Newsletter: January 2015 

Participants from
all districts welcome!
Master Class: The Message of Music--Finding Ourselves in the Rhythm

Our Whole Lives - 7 to 12
Facilitator Training


January 31, 2015

Youth Ministry in the 2K's 


January 31, 2015 

Master Class: Youth Ministry 

Next Gen


Master Class: Living on Purpose--
The End of Strategic Planning 

GRACE Community Learning Gathering
Master Class: Multigenerational Worship--Moving From The Exception to the Norm 


Collegial Conversations for Ministers, DREs, Admins, Music Directors - Living Into Mystery: 

March 11, 2015
Master Class: Lifting Up Your Spiritual Leadership for Church Administrators


Master Class: Naming Culture; Practicing Change

Imagine A World Without Teens

by Karen Bellavance-Grace
Director of Life Span Faith Formation

Imagine a world with no teenagers.


I'm not talking about a nightmare future world without teenagers from a dystopian novel.


I'm talking about an actual time in our history, and not that long ago. According to the Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in Society and History, teenagers have walked among us for only a little over 100 years:


"In 1900 teenagers did not exist. There were young people in their teens, but there was no culture or institution that united them or fostered peer group development on a societal scale. While some worked at home, on family farms, or in factories or offices, others attended school. Still more married or prepared for marriage. One hundred years later, in 2000, teenagers were impossible to avoid. There were more teens than ever before and their cultural presence was undeniable. They existed not only as high school students, but as highly sought consumers, carefully watched as trendsetters in fashion, music, and movies."


A number of factors over the decades contributed to the crystallization of the life stage we know as Teenage, Adolescence, or Youth. American churches have responded to these factors incrementally over time, creating something broadly recognized as Youth Ministry. 

Back around the turn of the 20th century, with young people following the Industrial Revolution to urban areas to work in factories six days a week, early youth ministry focused on teaching young people to study the Bible (and keeping them out of trouble on their one day off). Some American denominations feared that they would lose their young people to these non-denominational study groups, leading to the first appearance of denomination-specific youth ministries, like The Luther League.




Upcoming Youth Ministry Workshops

On January 31 in Providence, RI we'll offer two workshops focusing on Youth Ministry, one for lay leaders and one for religious professionals:

Youth Ministry in the 2K's will equip adults who work with youth today in our congregations with best practices for safe, healthy, and spirit-centered contemporary youth ministry. This morning session runs from 8:30am to 12:30pm and is open to lay leaders, volunteers and religious professionals.

Youth Ministry Next Gen Master Class invites our religious professionals to a conversation about the shape of youth ministry we can begin to see out on the horizon, what do we believe this moment calls us to, and how we can begin to prepare our churches and families for what comes next. This afternoon session runs from 2:00pm to 5:00pm and is for Ministers and professional Youth/RE Directors.
FEATUREA World Without Teens  [continued from top]

Before the Second World War, a congregation's pastor might be expected to be in charge of all of the ministries of the church - including youth fellowships.  After the war, with young people returning home from service prepared to claim leadership roles, the first organized Youth Committees were formed, followed in the mid-century by a proliferation of professional and para-professional youth ministry staff positions.


By the end of the 20th century, it is pretty well accepted that Youth Ministry be a separate ministry of a church, headed up by religious educators, youth directors, or youth advisor volunteers. Today, if a minister runs the church youth group, it is often articulated as a failing of the church - "it's only because we cannot afford our own youth director right now."


Well into the first quarter of the 21st century, there is once again a generalized distress about denominations 'losing our youth.' Today's societal forces propelled in part by the Digital Revolution may be different, but the anxiety harkens back to earlier times and calls forth familiar questions.

  • How shall we serve our youth?
  • Can we retain our youth into adulthood?
  • Will there be a next generation of Unitarian Universalism?
  • If we were designing youth ministry today, would we tweak around the edges of what we have inherited from the previous century? Or might we start with some different assumptions?
  • How does this moment call us to respond?

Colossus of Rhodes These questions put me in mind of the Colossus of Rhodes, a giant figure guarding the port city with each foot planted on a pillar, looking out to the horizon. Similarly, here we stand today with one foot in the present moment of Youth Ministry - its systems, volunteers, expectations, traditions, and of course the very youth who are today's participants. All of these need to be attended to, nurtured, supported.


At the same time, we stake one foot squarely in a future still too far out on the horizon to see clearly. The future of how we structure our Unitarian Universalist ministries to support youth, parents, lay volunteers, and religious professionals is in our hands to shape.


At the start of this new year, we are especially pleased to offer two learning opportunities for lay and professional leaders who work with Unitarian Universalist youth in New England to imagine what comes next. 


These are vital and affirming conversations. We will strive to maintain a good balance between serving today's needs while leaning into new directions by maintaining strong footing in our shared faith.