General Assembly 2018 Event 328
Each generation inherits, shapes and passes on our faith. Join YA@GA and Youth Caucus in honoring our bridging youth moving into young adulthood. Together UUs of all ages will commit to supporting them as we continue to create Unitarian Universalism together.
Rev. Aisha Ansano, Elliot Crary, Elliot Harrison-Lee, Emma Merchant, Carter Smith, Luis Catalan, Sara Green, Bart Frost, Camellia Jahanshahi, Yvonne Marcoux, Alice Mandt, Rev. Annie Gonzalez Milliken, with the General Assembly Band, Bridgers and Young Adult friends
The following final draft script was completed before this event took place; actual words spoken may vary. Unedited live captions (TXT) were created during the event, and contain some errors. Captioning is not available for some copyrighted material.
Opening Hymn: “We’re All in this Together”
Rev. Aisha Ansano: Welcome all, to this year’s 2018 synergy service!
Elliot Crary: Welcome to youth, who might be looking ahead to their own bridging.
A: Welcome to young adults, who remember their own transition to adulthood.
E: Welcome, especially to our bridgers, and to those who have gathered to support and recognize them.
A: We know that even though this is an exciting time, transitioning to a different stage of life can be overwhelming.
E: But look around you. Our faith holds us. Every face you see in this room is a part of the tapestry of support and love that sustains us.
A: Let’s take a moment to thank the GA band, the participants in this worship service, and everyone who helped make it all possible.
Bart Frost: Speaking of someone who helped make this all possible…we’d also like to take a moment to offer lots of gratitude for the Rev. Annie Gonzalez-Milliken’s five years of service as our Young Adult and Campus Ministry Associate which she is departing for a new parish minister role. Annie, we have a gift for you. Thank you for the love and care you’ve brought to your ministry these past five years. There are a number of young adults in this room and across the UUA whose lives have been touched/blessed by your ministry and we all wish you many blessing on your new ministry.
E: And now we’d like to invite Emma Merchant, the Youth Caucus junior worship coordinator, to light our chalice.
Emma Merchant: I learned to light a chalice when I was six. I carried the delicate flame to the basin of our faith, lit the wick, and stepped away. Only carrying the faith a short distance. Here we are again, old friend. I am here to take you on a longer journey this time. I have grown into something new, no longer do I fear to carry you. You light my path as I travel to an unknown place. And though you give me light, I give you purpose. Just as my mother does. Just as my grandfather does. We carry the light and warm of community through generations. As we grow and change, so does our faith. Tonight we light our chalice, a beacon in the twilight.
Elliot Harrison-Lee: I have been a Unitarian Universalist for almost my entire life, but I only began calling myself religious a few years ago. In my experience, the most prominent aspect of Unitarian Universalism and the most widely shared belief of the people I have interacted with is not a belief in a particular God but a commitment to social justice and a general sense of wanting to help make the world a better place. Of course, I’m not saying that social action can’t be spiritual. But for the majority of my life my focus on Unitarian Universalism has been more geared towards social and political awareness and activism than spirituality.
That changed a few years ago when I began participating in youth events – both UUA-based nationwide ones and local conferences. What Unitarian Universalism has truly given me above all else is the knowledge that not only can spirituality be a part of activism, but that it is in fact an essential part of it.
Last year I attended Summer Seminary, a program where I learned about the jobs and lives of religious professionals, made friends that I am still in constant contact with, and explored the option of becoming a religious professional myself. While I was at Summer Seminary, Trump announced the transgender military ban – a topic that is still in the news today, almost a year later. I was heartbroken. As a transgender individual I felt like I had nobody to reach out to. I was In Boston, thousands of miles away from my home in California, and I was not even out to most of my fellow Summer Seminary participants. That very day we had learned about the career path of military chaplaincy – I had even talked to a few chaplains who were currently serving and had found their stories incredible and inspiring. I felt like I had been shown an opportunity only for it to have been taken away from me in an instant.
So I did something that I do not do very often – I prayed. Not in the traditional sense, and not to a traditional God, but I was praying. I asked for the strength to continue, to overcome, and to find a way to stand up against what had happened. And in the following days as a part of the program I experienced a companionship like nothing I had ever felt before. Most importantly, my hope in the world and the people in it was renewed.
All of our movements and everything that we work towards are nothing without the hope that we can actually make change. Hope is essential. Hope is the reason for fighting oppression in the first place.
I have been asked to share what I have gained from Unitarian Universalism and what I wish to pass on to future generations. What I have gained is a place in a community of like-minded people using faith and justice together to make the world a better place. What I hope to pass on to future generations is that same community, with a strong youth presence and even better representation and inclusion so they too can feel as if they belong. I want future UU youth to have hope, and to be able to use spirituality and faith to encourage social action and change in the world. Thank you.
Katie Tyson Fund Offering Ask
Carter Smith: I cannot overstate how important participation in national Unitarian Universalist youth programming has been in shaping my understanding of my own UU identity. And, these foundational opportunities have been made possible for me thanks to generous financial support programs such as the Katie Tyson Fund.
This fund exists to honor the legacy of Katie Tyson, a Unitarian Universalist young adult who was a passionate leader in this denomination, and who dreamed of becoming a minister. Sadly, in 2009 her life ended in a car accident when she was returning home from General Assembly, at the age of 21, the age I am now. Her parents created the Katie Tyson Fund to help other UU youth and young adults live their dreams of leadership like Katie had done. Katie’s mother Karen died in 2012, and her father Herb has recently received a serious cancer diagnosis, but he continues to give to our faith community through his incredible generosity of both financial resources and his musical talents as a singer-songwriter.
In the summer after I finished high school, this fund allowed me to be a part of Summer Seminary, the program Elliot discussed, which is a powerful space for any young person working to discern their callings to Unitarian Universalist ministry. In it we explored different types of ministry and I was opened to the world of less traditional, more entrepreneurial ministry. Thanks to this experience, I have been inspired to seek out my own path of ministry, as I hope to focus on supporting the work of congregations and youth groups in their social justice efforts, and to bring Unitarian Universalism more fully into the emerging movement of faith communities working to create a just and equitable world through the healing of our broken food system. After Summer Seminary, I was comfortable being true to myself as I got my bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies while beginning to work professionally in the sustainability world, where I discovered my passion for food justice. The incredible community of peers and mentors that I gained then showed me that such different and intersecting personal passions can coexist beautifully; I do not have to choose one over another.
Now, I am preparing to begin my studies at Harvard Divinity School as a Ministry Fellow in late August. In this time of transition, I am again grateful to the Katie Tyson Fund for bringing me the community I found in Meaning Makers just a couple of weeks ago. (Here I plan to include a summary sentence about this experience, after it has happened.)
I hope I can be a testament to the power of supporting youth and young adult leadership in our denomination. I encourage you to give not only of your financial resources tonight, but to reach out to the growing young leaders in your home congregations. I would not be where I am today without the sustained support of people like you.
You can give cash, write a check payable to the UUA with Synergy in the memo, fill out your credit card details on the envelope, or follow the instructions that will appear on the screen for mobile giving.
Thank you for your generosity.
Offertory Song Mash up
“Rivers and Roads,” and
“How Could Anyone” (pending permissions)
Intro to Ritual
Sara Green: Have you ever had the experience of being asked a question so profound that it stops you in your tracks every time you recall it? Well, one of our young ministers of color, Tyler Coles, presented me with this question last fall “what are you building and how are you building it?” My heart stopped and I felt the immediate urge to interrogate my spirit. As the year has gone on after I first heard the question, I’ve become more playful with it. To think of building as an act of creation. As an act of play.
It is so easy to get bogged down in the heaviness of destroying, reimagining and rebuilding new worlds. The truth is that this work will never end and when adults plan 2 hour meetings with no snacks, bathroom breaks or songs- that gets heavy! It gets unnecessarily burdensome and laborious. Then we lose so much of the wonder and magic of these ongoing moments of transition.
So while my charge to you is to unapologetically interrogate the worlds we are building and the manner in which they are built, my deeper invitation is to make your work playful. To make the transition into UU young adulthood serious but playful. To make your faith- as it grows and shape shifts- playful.
Our UU tradition of a bridging ritual invites us to surround our UU youth with love in this middle moment as they metaphorically and playfully move on to the bridge of becoming UU young adults.
Unitarian Universalists honor this transition at our denominational gathering because being here, now, with you all, connects us to the bridgers who have come before, to those who bridge in congregations and summer camps, and to the milestones of transition and transformation we share with our friends and families.
Each bridging youth, come forward to the pulpit and say share your name and your congregation so that we can celebrate you, your journey, your enoughness.
Then cross the stage to greet and receive a gift from our UUA President, the Rev. Susan Fredrick Gray and the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries, Bart Frost before exiting down the ramp to go and join your young adult peers in the seating at the front.
May we journey together with playful, intentional, insightful, strategic and light hearts to transition, construct and live into a more just and faithful beloved community.
Bridgers say their name and home congregation one by one.
Rev. Aisha: Bridgers: today, we recognize your transition into young adulthood. The physical move you made from the gathering of youth to the gathering of young adults is symbolic of this change in your life. As you enter young adulthood, things will continue to shift, to change, to grow—but it is important to remember that you do not leave behind all you have learned and experienced. All that has made you the person that you are, all that has led you to this moment, here, this afternoon—it all comes with you into this new stage of your life. All of who you are and all of who you have been and all of who you will be is bound up in you, and you are bound up in the tapestries that weave together your various communities, Unitarian Universalism, and the wider world.
Today, bridgers, we celebrate you, exactly as you are: with all your hopes and fears and intentions and dreams and mistakes and missteps—fully human, no more, no less. We cherish your triumphs and joys, honor your disappointments and sorrows, and recognize that much of life lies somewhere in between.
We bless you today, bridgers, with the knowledge that you are not alone. So many people, people who you know and people you might never meet, hold you in love and support. You are connected by invisible threads, invisible bonds, to everyone else. The strength of our communities lies within these bonds—and within you. Divinity and holiness lie within these bonds—and within you.
Bridgers, as you go forward into young adulthood and the rest of your lives, we bless you with courage, with humility, and with compassion. We wish for you determination, and grace, and a willingness and curiosity to learn and be wrong and try again. Go forth confidently, with the strength of your communities flanking you. Go forth grounded in the love and support that you find here. Go forth knowing that you are worthy, and you are enough.
Yvonne Marcoux: In my 22 years as a UU, I have inherited most of what makes me who I am today. Since I was nine years old, the RE week community at Ferry Beach in Saco Maine has been my spiritual home and the other youth there were the older brothers and sisters that I had always wanted. Growing up UU taught me to be open-minded, conscientious, and to value community.
When I was a junior in high school, I found myself in a district where youth conferences were slowly dying. Due to a very enthusiastic group of youth and a finite amount of adult resources, we had caught ourselves up in a bind where the adults and youth were in disagreement about the number and lengths of the local youth conferences. As a youth leader and a DRE’s kid, I found myself put in a position where I wanted my voice heard and actually had paths through-which I could accomplish that. I wanted there to be weekend-long cons in my senior year more than anything else, and after many meetings and emails and late nights of planning we ended up having some. It was that con, that night in late January, that I began to believe in myself. I knew that if I wanted something enough and really put in the effort, that I could make it happen. I remember thinking to myself as I was looking at colleges, weighing the pros and the cons, that I knew that it was going to be okay if I ended up somewhere without a pre-existent UU group, because I knew that I could start one.
Fast forward a couple years to when I first filed the papers with the school to restart the UU group on campus. It did not exactly go as planned: there are not actually that many UU’s who attend RPI in the first place and the subset of people who want to be part of a campus group is even smaller. I also had no idea how to lead a group of that sort. In my high school youth group we had all been friends since we had been in the Kindergarten age Sunday school class, and would just hang around and talk for hours. I did not care though, because if I could pull a con district back together, I could lead a UU campus group. I started looking for resources, writing curricula, and putting together something so that even on days when I had just run out of lab and had no capacity to think about planning anything, I could have something to fall back on. Our group never did get that big, but I learned a lot about leadership, outreach, and how to ask for help when you need it.
What I plan on passing on to the future generations of UU’s is that sense of community. When I was nine years old I got welcomed into the most important UU community of my life: Ferry Beach RE week. When I was 14 I got welcomed into the second-most important UU community of my life: that of the BCD cons. Now when I go back to Ferry Beach every year, I remember how the young adults and high schoolers would watch over us and take care of us. Now, as a returning young adult, I sit with the elementary schoolers at meals, help them make sandcastles, and try to ensure that they know that our community loves them.
The same goes for youth conferences. Although I’m currently stuck in that awkward limbo between bridging and turning 25, either I or my friends make sure that there are young adults who come back for their bridging service so that they have someone to join on the other side of the bridge. After the bridging, I pulled the group aside and welcomed them to their new group of peers. Making sure that my fellow young adults know that they are welcome is paramount to me because my UU community has helped me to be a better, happier, more generous person, and I want to make sure that others can have the wonderful experience I have had.
Hymn: “Blue Boat Home”
Alice Mandt: As Unitarian Universalists we have inherited the freedom to determine and accept, on our own terms, how we live out our faith. We are urged to seek knowledge to refine our understanding of the world we live in. The 4th Principle guides us on “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning”. For many, Unitarian Universalism provides a community in which we are all free to choose. We strive to create a beloved community in which personal choice, the freedom to be who we are, is cherished by many. Our ability to individually and collectively choose the energy that we put into the world is something that I believe, is distinctive about our faith.
That being said, I encourage you to take a second and deeply consider really how much of your presence in Unitarian Universalism, your congregation, you being here at GA is due choice. Are you here solely because of your power to make a selection of a faith that best encompasses your morals? Or is there more at play?
I speculate that for those of you who were born or adopted into Unitarian Universalism as well as those of you who found Unitarian Universalism later on, that there is something more than just personal choice (or choice of your caregivers) that brought you into this community. I encourage you to explore what aspects of your path to Unitarian Universalism have been involuntary. What contributions have past generations made to this faith that have made your dedication to Unitarian Universalism nearly compulsory.
Perhaps my own story will clarify. In 1988 I was adopted into a white Unitarian Universalist family as a newborn. I was dedicated in a UU fellowship in Elkhart, Indiana by the Minister Gordon Gibson. My mother and cousin are former DREs and my father spent time as a board member at a couple different congregations. My grandmother helped found a UU church in South Bend, Indiana in 1952. The only faith I have known has been Unitarian Universalism.
It has not only been my personal history that has strengthened my identity as a Unitarian Universalist but also the choices and contributions of my parent’s and my grandparent’s generations that has cemented my choice of this faith.
It is the contributions of generations past that have made way for myself, a black women and proud Unitarian Universalist to hold both of those identities not as conflicting or opposed attributes but as simultaneously and harmoniously linked aspects of my existence. The space that has been made for me by Unitarian Universalists of Color so that I, an anxious, uncertain and hesitant black girl was able to find a community in which I was able to unpack the degradation that oppression had done to me and supported my exploration of Black Joy. This is what I pass on.
It is the offerings of generations past that has emboldened my passion for Social Justice. It was Unitarian Universalists of Color who challenged me and other youth of color to examine and ultimately confront the internalized racial oppression we were struggling with. Additionally white UUs predominantly youth and young adults who showed me that to truly be in beloved community that they had their own work to do as well. I have inherited a sense of obligation to confront and question injustice within our denomination and the world at large. This is what I pass on.
It is the contributions of generations past that gave me, a shy twelve year old, the confidence and assurance to hold my own opinions and thoughts in as high regard as those of adults. Youth Advisors and Ministers who truly knew the meaning of “youth empowerment” helped me gain a tenacity and self-reliance that can only be achieved from authentic acknowledgement. The courage of the youth community to speak their truth to power is a mighty force. This is what I pass on.
I did not “choose” Unitarian Universalism until later. And what I came to understand is that Unitarian Universalism had chosen me.
Ritual of Commitment
Rev. Annie Gonzalez Milliken: Unitarian Universalism is our shared faith. It is our gift, our responsibility, our legacy. As we heard in these stories, our faith has helped us to pray when we needed it most, taught us what we are capable of, and this faith has chosen us!
During the past fives years, in my UUA job, I have tried to live into the responsibility of making this faith a better home for younger generations. But sometimes I made mistakes. Like getting stuck in my ego and sending defensive emails. Like getting caught up in the busy and completely forgetting to set up multiple meetings for my 18-24 year old Meaning Makers participants.
Sometimes I just prioritized other things. Sometimes working on white supremacy within the UUA came first. Sometimes my organizing work supporting undocumented immigrants came first. Sometimes my kid came first.
So i can’t say this work is easy. And i can’t even say it should always be on everyone’s priority list, since I’ve been paid to do it full time and still sometimes had to shift my focus.
But I can say this with certainty: this ministry belongs to all of us and without this ministry our faith is already dead. All of us are called to add a few stitches to the tapestry of our faith, strengthening our ministry to our youngest adults.
So I invite you to do something simple and difficult this afternoon. I invite you to figure out what you’re gonna do to make this faith a better home for these bridgers and their peers all throughout our movement. Think of a real thing. A thing like “text that young adult I mentored during Coming of Age who I haven’t seen in awhile.” A thing like “go home and email my religious educator and see if it’s alright for me to organize a care package making party for our youth alumni.” A thing like “get together with some other UU students and plan a small group worship service for our campus.” A thing like “go home and educate myself on gender identity terms that are unfamiliar to me but are common in younger generations” Pick a thing.
Beat, beat, beat.
Ok, do you have a thing? If not, you’ll have another moment to think. But i want each of you to find a partner for this exercise. If nobody is sitting near you and it’s easy for you to move, go find a partner. If nobody is sitting near you and it’s difficult for you to move, please wave your hand to signal a partner over. And then once you find that partner you’re going to share the one thing you’re going to do and you’re going to tell them how you’re going to remember to do that thing once you get back from GA. You’ll each have a minute to share…
Thank you. And now we’re going to bless these commitments with the buttons you received earlier. Hold that button in your hand. Beloved, a button by itself is not of much use. But a button sewn onto a garment can help to close gaps, makes the whole thing function. These buttons are the actions you will take to support ministry to and with our youngest adults. When you return home and add your action in your faith community you will help to close gaps and make our communities function better. Keep this button as a reminder of this work. And a reminder that we need to be connected by the threads of faith and community for our work to matter.
May we do this sacred necessary joyful work together.