Young Adult Ministries Moving Forward
I often get questions from congregations who know there are UU young adults near them that they never see wondering what they're doing wrong...and just as often I get questions from young adults wondering where they should go to get their UU fix!
While Ohio Meadville has had four or more cons for young adults (18-35) for years, run by the Ohio Meadville Young Adult Network, this was the first year we had an event for younger young adults (18-25). This was supported by district staff, but run by the younger young adults, who called it ReUUnion Con. They scheduled it for the same weekend as the youth bridging con and the young adults then attended dinner and bridging at the youth con to welcome their friends into young adulthood, which was exactly what both the bridging youth and younger young adults needed--to connect. Twelve young adults came for a relaxed weekend schedule and a chance to talk about what younger young adults need and want. From these connections they're planning more informal events and we plan on making ReUUnion Con an annual event!
St. Lawrence has had an annual young adult con for younger young adults (18-30ish, concentrated among those under 25) hosted by the Binghamton church for several years. In the upcoming year, other churches are looking to get into the fun with Amherst and Rochester considering hosting events. With more young adult events, we are looking for young adult leaders and allies to be part of helping coordinate the schedule and publish some "best practices" to support congregations. (Contact me to get involved! eziemer [at] uua [dot] org)
Serving younger young adults well is a tricky thing. Older young adults more often have greater stability in their lives and leaders emerge able to attend committee meetings and plan events. ReUUnion con 2015 doesn't have any volunteer leaders yet--it's too hard for folks to plan that far ahead. But I'm not worried. I'll hold the space and look for leaders next year. But, they are adults. Capable of making their own decisions. And they don't need supervision!
Similarly, Binghamton has had great success with a few adult allies supporting the young adults. Doing leg work, getting stuff done when needed, including the young adults in the important decisions, but letting it be okay if they don't have the time to do all the work themselves. It's not that younger young adults are incapable, just that they're busy, life changes really rapidly, and so it's hard to make long term leadership commitments.
Supporting younger young adults within congregations can be tricky, too, for the same reasons. Frequently the program that worked last year doesn't work this year. But it's not really rocket science--just remember relationships matter more than programs. The young adults at ReUUnion Con had some pretty simple messages to share: they want to be seen as "coming home" when they come to church, even if it's new to them (UUism is home); they'd like to be seen as more than just "muscle" who can move stuff, but competent leaders in their own right; and it means a great deal to them when they know churches care, whether that's the church local to their college who "adopts" them or their home church who sends care packages.
If you're looking for ways to better support the younger young adults at your church or campus, find a way to get them together and talk to them about their lives and listen for how your church can help. Maybe a monthly home cooked meal and opportunity for circle worship. Maybe an annual service the young adults lead. Maybe just a Facebook group where the church posts events the young adults might be interested in and they self-organize informal events. The key is to remember that even when we're not seeing them on Sunday morning, they are still part of us and they still want us to care about them.
Ohio Meadville and St. Lawrence Program Coordinator