Welcome to the Spotlight Series! Each month we feature a different Unitarian Universalist congregation or community that is doing effective, innovative or otherwise interesting ministry with young adults.– Ed.
These Young Leaders are Bridge Builders
You may have heard those familiar with young adult ministry joke, with a note of sadness and frustration in their voice, that what we call bridging (the transition from youth to young adult Unitarian Universalist community) is less like crossing a bridge and more like jumping off a cliff. Well a small group of UU students at The College of Wooster have decided to build their own bridge and have formed a new student organization that is spreading the good news of Unitarian Universalism on campus.
For Nell Krahnke, who had already re-started her congregation’s youth program during high school, the question “Why isn’t there a UU group at Wooster?” was on her mind before she started her first year. Nell told it this way: “Last year I got on campus and I was like ‘alright, here’s the deal. The school needs a UU group so who can help me?’” Fortunately Kevin Lowry, who works at Wooster in the development office and also serves the nearby UU Fellowship of Wayne County as Youth Ministry Coordinator, was there to answer her question.
Only a year later the Wooster UUs (or WUUs) have a full student leadership team and are working on becoming chartered as a registered student organization. With Kevin’s support they hold weekly brown bag dinners followed by a sacred hour of small group ministry. The student leaders, all sophomores, have a lot of hope and a high level of commitment to this ministry. Maeve Rogers, the vice president of the student organization explained how important the group is to her. “I grew up in my church, it’s my second home, a sanctuary for me. So for me, this ministry on this campus is a guaranteed place for me to be calm.” Eli Millette, the group’s president, agreed that the group has a soothing spiritual atmosphere. “It’s really cool, very relaxed, but we’re talking about things that are important.”
None of the leadership team is doing this just for themselves, however. They are intentionally building their bridge to the whole student body. Kevin notes that they have already gone from five self identified UUs on campus to fifteen, thanks to the birth of this ministry. While the leadership of the group identify as UU, they are open to students from all backgrounds. Zach Phillips-Gary, another leader, noted “we have a lot of potential members for whom the word religion has specific connotations… but showing them that you can have spiritual exploration without the negative things is definitely important.” The group also has a Baha’i member who is drawn to the commonalities between the two traditions in terms of the ways UUs and Baha’is value other religions. The group also welcomes people who are part of the campus’ queer spirit group and those who identify as spiritual but not religious.
This group also bridges the gap between the campus and the local congregation, finding support on both sides. The office of interfaith and campus ministry provides them with a meeting space and members of other ministries are supportive as well. Zach said that his friends in Ecumenical Christian and Catholic campus ministries mentioned the possibility of collaborating on service work and Nell noted that even her classmates who aren’t interested in religion supported them in starting their organization. Their local congregation is enthusiastic, too. Maeve talked about how pleased she was when their minister, Rev. Elaine Strawn, greeted her at church and remembered her name. “She was telling me ‘I know it’s hard to get here on Sunday, but even if you’re not here, we’re always here so just let us know if you need something.’ That was awesome,” Maeve concluded. She also added ,“Kevin’s the best. He’s wicked supportive of all of us in any way he can be and we’re all really grateful.”
Of course, being a brand new student led group is not easy. Getting the word out is a challenge, especially since they are still in the process of being chartered so that they can advertise and table. The student leaders are still learning how to reach out to new folks and encourage a sense of shared leadership among newer members. Not to mention negotiating their schedules so they can meet together can be tricky. Still, they have big dreams for future on-campus collaboration, justice work, and involvement with the Better Together campaign of the Interfaith Youth Core. In the meantime, they have already accomplished an impressive and important feat: building a bridge so that UUs, seekers and progressives of any faith can find a spiritual home right there on Wooster’s campus.Special thanks to Kevin Lowry, Maeve Rogers, Eli Millette, Nell Krahnke and Zach Phillips-Gary whom Annie interviewed via zoom to write this piece! Does your UU congregation or community do exciting ministry with young adults? Email Annie at email@example.com to set up an interview and get your group in the Spotlight Series!