I’ve watched events in UUism, the UUA, and YRUU evolve over time. Over the past 10 years, much has happened. Today, there are debates in congregations, districts, and within the Association about how YRUU and UU ministry interact, and their meaning to each other.
In many ways, YRUU has become a much more powerful, integral, and influential entity within the UUA. This is definitely where I think Youth ministry belongs, but I begin to wonder if there has been too much dependence and focus on the institutions of YRUU, as opposed to its missions. A later post will address those issues, from here out we’ll look at YRUU in the HUUD (aka Heartland UU District for those of you not in on the joke).
A lot of what’s happening now in the HUUD is linked to the creation of the Heartland to begin with.
I first joined the Michigan YAC in 1998. That fall, we and the Ohio Valley YAC met and we started talking. The Districts knew they were going to join, against some of the desires of a number of groups, the process was indeed a Juggernaut. It took an extra year after the parent Heartland District formed before the DYSC took the place of the individual YACs.
I served as Registrar for the Michigan district, and a number of non-Michigan run cons. One of the things that we in Michigan had, was the benefit of multiple years of information. As I took over as Registrar, and continued as Communications Officer, we were already watching the size of our cons shrink from sizes of 120-140, to barely reaching 100. As we continued still further into the year 2000, 100 was a dream, and happiness lived at 85. This was something we specifically talked about w/ the Ohio Valley YAC, as they were experiencing the same problem. Since then, the numbers have swung up and down.
To understand how the DYSC came to be, we have to look at the 2 YACs. OVD was elected by the con body at an annual conference (Usually March, before the Annual Meeting in April), thus a popular majority vote. Michigan had a senate of sorts. Each YRUU group in the district (supposedly) sent a youth and adult rep to the meeting held at each May’s Spring con. Said reps and the departing YAC members (no more than one vote each) would select the next executive portion of the YAC, to be filled out by the reps from the congregations at the rest of that years meetings.
In OVD, churches ran Cons, and would get assistance from the YAC. They were also a semi-autonomous section of the RE committee. In Michigan, the YAC was a semi-autonomous group of the District, with it’s own bank account, and ran 3 cons a year, plus LDCs and the like. Any church COULD run a con if it wanted, but few did.
Thus, the HUUD DYSC was a body made of compromise. Adopting a model from the SouthWest district, they became a body as equal as any other in the district structure, responsible for facilitating clusters of YRUU groups and congregations into running their own programming, their own cons, thus relieving the problems of larger distances. The DYSC was meant to be the least of all YRUU bodies in the Heartland, to the eventual end of no longer being elected by a con, instead formed from the chairs and associates of the Cluster YACs. Between local congregations cons, cluster cons, and the DYSCs few (mostly working) cons, there should be SOME con every month, if not more often.
The assumption was made that YRUU programming would need to continue even without the DYSC existing, in case of a bad group of people elected to it, or a total breakdown in communication. The entire YRUU district structure was designed to make sure that when any body failed, the entire system would continue, and be able to build the broken area back up. Thus, the clusters were paramount to the system, and needed to be babied and protected. We saw the 30% decline in con attendance as disturbing, but a trend in other places as well, and one that would reverse as clusters grew and could assist their local groups more. This has proven to be a fatal assumption, based in the hubris of people who thought what they were doing was unable to fail.
This clustering wasn’t happening when I aged out in 2001. There were a few individual groups that were growing and talking of running their own cons, but strong clusters were barely there, and have continued to decline. Since, the DYSC has become an entity that has had to manage all YRUU affairs in the district. Thus, to this day there is no network, there is still the problem of distances preventing many youth from getting to cons, and communication about these events can generally be said to be poor at best.
What YRUU in the HUUD needs, is a rebuild. Not necessarily in structure, but in the building blocks of those structures. If there are Pastoral and Programme models for UUA districts and congregations, they also exist in YRUU. Right now, the DYSC needs to become a body whose strength of powers involve that pastoral care. It will take concerted, individualized attention to individual congregations, building their groups and making them aware of the network of opportunities that is their birthright, and their responsibility to build for the next generation of YRUU (which will have completely taken over in 3 years), if YRUU programing is to continue. It will take time, it will take money, it will take energy and tears, but it can be done, and the district better off for it.
This then makes one ask, what is the point of YRUU? What is the point of UU institutions? The answer is simple, and one that too often in Youth ministry we forget: To serve the needs of our congregations. To build a sustainable Youth UU Ministry, we must take a holistic institutional view, and pull the youth groups out of the basements. Part of doing that will entail the UU youth leaders on a district level communicating with congregations (and not DREs exclusively, but ministers and lay leadership as well), finding common cause, building connections, and using youth to change the entirety of congregational life in ways that are wanted, but otherwise lacking. Such a process can be done, and needs be started now.