Saturday, June 27, 2009

UUA GA Quickie #4: Backstory

Today in conversation with a group of adults from my original church, I was asked to specify why I joined my second church during college, and why I am still in the faith when so many people my age raised UU have left. There is no single factor; here's the list of things I proposed as playing some role:
  • The Mid-High Guidance Committee. When I was 13, I was upset with the curriculum that year (bible-based), and with the decision to break middle schoolers into a group of 6th-7th graders, and a group of 8th-9th graders. I was in 7th grade; my closest friends were in 8th grade. I wrote a letter to my teachers and the Director of Religious Education expressing my discontent. Within months, the "Mid-High Guidance Comittee" had been created, for the purpose of sustaining community among middle schoolers.
  • Church Camp, which was the first real place that I was introduced to a broader community of UU peers, and which as always to me been an affirmation of community as a religious discipline. It helps, too, that the camp has involved into a highly generationally integrated setting, with children as young as five, elementary schoolers, middle schoolers, teenagers that run programing, college kids that do behind-the-scenes camp maintence, young adults that steward high school programming, and adult adults that run elementary and middle school curriculum.
  • Youth Leadership through Church Camp and YRUU. As mentioned in the previous point, high schoolers do a lot of the actual work of church camp. For me, that opportunity to be in a leadership position with other youth helping Unitarian kids from that age of 14 was a tremendous affirmation of the value of community, and the right of everyone involved to shape the circumstances around them. My experience with YRUU was similar. As a new youth, I did not really enjoy Conferences, but I found he business of Cons fascinating and loved the good work of improving our community. In my sophomore year, I was able to serve my home state as the New Mexico Social Action Coordinator. That too was a powerful experience for me, as it connected leadership/community involvement and works towards social justice.
  • Religious Education Committee. In high school, I was asked to fill a vacancy left by my father leaving the RE committee, and also to accompany a fellow youth. Being able to advocate for those younger than myself, and to strike compromises between the desires of adult teachers and the needs of UU children was valuable. It also let me see the inner workings behind a significant part of my childhood, and realize what adults could be like in decision making, which helped me see myself as just as worthy of having a say.
  • Worship Committee. In late high school, after leaving the RE committee, I was asked to be on the Worship committee, tasked with lay-leading and planning our services. This was the first leadership opportunity I had that did not involve youth or children as the primary focus, and it was a joy and an affirmation to be part of working for the larger church community. It also put me on stage as a lay leader about once a month, and that meant as a given I was at church at least once a month.
  • Denominational Affairs Committee. I was asked again to first serve alongside and then replace the friend who had founded the committee.
  • Youth Worship. Youth Sunday at First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque stands as my favorite worship ever, and for five years I was able to speak at it. First year was with the coming of age sermon, and the next four years were all as part of the youth group. Speaking one's spiritual story is important for many UU's (all, really), and to be able to year after year speak my story as a raised UU with other raised UUs was truly an affirmation of our place within the denomination
  • Opportunities to speak to the congregation outside of youth worship. I was at 17 asked to give a pulpit editorial for something like stewardship sunday. This was my first time speaking not with oter youth, and I was able to share my experience of church camp and its sacred community. More recently, as a college student I was invited back to contribute a pulpit editorial for Christine's presidential campaign sermon. While having the editorial ready on the day of the sermon fell through, I was able instead to speak to a post-election mindset. As someone away at college studying politics, the ability to share that part of my life with my home congregation was again affirming.
  • Other programming I've forgotten. OWL, coming of age, my church extended family, the meaning found in my grandfathers memorial service at All Soul's in DC, the ability to use anti-racism training at my high school, the mid-high steered chirstmas pageants, and myriad other examples that have at the moment slipped my mind exist. While all important in their own way, they signify also that I am someone who would have the church be a part of my life as almost a given. Whether or not I am that way now because of any part of programming in my life is debatable, but I think the role played by all the programmign and engagement I have had with this faith makes it undeniable.
When asked by Albuquerque what they did right in raising my UU, I can't answer with anything other than this: they gave me religion that was not just spiritually satisfying, that was not just built around community, that was not just built around work towards social justice, and that was not just handed down to me. It was, instead, the sacred community whose work was justice, and whose rules and governance was malleable by one who felt the need to be involved and to effect change. It was holistic religion.

And it is what enabled me, in the first weeks of my freshmen year of college, to attend First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans. It is the backdrop I had in my mind when I wrote these first impressions of what it was New Orleans UUs did right.

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