In 1999, 2000 and 2001, the C*UUYAN (continental unitarian universalist young adult network) published a ConCentric Reader compiling writings by a number of active young adults and allies. This was my piece in the 2000 ConCentric Reader entitled Balance. Unfortunately this Reader has not been published since, perhaps 2007 will see a revival.
For me, the future of the young adult movement lies within the simple statement of purpose we designed after the 1997 UUA Young Adult Ministry Consultation in Phoenix: "radically inclusive, spiritually alive and justice centered".
I’ve had the privilege of meeting and working with many of you. Thank you for all your ideas, advice and hard work. I feel we have moved from organizing young adult/campus ministry in a vacuum, to building a solid framework with little redwood saplings strewn across many local and district UU communities. With your support, I have been fiercely committed to a broader yet deeper vision for C*UUYAN, and we’re still in Chapter 1.
We need a clear mission and purpose that is understood and articulated simply. Is there a vision that we can all share? What are the phrases we choose to describe our movement?
Our leaders, at all levels, need to establish some consistency in these mission & purpose statements. C*UUYAN needs to take the lead in building a long range vision and educate and agitate on the local & district levels to encourage our grass roots leaders to do the same. It is debilitating to our movement to be constantly thought of as a heavily social, mono-spiritual/ religious, cliquish/unwelcoming and apathetic towards social justice and human rights issues. These characteristics may always be present in some form in our movement, but the key is to recognize the need for balance of the other principles:
- A spiritual community, where people can deepen and renew their faith.
- A place to coordinate social justice organizing in our communities.
- A home for people that is welcoming and nurturing.
For C*UUYAN to flourish, I believe we need to bring more balance to our movement. Young Adults are the lifeblood of not only the UUA but society in general. We are settling into adulthood after an often dynamic youth experience, and we are building our place. I believe UU Young Adults are particularly connected to their communities, social service, justice issues, sustainable practices and generally tolerant, progressive and welcoming people. How can our young adult movement build on these strengths? Here are 6 ways:
1. Leadership must be accountable. When I’m asked where to put ones volunteer energy as a young adult, I respond by saying "you’re local congregation and community is the most important place, the home of your daily living". Unless you’re intentionally serving on a district or continental committee, I suggest you spend your time 70% locally, 20% district-wide (conferences, district assembly, RE, Extension, Ministry) and 10% continentally (GA, Opus, ConCentric, Social Justice, Campus Ministry, Networking). Leaders at the continental and district level need to be connected to a local community, at least in spirit. I encourage people to view C*UUYAN leadership positions as a sacrifice to their local community, and that we rotate drawing on many people. I despise the idea of "graduating" to the "top" ie being on the C*UUYAN Steering Committee. As a leader, who do you check in with? Who keeps you accountable? What voices do you need to hear before you make a decision?
2. We must welcome many styles of worship, spirituality and religion. Unitarian Universalists have a proud tradition of promoting religious tolerance. Our young adult communities can be a place where contemporary worship is created, boundaries are tested, and challenging ideas are put forth. We need to accept that one worship will not speak to all people, but that we are a community which encourages a diversity of worship – traditional, experimental, interfaith, alternative, pagan – and respects all equally. We also need to be aware of cultural appropriation.
3. C*UUYAN is a source of social activism. Our conferences and regional and continental networks are excellent resources for the many activists in our UU community. Through the natural coming together of events like GA, Opus and ConCentric, we need to make it a priority to promote the relationships and collaborative projects, which will connect young adults with the broader UUA and society in general. This action step fulfills a yearning I see in young adults for positive social change, building just and compassionate communities. C*UUYAN can lend credibility, access, money, and provide a place for activists like myself to hang their hat with other activists.
4. Regional Interdistrict Conferences will bring more 18-35 into our churches. With thoughtful planning, I believe that our young adult conferences at the grassroots are key in holding younger young adults in the UU faith, welcoming new young adults to Uuism, and providing all young adults with spiritual learning and connections with local congregations. There is a tension here between local groups and conferences, but it is a healthy one. A conference can often be done simply, and with a good network of support 5-8 people can organize without too much risk of burn-out. These "gatherings" as I sometimes call them, are also a place to hear stories from UU communities across the region, share oral history about UU and personal journeys, and experience new ideas that others are working on (ie the Young Adult Prophets Project). I would like to see an annual NE Con in addition to the WestCon for young adults that has been going on since 1994.
5. Being smart about money. We need to tap our resources and wisely ask people who are able to contribute financially to C*UUYAN. One example is with staff volunteers for our conferences. Does it make sense to cover the $200-500 cost for a staff person who can easily afford to pay while turning away others who cannot? Does it make sense to dramatically increase the cost of our events in order to fully pay staff registration and travel? I believe we need a flexible policy which encourages giving by all people towards our conferences, but that prioritizes covering the costs for staff and committee volunteers. People should not be turned away for lack of money, and people should not feel they cannot take a leadership position for lack of money. This is clearly another balance question, revolving around access.
6. Build a network to all communities. C*UUYAN is a bridge community to many other communities in the UUA and society at large. Our mission is about creating meaningful worship experiences, but also about changing the culture of our congregations to be intergenerational. Some of us also challenge not only our churches but our communities to be anti-racist, sustainable, justice-centered, anti-oppressive, tolerant, and religiously plural and perhaps a bit more hip. We’re the ones who’ll often take larger risks to make our dreams and visions come true. For C*UUYAN, we need to be conscious of these threads within our movement and recognize that C*UUYAN organizes not only for young adult-focused programming but builds a place where intentional relationship building and social change organizing is going on within a larger context. C*UUYAN needs to support young adult religious professionals, promote a vision of intergenerational community to congregations, and foster interfaith partnerships for example. I want to be in C*UUYAN for the ways in which it gives me opportunity to strengthen who I am outside Unitarian Universalism as well as within it.
Joey Lyons is a UU lifer from West Hills UU Fellowship in Portland OR where he recently finished a term on the Board of Trustees. A founder of the University of Oregon Campus Ministry and Portland UU Young Adult Group, Joey has extensive background in YRUU and C*UUYAN. As of July 1, 2000, he is the new UUA Young Adult/Campus Ministry Field Organizer 1/2 time and leaves the C*UUYAN Steering Committee having served as facilitator in 1998 and conferences coordinator for 1999 & 2000.