Dear Church

Allow me to introduce myself. I am a young adult member of your congregation. I may be the only young adult member of your congregation. I come every Sunday, or nearly every Sunday, and sometimes I volunteer to help out with stuff. Just here and there, nothing major. Or maybe I have led a service a time or two, or lit the chalice, or read announcements. And that one time, a few months ago, I helped lead an adult RE class, except nobody really came. But that’s ok.

Hi.

So here’s the thing, I really like coming to church and you really seem to like having me there. People come up to me after services and ask how I am doing and they remember things that have happened recently in my life.

I like that. It makes me feel like you care.

When I take part in a worship service people come up to me after and tell me that they liked what I had to say, or the songs that I chose, or that I have a great presence.

I like that. It makes me feel like you value my participation in the congregation and in the pulpit.

And when I share something during joys and sorrows you make sure to send me a card, or give me a hug, and tell me that it will be OK. You give me advice that, really, doesn’t help much because things have changed in the past 35 years. But that’s OK, because I know you mean well.

I like that. It makes me feel loved.

But there are other things that happen in our community that I don’t like so much. That make me feel like, maybe, you don’t quite get how to have younger people involved in the congregation.

Our church has almost no web presence. We have a Facebook page that some enterprising person set up but it’s almost never updated. I spend a lot of time on Facebook, and so do some of the other congregants. If we updated it more often it would be a lot easier for me to share with my friends. I almost never pick up the phone to say, “Hey, my church is having a cool worship service this week. You should come!” but if I can share something on facebook, or retweet something on twitter, my friends are more likely to read it. Social networking is big right now. I think our church should recognize that.

I don’t like potlucks. Or gardening. Food and flowers are all well and good, but I really wish there was another way for me to get involved. Why can’t we hold a wall painting party where we spruce up that awful brown wall in the community room, or maybe update the bulletin boards a little more often? Or we could have a movie some night that appeals to a more broad spectrum of people.

If I offer to hold an adult RE class, or agree to do one after being asked, don’t market it as “for young adults.” My voice deserves to be heard and it deserves to be heard by the entire congregation. I have done a lot in my 20-something years, and I’d like to share that with everyone. When you relegate me to a position of ONLY being able to talk to people in my age group it makes me feel like you don’t think I need to be heard by the whole congregation. Let me speak to everyone.

Please stop telling me how “cute” I am.

Understand that when you ask my ideas on getting more younger people in the congregation, and then I give those ideas, that the next step is for you to respond to those ideas in a productive way, even if that productive way happens to be, “right now our church probably can’t swing this, but what if we did X instead?” It would show that you want to use my ideas, even if they aren’t the right things right then.

Also? I do have a life outside the church, so sometimes I will miss a Sunday. My schedule is not as concrete as people who have steady jobs, families, or commitments. But just because I may miss a week here or there because I am out of state, out of town, or simply not out of bed doesn’t mean that I am not as committed, it just means that I’m committed in different ways.

I guess what I am saying is “keep doing what you are doing, but also, please change.”

Thanks for listening.

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16 Responses to “Dear Church”

  1. Well, I guess maybe we get a C+. I am glad you can see that we genuinely care about you and appreciate the many, many things you are contributing. You are perhaps unique in your willingness to stick with us as our minority young adult–that takes guts. I think for many young adults there needs to be some critical mass (in our case maybe 10) before they can feel comfortable. Try to understand that older adults are and have struggled with what life dishes out, that life experience does have some value and in-spite of the many changes, perhaps especially in how young people communicate and use technology, some things stay the same, at least in terms of the inner life and struggles. My guess is that you are experiencing this with your sister and there is only, I think, six years difference between you. Do you ever hear from her something like, “you just don’t understand”.

  2. I know you have a lot to offer. My respect for those who came before me in struggles and triumphs is huge and undying. If you remember the first time I spoke at the church, the Pride service, you’ll remember that my entire poem was centered around my elders in my LGBTQ community. My favorite line in Leela’s chalice lighting is “for the elders who came before us and for the wisdom of the old ways.”

    I respect my elders.

    My point was that when I am getting advice on things like grad school or getting a job or something like that from somebody who went through the process 30 years ago? It isn’t as helpful. A lot of things have changed. I feel like a lot of times at the church people view me as naive when, really, I am reacting to our CURRENT climate as I experience it. I experience our world differently than you do. I am 23. I have had computers in most classrooms I have been in since late elementary school. I have had a cell phone for most of my teenage and all of my adult life thus far. Things are different, people my age don’t quite function the same as people who are older. Things don’t make sense to me that make sense to you, and vice versa.

    You have SO much knowledge and I am so happy to learn, but I feel like it is not taken the other way. Relationships are an interplay, not a projection. Interaction is essential. Learning from each other is essential. I have things to teach, and not only to people my own age.

  3. Thanks for this honest letter — clearly, one of your gifts. I hope you’ll be teaching more of your wisdom so we can all keep learning!

  4. HI Andrew – Great note, I appreciate your honest comments. I’m going to respond to one specific area since I’m the current de facto web geek for UUCE. You’re correct that our Facebook presence isn’t updated that often. Our website, http://uuellsworth.org/ is actually all set up to auto-update facebook whenever anyone posts to the website but it happens that the way the site is updated these days is just through calendar updates to a google calendar so it’s not doing that. I just created a twitter account, uuellsworth and will set it to have announcements autopost there too. (I’m mattbaya on twitter, btw, if you want to follow me).

    So regarding facebook & twitter, point taken, I’ll chat with Caitlin about possibly posting announcements up on the website (and thus on FB). Perhaps our weekly newsletter could be posted making it easier to share that since that does include the service info. Do you think that would be ok or would separate posts or events for each service be worth it?

    Part of the problem is updating the website & facebook page takes time, and as you mention we all are committed to church in different ways and while I’m happy to put hours into helping design and engineer the church website here and there, I’m not willing to commit to updating it all the time.

    Now, something I learned as a student at Antioch College, in many ways a distant cousin to COA, is that one shouldn’t complain about something unless you are willing to step up to help fix it. So..Any chance you’d like to help us with the website (it’s run using wordpress actually) or our FB page (or a twitter account). I’m also trying to get things setup so we can regularly record and podcast the sermons, but right now it’s just me doing everything so if by any chance you’re interested in helping with that too I’d be happy to give you a crash course in recording & podcasting.

    If not, that’s ok, I don’t mean to put you on the spot and I appreciate your advice on how we can make it more useful. Let me know if you want to help and thanks again for your advice. Best wishes.

    -Matt

  5. Yes, I will help update the site/facebook.

  6. Andrew,
    As a young adult involved on a national scale in the UUA, your letter is spot on. Very few congregations do Young Adult ministry right or well. And it’s on the congregation to change their ways, because it’s not just about being open-minded. It’s a whole new approach to Unitarian Universalism. It’s not about technology, per se, but rather about creating an environment that honors who we are, our time, and what we believe whole-heartedly. That means funding campus ministry program, telling your ministry to actively engage in a broader YA community, fully funding a YA group, and encouraging ALL members to participate in Adult RE programs.
    You’re not alone. Come down to Boston for the WinterCon if you get a chance and see.

  7. I know I am not alone nationally. It is not that I haven’t met other YA UUs who want to, and are, doing the stuff I am. I was in Phoenix in July for the day of noncompliance and that was a great experience in meeting so many folks. It’s that this is where I live. I live in a tiny community on the downeast coast of Maine. 3 hours from anything moderately useful, 6 hours from a “real” city. I can make special trips, I can go to conferences, workshops, meet and greets, but when it comes down to it I come back here, to downeast, to a community where this is how I feel.

  8. Hi Andrew– Your letter-dear Church-is well written and very insiteful–thank you for sharing that with us. You are so correct about our inability to connect with teens and 20-30 something year olds. I am glad to know you can sense how much we appreciate and care for you.We all have things to learn from each other but unless we reach out and teach and talk to each other there will be great loss.
    As a 70-something I love a close connection to my UU family and am ‘running as fast as i can’ to keep up with tecnology beyond snail mail and the telephone….. (right now I am waiting for some visitor to stop by who can help me with my DVD so i can watch movies..)–what a helpless pitiful feeling! Many older UU’s want to be up to speed but we need to be helped by the younger people who are among us. Maybe we don’t think to ask for help! I, myself need housecalls and individual tutoring. I can see that updating electronic options could make for easier connection among our younger people and all of us as we learn to us it..
    Thank you so much for replying positively to Matt’s request for help with what he is doing. He has been invaluble but like the rest of us needs help. The webpage, facebook and twitter certainly would help keep us all better connected and a podcast of services would be wonderful for all those who can’t get out and want to stay connected. Hopefully, it will help to let more young people realize that we do some good work and share many of their beliefs and dreams and that it will let older people realize the good work and strong convictions of the younger people.. We all need each other although sometimes we hardly know that!
    Thanks, Andrew for sharing so much with UUCE. It is a gift to have you among us. Evelyn

  9. I agree with Judy that change at our church starts with about ten people. For the Pagans I think it was more than that for some reason. But ten doesn’t come about by magic. It starts with one, some ideas, some luck. You could be the one; you have ideas; maybe some luck will show up.

  10. Andrew,
    You don’t have to post this comment, because I know you moderate what’s posted to the blog. This message is only for you. I wasn’t clear in my original message.

    You are not alone.

    You are not the only one who languishes in their congregation, who gets pushed to accept responsibilities, who gets sidelined because they are a young adult.

    When I said your post was spot on, it’s because that it expressed what I have felt. I didn’t have a congregation, the only way I was able to be active at the national level was because of the Church of the Younger Fellowship. Recently, I applied for a paid RE teacher position because I could use the money, because it’d be cool to work with UU kids, and because my mom was a DRE. Not because I was obligated, and not because I wanted to be a part of a congregation. While I was at UMass Amherst, the Northhampton congregation (which was less earth-centered than the Amherst church) was where my friends and I went to church every once and a while. They were in the process of looking for a minister, and we were trying to start a campus ministry program for the Five College Area. A young adult joined the congregation and attempted to join the search committee and she was told that she was not welcome because she was not a “permanent member of the congregation.”

    I hope I’ve been a bit more clear in my meaning. As young adults we are objectified, treated as rarities, pushed away until have children and abused if we express interest in leadership. This is because our theology, our faith, differs from the older folk in the congregation. If you ever feel the need to run away from the faith, look deeper into larger UU communities. They provide a different experience, which you acknowledged.

  11. Andrew,

    Thanks for your insightful comments. You challenge us to change, and that’s a good thing. Thank-you.

    Personally, I don’t think it’s OK that no one came to your RE class. I know what a great speaker you are, and I think that was a missed opportunity for all of us. Please try again and I will make my best effort to come and to talk it up to others.

    I’m so glad you are part of our Church. I loved it that your sister came with on Sunday.

    Keep coming (except when you have other commitments) and keep challenging us to be better.

    Carol

  12. Thank you for writing this! As a parent of three young adults who were raised Unitarian Universalist, and a friend of many more, I have often been frustrated by our congregations’ inability to genuinely welcome young adults. When young friends have moved away and I’ve asked them about the UU congregations in their new area, I am often disheartened to hear what their experiences have been. I think the congregations in which I am currently involved do a reasonable job, and some of us have already been advocating many of the things you suggest.

    I will tell you, as an “old” adult, it’s really hard to NOT offer advice! After all, why wouldn’t you benefit from my vast experience and pearls of wisdom? Learning how to just listen, to just be present and offer an ear without trying to “fix” everything, has been very, very hard. I don’t always succeed. I will, however, continue to try to remember — not just with young adults, but with ALL of my friends — that your experiences are not mine, and that often the best friendship comes from just being willing to listen.

    • Thank you for your kind comments.

      To clarify – I am not saying that I don’t appreciate advice. I’m really and truly not saying that at all. It is when I get advice and I accept it, but it really doesn’t fit my situation. And then I try to give advice and I’m just completely ignored. It’s pure ageism.

  13. It’s interesting reading of the trials and tribulations regarding youth at the other Orlando UU church. I attend the smaller one. There’s a completely different dynamic there. It’s mainly about church size and being set in your ways. Steering a large ship is much harder. It’s certainly NOT a UU thing. There is no ageism at my church.

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