"Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It is precisely that simple and it is also that difficult." --Warren Bennis
Unitarian Universalism has a long legacy and the present blessing of youth leadership at the forefront of change and progress within our association and movement. Bringing the Web to Life is designed to help youth and adults in youth ministry develop the skills and multigenerational community support to faithfully lead with confidence and compassion within and beyond a Unitarian Universalist context.
For many youth the state of injustice in our world today can seem so dauntingly heartbreaking as to instill a sense of hopelessness to do anything about it. This is why youth leadership development in our congregations is a ministry, because it provides skills and tools for youth to have hope in their agency to be change makers in a hurting world.
The title, Bringing the Web to Life, is a reference to the Web of Youth Ministry (PDF), which outlines eight components of a balanced youth ministry: spiritual development, beloved community, justice making, faith exploration, multi-generational relationships, covenantal leadership, identity formation and pastoral care. Within our congregations youth should not only have access to but also be collaborators in:
- creating opportunities to nurture and enliven their spirits (spiritual development),
- leading and participating in programs that are grounded in local community, connected with the wider movement and enriched by interfaith experience (beloved community),
- answering our faith’s calling to work for justice and being in solidarity with others (justice making),
- looking deep and developing their Unitarian Universalist faith and identity (faith exploration),
- bringing people together across generations (multigenerational relationships),
- being affirmed as vital participants in the life of our shared faith (covenantal leadership),
- developing a healthy spiritual, relational, racial/ethnic and sexual identity and living with integrity (identity formation) and
- caring for one another spiritually and emotionally (pastoral care).
Developing and practicing skills to lead with one’s values is neither a process that begins nor ends in high school. However the middle adolescent years are a time of rapid brain development, relationship building and exploration of faith and values. The lessons that can be learned in Bringing the Web to Life have the potential to impact not just the lives of our youth, but the life of our movement and our world.
This program will:
- Provide concrete tools in active listening, conflict resolution, building inclusive community and multigenerational collaboration
- Support and embolden youth to create the kind of change they hope to see in the world
- Build capacity for youth to lead faithfully as Unitarian Universalists who understand the importance and power of making and keeping promises, leading with our seven principles in mind and developing relationships with supportive adults of all ages
- Affirm youth leadership as a vital part of congregational and denominational life
- Engage youth and adults in conversation and partnering in leadership
In the spirit of covenantal and shared leadership, which is the topic of Workshop 4, these workshops should be co-facilitated by a youth/adult team. In addition to sharing the work of leading, co-leadership sets an example of collaboration, offers experiential learning opportunities for youth and adults and demonstrates to participants that role models can come in all ages. Co-leaders can regularly evaluate the program and one another’s facilitation techniques to offer creative course corrections.
Being a leader is different than being a friend or a workshop participant. A leader need not be perfect nor have all the answers, yet a leader is responsible for creating an emotionally and physically safe environment and providing a space where all participants can fully experience the activities of each workshop.
In addition to co-facilitating a workshop, youth can practice leadership by:
- Providing program input. As a group, youth can help shape the program. Soliciting youth input about activity choices is respectful and appropriate when leaders are ready to act on participants' ideas. Like adult leaders, youth provide the best input with sufficient time and resources to prepare. Give them enough information to make a good choice.
- Assisting in small parts of the program. Youth of all ages can easily do tasks that require little preparation, such as lighting the chalice, greeting participants at the start of the workshop, or acting as scribe during group generation of ideas.
- Planning a retreat. If you choose to do this curriculum as part of an overnight conference or retreat (see Program Structure), youth can practice planning, cooperation, and leadership skills in collaboration with adults to organize the event.
While Bringing the Web to Life is designed with high school adolescent development in mind, the lessons and community building aspects of these workshops would be valuable and relevant for adults of all ages as well. This curriculum can and has been adapted for young adults and campus ministries. If there are adults in your congregation who are interested in being involved in youth ministry in some way, without the commitment of becoming a youth group advisor for example, you may choose to use Bringing the Web to Life as an intergenerational curriculum for youth and adults. For the safety of youth and to respect the fact that this learning environment prioritizes youth learning, screen the adults who are interested in participating in the program to ensure they will be healthy contributors. A healthy adult contributor would be someone who:
- Sustains appropriate, authentic, friendly, covenantal relationships with youth
- Is present and participates as a role model
- Shares leadership and can be in relationship with youth who are at different maturity levels
- Understands that adults have a responsibility for accountability that precludes a mutual friendship or being “just one of the group”
- Is conscious that by virtue of age and experience adults naturally have more power in conversations with youth
- Is familiar with the spectrum of shared youth adult leadership
- Takes responsibility to create space for and invite youth leadership
- Can gauge when to step in with course corrections and when to let youth learn from their own experience
For more ideas of what a healthy adult participating in youth ministry looks like, review the UUA’s Competencies For Ministry To/With Youth.
All youth do not arrive at each developmental stage at the same time, yet knowing what to expect overall from fourteen- to eighteen-year-olds can be helpful, especially for first-time leaders. In her book, Nurturing Children and Youth: A Developmental Guidebook (Boston: Unitarian Universalist Association, 2005), Tracey Hurd discusses typical developmental characteristics of older youth:
- practices increased cognitive skills
- expresses growing interest in abstract values and moral principles
- engages in moral relativism
- becomes less egocentric and more interested in the larger society
- struggles with gender and sexual identities
- continues to develop ethnic or racial identity
- needs to belong and have a sense of self worth
- demonstrates empathy
- conceptualizes religion as an outside authority that can be questioned
- questions faith, sometimes leading to deeper ownership of personal faith or disillusionment
- deepens or attenuates religious or spiritual identity
- explores sexuality
- navigates greater risks relating to alcohol, drug use, and unsafe sexual activity
- sustains the personal fable that "it couldn't happen to me"
- considers friendships and peers important, with some shifting of alliances.
Integrating all Participants
No one should be excluded from this program or its activities by real or perceived physical or other limitations. Inclusiveness sometimes requires adaptation; you may need to modify an activity or use an alternate activity to fully include youth with a range of physical and cognitive abilities, learning styles, food allergies, and other sensitivities or limitations.
The program provides suggestions for adapting some activities under the heading Including All Participants. By changing approaches as suggested or substituting alternate activities, you can help make every workshop inclusive of all.
All spaces, indoor and outdoor, need to be accessible to anyone who might be in the group. Check the width of doorways and aisles, the height of tables, and the terrain of outdoor landscapes. When you invite youth and adults to write on posted newsprint, meet in small groups, gather around a centering table, or otherwise move about the space, make sure everyone can move as you are requesting, or adapt the activity. Strategize how you will include those with sight or hearing limitations when an activity relies on these senses.
When possible, arrange volunteers to read aloud before a workshop and give them the written material in advance. Allow youth the opportunity to pass on any roles that require reading. Be prepared to support young people who wish to read, but need assistance.
Find out about participants' medical conditions and allergies, particularly to food. Make sure all your youth can eat the food you plan to use for an activity, or change the food.
Always be ready to do what is needed to keep the workshops safe for any participant who needs assistance or accommodation to ask for and receive it.
The program mixes active and quiet, expressive and listening, and whole group and individual activities. It offers alternate activities to substitute for core activities if they better suit the group or if you have extra time. Let your knowledge of different participants' learning styles guide your selection of activities.
In the Teacher Development section of the UUA website, find descriptions of a helpful resource book, Sally Patton's Welcoming Children with Special Needs and other inclusion resources. Another helpful resource is Howard Gardner's theory of multipleintelligences. The congregation's religious educator is another resource for adaptations to make workshops as accessible as possible.
An adolescent’s notion of family expands to include their close friends, while the home family remains a touchstone. Our families and friends often have a large impact on how we choose to live as leaders in the world. This curriculum is designed to include the family and friends of participants as well as your wider faith community.
Each workshop provides a Taking It Home handout with ideas for participants to lead conversations and activities with their friends and family. Collect the email addresses of participants’ parents/caregivers so you can send them the Taking It Home section after each workshop.