Blue Boat: The shared voice of youth and young adult ministries of the Unitarian Universalist Association

Spotlight: Young Adults of WellSprings UU

By Elizabeth Nguyen

Jessica, a young adult, is coming up on the one year anniversary of when she found WellSprings Congregation, “A community charged full with the charge of the soul,” outside of Philadelphia, PA.

She reflects, “I walked into WellSprings wanting more than separate groups of friends where I could play out separate parts of my personality, I was looking for integration. I wanted a place and people with whom I could be my whole self. WellSprings met me where I was - at first curious, but guarded about what being a part of congregation means. I am finally in a place where I can let my big hair out and explore my many questions about why and how.”

Lee Paczulla, the assistant minister (and also a young adult!) at WellSprings shares, “We don't have a structured young adult group at WellSprings, but we certainly minister to young adults. We make so many choices between 18 and 35 that determine so much of the direction of our lives. Yet so often these choices are made while listening to everybody else's voice in our heads -- our parents' expectations, the working world's definition of "success," society's template for a "marriageable" partner or a "good" parent or a "normal" family, etc. One of the things I find in my ministry with WellSprings' members at mid-life and beyond is that they're beginning to question these scripts and expectations we've all been given. Young adults have the chance to do that without having to peel back nearly as many decades of those outside influences -- of fear, or shame, or societal expectation, that deform so many of us from the wholly beloved and worthy people we already are."

I spoke with two other young adult members of WellSprings, a spiritual community planted in 2005 for folks who “know that something is close to us when we remember that life is a gift and not an obligation...When we're so fed up with what is, that we know we have to be a part of what could be.”

Vanessa has been Unitarian Universalist for five years. She found the Springboards, small groups for spiritual growth focused on perennial religious questions, to be really important part of connecting to others at WellSprings. She said, “I literally rearranged my schedule and worked late on Fridays to do the Springboard because that’s how you really get to know people.” The Springboard was centered on mindfulness, an intentional focus of the WellSprings community. That practice carried her and her husband on their journey toward becoming parents - a journey through infertility to this moment as they expect their first child in about 7 weeks. Vanessa shared, “Learning how to sit and the precepts of mindfulness is really helpful when you’re sitting there hopped on hormones facing lots of disappointment and early morning doctor’s appointments.”

Jane, who was raised Catholic, shared about a time that she felt like her soul was truly fed as a young adult saying, “I’m therapist and I do work in body image with women. Lee did a message series about being a larger woman and body acceptance, her story and her message on that was so open and so vulnerable. You could feel the women in the congregation going YES!” She reflected, “When I got my divorce, I was smack in the middle of my doctoral program transitioning from being married to being a single mother. Feeling the support of the community itself was just beautiful. Even now I know I can talk to them about it any second; they (ministers Lee Paczulla and Ken Beldon) are always accessible; they make an effort to check in.”

Small groups, an emphasis on mindfulness, and shared vulnerability power WellSprings’ young adult ministry. Young adults weather many big questions and transitions - from the challenges of starting a family to relationship changes. At WellSprings, young adults get to be real about what they are going through and see that realness reflected back at them from the pulpit. They are ministered to in the uniqueness of their ages and stages and in the universality of their yearnings for a whole and integrated life. As Jane said, “Authenticity breeds authenticity.” At WellSprings, young adults are full members of spiritual community charged full - where scripts and expectations get thrown out and authenticity, integrity and realness flourish.

Lee Paczulla Headshot 2

Lee Paczulla, assistant minister at WellSprings Congregation.

Rev. Ken Beldon, lead minister at WellSprings Congregation.