Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The YA-YAs Go GA-GA (text of my "sermon" from the July 24th Young Adult Service/GA Wrap-Up at the UU Congregation of Miami)


“When we move, it’s a movement.”  Those are the words of a guy named Will Killingsworth from a band called Orchid and of no group are these words truer than of young adults.  Whether the young adults of this congregation, of this faith, of this country, and of this planet--whether they like it or not, every move we make is a movement because we are the ones who are next in line to lead.  I really wish so badly that you all could have been with me in Charlotte to see the irrepressible energy, the innovative ideas, and the incredible sense of focus, purpose, and overwhelming forward momentum oozing out of the UU Young Adults.  You guys would have seriously fallen out of your chairs.  I was overcome by a tsunami of optimism and hope for the future of not just that faith but of our country and our world.  These kids are already leaders, now, today, and they’re going to take us places, ladies and gentlemen.  You can either be along for the ride or get left behind.  

Right now, we’re getting left behind.  We talk so much about wanting to bring in young adults but we haven’t been asking ourselves the right questions about how to make that happen...mostly because most of us don’t really know what those questions are.  Questions like:  How are young adults being mentored into leadership?  Are young adults asked to serve on the basis of their individual gifts and strengths, and not just their age?  Are young adults involved in all issues, and not just those affecting young adults directly?  Do we offer a variety of worship styles and options (such as Soulful Sundowns)?  Do we ask young adults in the congregation what they need, recognizing that “young adult” is a wide age-range with a variety of pastoral needs?  
It’s not enough for young adults to hear about us.  It’s not enough for them to come to us.  It’s not enough for them to like us.  They must feel included.  They must feel wanted.  Most importantly, they must feel they are being ministered to.  They want to be asked to be involved.  They need to know that their money, their time, their energy, their input, no matter how little it may be, is highly important and highly valued.  An important part of this is not only having adult leaders that work with Young Adults on their ministry but also growing and developing Young Adult leaders in the congregation.  

UUA President Peter Morales actually spoke at one point specifically about the need to develop and mentor young leaders as well as the need to trust our current leaders.  Some of his words really struck a chord with me, especially as it relates to this congregation.  He said: “WE COME FROM AN  ANTI-AUTHORITARIAN TRADITION.  AND WE ARE NOTHING IF NOT SKEPTICAL ABOUT AUTHORITY AND POWER.  BUT THIS IS NOT ULTIMATELY ORGANIZATIONAL.  ULTIMATELY, IT IS SPIRITUAL.  MY FRIENDS, WE NEED TO LEARN HOW TO TRUST ONE ANOTHER.  HOW TO IDENTIFY POTENTIAL LEADERS, TRAIN THEM, MENTOR THEM, NURTURE THEM, EMPOWER THEM, YES, HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE, BUT LET OUR LEADERS LEAD.  OTHERWISE, WE BECOME PARALYZED AND OUR MOST IMPORTANT PRODUCT BECOMES PROCESS.  OUR MOST IMPORTANT PRODUCT MUST BE ACTS OF LOVE.”

Acts of love.  Remember those?  Acts of love are why we’re here.  Our faith cries: “Deeds, not creeds!”  This is the very essence of our social justice work.  A point was raised at GA that young adults are, in fact, interested in social justice...but what they’re more interested in is social service.  

Standing On the Side of Love, for instance, is easily the UUA’s most effective social justice campaign right now.  Standing on the Side of Love (SSL) for those who don’t know is an interfaith public advocacy campaign, sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Association, promoting respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every person.  They do a tremendous amount of work advocating for LGBTQ rights as well as Anti-Racism / Anti-Oppression / Multiculturalism and yet it’s something I barely ever hear anybody talk about here, in Miami, one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world.  I attended a Standing On the Side of Love rally in Marshall Park in Charlotte and it was easily one of the highlights of GA for me personally.

I also happened to pick up a flier for something called the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office.  “What is this all about?” I wondered to myself.  This organization apparently has an actual presence at the United Nations and UUs can apply to be envoys (which is kind of a fancy way of saying representatives) for their congregations in UU-UNO, which I have already begun the process of doing.  

So, you see?  Social service inspires social justice.  

And actually if you’re smart about it, social justice can, in fact, inspire many other vibrant growth opportunities, including campus ministry.

Now, maybe the most important reason why I personally came to the UU was in order to find allies both spiritual and secular in the battles over some of the crucial issues facing our country and our world today.  As such, I feel strongly that there are so many other young adults out there looking for the exact same thing.  However, I also feel just as strongly that there are many more young adults looking for something entirely different than that...but something which this community can provide equally well.  Because if there’s one thing I’ve noticed about UUs, it’s that everyone came here for a different reason, everyone gets something different out of it and one of our biggest problems is our ability--and, frankly, at times, our willingness--to minister to ALL of these groups, rather than merely the ones who make up the majority or even just the ones who make the most noise.

But my point is that we need to do outreach in a variety of ways and highlight a variety of different aspects of who we are  Which brings me to Campus Ministry.  I know this is an important issue in this congregation and one that is certainly very important to me as a 26-year-old college student, so I made sure to make Campus Ministry a special focus of my time at General Assembly.  

One important point of emphasis was that it has to be done on a personal level--that it can’t just be a booth in the student union or fliers on a bulletin board.  Personal relationships are extremely important for everyone, really, but especially for young people.  Often times young people only come to church to see someone they know and if that person isn’t there, they won’t be there either so it’s definitely always important to engage young adults on a personal level.  It’s also important in campus ministry to start with those who self-identify as UU.  There was also a lot of talk about sponsoring events on campus that are not directly UU related such as movie nights or open mics or really anything in between.  Another thing we talked about was forming campus groups around social issues or if some already exist, maybe sponsoring their meetings.  And, of course, the most important thing you must do in campus ministry: SERVE FOOD.  Preferably free food.  College students will go ANYWHERE if there’s free food.

One overwhelming feeling I came away from GA with was the feeling that this congregation is not nearly as connected to the UUA as we could be.  You’d be amazed at the amount of resources and inspiration you can find just by browsing the UUA website.  Often times I find myself bookmarking five, six, seven things at a time sometimes.  One exciting program I found out about that I’d really love to see us begin working on is to become what’s called an “Anchor Congregation.”  The Anchor Congregation Program, according to the UUA: “recognizes congregations that have made a significant commitment to young adult and/or campus ministry.”  Notice the word “commitment” in there?  That’s what it’s going to take.  It’s going to take commitment from you as well as from us.  It’s going to take participation.  You know I love to bring up that word, “participation.”  Participation is everything, my friends.

Gini Courter made an excellent point in her Moderator’s Report relating to the participatory nature of Unitarian Universalism. Gini, for those who don’t know, is the most excellent moderator of the Plenary sessions (where all the business gets done during General Assembly) as well as the Chair of the Board of Trustees.  What she said was this.  She said: “The vision for our religion comes from the people.”  She went on: “The purpose of the elected leadership...is...to facilitate the ministry of the laity.  TO EMPOWER AND EQUIP LAY FOLKS LIKE YOU, LIKE ME, TO BUILD MARVELOUS NEW TOMORROWS AND TO MAKE REAL THEIR ASPIRATIONS.  IT IS THE VOICE OF THE LAITY, YOUR VOICE...THAT CREATES AND DIRECTS UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISM.”  I don’t think I’d ever said “Amen!” to anything in my life before I heard that.

Which brings me back around to Justice GA.

For those who don’t know, next year’s Justice General Assembly in Phoenix is going to be unlike any General Assembly ever held.  The idea is to minimize the amount of “business as usual” at this GA in order to focus on doing work on the ground, in the surrounding communities.  There is going to be a huge, HUGE focus on Anti-Racism/Anti-Oppression/Multiculturalism  work (or AR/AO/MC) which presents a wonderful opportunity for our congregation to do the multiculturalism work we so desperately want to do and have made such a serious commitment to doing.  In fact, I have already submitted a request to the Board to create a “Justice GA fund” so I can begin fundraising as soon as possible to send as many delegates from this congregation to Phoenix in 2012 as we possibly can--and of course, that fund will be accepting any and all donations as soon as it’s established.  I urge as many of you as are willing and able to help me with this.  Again I say to you: participation is everything.

You know, a lot of people come up here talking about a lot of beautiful emotions and wonderful ideas and it’s very spiritually fulfilling, don’t get me wrong, but what do you take outside with you?  Personally, that’s just not my style.  I have a vision for this congregation.  I have a vision for Unitarian Universalism.  I have a vision for this city, this state, this country, and this world.  Help me make real my aspirations and I’ll help you do the same.  Help me build marvelous new tomorrows and I’ll help you do the same.  Help me build a vibrant, viable, sustainable, active, and, dare I say, influential young adult group in this congregation and I promise you I and the rest of the YAs will help you do the same.  Thank You.

1 comment:

Tim said...

Great message Derrick! Thanks for sharing this for those of us that couldn't be there to hear you speak these powerful words in person.

-Tim B