Caring for one another is a core spiritual practice for Unitarian Universalists. Pastoral care is the term we use for the ways we offer support and compassion to each other in community. We promote offering pastoral care to all ages knowing that it can be as simple as sending a card for a birthday or as challenging as helping someone who has suicidal thoughts.
If you have reached this page because a youth or young adult you know is in crisis please see the crisis management and mandatory reporting pages. For information on caring for youth and young adults who’ve experienced trauma please see our trauma response page.
Caring for Our Young People as a Community
Pastoral care is a vital part of our congregation's ministry, including to youth and young adults. Young people, like people of all ages, deal with grief, loss, stress, transition and loneliness. Teens have struggles unique to their age and life stage like bullying, identity development, teen suicide, addiction, and pressures to succeed in school. Young adults are often still navigating identity formation and dealing with these issues while also tackling the many life transitions that accompany this age range.
Even though youth and young adults may not be official members of the congregation, pastoral care teams should consider them as part of their ministry to the church. While youth advisors may be the first responders to youth in crisis, having a direct relationship with the minister and other adults plays a vital role in keeping teens and young adults in our churches safe and cared for.
Offering pastoral care means connecting a young person with the minister or a member of the pastoral care team, offering resources for self care, stress management and professional counseling, monitoring signs of eating disorders or depression, providing unconditional love for young people whose vulnerability may be expressed as withdrawal, anger, or sadness, sending a card to a youth to acknowledge special or trying moment or a care package to newly bridged young adults, or having conversations about vocational and life choices. Here are some ideas:
- Gather photos of the youth (with their parents’ and their consent) and comment cards written by the youth with statements about something big happening in their life currently (perhaps a big test, a new job or a breakup). Spend 10 minutes in a pastoral care meeting praying for or meditating on the youth in the photos, praying for them in their time of success or trial.
- Send care packages to youth and young adults during finals, in their first year of college or a new job.
- Ask congregants to write notes of encouragement to give as a gift to bridging youth.
- Since youth and young adults are more likely to be without a car, include them in the ride-offering network just as you would elders who are unable to drive.
Unitarian Universalists celebrate our diverse identities and work to offer competent pastoral care that recognizes difference, transforms systems of oppression and builds resilience.
LGBT, queer and questioning youth and young adults may need support in facing homophobia or transphobia because of their gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation. Unitarian Universalist pastoral care affirms sexuality as a healthy part of human development, supports a critical perspective on media images of sexuality, gender roles, and body image and encourages young people to develop a healthy self-image.
Youth and young adults of color have particular pastoral care needs in the face of white supremacy. UU pastoral care supports youth and young adults of color by acknowledging the pain caused by interpersonal and institutional racism, providing tools to explore racial and ethnic identity, encouraging community building with other youth and young adults of color, seeking role models for youth and young adults of color who need them and respecting the importance of every person's racial and ethnic heritage.
UU pastoral care also tends to the spiritual needs of white youth and young adults, helping them to recognize their privilege, process their emotions, and know that the beloved community embraces them.
Including Young People in Our Caring Networks
Multigenerational community means youth and young adults give as well as receive care. Adding young adults to your lay pastoral care team and asking youth to volunteer for specific tasks is one excellent approach. Some youth and young adults have full or erratic schedules; invite both youth and young adults to participate as volunteers at differing levels.
- Youth and young adults can provide pastoral care in their community by visiting members who are housebound or hospitalized, praying for or doing a loving kindness meditation for members who are struggling, or deeply listening to their peers’ struggles. Here are some other ideas:
- Youth and young adults can sign birthday, congratulations or condolence cards the pastoral care team sends to members.
- Youth and young adults can offer their services for members who are moving or need help around the home.
- Youth and young adults can interview elders, so they can share their life stories, using this Congregational History Project (PDF).
- Youth and young adults can cook meals or do grocery shopping for congregants who are sick or otherwise unable to cook or shop for themselves.