Youth group of two just as worthy as 18

Tandi Rogers Koerger, program specialist for the UUA’s Pacific Northwest District, writes on her blog, “Putting Religious Education in its Place,” about the year when there were only two youth in her congregation’s youth group. The previous year there had been 18, but 16 graduated.

In a piece titled “Cheese Fries,” she says “Our congregation made a bold decision. They funded the two-member youth group as if they were the rowdy 18.” Koerger said she and the youth hung out that year, doing things like debating the UU appropriateness of current musical lyrics, and eating cheese fries at Denny’s.

Koerger says both youth are now in their 20s.

“They look back at our youth group year with just the three of us and are grateful that the congregation saw them as legitimate and worthy of the effort. Religious education is implicit in the decisions we make as a congregation, including fiscal decisions. Religious education is nestled in those leaps of faith and small actions that say, ‘We see you. We need you. You are worthy.’”

Guide to youth group report available

Congregations interested in nurturing youth groups are invited to use a new guide that will help them explore the UUA’s Youth Ministry Working Group Report.

The Youth Ministry Working Group was established in 2008 and charged with recommending a framework for youth ministry in congregations and across the Association. The Working Group report is the culmination of a multiyear process involving thousands of UUs at every level of the Association.

The 24-page report offers both specific suggestions and a call for a broad culture change in congregations in order to nurture youth ministry. Said Erik Kesting, the UUA’s Youth and Young Adult Ministries director, “The goal is for congregations to discuss the report and recommendations and make some changes in their youth programs and/or adopt new programs.”

April 20th deadline for youth GA scholarships

April 20, 2010, is the deadline to apply for scholarships for youth and young adults to attend General Assembly this June in Minneapolis. The UUA will pay the GA registration fee and up to $500 of other expenses for applicants who can demonstrate need.

Find out more here or by emailing youth@uua.org, youngadults@uua.org, or calling 617-948-4350.

UU World accepting intern applications

Do you know a young person who is interested in Unitarian Universalism and journalism? UU World is now accepting applications for its summer internship program in Boston. This is a great opportunity to gain valuable experience working on both print and online publications at UUA headquarters.

Ideally a summer intern would be available to start in mid to late May, but dates and hours are negotiable. Read more at uuworld.org or email Assistant Editor Sonja L. Cohen for more information.

Making worship part of kids’ lives

From March’s InterConnections feature story, now online at UUA.org:

The Rev. Krista Taves believes children belong in worship. With adults. For more than 15 minutes.

And for the past three years that’s what has happened at the 100-member Emerson Unitarian Universalist Chapel in Ellisville, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis. For fully the first half of every service, all children are in attendance. They take part in singing and candle lighting and are there for a prayer, the offertory, and a story before being sung out to their own children’s chapel.

Having children in the service for this long has been nothing short of transformational for Emerson, says Taves. But change didn’t happen without hard work.

Go to the full article.

Intergenerational service focuses on love

To the Editor:

My name is Gail Stratton, and I am with the 65-member Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Oxford, Mississippi.

This last Sunday, February 14, we had an intergenerational worship service that focused on love and the idea of reimagining valentines. Our message was about loving ourselves, loving our community, and loving the wider world. The younger children helped with the chalice lighting and taught it to the rest of the congregation.

Each person, large and small, got a valentine sticker when they came in the door. After one song and the chalice lighting, we asked everyone to find someone else with the same sticker, introduce themselves, and share something that they loved. This mixed the ages, and was a lively exchange. When we came back together,  we sang “Make New Friends.”

We shared what Universalism is, and read several short poems about the love of God from the poet Hafiz. We talked about the idea of Standing on the Side of Love. We said there will be times we will be challenged to understand situations, but while we are figuring it out, we choose to stand on the side of love. We talked about specific examples, like immigration reform and also the support UUCO had shown for my partner and me when we had gotten married last year.

We then as a group made valentines and posters for members who are ill or have moved. We also did face painting and decorated cookies. We concluded the day by taking pictures. The images are here. I think everyone left feeling “fed” and connected!

A new InterConnections article on intergenerational worship will be online at uua.org/interconnections March 1.

Donor helps children share with the world

Imagine giving kids $10,000 and telling them to go help heal the world and spread the word about Unitarian Universalism.

That’s what has been happening at the UU Church of Reading, Mass. (292 members). A year ago, an anonymous donor made a gift of $10,000 for the purpose of involving the kids and teens in social justice work and helping them experience the joy of sharing money and time. And thus, the Helping Hands Outreach Fund was born.

Each year, the children in the church’s Faith Development program select five area organizations that are aligned with UU values of social justice. During a “Principles in Action” Faith Development quarter, the older children and youth educate the younger ones about the work of these nonprofits. Then, led by the Senior High Youth Group, the kids vote for the one they most want to partner with for the year. The kids then present the selected organization with a check for $7,600 and enter into a close partnership with the group for the year. The other four groups receive a gift of $600 each.

For the first year of the program, the kids selected an organization that served individuals with developmental disabilities. “This has been very engaging for the whole congregation,” says Lorraine Dennis, past president of the congregation. “We don’t just give money, we work hand in hand, together. The clients played music at a Sunday service, we had a lunch workshop about the group, we collected clothing for their prom, our teens attended their dances, and people volunteered in other ways. Most importantly, we sponsored and staffed a training program for Special Olympics, with our church kids and the group’s youngest kids working together on various physical and sports skills. ”

For the second year of the program, which kicked off in September, the kids are partnering with an environmental action group that is working to preserve an area river.

The Rev. Tim Kutzmark, minister of the church, reports that they will be sponsoring hikes, canoe trips, a community garden, displays at the town soccer field, and educational forums for the surrounding communities on water and green issues. “And because we’re out in the community working,” he says, “people learn about UUism and the things we stand for!”

Starting a Coming of Age program for middle-schoolers

Q. Our congregation would like to start a Coming of Age program for our middle-schoolers. We understand there’s a new COA curriculum from the Unitarian Universalist Association. Where can I find it?

A. That’s the Coming of Age Handbook for Congregations, a comprehensive guide for religious educators working with adolescents. It offers tools such as workshops for youth, small group ministry sessions for parents, social action projects, and rites of passage to help participants explore theology, spirituality, and history.

The handbook was published in 2008 and written by the Rev. Sarah Gibb Millspaugh, former adult programs director for the UUA and now cominister of the Winchester, Mass., Unitarian Society. It is available in paperback for $30. Learn more and order it at the UUA Bookstore.

Send us your questions for InterConnections at interconnections @ uua.org.

Youth and young adult ministries offices merged

The UUA’s Office of Young Adult and Campus Ministries, formerly part of Congregational Services, has been merged with the Youth Office to form the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries within the Lifespan Faith Development staff group. The office will implement a new program for supporting youth ministry, which grew out of a four-and-a-half-year examination of the denomination’s youth programs.

Contact the office at youth @ uua.org and youngadults @ uua.org and 617-948-4350. Erik Kesting is youth and young adult ministries director and can be reached at ekesting @ uua.org. The Rev. Dr. Monica Cummings is program associate for ministry to youth and young adults of color and can be reached at mcummings @ uua.org.

Other staff members are Nancy DiGiovanni, campus ministry and bridging associate, ndigiovanni @ uua.org; Jeremie Giacoia, leadership development associate, jgiacoia @ uua.org; and Sarah Prager, office administrator, sprager @ uua.org.