RE NEWS by Joanne Dingus

This year we have two students graduating from high school who will be bridging on June 5th. They will do a bridging workshop to help prepare them for this important transition in their lives. At the service, we will celebrate their time at UUFP, letting them express what our church has meant to them and what their plans are for the future. And of course we will have the traditional memory slideshow, with a box of tissues at the ready!

For the past few months, I have been part of a Think Tank on Bridging. I have been working with the staff of the UUA’s Youth and Young Adult office (YaYA) and with Ministers, DREs, Youth and Young Adults from our denomination.

Here is a quick history of how this think tank came to be: When the YaYA office realized that Bridge Connections (program designed to help youth connect to a congregation in the area they moved to after high school) was under used, YaYA staff gathered a Task Force to brainstorm technical fixes to meet bridgers where they’re at and help them get connected to existing resources. These fixes were designed to help bridgers “navigate the cliff” to use the common metaphor of what happens to youth after they bridge (they fall off the cliff and stop participating in UU). Through conversations with religious educators and congregational life field staff they decided to create a Think Tank that could help identify ways to “change the landscape” so that there wouldn’t be a cliff.

Scope: changing the landscape of “the cliff’s edge.” The scope of the Think Tank was to investigate what kinds of cultural shifts needed to happen to change the landscape for bridgers from the “cliff” to something more easily navigable and better supported.

We started by generating questions about the process of bridging, YA demographics, cultural shifts and beloved community.

We created a photo album of what a community with meaningful celebrations of transitions might look like.

We worked on a vision plan and an action plan.

A requirement for the Shared Vision was that it had to be in line with the Global Ends of the UUA and the YaYA Office vision.

Over the course of several video calls we came up with these ideas for our shared vision.

  1. Good multigenerational ministry that includes youth and young adults fully will also serve other marginalized groups such as those who do shift work, retail or restaurant work, those who can’t drive or don’t own cars, those who find participatory and less intellectual programs and worship more accessible, and others.  This ministry will also pay attention to the needs of marginalized youth and young adults such as youth and young adults of color and trans or gender non-binary youth and young adults.
  2. The staff in the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry will (continue to) promote a culture shift toward truly multigenerational ministry that includes youth and young adults fully. This may include producing shareable and printable materials, initiating conversations with religious educators, ministers, youth advisors, youth and young adults, and advocating to other departments of the UUA.
  3. The act of “bridging” is spiritually grounded and universally understood as a part of the lifelong journey of truth and meaning. The particular vulnerability that comes with emerging adulthood calls for a more connected and intentional approach, which honors the fragility that comes with this transformational time in life. As we support emerging adults in our communities, we will nurture empathy, building bridges between generations toward a life-giving embodiment of multigenerational community.
  4. Honoring the deep need for community – virtually and in person. Creating a culture of online community. Many young adults are unable to commit to a community as there are many life transitions happening throughout such a large age range. If there were online clusters then location would not be an issue and commitment might be easier to make.
  5. While life transitions are a universal, repeated experiences for all Unitarian Universalists, the transition from youthhood to adulthood is unique. This coming of age milestone marks a specific leap in independence, responsibility, legal rights and brain development. The transition to young adulthood should be respected as one of life’s many transitions and simultaneously honored through providing developmentally appropriate support.  
  6. As Unitarian Universalists, we must reach out to and support fellow members of our faith community throughout their lives, both in the times leading up to and following bridging.  UUs of all ages and roles in our faith have a responsibility to engage the youth and young adults of our communities and to engage this larger conversation.
  7. As humans, we all need to find ways to make meaningful connections.  When we honor the talents and gifts of people of all ages and encourage them to share these gifts with one another we are able to go deeper. We must be intentional about providing opportunities for people to share their gifts with the community. When we create a culture where people of all ages mentor each other, not just at Coming of Age but through other life transitions, we develop lasting connections and a strong community.
  8. Understanding that the religious and spiritual culture of Unitarian Universalist youth communities sometimes differs drastically from the religious and spiritual culture of UU congregations that young adults bridge into, supportive bridging helps young adults stay in touch with what they value about Unitarian Universalism and remain open to its many faces. As youth cross the bridge to young adulthood they are invited to bring all that they hold precious from their experience growing up UU, with acknowledgment that they have an important perspective on our faith to hold and share; and they are invited to see adult Unitarian Universalism anew, both its struggles and its gifts. Similar to the welcoming of new members, we will celebrate that our youth bridging into young adults will both change and be changed by their community. If we succeed, our bridgers will see the good in congregational life and feel empowered to add their voice to it or help to build something new to serve their needs as people on the forming edge of Unitarian Universalism.
  9. Bridging from Youth to Young Adulthood is not just a singular event.  Ideally it is a process. One that begins when young people are considered Youth and given the opportunities associated with that distinction. This process is supported mainly through multi-generational, cross-program (i.e. Worship, Social Action, Affinity Groups, etc.) inclusion in congregational life and supported through regional and national multi-generational opportunities that include Young Adults.
  10. Unitarian Universalists will intentionally and conscientiously engage in excellent multigenerational ministry in all aspects of church life (not just RE or Youth Group!) so that our community members are sustainably prepared for and engaged during the many transitions they will experience as UUs.
  11. Excellent multigenerational ministry honors the gifts and ministry of all involved by attending to the many intersectionalities of life, including ability, neurodiversity, cultural background, sexual orientation, gender identity, work schedules, transportation, learning styles, geographic mobility and other needs.
  12. The time in one’s life when a transition from the security of childhood, into the unknown of young adulthood takes places, as a faith that values multigenerational community, it is our responsibility to uphold our intentional community and celebrate and provide the support needed to our young adults and provide a place for them where they feel as valued and empowered to keep on being involved in their UU community.

From the Shared Vision we distilled these commonalities.

  • Thinking lifelong – childhood to elderhood: bridging is one of many transitions, it is unique and it is also part of a larger arc of UU life.  We see a holistic approach to transitions that thinks about the whole lifespan.
  • Honoring everyone’s gifts – everyone of all ages bring gifts and truly contribute to our communities.  We see multigenerational communities where what each person has to offer is encouraged.
  • Including all ages into all aspects of ministry – not just RE or Youth Group.  We see folks from children to adults, especially youth and young adults participating in many aspects of UU life from justice to worship to faith formation to stewardship.
  • Paying attention to the gaps – the difference in worship and culture between youth and adults and the absence of young adult specific communities within UU.  We see preparation for this transition with acknowledgement of the challenge as well as more ways for young adults to connect (online and in person) and more ways to bring the best of youth culture into the adult sectors of our movement. 

We have been working on an Action Plan with concrete steps for the YaYA office to take. I will let you know next month what we come up with.

See you in the RE!

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