the congregation, creating cross generational opportunities, qualified and available leadership for youth programs, staff resources, money, congregational culture and youth culture within that congregation or district.
Among concerns named, were unrealized youth and adult connections, a need for training for adult leaders, and concern that youth have some say about the decisions that affect them.
When the groups turned their attention to what worked, a number of success stories emerged. Social justice opportunities, attendance at district conferences (Cons), peer group time, spiritual exploration, evening meeting times, specific invitations to individual youth to take leadership roles within the congregation, performance opportunities, well trained advisors, youth adult committees, and staff involvement in youth ministry.
Task force member and youth office staffer, Beth Dana has been working with the Consultation since its inception. She commented that although, as had come up within the group, the issues confronting our youth ministry are common to all, the challenges and responses to them are very different. Beth also recommended a visit to the Consultations website.
A number of participants expressed gratitude for being able to hear the ideas and experiences of others attending the workshop. As one said, "One of the most valuable things about coming to General Assembly is the cross congregational connections that we make." The Consultation Task Force has created a valuable opportunity and a space for those conversations to happen at General Assembly this year. As Task Force member Tera Little said in closing "Now is the time to make our I's into a collective we."
Reported by Rebecca Kelly-Morgan; edited by Pat Emery.
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Last updated on Thursday, September 8, 2011.
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