Emerging Ministries Grow from UU Roots

By Annie Gonzalez Milliken

Nell Krahnke grew up Unitarian Universalist (UU) and when she arrived at the College of Wooster and noticed that there wasn’t a UU group on campus she looked around and said “Alright, here’s the deal. This campus needs a UU group, so who is going to help me?” Luckily Nell found the help she needed in the form of a staff person from the local church and other enthusiastic students who were raised UU. They didn’t know it, but together they started a Unitarian Universalist emerging ministry: a new group or project that is grounded in our faith and brings people together in covenanted ways.

Last week I wrote a blogpost about how covenants aren’t “cool” and fitness isn’t going to fix the world. In it I talked about the “hipster Jesus” article, this trendy report on Millennials gathering, and why the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) supports new forms of emerging ministries. It gives some important theological grounding for the next several posts we’ll be publishing about emerging ministries so go read it if you haven't!

I talked a lot about millennials in that post, not because millennials are the only ones who benefit from emerging ministries, but because I work in the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries at the Unitarian Universalist Association and it’s my job to talk about millennials. When I think about the young adults who need our covenantal, reflective, love and justice focused faith I think of three general groups: those who were raised UU and want to stay with us, folks who want religion but not the conservative politics or creeds that sometimes come with it, and people who don’t want religion at all but want meaningful spiritual community.

Stay tuned for the second and third demographics; today we’re talking about the “Raised UU” young adults.

Of course every “Raised UU” has a different story. In the last few weeks I talked to one newly bridged UU young adult who felt totally isolated in his new location and told me he longed for an app (a smartphone application) that would just tell him if there were other UUs nearby. I also heard the story of a UU young adult who went to church on her first Sunday on campus when she moved for college, got recruited as a paid RE teacher and rarely missed a Sunday during her whole college career. Some find easy pathways into further UU life and others don’t for a wide variety of reasons.

Obstacles for raised UU young adults can include being too far from the nearest UU community and lacking access to transportation, complicated and full work/school schedules and having a hard time finding their place in mainstream UU life after experiencing the close connections and participatory worship styles of youth culture.

Supporting emerging ministries will help reduce these obstacles for our UU young adults who were raised in this faith. New ministries are certainly not the only way to remove these obstacles! In fact we believe that everyone has a role to play in changing the landscape of Unitarian Universalism to make the transition from youth to young adult more smooth and fulfilling. Still, emerging ministries help.

They help because they address all of these potential barriers. The more ministries we have, the less likely it will be that someone ends up in a geographic location where the nearest UU gathering is too far away to access without a car. Emerging ministries are less likely to meet primarily or exclusively on Sunday morning, which allows for more timing options to help with the issue of busy schedules. Lastly, most emerging ministries are small and full of opportunities for leadership, fostering the close connection and participatory feel that many UU youth experience while growing up UU.

Perhaps it’s not surprising then that UU young adults who grew up in the faith are likely to start new ministries. Some of our “Raised UU” young adults start campus ministries, such as the group highlighted at the beginning of this post from the college of Wooster. Others have started the UU Community Cooperatives, Faith Architects, Chicago Chalice Connection, Sacred Fire UU and the Sanctuaries DC.

Supporting emerging ministries and supporting young adult ministries are two different parts of my job, but it’s wonderful for me to see how they overlap. While emerging ministries are good for everyone of every generation, and while so many long established ministries are serving young adults well, I know that better support for emerging ministries means more opportunities for the young people who grow up in our faith to stay covenantally connected, deepening their spirituality and becoming even better equipped to heal our world.

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Wooster UUs rally for marriage equality on campus.
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New young adults who grew up UU celebrate at General Assembly.
©Nancy Pierce/UUA. All rights reserved.
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The UUA recognizes many paths to Unitarian Universalist living by supporting emerging ministries.
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People gather for a hymn sing at Lucy Stone Cooperative, started by Raised UU young adults.