Here are some suggestions that can help ensure a successful Amazing Grace program:
- Engage youth the moment they walk through your door, and help them shed outside concerns so they may focus on your program. To do that, use the suggested ritual openings and closings, including music and the Conundrum Corner.
- Before you begin, spend some time in the company of sixth graders to refresh your memory of this age group.
- Plan tight and present loose. Know how you will fill every minute of your hour together, and how you will move from one activity to the next without leaving large gaps for youth to fill in any way they wish. Have all materials ready and right where they need to be. Be extremely familiar with the stories and discussion points, ready to present them without stumbling or apology. Having planned carefully, make adjustments as you go. Be flexible. If one activity is a flop, move on to another. If another activity wins great attention and produces great ideas, consider extending it.
- Learn from your group. The better you know the youth, the greater your chances of picking the right activities and the right ways to lead them.
- Be a leader, not a buddy. You are the adult in the room, and your chances of good relations with the kids are best if you do not try to be a friend on their level. Remember that youth appreciate firm control, but not dictatorship. They want to learn and have fun, and they cannot do that in a group that is out of control.
- Offer quiet discipline. Too many side conversations? Use a talking stick or other implement, saying that only the person holding the stick may speak at any one time. Too much energy in the room? Call for a quick stretch break. Too many opinions on what to do when? Remind the group that time is limited and then gently move it forward through your agenda. Posting a written session plan can be helpful in that regard. Too little experience working with youth? Team up with somebody more experienced. Ask for suggestions and assistance from your religious educator and others.
- Be aware that discussions within the group around issues of right and wrong could lead to disclosure by a youth of some wrong they have committed or a wrong done to them. Discuss with your religious educator how you should handle such a situation. Make sure you understand your congregation's guidelines and your locality's "mandated reporting" laws. Explore the Safe Congregations information on the UUA website.
- Most importantly, leaders need to be comfortable with the language of Amazing Grace. This curriculum offers some traditional, Christian religious vocabulary, words and concepts like "salvation," "virtue," and "sin." Some UU adults, especially those not raised UU, struggle with such terms, which remind them of difficult periods in their own religious pasts. However, the experiences of adults are not the same as the experiences of young people in our congregations. It is good for Unitarian Universalist youth to hear and understand such traditional ideas because they will encounter these ideas ingrained in our society. Our youth and adults need to be familiar with religious phrases like "virtue and sin" as well as with more universally accepted phrases like "right and wrong." After all, the Unitarian Universalism of today is not many decades removed from the ancestor churches that engaged in spirited debate about trinitarianism and salvation. By presenting and explaining the traditional words, you are not asking youth to give up their own ideas and understandings. You are helping them to know the larger world. Unitarian Universalists can and do embrace multiple Sources without embracing all the ideas of all the Sources.