Join us for Youth Ministry Revival!

This week’s blog is by Shannon Harper, CER Youth and Young Adult Ministries Specialist.

Answering the Call of Love Youth Ministry Revival 19, March 1-3, 2019Do you have youth in your congregation who are yearning for connection with other UU youth? Who are interested in exploring spiritual practices that help us survive and thrive in the world? Who would like to learn more about justice issues from activists and organizers in the field?

We’re excited to announce registration for Youth Ministry Revival 2019: Answering the Call of Love in Bethesda, MD March 1-3 is now open!

Youth Ministry Revivals, or YMRs, are national, weekend-long conferences open to Sr High youth in grades 9-12 as well as young adults and adults who support youth ministry in congregations. We had our first YMR in 2016 in Portland, OR and the second in 2017 in Chicago, IL. For more information about YMRs see the UUA webpage.

Who Should Attend YMR2019?

YMRs are open to any UU Youth in the US and Canada. We encourage congregations to send teams of youth and adults; people who will be interested and supported in bringing back their ideas and learnings to your congregation. Adult sponsors (25 and over) are expected to participate in the conference, so it’s important to choose adults who are truly interested in supporting youth and willing to join in. Registration is also open to YAs (graduated from High School and between the ages of 18 and 25), especially those with leadership experience and willing to help out as staff (see sleeping arrangements below). We are happy to accommodate different physical and social needs, just let us know what they are.

What Are the Sleeping Arrangements?

Regardless of whether your congregation sends a group or just one, all youth must have an adult (over 25) sponsor who sleeps in the same place as the youth. Our expectation is that most attendees will sleep at the church. However we understand that this is might not be ideal for certain people. We have blocked a number of discounted rooms at the Bethesda Marriott for $89 a night, available until Feb 2. To make a reservation visit their website. Remember that youth must sleep in the same place with their adult sponsor, so if your sponsor is staying at the hotel, the youth must stay there as well. YAs under the age of 25 must make their own arrangements to sleep offsite. For questions about accommodations please contact Amy Kent at [email protected] .

Is there an Approval Process to Attend?

In accordance with Central East’s safety policy everyone attending YMR2019 must be approved by a staff member or designated leader in their congregation (ideally their Religious Educator or Minister). For people who reside outside of CER the registration form will have a way to indicate who we should contact for a reference. That person will be sent an automated email with instructions for approving the registrant. If you have any questions about the registration or approval process please contact Evin Carvill-Ziemer at [email protected] .

Program Details to Come!

The Central East Region is excited to host YMR2019! We’re planning with Youth and YA leaders, community partners, local musicians, UUA and congregation staff to bring you a dynamic and inspiring event.  Some of the things attendees can expect to experience: dynamic, interactive worship; creative expression through visual arts, spoken word music and song; workshops with community organizers and activists; community circles for building deeper connections and relationships; identity circles for sharing and exploration; spiritual practices to take back with you. As we confirm our schedule and guests we’ll update our website so please keep checking back. For questions about the program or schedule please contact Shannon Harper at [email protected].

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CERSI Highlight – A Young Adult’s Reflection on the Youth Program

Today’s blog is written by guest writer, Becky Mitchell

Youth at Summer Institute

I remember being nervous in the days leading up to my first Summer Institute as a Youth. I had missed the previous SI, which would have been my last in the Children’s Program. It felt like a major leap going from a small class of pre-teens to being in a large group of teenagers, ranging in age from 12 or 13 all the way up to 18. My brother had already successfully bridged in and seemed to be having fun, but I remained anxious nonetheless.

I’ll never forget the moment that I walked into the Youth Dorm common area after unloading my belongings and seeing a group of Youths chatting and smiling. They were a year or two older than I was. I recognized them, but I did not know any of them. I was plotting a path back to the safety and security of my dorm room that did not involve walking past the group when one of them said, “Hey, are you Becky? You should come hang out with us.”

Little did I know that in that moment, I had just met my life long best friends. We had every meal together that week (mostly consisting of ice cream). We sat by each other during the youth theme speaker. We held hands during Youth Vespers every evening while singing and really starting to understand the Seven Principles for the first time. We spent the afternoon playing volleyball and cooling off in the pool. We stayed up a little too late every night munching on candy, teaching each other card games, and discussing what little we knew about politics and Social Justice at the time. After the week ended and we said our tearful goodbyes, the countdown to the next time we would see each other began immediately. 358 days to go.

That first year in the youth program will always go down in my book as the best SI I ever had. I walked into the week expecting to feel awkward and embarrassed the whole time, but I walked out of the week with an invaluable support system. Although we are all very different people, we are all bonded through our common Unitarian Universalist beliefs. In the years to come, having that group has kept me sane. It was and continues to be comforting knowing that I have an entire community to look to for advice and help when I need it.

Why do I keep coming back? My last year in the Youth Program was 2011, but I feel my supportive community grow every year. As a new Young Adult, my community expanded to include people that were 15 years my senior. Now as an “Old” Young Adult, my supportive community has grown to include people of all ages. I can’t wait to see who becomes part of my supportive community this year.

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What are we building? And how are we building it?

This blog is by guest Tyler Coles.

Young Adult Community social event, November 2018
Young Adult Community social event, November 2018

Like many who grew up in the rolling hills of the Appalachian Mountains, I always found autumn a welcome relief following the tedious days of summer. The cool temperatures and falling leaves form a picturesque memory in my mind as my friends and I would take part in one of our favorites activities – building forts. As we would wander through the woods just beyond our neighborhood, we would assemble crude structures with whatever materials we would come across. Sometimes the work of creation would be easy. Yet, more often, our work required copious amounts of time and energy as we gathered materials that would aid in our fort’s longevity and stability.

In the dense forests of poplar, oak and elm, the options for building materials were endless. In this abundance we would be meticulous in what we would include as each piece had to connect in the most perfect of ways. Since those early years I can see the forces of both playfulness and meticulousness working themselves out as we constructed. Holding in tandem these often opposing forces I have started to ask myself, “What am I building? And how am I building it?” I have found these questions useful as they guide me to be both intentional and abundantly creative.

Since joining the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax (Oakton, VA) as the Young Adult Community Leader, I have used these questions to envision and call into being what could lie ahead for us. The task of co-creating an innovative young adult (18-35+) community beyond the walls of the Church starts small and intentionally, much like selecting the perfect branch from which to form a childhood fort. Like those forts, this space invites us to live out our values in relationship to ourselves, each other and the greater world in playful and joyful ways.

So how are we going about the doing of this work? Like all things, it starts with taking the time to meet people towards getting to know them. Through conversations over coffee or during brunch I listen for the most pressing matters that they carrying at the time. In these conversations I have learned that there is a deep desire to be in relationship with others, to explore and develop spiritual practice, and to actively make justice and peace in the community. I have inquired how and in what spaces they would like to do these things. The resounding response – it must be flexible and light as schedules are already jammed packed!

Currently we are tinkering with a combination of small circles, large group gathers, and opportunities to “skill-up” around things any young person in the 21st century needs to know (like applying for Health Care or paying taxes). The frequency and location of these gatherings are being left to the discernment of those who will take part in them. Some might be bi-weekly or monthly, others could be one-offs or occur about every six weeks. There is opportunity and interest in gathering in a number of spaces like people’s living rooms, coffee shops, open fields, and community centers. Whatever the case may be, it is in my role to offer up time, support, imagination, and access to financial resources that have been gifted to our collective through a generous bequeath.

Yet it is important to note that in talking with other spirit-based community organizers, while money most certainly makes things easier. It is in the desire, creativity, and dedication to seeing a covenant-community conjured into reality that makes all of this just that, a reality. This work will be messy, even complicated at times, stirring within us moments of anxiety. Yet in forming connection, generating meaning, and doing the work of right relationship we can move through those moments in boldly compassionate ways.

It is my hope that we might craft a new way of doing the old work of church (i.e. community) in the here and now. If you are, or know, a young adult in northern Virginia who might be interested, please feel free to reach out to me! Come, let us dream and build together a fort that will hold all of us in this moment.

In Faith & Resistance,
Tyler Coles


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Religious Educators are “Changing the Narrative”

I have just returned from the annual Fall Conference of the Liberal Religious Educators Association in Houston TX. The theme was “Changing the Narrative” and issues of white supremacy culture within our denomination and the urgency of empowering and sustaining leaders of color were central. What a remarkable conversation we had over the course of 5 days! Denominational leaders including Julica Hermann de la Fuente, Christina Rivera, Greg Boyd, Rev Dr Natalie Fenimore, Aisha Houser and many others led discussions, workshops and informal conversations that were at once humbling, riveting and inspiring. Brave learning and growing “caucus” spaces were carved out for both white participants and participants of color. As has been the case so often in our Unitarian Universalist history, religious educators, both non-ordained and ordained are leading us into new ways of thinking and being with one another.

As you may recall, it was mostly religious educators who spoke up eighteen months ago, changing the narrative of who we are as Unitarian Universalists, what we “look” like, and how we bring forward voices and leaders from the margins in ways that honor and respect their unique contributions to our wholeness as a people of faith. The actions of a few courageous religious educators would ultimately contribute to big changes in our association around hiring and other institutional practices at our UUA headquarters and deep, rich conversations in congregations about what it means to be complicit in a system that continues to harm and erase people within our beloved community.

The good news is – they are still at it! Religious educators from across the continent participated in workshops on restorative circles, creating space for families of color, the theology of love and shared ministry as faith formation, just to name a few. Innovations are underway to bring JUUbilee training to children and youth, to offer congregations more study materials to continue the conversations begun with the Teach-In on White Supremacy, as well as new engaging resources from BLUU via a monthly “BLUU Box.” These are just a few of the many ways you can be a part of changing the narrative within your own congregation

We have work to do as a religious people, things to learn, deep conversations to share, and curiosity to be satisfied – in other words, faith development work. If you are lucky enough to have a professional religious educator, please look to them for a pathway into and through this brave work. You can begin by asking them what gems they carried home from the conference and what they are really excited about! Your religious educator has access to many tools and resources, whether they attended the latest LREDA Fall Conference or not. If they weren’t able to be in Houston this year, make it a priority to send them to Baltimore in November 2019 (yes, Baltimore! Hurrah, the LREDA Fall Conference is coming back to the Central East Region!). Religious educators, ministers, lay leaders – all are invited into the bold work of writing the next chapter of Unitarian Universalism!

Patricia Hall Infante, Congregational Life Staff holding the Faith Development portfolio and Credentialed Religious Educator

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Ysaye Barnwell 2019 Summer Institute Theme Speaker

Dr. Ysaye Barnwell
Dr. Ysaye Barnwell

The planning committee for the Central East Region Summer Institute (formerly the OMD Summer Institute) is very pleased to announce that Dr. Ysaye Barnwell will be the theme speaker for Summer Institute 2019, July 7-13 at Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH.

The topic of her theme speaker will be Building a Vocal Community, which is an award winning workshop she has presented around the world. There is an awesome power in the human voice and when uncommon voices are blended for the common good, they become a ‘vocal community’ at its best. Masterfully led by Dr. Ysaÿe M. Barnwell, singers and non-singers alike will share the common experience of learning in the oral tradition and singing rhythms, chants, traditional songs from Africa and the Diaspora, and a variety of songs from African American culture including spirituals, ring shouts, hymns, gospels, and songs from the Civil Rights Movement. The historical, social and political context will provided as an introduction to the songs. Through out this experience, the group will explore from an African American world view, the values imbedded in the music, the role of cultural and spiritual traditions and rituals, ways in which leadership emerges and can be shared by and among community members, the nature of cultural responses to and influences on political and social struggle, and finally the significance of a shared communal experience in ones’ personal life. All that is required is a willingness to sing.

Dr. Ysaye M. Barnwell a native New Yorker now living in Washington, DC is the only child and perfect blend of her mother, a registered nurse and her father, a classical violinist. Dr. Barnwell studied violin for 15 years beginning at age 2 ½, and majored in music through high school. With this background, she went on to earn the Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in Speech Pathology (SUNY, Geneseo, 1967, 1968), Doctor of Philosophy in Speech Pathology (University of Pittsburgh, 1975), and the Master of Science in Public Health (Howard University, 1981). In 1998, Dr. Barnwell was awarded the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree by her alma mater, SUNY Geneseo. She recently received the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the Meadville Lombard Theological Seminary in Chicago, IL (2009) and the Virginia Theological Seminary (2011); and in 2012, all members of Sweet Honey In the Rock, were awarded the Honorary Doctor of Letters Degree from Chicago Theological Seminary (2012).

Dr. Barnwell appears as a vocalist and/or instrumentalist on more than thirty recordings with Sweet Honey In The Rock as well as other artists. She has, for the past thirty years spent much of her time off stage working as a master teacher and choral clinician in African American cultural performance. Her workshop “Building a Vocal Community®: Singing in the African American Tradition” has during the past twenty-eight years, been conducted on three continents, making her work in the field a significant source of inspiration for both singers and non-singers, a model of pedagogy for educators, and cultural activists and historians. Dr. Barnwell has been a commissioned composer on numerous choral, film, video, dance and theatrical projects including Sesame Street, Dance Alloy of Pittsburgh, David Rousseve’s Reality Dance Company, The New Spirituals Project, GALA Festival Choruses, MUSE: Cincinnati’s Women’s Chorus, The Steel Festival: Art of an Industry (Bethlehem, PA), The King’s Singers in England.

Four axioms have proven significant in Barnwell’s life. To whom much is given, much is required. As one door closes, another door opens. Everything matters. Say Yes!

You can learn more about Summer Institute at their website. You can learn more about Dr. Ysaye Barnwell at her website.

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African American Women of the Civil War Era – Untold Stories

FREED Performers, Left to right: Sandra D. Wilson (Dr. Rebecca Lee David Crumpler), Marie Davenport (Elleanor Eldridge) , Ruby M. Thomas (Preacher Amanda Berry Smith), Patricia A. Tyson (Hallie Quinn Brown), Judy Williams (Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield)

On October 21, 2017, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax (UUCF) was honored to host five visitors from the 1800’s, mostly the Civil War era, through the inspiring performances of the Female Re-enactors of Distinction (FREED).

The FREED performance was sponsored by the UUCF Racial Justice Steering Committee (RJSC) in support of its Second Principle Project. The project is designed to help UUCF live our commitment to the Unitarian Universalist Second Principle by affirming and promoting justice, equity and compassion in human relations. Through this project, the RJSC is dedicated to helping the congregation understand the root causes and effects of racism and developing partnerships with other institutions working to dismantle racism, particularly institutions led by people of color. Education is one of the ways the RJSC addresses these goals.

FREED was founded in 2005 in association with D.C.’s African American Civil War Museum and focuses on resurrecting real life stories of African American women of the mid-19th century whose stories are not found in traditional textbooks. Through these re-enactments, the women of FREED help to fill in the gap of so many important missing pieces of our nation’s history. Their mission is to educate the public and promote the accomplishments of African American Civil War Soldiers and the women who supported the fight for freedom. Most history books depict slaves working in plantation fields but fail to include the achievements of so many other African Americans, like the exceptional women portrayed by FREED.

The accomplishments of the African American women portrayed in their re-enactments are impressive, not only for the era in which they lived, but even by today’s standards. As writers, political activists, doctors, and nurses, they helped bring victory to the North and advance the cause of civil rights in the decades beyond.

After the performance, everyone joined together in a potluck dinner shared with the performers, while having the opportunity to talk with them in greater depth about the characters they portray and their reasons for being involved in these re-enactments. The event provided an opportunity for everyone to connect with one another and to learn and grow through reflection. It was an informative and educational event that taught us more about our history which has been ignored. As a woman in the audience said, “It makes you wonder how many more important figures in our past, such as these women, have been ignored in our history books.” Another attendee commented that it motivated her to start researching to learn more about the accomplishments of her African American ancestors and their contributions to the history of America. Anyone wanting more information about this event or the performers may contact Kaye Cook, [email protected].

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Navigators USA Founded in UU Congregation

Here is an  example of how our congregations are providing support and filling a need for both UUs and the greater community.

Navigators USA, a secular, all-gender scouting movement, founded at the Unitarian Church of All Souls, New York, is seeing explosive growth. We’ve been growing since 2012 at an average rate of 2 new Chapters a month until last November when the rate moved up to 5 new Chapters a month. Then in July, after the President’s speech at the Boy Scouts of America Jamboree, we have received over 20 new applications in August!

We believe that boys and girls need to get out into nature now more than ever and all scouting organizations need support and participation. That said, we’ve been hearing from parents across the country that policies may change but the culture in many local Troops remain challenging for some demographics.

Navigators USA is a bottom up movement similar to the UUA, as a membership service association. Our members are moving us toward a more family focused model with entire family participation in meetings and activities. Building community and social capital along with youth leadership is our mission.

Our growth comes without marketing, completely from Facebook and Google. People are searching for what we have to offer, including UU’s. Of the 189 Chapters started, 38 are sponsored by UU congregations. In many cases we help grow their congregations and strengthened their RE programs.

Robin Bossert
Founder Executive Director
Navigators USA

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NOVA Congregations Use Faithify to Provide Teacher Training Program

Northern Virginia (NOVA) Congregations Collaborate to provide a Rich and Rewarding Teacher Training Program with the Help of a Faithify Campaign

teacher training exerciseFor the last two years, Congregations in the NOVA Cluster have offered a collaborative training day in the fall for religious Education (RE) teachers.  By pooling resources, the religious education programs have been able to offer multiple workshops and classes led by experts in the field.  Director of Religious Exploration at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax Linnea Nelson explained, “We had an opportunity to take it to the next level this year.  We wanted to offer exciting new workshops on important issues like providing OWL to children on the autistic spectrum, and understanding white supremacy in the realm of RE, as well as topics like basic classroom management, storytelling, and music.  We also didn’t want to ask our volunteers to pay for their own food or child care expenses.  These are people who deserve our thanks and appreciation, and we wanted to show it by planning a rich and rewarding day of training, with a meal and key note speeches.”

Early planning meant the NOVA training team was able to secure keynote speakers Pat Infante, Taquiena Boston and Shannon Harper speaking on Exploring Culture and Race as RE Teachers, as well as workshop leaders Ray and Shellie Selove on Including those with Special Needs in OWL and much more.  With an initial grant of $500 from CER, it became clear that a “dream training” was possible if it were supported by a successful Faithify Campaign .

“I really hope this event is funded and we’re able to attend,” comments 2-3rd grade teacher Leah Choudhury.  “I’ve been a volunteer teacher at Mt. Vernon Unitarian Church for 18 years, and the cluster trainings I’ve attended have been really worthwhile.  One great workshop in particular was on games for young children.  That’s not something we’ve been offered when just our Religious Educator led the training alone.  It really makes a difference when we can start the year off with a more comprehensive experience.”

The Faithify Campaign in support of collaborative NOVA teacher training will run until August 18.


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Serving with Mutuality

Photo by Aria Nadii

My spouse and I are planning out a permaculture garden in the backyard of our new house. We don’t know much about permaculture yet, but we are learning. We are starting with the soil. The yard had been covered with concrete, so we are starting from scratch. We hauled several truckloads of leaf and tree mulch from the city and are watching it compost in place over the summer. There are a few volunteer pumpkins from discarded Halloween pumpkins that were mixed in the mulch, and we threw a few seeds in to see if they would sprout, but this is really a time for the organic material to decompose and welcome microbes and other creatures to make their home in our new garden. We are also augmenting the soil with our household compost, and we plan to plant a temporary groundcover in the fall that can be worked into the soil. Eventually, we will find plants, bushes and trees that allow for the soil to replenish itself while feeding the flora, thus the name permaculture.

Modern agriculture works from a different philosophy. We plant and harvest until the natural nutrients in the soil are exhausted. Then we may add fertilizer to the soil as a replacement for the natural nutrients. Or we may rotate the crops so that different nutrients are used. Or we may plant a temporary ground cover to plow into the soil and let the ground lie fallow while the soil absorbs the nutrients of the organic matter.

Even though most of us live far from our agrarian roots, I think they still have lessons to teach us.

In my work with congregational leaders I see some leaders who work hard in service of the church, and become burned out—sometimes to the point that they no longer want to be part of the church community. Some of these leaders might renew themselves with a volunteer sabbatical, but more often they have learned to associate church with a depletion of their time and energy.

But I also see other leaders who also work just as hard in service of the church, but don’t burn out. What is the difference? The leaders who are able to sustain hard work are in a mutual life-giving relationship with their faith community. These leaders find ways (or—better yet—the church leadership creates systems) so that the work is meaningful and impactful, and leaders’ hearts and spirits are fed and nurtured. The depth of planning worship, or participating in a small group is an important complement to the work of taking minutes or tracking the budget.

As we remind ourselves in our seventh principle, we are interconnected and interdependent in mutuality. May we create faith communities that live into that ideal.

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke
Congregational Life Staff, Central East Region

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GA Preparation Materials Available

Prepare your heart, mind, and spirit to enter into the Resist and Rejoice experience in New Orleans, arriving at General Assembly ready to learn what the people, culture, history, and geography have to teach! Check out these resources to help you prepare. Before heading to GA, print the READY booklet and tell us what you did. Turn in your list at the UUA Expressway to receive a READY ribbon to affix to your GA name badge!

General Assembly in New Orleans will awaken and deepen the commitment of Unitarian Universalists to the power and possibility of working in solidarity with those on the margins. The activities that have been prepared fall into five categories:

  • Encountering New Orleans: People, Place and Stories
  • Understanding Intersections: Race, Class, Economics
  • Enhancing Capacity to Build Relationships
  • Centering the Experiences of People of Color
  • Examining Whiteness

In each category there are recommended books to read, videos to watch and ways to apply what you have learned in a variety of ways. Those who are attending GA can print the pdf, record what they did and present that at the UUA Expressway to receive a ribbon. Those not attending GA can email what they did to [email protected].

Download the entire booklet or review what activities are recommended at the UUA website.

This year’s Ware Lecture will be presented by Author Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy: A story of Justice and Redemption, the 2015-16 UUA Common Read. Learn more about Bryan Stevenson and the Ware Lecture.

Want more preparation or experiences? Then register for the Pre-General Assembly Conference, Undoing Racism on June 20-21, 2017. The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), the General Assembly Planning Committee (GAPC), and the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal (CELSJR) are partnering together in bringing this unique custom workshop offered by The People’s Institute, a New Orleans-based, national, multiracial, anti-racist network dedicated to ending racism and other forms of institutional oppression.

The Resist and Rejoice! theme of this General Assembly calls us to embody a more antiracist, anti-oppressive and multicultural faith. This two-day pre-GA training is intended to:

  • prepare and equip UUs to engage in the justice work organized for this GA
  • encounter other GA participants in less oppressive and more inclusive ways
  • bring an antiracist equity and intersectional lens to the justice work in congregations and communities

Learn more at Reduced registration rates for this pre-GA event available through April 30th.

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