Opt Out Faith Part 2


I knew the “opt-in” versus “opt-out” would get people talking.  Welcome to the UU Growth Blog!

Now more on an “opt out” orientation where  when you’re born UU and congregational life happens such that it sends you on a happy, healthy, exciting, heading toward being an adult UU track unless you take the time to intentionally press the eject button.

In particular I’ve been thinking about 1) what experiences serve to connect youth to our communities, our larger faith, and lead to a decision to join the church,  2) when and how do these experiences presently happen, and 3) when SHOULD they happen.

I’ve had many parents say they can make their kids go to church through coming of age. After that, its up to them.  I agree 100%. I wouldn’t want to force a teenager to go to church.  However this means by coming of age – say 8th grade – our youth should have had many of those experiences that lead to caring about our faith, valuing it, leading in it, and so on…  As always, ours is a chosen faith.  But I think we shouldn’t hold the best for after our children have phased out and then opted back in.  Those core formative UU experiences need to happen during the pre-coming of age stage, a stage that tends to be more auto opt in oriented.

AND, and this is huge.  Your  worship for all ages, religious education for all ages, justice & service work, technology, events, coffee hour food, decor, signage, communications, and hundred other things — they can’t suck.  Several years ago I talked to a teenager who moved from my home town where he attended our church and youth group (I was advisor) to another town. Maybe yours.  “How’s the youth group?” I asked. “It sucks. I don’t go…” he said with a somber tone.  “I miss our youth group.”

Since I generally don’t use the word “suck” as appropriate as it may be in this context, let’s go with something more UU friendly.  How about sUUcky?

You can’t expect to retain born UUs if many offer Subpar Unitarian Universalist Church for Kids and Youth.  And what’s subpar these days?  I think we can use the energy, excitement and passion of our children through adults as an indicator.   Do we wake up excited to go to church?

4 thoughts on “Opt Out Faith Part 2”

  1. Peter,

    Once again, I appreciate the questions you ask.

    As a secondary education student, I am finding out I know little or nothing about the effective education of children and was, therefore, ill-equipped to teach something as important as my church’s Coming of Age program. We can no more expect children to be excited about coming to church, RE, youth group if they have well-meaning but (forgive the harsh word) incompetent RE teachers than we can expect them to get excited about school if their school teachers are incompetent. Perhaps this is one area that needs improvement.

    That said, the real nugget in this post is the question, “Do we wake up excited to go to church?” Here I will only speak to my own experience as a young person. When I was a teenager, I wanted something to believe in, something with which to identify myself. I suspect many teens, looking for their identities, want the same thing. The question for adults, parents and educators, is how do we guide teens into embracing something positive, something that will lead them into lives of personal fulfillment and community service.

    I was educated at a Jesuit middle and high school. The educational philosophy of the Jesuits is to guide, mentor, and mold boys into “men for others.” Much as I really didn’t like school or the Jesuits at the time, their philosophy stuck. When I chose to be a naval officer my reasoning was, in part, founded on my desire to serve my community, my country. The philosophy still sticks. I chose to become a teacher because of my desire to continue to serve my community.

    So maybe what will inspire our youth to remain UU’s is what may also attract and keep adults – something to believe in, something founded on our religious history, philosophy and heritage that is also relevant to today. I have argued elsewhere that UU’s need to embrace a set of core values that we COLLECTIVELY commit to live by (http://mypropheticimperative.blogspot.com/2009/08/letters-to-guantanamo-sailors.html). Something to believe in. Something that will inspire a young person seeking self-identity to say, proudly, I am a Unitarian Universalist.

    Tom Beall

  2. Tom, a while back the UUA did a pilot project where two groups of UU young adults were brought to Boston and Providence for what was called the “Summer of Servce and Spirituality.” During the program, I think it was six weeks, they YA’s studies theology, UU history and interned with social jusice oriented groups. I video taped interviews with some of them on their last day (for the UUA, footage not online). It completely transformed their understanding and appreciation of our faith. See UU World coverage http://www.uuworld.org/news/articles/44860.shtml Maybe we need to develop a model for local versions of this that can be offered for a month each Summer for high school aged UU youth. Maybe the summer after Coming of Age.

  3. Peter; I’m convinced that a month-long immersion experience would be one of the things to help convert and reconvert young UUs… and adult ones as well.

    Having just spent an hour engaged in reading your blog, I want to say a heartfelt thank you. You and I are similarly called…and sometimes I wonder if I’m crazy. Glad to know we are not alone!

    Love,
    Vail

    1. Hi Vail,

      Great to hear from you. I couldn’t agree with you more. Though in my mind I think of it not so much as conversion but as completing the process of adult faith formation. I’ve heard people speak of a conceot in Buddhism called entering the stream, attaining enough understanding of the path such that you can never go back. I remember reaching a point where I truly appreciated the beauty of Unitarian Universalism and the value of congregational life. Right now we end “religious education” before our youth reach that level. The UUA did a pilot program along the lines of what you are talking about a few years ago, the Summer of Spirituality and Service. See http://www.uuworld.org/news/articles/44860.shtml

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