Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Peter Campbell

I am a lifelong UU (51 years); former active member of Liberal Religious Youth (LRY - YRUU's predecessor), and the father of an eight year old boy whom I'd envisioned joining YRUU someday. That idea has been going downhill for a while, but, with this news, we'll be burying it. I have a historical perspective about what the UU youth program of the 60's and 70's did for me -- which was considerable -- and what it now offers for my son, which seems negligible. And I'll get out of the way right now the thought I had when I was active at my local church: if the adult UU's don't understand that youth are the future of the church, and therefore remarkably important to invest in, they're really short-sighted.

I was in LRY from 1970 until 1974. Before that, I attended Sunday School at the Arlington Street Church, in Boston, and went to a UU summer camp at Ferry Beach, Maine. It's clear to me that the UU Youth programs and community greatly supported me in:

1. Accepting myself for who I am (I was always a quirky individual - still am)
2. Resourcing me to determine my own religious beliefs
3. Helping me overcome social difficulties and have the confidence to meet people
4. Fostering a deeply embedded social conscience in me that is with me to this day.

LRY did all of that and more, of course. By 16 I was the leader of my local (Boston) LRY Group. By 17 I was a regional director in New England. By 18 I was planning week long conferences and coordinating activities that professionals get paid six figure salaries to do as adults. More than that, I was studying concepts of leadership and group dynamics, and engaging in sophisticated collaborative activities and discussions. Today I am a technology executive for a good sized non-profit organization, and, unlike most techs, I have strong leadership and people skills. I got them from LRY.

Some parents, clearly, were shocked by the level of youth autonomy in LRY. Adults were only there as chaperones. The teenagers planned the events, booked the facilities, designed the menus, cooked the foods, and led the sessions. But what's more shocking to me is that there seems to be no equivalent experience that will be there for my son when he becomes a teenager. We spent a year participating at a local UU church, but we bowed out for a few reasons, the primary one being that the investment in the Sunday School was lame. Volunteers led the classes, and the quality was akin to day care.

I don't know what went into this decision to abandon YRUU at the National/International level, but it certainly seems like the UUA is unable to lead or strategize around one of the key constituencies of any long existing institution - the future. And, given my experience in LRY, and the similar stories I've heard from YRUU members, they're abandoning something that is pretty unigue - the youth group that recognizes the spirit, intelligence and capabilities of our youth, and provides a place for them to learn and model skills and talents that will take them places in the world as adults. It's sad.

Here's hoping that more opportunistic and strategic minds eventually come to power at the UUA, ones that understand that investing in youth does not mean controlling or ignoring them, and that a heritage is built by resourcing the generations to come. It doesn't seem like the current leadership is offering that to the youth they just abandoned, or the younger ones like mine, who are looking for a community to support their growth.

1 comment:

Riley37 said...

I've been hearing the "youth are the future of UUism" argument for decades (and a similar argument re young adults), and I disagree. UU congregations, and the UUA, can continue without the homegrown UUs, in the same way that the American Association of Retired People gets new members every year without doing any youth outreach.

There are good reasons for UU churches to value youth ministry... but *needing* youth for their future existence is not one of them.

Using bogus arguments isn't gonna help your cause.