Spotlight: UU Young Adults of Chicago
Welcome to the Spotlight Series! Each month we’ll feature a different Unitarian Universalist congregation or community that is doing effective, innovative or otherwise interesting ministry with young adults.– Ed.
A unique and engaging model for local young adult ministry
Chicago Chalice Connection is a one of a kind young adult program that is connecting Unitarian Universalists from all over the Chicagoland area with spiritual engagement, social justice and service opportunities, and a peer group for support and socializing. What makes Chicago Chalice Connection different from many of our young adult ministries? It’s connected to a geographic area rather than a specific institution (such as a congregation or college) and it is led by paid young adult staff, allowing for more effective leadership.
Chicago Chalice Connections hosts three events each month. There is a spiritual event each month that often includes worship. For example the group has held worship at a local park, has visited houses of faith such as a Ba’hai Temple, and has gone on meditative nature walks. Aidan McCormack, a local minister, has been working five hours a week to coordinate the spiritual events each month and is now departing the position, which will be filled by someone new. The second event is a justice centered event. This can range from volunteering with the Night Ministry and cooking a meal for the predominately LGBTQ youth who stay there, or attending advocacy events to encourage legislative change to the criminal justice system. Lastly, this group hosts a community event each month to connect on a social level. They might go apple picking in Wisconsin, have a potluck or watch a movie together. Megan Selby has 20 paid hours per week to focus on the justice, community and coordinating aspects of this group.
The need for a young adult UU connection in the Chicago area was well articulated by Gabriel Gamez Jr. one of the group's young adults. He wrote, “The world is a difficult place for young adults. Unemployment is high in our age group and underemployment is even higher. UUs in their 20s and 30s need a place where they can share their success and failures of everyday life.” He acknowledges that the Chalice Connection is one of the few places where they can come with their spiritual issues as well as their everyday worries. David Pirszel, another regular participant in the group, echoed a similar theme. He explains that he is dealing with the difficulties of poverty and finds the connections through this group encouraging, though he longs for more support from the larger UU community and from local congregations. Megan Selby, mentioned above as the group's main coordinator also emphasized the reality of poverty among young adults, and said that their group provides scholarships for those who could not otherwise afford to attend their events. The scholarships may cover bus fare, gas money, or a meal during a gathering.
So how did this group get to a place where they have paid staff and small scholarships for their young adults? They received a Chalice Lighter Grant to start out, thanks to the work of Dori Davenport Thexton, one of the Mid-America Region staff people. Initially Megan was hired for 10 hours per week, but with funding from the Unitarian Universalist Funding Program, their budget has expanded. They have just started a grassroots fundraising team so that they can continue fundraising efforts without relying solely on UU grants. Megan argues that funding local and regional Young Adult groups is one of the best ways to create sustainable engaging networks that serve UU young adults. It’s rare that a volunteer can create the kind of consistent programming Chalice Connection has, especially given the transient nature of young adult populations.
There are many positive aspects to this funded city-wide model for young adult ministry. It allows for a larger group of young adults than any one congregation would have on its own, it encourages more engagement with the local community since they don’t have a church building or campus to meet in, and it allows for well planned and well publicized activities that meet a variety of spiritual, emotional and social needs. Of course the main drawback to a young adult group organized apart from a congregation is the lack of intergenerational engagement. However, Megan emphasized that many young adults are part of area congregations as well as the Chalice Connection group. So whether someone is looking for a deeper engagement with peers alongside their church life or has never been in a UU congregation; whether someone is looking for peer support during hard times or seeking to deepen their justice work in the community, Chicago Chalice Connection offers wonderful opportunities for area young adults to live into their Unitarian Universalist faith.
Special thanks to Megan Selby whom Annie interviewed on the phone and Gabriel Gamez Jr. and David Pirszel who responded via email so Annie could write this piece!
Does your UU congregation or community do exciting ministry with young adults? Email Annie at agonzalez [at] uua [dot] org (agonzalez [at] uua [dot] org) to set up an interview and get your group in the Spotlight Series!