Mr. Crankypants is a fiscal conservative

Over on FUUSE, Bart Frost reports that the Steering Committee of Young Religious Unitarian Universalists (YRUU) have announced that their funding will be cut off as of June 30, 2008. Bart reprints the letter from the YRUU Steering Committee Facebook page which announces the funding cut. Bart adds that this effectively means the end of YRUU Steering Committee; and presumably this also means the end of YRUU as a semi-autonomous entity. Fiscal conservative that he is, Mr. Crankypants is quietly pleased by this announcement.

It’s too bad this had to happen, but Mr. C. has the sense that the continental YRUU hierarchy has made itself increasingly irrelevant over the past decade or so. YRUU-sponsored continental events, such as the now-defunct Continental Conference (ConCon), looked like insider events, restricted to the very few teens who could afford to attend; continental YRUU offered local congregations few or no services; and in general, YRUU has been largely irrelevant to the lives of the teens that Mr. Crankypants has gotten to know in local churches. So it makes sense to cut off denominational funding to YRUU, since that money served only a small minority of all Unitarian Universalists; better to reallocate that money to a line item in the denominational budget that serves more people.

Of course, if you’re a fiscal conservative like Mr. Crankypants, you’ll see some parallels here between the YRUU situation, and General Assembly (GA). GA serves a few people very well, but they are a tiny minority of all Unitarian Universalists. GA can feel like an insider event that is often restricted to those who can afford to attend (very few congregations can afford to send lay leaders to GA every year). Although it often does provide a great experience to the lay leaders who can manage to attend, GA offers little in the way of direct services to congregations (and congregations, not individuals, should be the primary stakeholders, since they are the entities that foot the bill for GA). So it makes sense to cut back on funding to GA, since that money only serves a minority of all Unitarian Universalists.

As a fiscal conservative, Mr. Crankypants is fond of appropriate budget cuts (especially when such cuts are made in conjunction with an increased emphasis on fundraising, and in reference to needs of stakeholders). Shall we be pleased that the denomination’s Board of Trustees is taking a hard look at where they might cut fat in the budget? We shall, as much as we may miss that fat when it’s cut. Perhaps the Board will next turn their attention to cutting fat out of GA….

Update, Feb. 14: Follow-up post here. Before you post a comment, please go read the follow-up post.

16 thoughts on “Mr. Crankypants is a fiscal conservative

  1. h sofia

    I’m a fiscal conservative too about things like this, Mr. Crankypants, but it’s hard to swallow this line of reasoning when you see the cost of hotel stays and meals for the uppity-ups.

  2. Jess

    I was happy to see the change not so much for the funding issue but for the change in focus — taking YRUU back to the districts and individual congregations, where it belongs. I have long felt that the national YRUU movement has been divorced from what happens in individual congregations, in that very unpleasant cliquish-privileged kind of way.

  3. Christine Robinson

    I’m inclined to think this YRUU move is a good one, too, though I understand the fury of the kids who called YRUU their UU home.

    As to GA, it is my understanding that GA is a money maker for the UUA, and that is one of the pressures keeping it a yearly event. I’ve always wondered if staff time was figured into that equation, or even if it is true.

  4. h sofia

    I have never heard that GA is a money maker – and I find that hard to believe! And surely, there have got to be easier and less time intensive ways to make money!

  5. Philocrites

    The General Assembly isn’t regarded as an income generator for the Association. Treasurer Tim Brennan said in his report to the 2007 General Assembly that “the financial objective of the General Assembly is to break even.” However, it does sometimes generate more money than expected; in FY2006, GA netted $172,039. (See Annual Report of the Treasurer to the 2007 General Assembly, pdf.)

    Here’s what appears to be the budget for the 2007 General Assembly (via the GA Planning Committee section of

  6. Ryan N.

    GA does plenty to support congregations. Those workshops that I attend at GA give me a chance to collaborate with folks in similar situations and allow me to bring back insights to my fellow lay-leaders.

    If you think GA and YRUU are about equally relevant, I think you’re way off base.

    The only reason this is even partially so is that congregations have not really made denominational affairs a focus (and this is often due to lack of interest or motivation to get moving on these issues). There are plenty of things congregations can and should be doing to participate in the process (commission on appraisal work, commission on social witness work, etc.). Sure a lot of these things could be done without GA, but I’m not sure that they’d be an improvement.

  7. Eric Swanson

    If the impact of this decision were felt solely at the level of continental YRUU leadership, I might be more forgiving of Mr. Crankypants’ views here — but symbolically this will have profound effects throughout the districts and locals. Under a banner, an army is an army; without a banner, they’re just a well-armed mob. So when I see the UUA strip away this banner (“disenfranchise” in the literal sense), I assume it’s because they plan to treat my young friends as a mob instead of as an institution. This worries me.

    In response to Ryan N: I certainly agree that Continental YRUU is less useful to congregations than GA is — but YRUU throughout the continent serves a huge population our congregations are ill-equipped to serve. I don’t think it constitutes harmful “youth entitlement” to say that UUs at large owe UU youth a spiritual home in some form. I will continue to do whatever I can to ensure that our younger generations have a way to identify as UU — and I don’t see that same commitment on the part of the makers of this decision.

  8. Steven R

    Eric: the problem that i see with C’YRUU (and all I know is what I see on the various recent blogs and comments from C’YRUUs) is that they become CRYUUs not UUs.
    I also dont see a mass movement from CYRUUs to fund a con themselves without HQ money (although this might be because those activities come after the angst not during).
    Most of the former recently cut UUA affiliates are still with us, despite having their official connection cut – couldn’t Cyruu do the same?

  9. tim fitzgerald, former BOT

    I don’t think this is about Continental YRUU. In fact, Continental YRUU, since the demise of ConCon, has not been about Continental YRUU. Youth Council is made up of district representatives, and they are trained there to bring material back to their districts. Other continental YRUU services are related to training youth leaders in local congregations and at the district level. Ideally, the continental YRUU sphere exists only to serve districts and congregations, and if YRUU leaders forgot that, that’s cultural, not structural.

    The UUA understands that in a 3-tiered organization like YRUU, where resources flow from the top to the bottom tier, if you cut off the top, the entire thing will die. This is an attack on districts and local YRUU just as much as continental YRUU. The current leadership wants to put youth programming in the hands of the same local folks who have found themselves unwilling or unable to do it justice before. It makes absolutely no sense.

  10. tim fitzgerald, former BOT

    Also, where do you expect high-school and college-aged folks to come up with funding for their own programming? Just think about that whole concept for a second. It’s not “entitlement” to expect that kind of institutional support. It’s really a matter of, do you want us to succeed, or is that not a priority?

  11. Eric Swanson

    In response to Steven R:

    On “the problem … is that they become CRYUUs not UUs”:

    First, that’s not my experience. I have watched/helped many young UUs forge a lifelong UU identity through continental (and district) YRUU activities. You may not see them in your congregation until they have kids or otherwise “settle down” because there’s not much there for them — but in my experience CRYUU has been a fine place for that identity formation.

    Also: SO WHAT? We raise our UU kids to CHOOSE. If some of them choose something else it just means we have done our job. Mind you, I want them to stay UUs, and I think Dan’s subsequent post (from minutes ago) speaks eloquently to what we need to do in pursuit of this goal — but I believe we have an obligation to serve these youth without regard to whether they are ready to invest in us. They’re our kids (in the village sense). That’s ministry.

    On “I also dont see a mass movement from CYRUUs to fund a con themselves without HQ money”:

    Money is a red herring here. I was in touch with a group that was ready to propose a self-funded self-run Con Con after that event’s cancellation a few years ago. As I recall, the word from On High was that such a group would not be welcome to the name, mailing list, or other non-financial resources of the UUA or the Youth Office. This is clearly not about money — certainly not exclusively and I think not much.

    On “Most of the former recently cut UUA affiliates are still with us, despite having their official connection cut – couldn’t Cyruu do the same?”:

    My experience with the UUA in this area leads me to believe that a move for CYRUU to become some sort of independent affiliate would be met with hostility by the administration. I don’t know this for sure, but it’s my read of the situation.

    To sum up: I think the UUA administration sees YRUU as “the kids,” not as “an organization that serves and gives voice to the kids.” Thus we get a dysfunctional parent/child dynamic between institutions – which seems ironic to me since I’ve always felt that responsible institution-to-institution dealings have helped insulate our youth from feeling parented by every elder who comes within arm’s reach.

  12. Steven R

    Tim: where do I expect young folks to get funding for national events?
    College folks go to small funded national events all the time. And of course, many of the folks I see wanting this activity to continue, state they are adults – they wont be attending anyway – but surely if they think it benefital to others, wont they contribute?
    Eric: as I mention my knowledge of CYRUU is based solely on what I’m reading this week – I’m glad to hear (really) that you believe that I’m generalizing those comments. Do I read you correct that CYRUU was not associated with local YRUU groups?

  13. Eric Swanson


    First, thanks for acknowledging that your assessment of the situation may be incomplete. If I felt that same thing from Rev. Sinkford any time in the past five years I’d be a lot happier about things.

    And indeed, CYRUU has very little connection with local groups. It has moderately strong connections to district YRUU organizations, but not really with congregational life.

    In some other blog recently, I talked about how some of the core needs of adolescence are very poorly met by local congregations — arguably un-meetable in a smaller parish. For example, in a community of parents and elders, a youth who shaves her head, or who begins to visibly experiment with a transgender identity, has a very hard time being affirmed in the local congregation. But — when it works at least — a district or larger YRUU organization is equipped to see past the shock or the distaste or whatever and affirm these youths’ right to identify as they need to.

    Anyway, the disenfranchisement of CYRUU doesn’t stop district organizations from filling that role, but it does take away some of that sense of legitimacy and identity from district organizations, which I think will pose a real danger as time passes.

  14. Eric Swanson

    Hmm. I was just re-reading my last note and I think there’s a better answer about the connection of CYRUU to local congregations.

    YRUU is many things to many people, but here are two of the main things it is:

    1) A governance organization, consisting of a youth-dominated continental Youth Council that meets annually and a slightly less youth-dominated Steering Committee that meets something like quarterly (these two are what just got defunded). Districts have similar governance bodies for YRUU, also generally dominated by youth and generally run with empowerment of youth as a key goal. The bulk of the representatives to Youth Council are sent by their districts, which generally means elected.

    2) An identity group, the term UUs use wherever and whenever they think about teenagers. Many local churches have YRUU groups based on empowerment principles, but many others use “YRUU” as the name for their adult-led high-school RE classes, or sometimes for other things.

    When the bulk of the governance is done by members of the identity group — as is largely true on a district and continental level — blurring of these roles causes little trouble. But when the governance body with the legal rights to the name “YRUU” gets defunded by the UUA, it messes with the sense of identity of all those district and local groups who use the name.

    IMHO, this is a large part of why there’s such an outcry. By shutting down Youth Council, the UUA is sending the message “all you who think of yourselves as YRUUers better start working on a new core identity — redefine yourself by summer or you’ll be a spiritual orphan.”

  15. Dan

    Eric @ 13 — You write: “For example, in a community of parents and elders, a youth who shaves her head, or who begins to visibly experiment with a transgender identity, has a very hard time being affirmed in the local congregation.” Ummm, I have to disagree — I’ve served in congregations that have been very supportive of youth going through gender identity issues (and of their parents). On the other hand, I’ve seen congregations where it is not safe for a youth to question their gender identity — and those are the congregations where it is not safe to be non-white, lower middle class, Republican, or out of the congregational norm in other ways. So what you’re talking about is a much bigger issue than just youth ministry….

    Eric @ 14 — I suspect I’ve had a different experience of YRUU as an adult advisor. When ConCon died, I remember talking to another adult who had been involved in ConCon, and what we both mourned was the loss of the cross fertilization and the leadership development that happened at ConCon (and at other continental YRUU events). Remember ConCon ’97, when we were both adult advisors? — and the YRUU Song Book tape? — that single ConCon workshop has energized youth and adults for the past decade. That, to me, was the beauty of continental YRUU.

    Unfortunately, that cross fertilization and leadership development was eventually overshadowed for me by the reports of intractable racism and sexism being reported by youth who attended continental YRUU events — I talked to some of those teens, and it was just hard to hear. In my own experience, at the end of ConCon ’97, I felt pretty alienated by the class bias that I encountered — even as an adult, I knew I didn’t belong in the economic class that dominated ConCon. I remember a discussion at the February planning meeting where we had a budget surplus, and someone suggested that that money go towards scholarships, and the basic response was, Why would we do that? Fortunately, Jory Agate (and, as I recall, you!) pushed it through, and there were scholarships, and bigger scholarships the next year — but that was sort of a defining moment for me, and I never went back to ConCon, or really to any continental YRUU event, after that.

    Sigh. Too much emotional baggage here, I really need to stop. So let me end on a positive note. I was an adult advisor at the last year of “Teen Life Issues” (TLI), an annual youth conference at Ferry Beach, the Universalist conference center in Maine. Things got ugly, and as much as I loved TLI, as much as I was committed to the transformation that TLI worked in lots of youth I knew — I came out and said, This has got to stop — the system is so broken it can no longer be fixed. So Ferry Beach killed TLI, and they took a lot of heat for it. But that’s not the end of the story — Ferry Beach was totally committed to youth ministry, and they developed new youth conferences. I just got Ferry Beach’s brochure, and this year they have THREE week-long youth conferences, and the reports I hear from youth and adults are that all their youth conferences are fantastic — living up to all of what TLI should have been.

    If continental YRUU is dead, I don’t suppose there’s much I can do about it at this point — sounds like a fait accompli. But what I can do is to commit to strengthening UU youth ministry in the future.

  16. Eric Swanson


    On your response to my #13, I fully agree with your take on what the real problem is, but I would also point out that this is an issue of particular interest for youth. Various people have moments throughout their lives when they need to break the mold or do something that challenges those around them — but youth (on average) do so _constantly_. What prevents the occasional offbeat personality from joining a congregation can drive away youth in droves. So I think you’re right about the need, but if anybody needs some special treatment around those kinds of issues it’s youth.

    On your response to my #14, thanks for the smile. I forgot how strenuously David Taylor and I and a couple other staffers took on the question of scholarships. Turns out that was a lot easier than some of the other questions we ended up facing at that event! :-)

    And of course you’re right about the inherent economic classism of Con Con — you and I are both of an economic class that’s somewhat atypical in UUism and _way_ atypical at UU continental events. I feel the same thing at GA. When it’s close enough that I can afford to drive there I feel like I’m viewed as a “townie” in a highbrow college town — though maybe that’s my own self-image coming through. When are we going to get a worthwhile scholarship fund for _that_ shindig?

    Again it comes down to money — who gives it, who gets it, who controls it, etc.? Stupid green paper.

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