Valentine’s Day is over but that’s no reason to stop sharing the love! Our congregations are generally pretty good at sharing love. From child dedications for our infants to memorial services at life’s end, our congregations are there for the full journey. So how do we share the love when our beloved youth grow up, cross that mythical bridge and become official adults? One simple and effective way to stay in relationship with our bridged young adults is through sending care packages their way! A couple months ago, India Harris, the youth and young adult programs coordinator at the UU Congregation at Shelter Rock, reached out to other religious educators on Facebook to find out what folks were sending their bridgers as she put together materials for the “Mind the Gap” packages Shelter Rock sends out each year. Her colleagues were happy to share, chiming in with suggestions ranging from ramen noodles to handwritten prayers, homemade cookies to homemade chalices. Some folks invite the whole congregation to participate. At UU Society: East in Manchester, CT they put out a big box and ask for contributions. They get all kinds of snacks (granola bars, candy, crackers), useful items (chapstick, pens, note pads), fun stuff (decks of cards, silly putty) and notes from congregants of all ages. In Albany, NY at the First UU Society they do a similar thing, but with a Valentine theme complete with homemade valentines from the children who make them in religious education classes. The senior high youth group packs up the care packages and includes a photo of the group for their friends who have aged out. The youth group gets involved at Emerson UU Church in Houston as well, baking cookies, making cards and sending battery votive candles, church bookmarks and copies of Becoming. This task can also become a multigenerational event! In Grafton, MA at the UU Society they tried this for the first time last year, holding an all-ages potluck with activity stations for making the care package items. They made bookmarks, travel chalices, notes and chocolate topped pretzels which are sturdy for shipping. Another congregation in the Central East Region brings the parents of the youth alumni together for mutual support and bonding as they bake cookies to send to their kids. Here are three of the key best practices I noticed in the many responses from religious educators to India’s inquiry.
- These UUs know that relationships change but do not end when youth bridge out of a congregation’s youth group and into adulthood. Many of our youth tend to move away after they turn 18, graduate high school, or otherwise leave youth group. While our congregations tend to focus on ministering to the folks who live in the area and show up regularly to church events like worship, these UUs value staying in relationship with their youth alumni. Many emerging adults struggle to find UU community either as an adult within their home congregation or after moving away from their home congregation. It is so important for our congregations to stay in relationship with these young adults so they know they still have a faith home that loves them
- These UUs know that there are opportunities to minister to multiple groups and ages within one project. It might be easy to think of the care packages for newly bridged young adults as a one-way transaction: The congregation sends the packages and the emerging adults are the recipients of the ministry. But these UUs know that creating the packages is also an opportunity for ministry, whether it’s teaching the children in RE the importance of caring for people in transition, showing the youth that they will always have a faith home that loves them, or providing space for parents to find support as they navigate their child being an adult.
- These UUs are thinking inclusively and know that one size does not fit all. Given the prevalence of highly educated folks within our UU communities, we can sometimes fall into the trap of believing that all our young people will enroll in college as they hit adulthood. However, these UUs shared tips about being inclusive of all emerging adults no matter what they are up to. Leah Hickerson Purcell, director of religious education at First UU in Albany, wrote, “I never call them our ‘college kids’” noting that the boxes are for young people who are working, volunteering, searching, in the military or in school. Other religious educators agreed, and added that not all our youth graduate from high school either, so terms like “high school grads” can also leave folks out. Our office likes to use the term “emerging adults” to describe 18-24 year olds, which is one way to speak inclusively of all our youngest adults.