Um, hey, UUA? Where is my place?

A month and a half ago I sent an email to the office of youth and young adult ministries that said, essentially, “this is who I am, this is what I have done, this is what I can do. Please, help me to be involved in some way. Please put me to work.”

I never heard back.

Not going to lie, that kind of hurt. I am sure the email just got lost in the shuffle or something, but my former congregation had just shown me that they were not interested in making a spot for young adult ministry at our church. The other two churches I went to in the area didn’t have any young adult presence either. There certainly wasn’t any kind of organized group. I set about searching online for stuff, but I keep coming up empty handed. It felt like the UUA was telling me that there wasn’t really a place, either. I could come back when I was 25 and do stuff then.

I know that churches tend to lose a lot of folks in their late teens/early twenties, and that they gain them back when they start having kids of their own, settling down, gaining a more stable life. But there’s got to be a place in this vibrant, affirming religion for people 19-24. There simply has to be. Just because MOST churches lose people in their early twenties doesn’t mean that we have to concede to that, and it doesn’t mean that you lose ALL your twenty somethings. Heck, you gain some twenty somethings (hi!) and those people need to be included.

So now? Now I’m reaching out via my blog.

Let me introduce myself.

My name is Andy and I’m 23 years old. I have, if I do say so myself, a pretty kickin’ resume. I’ve been doing activism in one form or another since I was 12, including working on the past three presidential campaigns, helping organize my county during Maine’s fight for same-sex marriage, lobbying on local, state, and nationwide levels for (among many other things) comprehensive sexuality education, against the Stupak amendment, the repeal of DOMA, passage of the transgender anti-discrimination and hate crimes bill in MA, multiple environmental bills in California and Maine, and headed up way more letter writing, visibility, and phone banking campaigns that I can even think of. I learned an awful lot about the democratic process, both nationally and in smaller groups.

I went to Phoenix last July to protest SB 1070, and I attended the Sexuality Education and Advocacy Training conference last fall in DC. I am currently a member of The Trevor Project’s Youth Advisory Council and do workshops and speaking engagements around the area about bullying and suicide prevention in among LGBTQ youth. I interned at BAGLY, the Boston Alliance of GLBT Youth, and MTPC, the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition. In addition to office work and meetings I also helped form that summer’s Boston Radical Cheerleaders – which was a group of youth and young adults who got together once a week and yelled about sex positivity, progressive legislation, and tearing down political structures. That whole justice, equity, compassion stuff? Seemed to play a kinda big part in a lot of that – not the cheering thing, but all the rest of it.

Last spring I graduated from College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, ME, with my Bachelor’s degree in Human Ecology; loosely defined, that is the study of how people interact with their environment, be it natural or human-made. While there I studied everything from documentary film to 19th century female writers, oceanography to evolutionary biology to feminism as it relates to fundamentalism to gender and sexuality in Southern Africa. At COA I learned that everything is tied together, kind of like a giant web or something.

I have been working with children and adults with autism spectrum disorders, developmental delays, physical disabilities, as well as hearing and visual impairments for over 10 years, in everything from running workshops on helping children deal with a sibling’s diagnosis to working at a residential treatment center for children with Autism. I have coached little league teams, worked at summer camps, and learned more about the inherent worth and dignity of every single person on this big, bad, beautiful planet than I ever thought possible.

I am passionate about a lot of things, and that now includes Unitarian Universalism. I gave a speech at National Coming Out Day about coming out as religious in LGBTQ spaces. I gave a sermon about learning to pray when I went to Phoenix. I try to work principles into my daily living. I even wrote my final paper for college, the big important one that you need to graduate, on Unitarian Universalism and finally feeling accepted, for once, in a religious community (incidentally, I am happy to share that paper with anybody who wants to slog through it).

And now? Now I live on the Downeast Coast of Maine where I’m looking for work, raising my younger sister (she’s 17), learning how to run my life outside of college, and wishing to be involved. I am aging out of the last bits of youth activism in the next six months but I am not quite able to move on to grad school just yet, even if I did definitively know what I want to study. I don’t have a home congregation right now, but I have a computer, and I have a telephone, and I have car that runs sometimes and I have a kinda local-ish airport and I have Boston about 5 hours away if you follow the speed limit (which I do thankyouverymuch).

Mostly I have a drive and a want and a need and a desire and a million ideas.

So I want to be involved. Is there a place for me? Is there a way for me to be involved? What can I do?

I am here and open.

Best,

Andy

P.S. I swear to whatever you do or don’t find holy that if you tell me I can “help with the Facebook page” I will have unkind things to say on Twitter.

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23 Responses to “Um, hey, UUA? Where is my place?”

  1. Contact CYF, the Church of the Younger Fellowship, whose mission it is to reach out to young adults who are not connected to a congregation. I’m a minister and I have also posted this to my facebook page (though I totally get why you don’t want to work on one!) I don’t know if anyone will respond to my post, but even if they don’t, CYF should be able to help you.
    Good luck!

  2. You can help with the twitter feed! Ha ha…

    Actually, I shouldn’t joke because that might be the answer you get.

    Your post leaves me sad and hopeful. I will be interestd to hear any follow-up from the UUA.

  3. Hey. 🙂

    Not about the post: I admire your obvious work ethic and passion and intelligence and sensitivity. I want to be like you when I sort-of-grow-up (I plan to not entirely grow up)! You definitely do things to create change in your community. Keep being awesome, please!

    About the post: I love the post. As a youth, I often feel that I have no place in the church. I often feel patronized, dismissed, and generally silenced by the adults (especially the older ones) in my church community. I have no resume yet because I’m not old enough, and I sure haven’t done as much as you yet (I mean, I’m 8 years younger), but I feel that I do have something to offer but people are definitely oblivious to the things that I can do. It’s like people don’t want to hear what I have to say unless I’m talking about my mother. 😐 I am the only teenager that attended the church in the past month. The other ones left.
    My motivation to create change in my church community had nearly been sucked dry by the lack of energy from the congregation, and because none of them want to change themselves, Maybe I’ll try attending a Boston church. But all of this makes me feel slightly bitter about UUism. I need to take a break from the church until I can go back with a clear head and feel like I can be more passionate and involved.
    Okay, I need to stop talking now and make my own blog post. But I know how you feel as someone who has attended the church only as a youth. We have energy and vibrance and passion that UUism needs…. so why don’t they want us?

  4. I don’t know how I’ve managed to miss your blog till now, but I’m glad I found it.

    I’m another 20s UU Blogger. There are a few of us out there 😀 I’m up to 28 now, feeling ancient, but I started going to a UU congregation and UU blogging when I was 23. I had to make my own way in large part in my congregation. We already had a young adult group (I go to a big congregation thankfully) but most of that young adult group was at least 7 years older than me. There weren’t a lot of fellow under 25ers at the time. It took a couple of years, but we started getting more folks my age come in and get active – and I think in4 part it was seeing a “leader” that was also in early to mid 20s that kept them around.

    I truly doubt you will get much of a response from the youth and young adult office at the UUA. I think they’re even looking for a new head, and even then they do tend to put more energy into the youth side at the expense of the young adult side. Most of what they’ll likely suggest to you will be congregationally based. I was fortunate enough to be able to go to last year’s GA and met a whole lot of YAs in the same boat as you – not really attached to a congregation, or their congregation’s sucked with YA issues. A lot were members of the CLF and part of this Church of the Younger Fellowship – I don’t know all that much about it to be honest, but might be worth exploring.

    • You can read why I am not part of the local congregation in the archives of my blog. https://thoughtsonblank.wordpress.com/2010/10/31/goodbye/ is the main post about it, but also look for my posts entitled “Dear Church” and “This is your church without professional ministry.”

      The next closest church is 45 minutes away, and I was wholly unimpressed. There is another that is about an hour away, but it’s just too far to drive. I was not overly impressed with it, either.

    • Also? I tried. SO HARD. I had only been with the congregation for five months when they got rid of our minister for ridiculous reasons that had everything to do with the church’s want to Never Ever Change and the fact that our minister was young, queer, dynamic, not-white, and change-oriented.

      I wrote up a long proposal about holding an alternative worship service, complete with a long explanation of what the purpose was and a sample OOS. I presented it to our community minister and the DRE, and it never went anywhere, at all.

      The board president basically sat me down and told me that young adults were not a priority to the congregation. I suggested trying to put together some kind of state-wide UUYA retreat thing and I was blown off.

      My expectations aren’t high, but I have learned that when you are quiet, nothing changes. When you are loud still nothing usually changes but at least you don’t feel like you were quiet.

  5. Ugh. Just ugh.

    I’m lucky with my congregation, I know this – Our young adult group has about 400 on our email list, although about 30ish are the most active. Anna, who also has a UU young adult blog Deep River Faith, told me how ours was really the first congregation that made her feel welcome as a YA, that had YA stuff to do, etc. It took a battle back in the day for us to be seen by the greater congregation as, well, legitimate, but we fought that battle and now folks from our YA group have served on pretty much ever church board/committee I can think of – Board, Search, Stewardship, Nominating, etc. But we’re fortunate to be in that situation.

    From what other YAs told me at GA, my situation is the rare one – yours is far and away the most common, which is just an indictment against UUism. I thought there would be more strong YA groups out there…turns out there aren’t. And that’s just…sad.

    Also, be loud. Don’t be quiet. We need more fellow YAs to be loud about YA issues and the lack of welcome so many UU YAs feel or felt in their congregations, make the establishment uncomfortable.

  6. So sorry to hear about your experiences in the various congregations you’ve attended. It does sound like you have a lot to offer and it’s a shame no one is taking you up on it. Your story reminds me of when I started attending my local UU church, fresh out of college and looking for a new home. My then-girlfriend (now partner) and I went to a music performance at church and found ourselves the youngest folks in the room by several decades! Our church has changed and now has a substantial and active young adult group, but that happened because 1.) My partner and I and a few other folks stuck around and helped make it happen, and 2.) The church was a welcoming place overall and was open to that. Sounds like that isn’t your experience of your churches. One of the things that can be hard about UUism is that we’re small, so unless you live in a huge metropolis, there aren’t a lot of churches to choose from in any given area.

    My thoughts on other things to try, and many of these may have occurred ot you already:
    -see if there’s any sort of regional young adult group. In our district there is and they have things like weekend retreats that could be opportunities to meet other folks and participate in a community
    -I’m sure this is complicated given the circumstances, but could you be in touch with the former minister who you did click with? She might have some ideas about other resources in your area.
    -I don’t know what your thought are theologically, but UCC (Unitted CHurch of Christ) churches can be almost as cool as UU ones 🙂 It sucks that I’m even suggesting this, since you so clearly want to be involved with UUs, but maybe this is an option for now?

    Good luck!

    • When a minister leaves a congregation they are asked to not have contact with former parishioners in order to allow those members to build meaningful relationships with new leadership without the influence of the former minister.

    • Also, when I say middle of nowhere I really mean that I live in the middle of nowhere.

  7. Hey Andy,

    I sympathize. I really, really do. In my congregation I am the only particpating young adult member without a partner or child. There are tons of young adults who have just had children, but young adults like myself are fairly nonexistent. However, I’m not sure I understand what you expected the UUA to say to you. In my own opinion, it is not the UUA’s job to address your specific troubles, but rather to make strides so that the youth participation can stop being a blindspot.

    There are a few other thoughts I’d like to share.

    First, when talking about creating space for youth, I think it is important to be careful not to put down the value of senior members. Recently during the strategic planning process I’m a part of at my congregation, someone brought up the idea of meeting specifically with younger members to talk about their visions for the future. GREAT! Howver, the idea was to meet with them before the process was brought to the congregation in its entirity. Which to me, as one of the youth members, seems flawed because it is given special treatment to younger members and asserting the idea that senior members don’t have good visions. I think that is awful. In my congregation, the older members are the ones who envision the church itself and I will always have them to thank for that.

    Secondly, and this just comes from my experiences with church leadership, but to create change you have to work within the current system. It won’t work to just walk and demand that *your* project be picked up and carried out. I put the emphasis on your because going about this by yourself has the chance of giving you the ownership of a good idea where it really should belong to the church. Does that make sense? Handing your idea to staff leadership and suggesting they get cracking or at least give you the power to get cracking probably won’t work out well.

    Finally, I understand that you have to work within the enivronment you are a part of and you’re in a difficult one. My suggestion, and I don’t know how practical it is, would be to look into particpating in some church leadership training. Maybe checking out Healthy Congregations (which I’m currently doing and highly recommend) or seeing if something like UULTI would work for you. Does your district have a mini-GA? That could be worth attending.

    I don’t want to be totally pessimistic and if it feels like I’m putting blame on you, that’s not what I mean to do. There are numerous faults to our organization and this is one of them.

    • The thing is, Nicole, that I tried to work within the bounds of the local church. The local church was unwilling to. I can’t afford to participate in leadership training, I can’t afford to go to GA, I know I can’t change everything on my own but when I’ve tried to work within the confines of the current system I’ve been shut down.

      So what am I expecting the UUA to do? Nothing. I expect nothing from the association. Why did I write this? Because *I* am tired of hearing that youth and young adults don’t want to be involved, don’t want to be active, and won’t step up to the plate. We are out there, we are open, we want to do stuff. We want to help create meaningful change by way of UUism.

      I know that you have had a great experience within UUism. That’s not the case for a lot of us. You are also, if I remember, 18 or under. You are a youth, not a young adult (by UU age descriptions). There ARE things for the youth to be involved in. A youth group is common, a young adult group? Not so much.

      I wasn’t demanding any project I offered be picked up. I was asking about getting more young adults, and the church said (essentially), “we are not interested.”

      In the chalice lighting that we use to use one of the lines was, “For tradition, for the elders who came before us and for the wisdom of the old ways.” One of my biggest loves is multigenerational organizing. The thing is that it actually has to BE multigenerational – not 14 adults and one twenty something. We cannot be tokens and that is what we are.

      If the current system flat out refuses to let young adults fully participate in congregational life (which they do – there is now nobody under 33 at the church except for 1 teenager, 3 children, and 2 babies) then blaming us for not working within the current system isn’t cool.

      • There are scholarship opportunites for almost all UU conference/leadership development events. I don’t know how to go about getting them without the support of a congregation, but they are there. I’ve gone to GA for free (well, all I had to do was pay for four nights in a hostel) before which meant applying for scholarships and then doing the follow through. Particularly with your justice experience there are opportunities.

        Actually, no, I am a young adult. Usually it is measured by schooling- when you are finished with high school, you are finished with the youth programming. I bridged last year and have been really deliberate in distancing myself from the youth programming and sticking to other forms of church leadership iniatives.

  8. I wish I had something hopeful to say to you, but at 41 I am bitter. Bitter at the local, regional and national level. I didn’t realize how bitter until a few weeks ago. I love that you are passionate, but maybe the UUA isn’t the right place for you… maybe your community is somewhere else. (This from a 2nd generation UU who is thinking that for herself.) Good luck to you -wherever you land will be great, I am sure.

  9. andy:

    I’m not a UU (obviously) but I am the youngest member of my shul by at least 10 years. And I get lonely.

  10. I think your place is “on the internet, starting these conversations.”

    CC

  11. Where the heck’s the “Like” button on this page?! 😉

    Andy, I’ll be sharing your words with a group at our UU congregation in PA who are trying to tackle exactly the issues you raise. Thanks for being vocal, critical, and committed.

    Others have suggested that the UUA may be wrong for you. It well may be, but I doubt you’ll find yourself tackling these issues any less in any other denomination or spiritual affiliation. Folks in their teens and 20’s are “supposed to” crave a different kind of spirituality from “old people” (like the 39-year-old who’s writing here). And somehow, we “old people” allow that to mean that if we give “y’all” a place to listen to “your music” and drink chai, you’ll “return to the fold” when you “outgrow” the “phase” you’re in. (I tend to use quotes too often when I’m expressing displeasure. Can you tell?)

    The more people of ALL ages practice telling the UUA (and whatever other church they may call home) what they need, and demanding to be heard, the better the church will be at making this world the place it’s supposed to be.

  12. Andy – I passed your blog along to my partner, who is currently in seminary at Harvard. He’s trans, in his 20’s, and has some experiences similar to those you share. We also recently left middle of nowhere Maine and have a number of genderqueer/queer/trans minister friends who are feeling disenfranchised by UUisms right now. That said, we also both are working in churches and are invested in creating spaces. I hope you two connect – I think you may find some things to talk about!

  13. You are SO not the only one and I know that doesn’t help. Not only have we not figured out the age thing we have really not figured out the generational gaps in activism. Any chance you’re thinking about attending the Allies for Racial Equity conference in March? Not saying you should, but if you are, email me.

  14. Dear Andy,
    I am in India and believe me I haven’t had a congregation to go to for the last 30 years or so and believe me its hard.
    I waited for a long time for someone to respond to show me the way until I started creating my own path.
    I would be glad to explore more about what you and I can do or you alone if you wish to. How to put ourselves to work is what I am exploring too…
    Mahesh,
    Ahmedabad,
    India

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