Intergenerational: Better Together

Between the evening of Friday October 10 and the morning of Monday October 13, sixty youth and twenty-two adults from across the Central East Regional Group gathered at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Centre County in State College PA. The second annual CERG youth con was a chance to connect with new and old friends, learn from other UU’s wisdom, and discover how we truly are better together. One thing that’s special about this con is that it draws the leaders from each district which creates a special atmosphere of cooperation, inclusion, and enthusiasm where those who normally run the cons get to experience the con.

Ella and Mitchell lead the congregation in song
Ella and Mitchell lead the congregation in song

Youth cons are also a special crucible of UU community—a chance to truly live covenant, to stretch to become more inclusive, and to build intentional intergenerational community. On Sunday morning, the youth and adults at the con joined the congregation for a shared worship service co-planned with youth leaders. The speakers had such insights into the magic of intergenerational community:

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Sarah Diaz speaks

From Sarah Diaz, an adult member of the congregation: “The presence and personality of every person of every age here at the Fellowship enriches this community. We share energy, optimism, humor, talents, attention, experience. Open your mind to the possibility of rich intergenerational relationships. Open your home or your heart to make connections with people older and younger than you. Open your eyes to see them, not just as they are now, but ask them about who they were and imagine who they may become. Open your ears to their voices. Spread your arms wide to embrace them. “

From Lars, a youth from the Unitarian Universalist Society of Schenectady: “I find that I truly enjoy the relationships with trusted adults that I do know. I can only imagine how nice it would be if every youth and adult was as close as the youth are to our advisors. One of the ways I feel that would help this is if adults understood took the time to

Lars

sit down and have a conversation thats longer than “Hi how are you?”, “good”, “Hows school going?” “good” “And what colleges are you at?” As a whole I find that meeting with different people keeps me inspired. Whether they may be a youth from and different district or if they are a trusting adult. The important thing is to know that everyone in this community values and supports you.”

Eva and Lars "power" pose before the service
Eva and Lars “power” pose before the service

From Eva Beal, a young adult from the First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh: “Something inside my 6 year old self knew that my 16 and 26 year old selves knew I was going to need a community like the one I’ve found in UUism. And the beauty of intergenerational community we get to connect to all age of ourselves: who we have been, who can and will be, and who we are now. And in this age stops becoming definitive and becomes liberatory.”

Following these reflections, youth and adults gathered in small groups to tell their stories of the challenges and blessings of intergenerational community and their longings. The conversations continued at social hour with the kind of connection and sharing we know both youth and adults long for with each other. So this year’s CERG Con was not only a chance to learn again how much we can learn from each other across district lines, but also a chance to relearn the power in human connection across age.

Evin Carvill-Ziemer, Congregational Life Staff

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Goldmine – Youth Leadership School

In 1991 Jaco Ten Hove and others in the Pacific Northwest started a grand experiment, adapting the idea of a week long leadership school into a leadership school for youth. I first encountered Goldmine trained youth leaders as co-leaders of training I was leading in 2005, and Wow! They were impressive. Articulate, self-assured, responsible, passionate. And they each told me, in some way, that Goldmine transformed them, gave them this confidence and capacity.

goldmine2This was something I wanted for our youth. And, a few years ago, it happened, Goldmine went continental and Metro New York had their first Goldmine in 2011. But one Goldmine isn’t enough for a whole region! So, in 2013 we started TWO Goldmines for the CERG region. One we dubbed “east” and one “west” (I know, creative). We have been joined in this effort by southern Ontario making this a truly “better together” effort.

And, as we hoped, we have been seeing the same transformation in our youth! From the manual, “GoldMine is not a camp or conference, but a concentrated series of workshops, reflection and sharing. The total experience equips young Unitarian Universalists with a foundation that deepens their religious development and expands their ability to contribute, both in their UU communities and in wider applications.”

Goldmine YouthGoldmine has a series of structured workshops in leadership skills, UU values and heritage, and leading worship co-led by youth and adults. Interwoven into this is a process of self-reflection on beliefs and values and multiple opportunities to lead and participate in community deepening worship. I have seen youth change before my eyes. And they leave with lifelong friends.

If you want to see your congregation’s youth ministry grow and transform, send your youth to Goldmine. Goldmine trained youth are serving in tremendous leadership positions across our region: as worship associates, co-chairing a regional team of youth leaders, as Youth Adult Committee leaders, as facilitators of training programs, as strong local youth leaders building the kind of local youth community every youth deserves.

Register here: rates increase on May 1st. http://www.cerguua.org/programs-74553/goldmine-53038.html

Evin Carvill-Ziemer

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First CERG Regional Con!

Learning new games!
Learning new games!

The first ever regional con happened this year in CERG! On Presidents’ Day Weekend, sandwiched between two snowstorms, 64 high school youth and 23 adults, from 39 CERG congregations, gathered at Mainline Unitarian Church in Devon, PA. St. Lawrence and Ohio Meadville–already practiced at crossing district borders–had the highest attendances! (SLD sent 26 folks and OMD 25).

Betty Jeanne Rueters-Ward
Betty Jeanne Rueters-Ward

We chose a three day weekend to make room for special programming (it being a special con) in addition to lots of social time for youth and adults to get to know each other. On Sunday afternoon Betty Jeanne Reuters-Ward, who teaches a class called Dynamic Youth Ministry as adjunct faculty at Starr King School for the Ministry, led a keynote program on the history of Unitarian, Universalist, and Unitarian Universalist youth movements. It was inspiring to remember that at many points in our history, the youth have led the way. Not only merging Unitarian and Universalist groups almost a decade before the UUA merger, but forming joint programming before 1900.

We had a packed room for the workshop planning next year’s CERG con and it’s clear that the youth want this to continue. It gave youth leaders a chance to experience a con when they often run them, a chance to learn from each other, a chance to make friends with youth in leadership positions like theirs, and a chance to see Unitarian Universalism on a wider scale.

As always, there were challenges. The weather was one. Another is that the different districts, while similar, do have different cultures and different assumptions. Assumptions like the appropriate order of evening worship, coffee house, and if there should be dance and different ways of structuring things like meals and workshops. Being together meant we had to explain why each district does things one way and that meant reflecting and understanding ourselves better. It also meant we got a chance to form a new culture together. Try things differently. Experiment. And, we were testing out the new CERG Youth Events policy and rules that we’d hammered out between the districts.

Maybe all of that sounds scary, but the thing is, with a church full of youth leaders and experienced adults, things that would usually have been bumpy were smooth sailing. To me, that’s one of the best parts of events like this: letting our leaders be among leaders. We’re already working on scheduling the next CERG Con. Look for it on next year’s calendar!

Wall of mail bags to send each other notes
Wall of mail bags to send each other notes

And, I’d like to give special thanks to OMD youth leader Dalin Franz and SLD youth leader Lilly Kaharis who each served as one of the three youth co-chairs for the planning committee and co-deans for the conference. They did a marvelous job!

Evin Carvill-Ziemer, Program Consultant

Ohio Meadville and St. Lawrence Districts

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“Nones” on the Bus

People often ask me, “How can we attract more young adults and families?  The key to answering that question lies in understanding the Millennial generation.  They are children born to the post WWII boomers, between 1989 and 2000, also called the Gen Y generation.

Here are some critical differences:  40% are mixed race.   They can’t relate to the racist attitudes of their elders.  They see everyone as mixed.  At least 20% have an immigrant parent.

Raised by affluent parents, they are the first American generation to do less well economically than their parents.

Sometimes they are also called the “Net” generation.  They don’t recall a time when there was no internet, and are the most technologically savvy to date.

Many are staunchly Humanist or Atheist, and will look you in the eye defiantly and tell you that they don’t need church.  They grew up without church as the center of their communal lives, a have been labeled the “nones.”

But this is what they do want:  a sense of spirituality, and a place to exercise their ethics in action.  They don’t want to sit on a pew- they want to get on the bus and  into the world to make a difference.  If they have children, they want them engaged in justice too.

OMDSI LogoCase in point.  My millennial niece knows that I am a minister, so she always says, “I suppose you’re going to drag me to church.”  I said, “Yes, I may do that, but what I thought you might enjoy more is to go to “church camp” with me.  So I took her to a week long family camp in Ohio called “Summer Institute, ”  similar to the Unirondack camp in New York.  It was life altering.  She felt accepted by her peers, she felt popular, she felt included, and freer than she ever did anywhere else in life.  (Even with the supervision that is part of the camp, she didn’t even notice the rules- and not because there were none.  Any parent could feel confident that they were monitored and safe.)  She even participated in the youth worship service.

Later when her school required a service project, she wanted to volunteer at the local Unitarian Universalist church.  I almost wept.

My recommendation is that churches do some fundraising to send the youth and families to camp.  It will solidify their UU identity, and give then a needed break from the financial and other stresses on their lives.  They may be so grateful that they return to church, renewed, refreshed, and ready to serve.

Rev. Christina Neilson
Congregational Life Consultant, CERG Stewardship Consultant

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Crossing the Border

It’s amazing to watch the effects of the contagion of cooperation that seems to be springing up. When I first was employed by the Ohio Meadville District (as Young Adult Coordinator) from 2006-2009 I saw faint symptoms–a combined leadership school, a monthly phone call between young adult staff and cooperation on a few brochures. But so many of our events were still constrained by our boundaries, artificially imposed as they are.

YRUU LogoOnce the idea of cooperation and crossing boundaries takes hold, though, it seems to just keep spreading! I just finished leading a youth and advisor training in Canton New York–way, way far north. It would not have been possible, financially, without participation from two Canadian congregations. It’s not the only place where youth and adults are crossing that border. Last summer, Ariel Hunt-Brondwin, Youth and Young Adult Ministry Development for the Canadian Unitarian Council, was a key part of making the Goldmine Youth Leadership School happen for the western part of CERG. Canadian youth participated and even served as staff on both Goldmines. Since then youth from St. Lawrence crossed in to Canada for a youth con in Toronto, Canadians came to the Peer Chaplain training and will be at the Buffalo Con next weekend.

It’s both a renewing of the historic connections across the St. Lawrence Seaway and a new willingness to cross borders of all kinds. We have had St. Lawrence youth at Ohio Meadville cons and Ohio Meadville youth at St. Lawrence Youth Adult Committee meetings. Young Adults are making the same invitations. It just makes sense–Cleveland is closer to Buffalo than Albany, Ottawa is practically next door to Canton.

Regionalization in some ways makes everything seem further away as the “center” of our region is further away than the center of our districts. But I’m seeing, at the same time, a willingness to turn and look across the borders behind us. And so paradoxically, we’re actually able to make more happen. We’d never have been able to have that training in Canton without the Canadians. And more, their presence was deeply enriching in sharing new suggestions and insights and building more relationships. And many of those residents of NY and Canada realized they were going to see each other again–next weekend, driving the other way around the lake.

If you want to consider going north–there are two great events coming up. The first is a Senior High Our Whole Lives weekend in Ottawa February 21-23rd. http://owlinottawa.blogspot.ca/. Second, there’s a Spirituality Development Con outside of Toronto February 28-March 2nd. “This training is for youth, youth advisors, Religious Educators, seminarians and ordained clergy, and adult allies who are interested in learning more about how to better integrate worship and spirituality into their own lives and into the youth ministry in their community.” http://cuc.ca/youth/youth-events/.

If you’d like to cross borders to the south, think about attending the multigenerational Spring Seminar at the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office April 4-6. (http://www.uua.org/international/events/seminar/index.shtml)

Evin Ziemer
OMD Program Coordinator, SLD Youth Coordinator

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