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.
Burlington (snow central) Vermont