Spotlight: UU young adults of Brooklyn, NY
“A gateway to being involved in the larger congregation,” “a bridge to multigenerational community” – These are just two of the phrases used to describe the ministry of welcome provided by the Twenties and Thirties group at First Unitarian Congregational Society Brooklyn (or First UU Brooklyn). Calling themselves the “TnT group” these young adults create a low-pressure environment free of judgment for those looking to add spirituality to their life in the often secular world of New York City.
Karen Plemons, who grew up Unitarian Universalist in Texas, explains that back in the south it was “everyone goes to church,” but in Brooklyn if you say you go to church you get blank weird looks. She wanted to meet people in similar life stages who were interested in faith and spirituality, and she’s found that among the TnTs. Koren Manning adds that the culture in NYC can pressure people to focus on their career and their social status, so it’s important to find a counter-cultural space where folks care about one another and about social justice work. Again, the TnTs are there for those who are seeking such a community.
You might find this group taking over a local diner on Sunday after the morning worship service for a casual brunch, or sponsoring a Soulful Sundown worship service on Thursday or Friday evening. Maybe you’ll spot them out at a bar for their Pastoral Pints program or notice that they’re preparing the lunch component for a congregation-wide fundraiser. If you pay close attention you’ll see that there are members of the TnTs serving on almost every committee of the congregation and that quite a few of them spend their Sunday mornings with the children, teaching Religious Education classes.
The integration of young adults into the congregation in Brooklyn is the reason the TnTs I talked with emphasized their gateway and bridge type ministry. Koren noted that it can be hard to form meaningful connections with folks of different ages in New York City. She’s enjoyed the community provided by the TnTs and has also appreciates how the group helped her get involved in the multigenerational community that is First UU Brooklyn. However, she wonders if the larger congregation is aware of the role the TnTs play in helping younger members find a home at the church.
Katie Trossello explains that the TnT’s ministry isn’t always visible to the congregation as a whole. Members don’t necessarily see how the TnTs provide initial welcome for young adults who are hesitant, intimidated, or maybe new to Unitarian Universalism by creating a space among peers where people can freely ask questions. Another issue is that the TnTs sometimes meet offsite, in a restaurant for brunch or bar for Pastoral Pints. While the crowded atmosphere of New York City can make this a challenging choice, it has its appeal as well. Katie has met people at their Pastoral Pints outings who are intrigued by Unitarian Universalism and even listen to some of the sermons online, but whether for scheduling or personal reasons, they prefer the evening gatherings in secular space to physically attending the Sunday morning worship.
Between their involvement in traditional congregational structures and their laid back gatherings out on the town, the TnTs are growing in numbers, which can bring challenges for their volunteer leaders. This year they started a monthly MailChimp newsletter to let young adults know about the TnT activities as well as events in the wider congregation. Their email list has grown to 100 people in one year and managing all the new contact information they collect can be overwhelming. Plus with such a large group there’s always a diversity of opinions about what shape the group should take: more spiritual discussions, more social justice work, more volunteering – it’s hard to keep up! The current leaders are doing their best to cultivate future leaders so that nobody burns out and their ministry of welcome, outreach and integration into the church community can continue in Brooklyn for the benefit of young adults and the entire congregation.
Special thanks to Karen Plemons, Koren Manning and Katie Trossello, who accepted to be interviewed by Annie Gonzalez on fuzebox in order to write this piece!
Does your UU congregation or community do exciting ministry with young adults? Email Annie at agonzalez [at] uua [dot] org to set up an interview and get your group in the Spotlight Series!