Full Circle Rounds Up Youth Ministry Essentials

By Bart Frost

This month’s episode is on Full Circle by Kate Erslev (AKA the famous Katie Covey). This book wasn’t requested, but I decided to review it because I always forget it exists. I originally read it shortly after it was published and decided to re-read it to see how it fit in with other narratives about youth ministry.

The subtitle of Full Circle is “Fifteen Ways to Grow Lifelong UUs” and if you know me, you know I love UU Identity formation. On the religious education philosophy scale, I fall off the edges on the side of creating Unitarian Universalist identity in our young people. Full Circle should be on the required reading list for all religious educators, all religious education committees, all ministers...really just all Unitarian Universalists.
Erslev’s fifteen ways to grow lifelong UUs are the bare minimum requirements for religious education nowadays and some of her suggestions have been codified or developed in other ways. Providing handouts to parents became a standard in Tapestry of Faith curricula and now has become Full Week Faith. Taking opportunities for leaders to mentor children and youth is embedded in many congregations in a variety of ways. I was honestly surprised to re-read Full Circle and notice suggestions that I read recently in newer youth ministry books.

The Good

Like I said, it should be required reading. This is entry-level religious education stuff. The anecdotes sprinkled throughout remind us that we aren’t talking about abstract philosophy. Unitarian Universalist religious education ministers to real people and saves lives.

Even the Table of Contents is a good reminder of things that make a difference in the lives of families. If you need to evaluate your programs, I’d start there. Are you doing these 15 things? How? What’s the impact look like?

Also, huge fan of singing together. Not good at it, but I think it’s very important.

The Not-So-Good

It’s old, y’all. It’s from 2004. There’s no mention of social media and some of the content is out-of-date or less relevant than it would have been in 2004.

Also, many of the anecdotes come from older UUs. I wonder about how we can share more stories of our young adults’ experiences growing up Unitarian Universalist. There’s a Boomer narrative of Unitarian Universalism that I’d argue doesn’t serve our young folks and we need to start writing the new narrative.
I disagree with some of the concepts. Yes, immersive experiences are important for faith development, but congregations need to help youth translate those experiences into congregational. Yes, it’s important to have strong religious education programs for K-6. It’s also important to have faith formation and education opportunities for adults! Lastly, I’m not sure about the whole celebrating founders philosophy. This is a little bit blasphemous, but I’m not even sure we can authentically claim Unitarianism and Universalism. When the two faiths merged, we kept the names, the money, and some of the governance structures, but we didn’t exactly keep the theology. I also wonder why celebrate the past instead of the present?


  1. "But within each congregation there is the possibility for creating a “local” curriculum. What is most important in this context aren’t the specific rituals themselves, but the idea that yearly congregational traditions need to be explicit and not added at the last moment." (p.23)
  2. "The use of a variety of sensory experiences will appeal to the variety of learning styles in the group. Conclude with a way for the children to integrate the story into their lives." (p.50)
  3. "One hole in which young adult programming languishes is created by the perception that religious education is for children and youth, served by a director, with the parish minister serving adults on the other side...Our UU young adults and other young people who are searching for a spiritual home like ours need us." (pp. 74-75)

Full Circle gets 3 out of 5.

It’s a must-read for all Unitarian Universalists who care about the future of our faith, but it could use some updating. Use it as a tool to see where your congregation has opportunities to grow in supporting young UUs and then look towards other resources for deeper knowledge.

Photo of the book Full Circle

Full Circle by Kate Tweedie Erslev

Bart reviews the books you need to read to make great youth and young adult ministry.

This is a new series where Bart reviews books relevant youth and young adult ministry ranging across the spectrum of denomination to help you decide which ones are worth your time and which ones you can pass on. Each installment will feature a brief review, examine the relevance to our Unitarian Universalist context, highlight some positive and negatives, and end with a few choice takeaways.