Wednesday, November 25, 2009

It May Look Like Just Hanging Out

The UUA President Peter Morales said this, in the latest UU World,
"I am convinced that we too often fail to recognize how much our children, youth, and young adults need to give. Hanging out is not a spiritual practice. Joining hands to work for something we care about is. Service is an essential part of faith development. We need to do so much more to engage the idealism and energy of our young people."
Now here's the thing, I absolutely agree that service to and for others is an important part of being a spiritual community. But there are three things that bother me about this.
(ChaliceChick has also chimed in wonderfully over here.)
1. While the column does address the needs of congregations as a whole to give, he has chosen to particularly single out people under the age of 35*. I don't necessarily believe his intention was to imply that these groups are somehow slacking, but here's the interesting thing about these groups - many in congregations assume that they are slacking. Or that they are available for free labor - to look after the young kids while the adults have fun, or to help move a couch. One youth ministry coordinator used to respond to requests for youth to assist with something by asking what other groups had been called on. Her feeling was that if you wouldn't also make this same request of the choir, or the coffee groups, then maybe picking on the youth wasn't the best approach either.
2. I understand that contributing to the greater good is important part of congregational life. I also understand that studies show that congregants participating in such events end up feeling more deeply committed to their congregation, so it serves the congregation well too. But it also means the congregation has to figure out how to offer options that don't require a monetary commitment (young adults are often in transitional life phases), have easy access to public transportation so that kids, youth and young adults can get there without having to rely on parents for a ride, and fit well into their busy lives. Some congregations assume that if you can get there on Sunday, you must be able to get there any other time too, forgetting the complex arrangements that might entail.
3. Hanging out is important. It helps bond you to your fellow congregants. It helps remind you that there are others who believe similar things, which for UU kids, youth and young adults is really important. They often face confusion and even mild harassment for their beliefs in school, they need to be reminded that there is a place where they are the norm. And these kids, the number one reason we don't see a youth for a few weeks is usually because they were too busy with sports, homework or theater work. It is rarely because they chose to sleep in (although if they did, I could hardly blame them). I'm not saying that the other things they do (which ChaliceChick listed well, although I would add the Murder Mystery Dinner Theater and the Coffee Houses that they run, with the money from these events going to charity). And the youth enjoy those things too, in fact most of these came from a youth coming up with the idea and now it's just one more thing we do each year. But they should also have space to hang out with each other.

*For RE purposes, the UU definition of child is 0-14, youths are usually high school aged 14-22, and young adults are 18-35.
Edited for spelling.

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