For all that is our life! by Rev. Andrew Clive Millard
A hand that’s warm in friendship strong,
that lifts us up when things go wrong
and builds a church where — more than creeds —
we count our blessings in good deeds:
our hands can offer hope’s embrace
to make the world a better place.
— additional fifth verse to hymn 300, “With Heart and Mind”
While in Denver for my seminary studies at the Iliff School of Theology, I also worked for the Mountain Desert District, first as Youth Chaplain and then as interim Youth Ministry Coordinator. Working with teenagers and their UU congregations from New Mexico to Wyoming, from Texas to Utah, I witnessed their youthful struggles with matters of personal and religious identity, with questions of morality and justice, and with attempts to put their hopes and aspirations into words. In other words, exactly the same things with which we adults struggle!
At that time, with changes in how the Unitarian Universalist Association was doing youth programming, the District was developing a new understanding of its own ministry. The youth themselves took the lead in working with their adult advisors, and in the process created a vision that they named “Quuest”, spelled with two Us (naturally!) but not an acronym for anything. And it wasn’t just for teenagers, either! Presenting it to the District’s Board, there was agreement that it’s not just UU youth who yearn for such a vision, for it spoke to the religious lives of UU adults, too.
Within Quuest, the youth identified five particular components as most important. The first component was named “gatherings” and was put into words as: “Across all that divides us, we gather to protect all that unites us.” Second was “worship”: “Creating a moment in time that gives our community an outlet to pursue deeper spirituality.” Then came “social justice”: “Caring for and receiving from the interdependent web of life.” Another component emphasized by the Quuest vision went by a few different names, including “coming out of the basement” or “… the portable” or “… the back room”, referring to the tendency within many congregations to hide, whether intentionally or not, their children, and their youth in particular, in out of the way places, rather than welcoming them into a fully multigenerational community.
The remaining component was of a notably different nature. And it was significant not only for being itself part of the vision but also for being an important part of making it possible to achieve the vision, too. Demonstrating considerable wisdom, the youth had identified that component as “resilience”, which they described as follows: “To achieve personal and religious resilience, youth ministries provide community, trust and a strong spiritual identity by means of time together, reflection, family and friends, congregations, forgiveness of self and others, affirmation, encouragement and listening.”
As usually understood, resilience means being able to bounce back, to recover from a failure, setback or other adversity, something that inevitably happens to all of us, sooner or later. Called as a religious community to engage in the work of transformation, it is essential to be able to find the strength to carry on when times get tough, to rise above disappointments and differences of opinion, and to draw upon our personal and spiritual resources for resilience. Part of being a community, after all, is caring for one another in our times of need, offering our strength to one another when we can, and allowing others to care for us and lend us their strength, too. And those seeking community are often looking for a place where they know they’ll be able to find a sympathetic ear, where there’ll be others willing to listen with compassion and without judgment, where they can be offered a song of love when they need it.
As we make our way into a time of year that is challenging for many people and for many reasons, may we continue to offer to one another the affirmation, the encouragement and the listening that we all need in our lives. May we find joy in being together and in everything we do as a community, and though our paths may sometimes be difficult, may we remember and take comfort in the knowledge that none of us are alone in our journeys.