Sexually healthy congregations guide online

The Rev. Debra Haffner has created an online guide to help determine—and increase—the sexual health of Unitarian Universalist congregations. Haffner, a Unitarian Universalist minister, is the executive director of the Religious Institute, a multifaith organization dedicated to advocating for sexual health, education, and justice in faith communities and society. The guide, available on UUA.org, is called “Assessing Sexual Health: An Online Guide for UUA Congregations.”

She hopes the guide—a series of checklists exploring how congregations can incorporate sexuality awareness into congregational policies, worship, pastoral care, welcoming, social justice, and other areas—will inspire leaders to go beyond the limited ways they may be addressing sexuality issues currently.

“Ultimately, a commitment to developing a sexually healthy faith community needs to permeate every aspect of a community,” says Haffner. “It is not enough to offer Our Whole Lives sexuality education to our middle school students and go through a Welcoming Congregation program once. Instead, UU ministers, religious educators, board members, key committee members, youth, and parents must share a commitment to sexual and spiritual wholeness. This online guide will assist in that process.”

One of Haffner’s goals is to encourage all congregations to adopt a “safe congregations” policy, to protect children and adults from sexual misconduct. She notes, “Seven in ten UU congregations do not have safe congregations committees and a third do not have any written policies in this area.”

The guide helps leaders think about ways their congregations can address sexuality issues in a comprehensive manner. Questions raised in the guide include whether congregational guidelines address gender identity and family diversity, whether LGBT issues are raised respectfully, whether the congregation is active in community groups working on sexuality justice issues, and whether leaders know what local and state laws require in terms of reporting sexual misconduct.

 

Certification deadline is February 1

Unitarian Universalist Association congregations are required to submit their annual Certification of Membership reports by February 1 at 5 p.m. PST. Congregations can log in to their Data Services Account to complete the Certification report and access a printer-friendly Certification worksheet in order to review the questionnaire.

Please see a list of Frequently Asked Questions about Certification of Membership for more information.

Gathered Here program begins

Starting this month, congregations and individual Unitarian Universalists are being asked to contribute information about the future direction of the Unitarian Universalist Association. The information is being collected through Gathered Here, a denomination-wide listening campaign begun by the UUA’s Board of Trustees and administration.

Gathered Here invites congregations and individual UUs to share hopes for the faith through “Community Conversations” and one-on-one interviews during the next eight months. The board and administration will use that information to help determine the UUA’s future. A longer article about Gathered Here is at uuworld.org. The program also has a website, which includes all the forms needed to conduct Gathered Here interviews.

Amanda Trosten-Bloom, with Corporation for Positive Change, has been retained by the UUA to serve as the project consultant for Gathered Here. She said that all UU congregations and non-congregational communities are being encouraged to participate in Gathered Here, starting this month and continuing through the end of August.

“All those who participate will be inspired and renewed,” she said. “People will form strong new relationships that will give life to their faith and their UU communities.”

UUA launches GA Accessibility Project

As part of a UUA-wide effort to make it possible for more youth and young adults to attend the “Justice” General Assembly this June in Phoenix, the UUA’s Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries and the General Assembly Planning Committee have launched the “GA Accessibility Project.”

Congregations interested in learning how to bring more youth and young adults to GA this year can find information on the Youth and Young Adult Ministries blog, Blue Boat. That information includes GA program listings, how the GA youth and young adult caucuses operate, available scholarships and grants, as well as information on affordable housing and transportation.

Later this winter the accessibility resources will include information on fundraising and youth safety.

Youth groups important, says Common Read author

Eboo Patel, in his book Acts of Faith, describes a conversation he had with a Protestant man after Patel, founder of an interfaith youth movement, made a presentation about the importance of youth programs in religious communities. The man told Patel that he and his wife really enjoyed their church, but their teenage daughter hated it because there was no real youth program. Patel told him, “Change churches. . . Either that or make sure that the church starts a youth program that interests your daughter.”

“In my mind,” Patel writes, “it was a question of priorities. Was he more interested in his daughter liking church or himself liking it?” Most people choose themselves over their kids, he says.

It is an entirely understandable choice, but we should not be blind to the consequences. It means we will continue to fail our religious youth. I cannot help but think of the number of teenagers I know who say that they are bored in their congregations, that their church or synagogue or mosque or temple has little going on for them. The youth minister they liked was let go because of budget cuts. The Habitat for Humanity trip they were planning got canceled because the adult supervisor couldn’t make it at the last minute. The pastor or imam or rabbi can never remember their names.

Too many adults secretly consider the absence of young people in mainstream religious communities the natural course of events, viewing the kids as too self-absorbed, materialistic, and anti-authoritarian to be interested in religion. The result is that adults pay lip service to the importance of involving youth in faith communities, but let themselves off the hook when it comes to actually building strong, long-lasting youth programs. Youth activities are typically the top item in a congregation’s newsletter, but the last line in the budget. Youth programs are the most likely to be funded by short-term grants, and youth ministers are the first to be fired when a religious community has financial problems.

Acts of Faith, published by Beacon Press, is the 2011-2012 Common Read for Unitarian Universalists. Look for a longer excerpt from Acts of Faith in the Spring 2012 issue of UU World.