Early adolescence is a tender time. Emotions run close to the surface or are stuffed below; friends can be closer than ever or painfully absent. Our capacity for reasoning grows by leaps and bounds while our identities take shape: gender identity, racial identity, religious identity. Through community-building, mentoring, and opportunities to learn about the self and its links, in love and justice, with the world, Unitarian Universalism offers younger youth acceptance and affirmation, compassion and courage, and inspiration and tools to make a difference.
UU programs for middle school youth aim to grow people who know and value themselves--their gifts, privileges, and challenges--and are open to learn, grow, and embrace responsibility as members in local and world communities. Our programs strengthen social confidence, personal and religious identity, and capacities for resilience and connection that support youth into their high school years and beyond.
Unitarian Universalism has helped me become the person I am, a person with very few bias beliefs and a person who will go out of his way to help someone, even if I do not know them.
—Ian Wilson, 14, from the Coming of Age credo he delivered to the Community Unitarian Church of White Plains, NY
Every congregation chooses its own programs, so you will find many variations. But, many UU congregations offer two hallmark programs for young people in middle school and early high school: Coming of Age and Our Whole Lives.
Coming of Age
Usually offered over the course of one year, Coming of Age programs for youth ages 11-14 explore not only what it means to be Unitarian Universalist (UU), but what it means to be you. Youth gather for fun workshops, retreats, worship, and justice projects. With mentors and guides, participants explore their identities, beliefs, and the connections they have--and can make--in love and justice to their faith communities, local communities, and beyond. They begin to build a faith-grounded “toolkit” for the joys, sorrows, wonders, and challenges of being human.
Most Coming of Age programs culminate with a rite of passage where each youth shares a Credo, a statement of their beliefs and values. Many Coming of Age groups make a capstone Unitarian Universalist heritage journey, traditionally to Boston, Massachusetts for those that can manage it or, most recently, a virtual UU heritage trip such as the virtual UU heritage trip to Tulsa, Oklahoma being beta-tested in 2021.
Congregations design their own Coming of Age programs, often using the Coming of Age Handbook as a resource.
Our Whole Lives
Our Whole Lives (OWL), a groundbreaking progressive sexuality education curriculum provided by the Unitarian Universalist Association in partnership with the United Church of Christ, teaches a holistic approach to sexuality that emphasizes science-based knowledge, safety, and respect. Our Whole Lives programs for Grades 4-6 and for Grades 7-9 are two important components of this lifespan series. The supplemental OWL curriculum, Sexuality and Our Faith, applies Unitarian Universalism’s values-based Principles to this very personal aspect of life. Participants recognize how our actions affect others and learn to live responsibly.
Unitarian Universalist congregations offer many vibrant and meaningful programs for younger youth:
- Riddle and Mystery invites 6th graders to explore life's Big Questions: God, death, fairness, truth, and how to know right and wrong.
- Heeding the Call: Qualities of a Justice Maker uses inspiring stories, role-play, and hands-on justice projects to explore empathy, courage, joy, courage, and other qualities of those who make a positive difference in the world (including 7th through 9th grade participants!)
- Building Bridges: A World Religions Program for 8th and 9th graders uses field trip experiences to deepen understanding of the world, broaden knowledge of human religious expression and embolden their spiritual search.
Engage with a congregation near you to see how it’s done!