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.
Resilient... Renewed... Revelatory.
“When the Campus Ministry/Young Adult position was de-funded some folks thought that was the end of the program,” related Rev. Robin Gray, the minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tallahassee (UUCT)
. But fortunately the story didn’t turn out that way. Lee Edwin Chipps-Walton, a young adult and lay leader started coordinating their young adult program as a volunteer. Robin claimed Lee “offered us several years of growth for a program with consistency, involvement and connections - both within the YA community and the larger community of the church.” She calls him a compassionate person who shares his excitement with others.
Coordinating a young adult group as a volunteer is no easy task. Burn-out rates are high for that position because organizing the busy and transient population of young adults can be time consuming. But Lee takes care to make sure he doesn’t overextend himself. He uses a service called Sign Up Genius
to manage guest speakers and young adult leaders. Sign Up Genius generates automatic reminders, leaving Lee the fairly simple task of publicizing their weekly meetings via Facebook.
The young adults in Tallahassee meet on Saturday evenings for a rotating schedule of guest speakers, potlucks, young adult led discussions and game nights. They also go out to eat together after church at a local restaurant. They go on camping trips and do service work as a group a couple times a semester. Their group includes students from area colleges and universities as well as non-student young adults.
Jay Quigley, one young adult participant, reported that this group provides unique experiences for him. He talked about being exposed to meditation
through their Saturday evening events. They have sung chants, stared at raisins and tried progressive cultivation of compassion and mindfulness. “I would not have gotten this or been stimulated to try these things anywhere else,” he shared. Learning to try new forms of spirituality is not the only reason to be part of this group, however. There is also a sense of mutual support. As Lee put it “My church family is the closest thing I have to actual family in town. When I’m down, I lean on them. When I need help, they are the people that lift me up.”
As with any healthy congregationally based young adult group, Robin affirmed that the young adults don’t just cluster, they mingle. They attend services, participate in offering music during worship, and are regularly invited to be part of committees at the church. Leading youth has proven to be particularly appealing for young adults in this congregation and there are currently four young adult youth advisors.
Of course, this group has its struggles too. Robin pointed out the lack of meaningful budget for the young adult group, noting that the whole church has been struggling with budget cuts. Lee brought up the issue of retention, saying that “as is the case at all UU congregations I’ve been to, we have a lot of visitors but also a lot of people that only wanted to just check it out.” Jay agreed that getting “busy liberal young people” to stick around is a challenge, and sees participation as something that will continue to build over time. “Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd,” he quipped.
While they may hope for more participants and more funding, this group seems to be doing quite well as it is, engaging young people in a variety of spiritually meaningful and relationship building activities and plugging into the larger congregation. Their success shows that where there’s a will, there really can be a way, with a little help from technology and a lot of help from dedicated lay leaders.
Special thanks to Lee Edwin Chipps-Walton, Jay Quigley and Robin Gray who sent me their stories via Facebook and email so I 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!