This past weekend the youth (meaning grades 14 y/o – 18 y/o) of my congregation hosted a “Con”. The name was UUnicon, and the theme was mythical stories and animals. Youth arrived in varieties of outfits with many Fairy Wings and Tutus in display. There were squeals of delight and greeting, there were hugs and back slaps and full body lifts. There were oohs and ahhs of appreciation for the different outfits
For those who are not UUs a con is a district wide youth weekend hosted by a local church youth group. The youth arrive on Friday evening and stay until Sunday morning. There are small groups, worship, workshops, lots of fellowship, and lots of fun. I have not been involved in lots of denominations but I have talked with a lot of youth workers. And I think that it is true that cons are unusual.
For sure there are adults who are there at the con and there are adults to help with the preplanning and the implementation of the con. And here I would like to give a shout out to Ardena, Sherri, Richard, Adam (GREAT FOOD!), and Brian. They were the advisors who walked with these youth as they did the planning, organizing prepping and implementation.
We had about 65 youth at our church all weekend and about 20 or so adults. 65 YOUTH FOLKS!! When is the last time you were able to gather 65 adults from 10 churches for a weekend?
These people are youth and are so expert at creating community. Returning youth welcome each other. New youth are marked with a “V” – usually on their forehead. The first time I saw that I was a bit put off. My thought was maybe it wasn’t good to single someone out. But the returning youth all reached out to the newbies and helped them feel welcome.
Everyone is given an orientation, youth adults, V’s, returning youth. Everyone starts off on the same page. The adults do not run the orientation. The youth run it. Adults are there if need be.
The youth run the small groups – touch groups. This is the place where youth get to process what is going on. There are trained youth chaplains who are there for youth if anyone needs more in depth conversation about whatever.
The youth run the committee, The SPirit Committee, that oversees the rules of the con and is in charge of dealing with any infractions of rules. And they take this job seriously. The rules are laid out clearly and how the rules are to be dealt with are laid out clearly.
Are getting this? The youth run and police their own cons. Some of them stay up all night some of them don’t. But each youth is expected to be responsible for their misery or comfort. The adults are not put in the spot of being the bad adult who is always grumpy. The adults really are advisors. The teens take such leadership – they own it.
These youth understand that to create and nurture community you must be transparent in your rules. I don’t know that I hear very often from youth “Well everyone knows that!” They know that you must always be in the business of welcoming and including the newcomer. Don’t just leave it up to the newcomer to find their way.
These youth know that community when created well and nurtured is a precious and wondrous thing – not to be taken lightly. They know that this kind of community is a lifeline for many and you don’t just yank that lifeline away. When there are problems, you deal and you face them together. You don’t pick a fight and storm off. You work the problems out.
These youth know how to include each other. Some of our youth don’t necessarily identify as male or female. Our group could have made one bathroom gender neutral. Instead they opted to make all bathrooms gender neutral. I was so proud of them. They know how to make the circle larger to include all.
I learn a lot from the youth at my church. If I don’t know something say so. If I am tired and lonely seek out a friend. If someone is new smile at them, say hello, ask them what they need, show them the ropes. Deep community nourishes the soul. And really I should wear fairy wings and tutus more often.
We UUs, at least the adults, worry a lot about what will happen to our denomination in the future. We fret that our numbers will drop off and that … We fret. Here is what I think let us each take time with the youth in our congregation. We may not admit it but they have their hand on the rudder of our future we just haven’t recognized it yet. Learn from them because they are the heart of our denomination. Let us listen to our heart and follow it.