What Calls Us on Reporting on the Youth Ministry Visioning Week – Day 1

This post is part of a series of report-outs from the 2021 Youth Ministry Visioning Week.

The Mandate for the Week

Back in early March, folks who work for the Unitarian Universalist Association in youth ministry (and all their bosses in the national office and the regional offices) cleared their schedules for a weeklong workshop… the Youth Ministry Visioning Week! Invited into this process by the inimitable Rev. Sara Green, Youth and Young Adults Programs Manager at the UUA, we received this charge:

“It is time, now, to be bold and prophetic in the ways a Unitarian Universalist youth movement is imperative to this spiritual moment of imagination, justice-making and faithful living. This proposal [for the workshop] seeks to create a container wherein we can collect the brilliance of our constituents and craft a structure for programs and collaborations in our Association.”

Each day had a separate theme:

  • Day 1: The theological and ethical mandate for youth ministry
  • Day 2: Reckoning with the past of youth ministry and the UUA
  • Day 3: Programs and support for youth
  • Day 4: Care and safety for youth
  • Day 5: Logistical structures that support the vision!

And each day had a similar format, with different circles of conversations happening throughout the day: the youth ministry staff met together in the mornings, the bosses gathered together with some youth ministry staff in the afternoons, and the youth ministry staff shared out the day’s work and invited input from youth, young adults, and/or religious educators each evening.

A Venn Diagram, with one circle that reads "UUA staff must take responsibility for a vision for youth ministry" and the other circle reads "Youth themselves know the vision for youth ministry."

In this way, the structure of the days fed into our dual aspirations in Rev. Sara’s charge: more collaboration and coordination across the UUA staff, and more input and accountability between the UUA and young people.

But we also live in a paradox, perhaps summarized in this “Vent Diagram” pictured here (see more about the Vent Diagram project at this URL). The UUA has to take ownership and responsibility for a vision, and also the vision must authentically come from and reflect the needs and aspirations of Unitarian Universalist youth. We navigated the both/and of these truths throughout the week—listening, remembering, grounding, and articulating.

Questioning the "Hero's Journey"

As we sought metaphors, stories, and grounding values for a guiding theological and ethical mandate for youth ministry, we also encountered stories that were no longer serving us. On Monday of the Youth Ministry Visioning Week, we asked leadership to imagine stories that represented our approach to youth ministry. Some of the stories we told followed the arc of a hero’s journey: the protagonist venturing out into the unknown, facing formative challenges, and returning home changed.

Why was our imagined version of youth faith formation about leaving and going forth? What about staying put and being nurtured in growth? Is Unitarian Universalism a thing to be discovered “out there” and beyond our walls? Or is it a thing that can be formed and developed within our communities? Asking these questions put us in touch with a deeper truth: we are calling for more support for youth. More support in developing their identity amidst our value for justice. More support in the bonds of community on a congregational level. More support in developing the authentic leadership that comes from youth empowerment that is fostered and championed.

As we turned to themes of History, Care, and Programs throughout the rest of the week, we carried this aspiration of abundance with us. You can access other blog posts about the week: