Reckoning with Our Past in Youth Ministry Reporting on the Youth Ministry Visioning Week – Day 2

This post is part of a series of report-outs from the 2021 Youth Ministry Visioning Week. For an overview of the week and report out on day one, you can review Stevie Carmody's article on Day 1: What Calls Us On: The Mandate for the Week

Reckoning with Our Past

We need a fuller picture. We need context to understand where we are now and what we hope to be in the future. We need validation of a path forward. Healing and repair work take time to do well...

I carry and have heard others express these kinds of thoughts when talking about reckoning with the past of UU youth ministry - mostly from a national perspective. (If you’re not familiar with the story of how national UU youth ministry has undergone changes over the last 20+ years, you could begin with this 2009 UU World article: Reports Outline New Model of UU Youth Ministry then peruse the Related Resources and Archives at the bottom of the page. There are many lessons to be learned from our past.)

And when I served in a local UU congregation, I often felt and still hear many people express thoughts like…

It’s beyond time. We know what hasn’t worked. We need support now - in the present - to make youth ministry the best it can be, in our congregations and communities.

These truths and perspectives are inherently in tension as we Unitarian Universalists try to fully metabolize the truths of the past and continue putting energy toward providing inclusive, meaningful youth ministry at the same time. For disabled youth, Black and Indigenous youth and youth of color, trans and queer youth... it’s even more crucial for your experiences to be known, validated, and to nurture safer spaces where your full selves can continue to thrive.

In the space around this tension, there’s a shared truth that we’re all craving the relationships and tools to generously support and trust each other into the future.

Something I’ve learned about collective trauma is that it continues to show up, again and again in our bodies and our systems. It’s transmitted culturally as we process through our own pain, observe how the people closest to us are impacted, and attempt to make amends for inherited reactions and harms. It carries even more weight or intensity when it intersects with our identities and the effects of marginalization.

As the UUA embarked on the youth ministry visioning week, we engaged youth, young adults, program staff, and UUA administration and leadership. We heard stories of harm - past and present, what’s needed for repair, and hope for what accountable care could look like in the future. This list we generated of “must haves” for our collective reckoning process encapsulates a lot of the values we hold.

Must haves for reckoning:

  • Choosing to engage and tread the path many times (let’s keep telling the story!).
  • Building power for the youth and young adult movements; holding the institution accountable. Resourcing youth and young adults as they claim their own history.
  • An anti-oppressive lens; larger patterns of harm for people with marginalized identities is centered in the work we do.
  • Should involve more lay people; it can’t only be the stewards of the association to youth; generational.
  • Spaciousness; time is an element of healing
  • Theological grounding; deeper why
  • Nuanced approach; youth communities are not all in the same relationship to the UUA, actual youth community and resources, trauma, stories, etc
  • People with authority in the system to bear witness to the reckoning process
  • Accountability matrix, historically and moving forward
  • Documented/noted that this happened - what we’re going to say is likely similar to 2009 but the process by which we got there is different
  • Developing of trust between the institution and the people who are speaking up for youth
  • Many entry points, must be accessible
  • Outside facilitators
  • Be cautious of: reactivity
  • Must not have: punitive solutions

It’s timely that we’re examining our past again, as we start to process the effects of the global pandemic - another collective trauma. Just as we’ve gained muscle memory on how we have to care for each other differently in community now, I’m hopeful we can articulate and manifest what we want to bake into the healing process around youth ministry. May we be wise in choosing the medicines and practices we know will assist long term thriving.

As we turned to themes of Programs and Care for the rest of the week, we carried these "must haves" in our hearts. You can access other blog posts about the week: