Lively LRY History Discussion

The UU Historical Society listserv has been abuzz recently with several dozen posts about the impact and purpose of Liberal Religious Youth and Youth Ministry in general in the lives of UU ministers and lay leaders.  I have found it very enlightening, and wonderful to hear so many personal stories.  I asked permission from one of the posters to share one here.  Learn more about the UU Historical Society and join their UUHS listserv.

I am another former LRYer struggling in the achieved UU ministry.  I  think that is the way it needs to be said — we became ministers, but in many  cases did not become the kind of ministers the congregations turned out to  want.   This has led me to reexamine how we set up the goals for our youth  work.  In particular, I think the emphasis on "Empowerment" really gets  exaggerated.  I would rather see more of the language of "spiritual  gifts."  Teens need to learn not so much how to burst old boundaries around  them — a task for which they have not necessarily the judgement — as how to  live with authenticity in the interdependent web.

That said, I have concluded as a historian that the way the left  designed itself and its work in the 1960s — worldwide — was a necessary  evil.  World War II and its traumatic aftermath of starvation  and government upheavals worldwide forged a generation with an overemphasis  on stability and comfort.  This balancing act — so necessary for their  recovery and life journey — got rigidified into a neo-VIctorian  era in the second Eisenhower term.  The enemies had been more or  less defeated, but the sense of fear — particularly with Sputnik and nuclear  proliferation — still had plenty of unexplored territory to test.  By 1963  — when the Civil Rights struggles reached nationwide consciousness thru the  arrival of national television news shows, President Kennedy was shot and the  Beatles arrived — there was a clear struggle over how rigid we were going to  let  ourselves become in response to unfamiliar changes. 

The harder the  forces of rigidity fought to hold their ground, through such efforts as  McCarthyism and segregation, the more the advocates of progress were forced to  shift from negotiators to battering rams.  UUs rightly accepted the  challenge to stand for progress, and accept some of the social vilification it  entailed.

Military historians always talk about The Maginot Line, in which the French prepared for WWII based on information from World War I.  The  result?  Once again, they were invaded by an army equipped with totally new  strategies and weapons.  But we have to learn that success, also, can led  to planning based on past models, rather than thoughtful and scientific analysis  of the way the world is changing all around us.

Best wishes. 

Elz Curtiss
Burlington (snow central) Vermont


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