A post on the youth advisor list serve alerted me to the fact that the Youth Office at the denominational headquarters is surveying youth advisors.
These denominational surveys are usually pretty boring. I was plodding along, not paying much attention as I clicked on questions like my age, gender (six choices on that one), whether I’m a member of my congregation, and so on. But then I got to a section and a question that required some thought:
12. Definition of Youth Ministry
As part of the Consultation on Ministry to and with Youth, we are trying to define what Youth Ministry means in a Unitarian Universalist context. Below is our first draft of a definition.
YOUTH MINISTRY WORKING DEFINITION
Unitarian Universalist youth ministry is a collaboration between youth and adults to create authentic, anti-racist, anti-oppressive,* multicultural, and intergenerational communities which empower and support:
- The spiritual and religious development of youth
- Mutual love, respect, and trust between and among youth and adults
- Relationship-based ministry and support among youth
- A youth-driven ministry of justice that calls all of us to live out our values in the world.
Like all ministry, ministry with youth is the responsibility of the whole congregation and the whole community.
â€œThe great end in religious instructionâ€¦is not to make them see with our eyes, but to look inquiringly and steadily with their own.â€ â€“ William Ellery Channing
* Anti-racist and anti-oppressive communities are ones in which individuals actively work against individual and institutional racism and oppression while striving for safe, welcoming, and radically inclusive communities. The language of â€œanti-â€œ is used to emphasize the prevalence of oppression in the world. It is our calling as people of faith to actively dismantle oppression in Unitarian Universalist communities and the world at-large.
29. Looking at the definition above, what do you think Youth Ministry is?
I guess I was feeling crankier than usual. Here’s what I wrote in reply:
Well, your definition is very politically correct but it leaves me utterly cold. “Collaboration” — how cold. “Authentic communities” — any time you have to call them authentic, communities aren’t. “Religious development” — as if youth are like third world countries waiting to be developed. “Relationship-based” — I don’t even know what that means. Your definition simply doesn’t get at the emotional and spiritual depths of what religion and ministry have been in my experience.
First of all, ministry is all about love. You have to start there. And it doesn’t have to be “mutual love.” As a Universalist, I believe that love is the most powerful force in the universe, and that all human relationship tend towards love. Ministry is one process by which we can get to love.
Secondly, ministry always has a horizontal dimension (human community) and a vertical dimension (God, the divine, that which is larger than ourselves, the best that is in human nature). Ministry is a relationship that takes place, not just between you and me, but between you, me, and something larger than us.
Thirdly, in our tradition ministry implies a covenant, promises that you and I make to one another, and to something larger than ourselves. In our tradition, covenants are typically formed in congregations.
Fourthly, when you minister to me, one of the things you do is to help me find out what my ministry in the world is or will be. You do this through love — through holding me accountable to that which is greater than myself — and through the bonds of covenant.
But it’s all founded on love. For me, it’s the radical love taught by the rabbi known as Jesus — although I’m also deeply influenced by the practice of love taught by Siddhartha Gotama, called the Buddha. Whatever. It’s all about the love.
When you get to the end of this survey, you can see tabulated results [link], and you can even read what everyone else wrote in response to question 29 [link]. One respondent said that he/she wanted young people to grow up to become Unitarian Universalists, which I happen to agree with. One respondent said, “I’m pragmatically oriented, and those statements seems unnecessarily obtuse” (hear, hear). And one respondent quoted Kahlil Gibran: “You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that his arrows go swift and far. Let your bending of the archer’s hand be for gladness; For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable”; which I felt was a nice addition to any definition of young people’s ministry.
How would you define “youth ministry”?