Historical document on the sexual revolution within UUism

For some years now, I’ve been looking for documentary evidence about the way the sexual revolution played out in Unitarian Universalism from the late 1960s through the early 1980s. I have lots of anecdotal evidence, stories told to me by people who saw, or in a few cases experienced first-hand, the “open marriages,” the “wife-swapping,” the sex games, etc., that took place in Unitarian Universalist congregations and other Unitarian Universalist organizations such as camps and conference centers. These decades-old memories are of definite historical interest, but documentary evidence is also essential to a fuller historical understanding of this topic.

Recently, I realized I had one such document, which I uncovered a dozen years ago when I was working on a contract with the Unitarian Universalist Association’s (UUA) Youth Office to write a training manual for youth advisors, and I’ll include it in full here. Part of my research involved poring through the historical archives of the Unitarian Universalist youth movement. At that time, those archives were stored in the basement of the UUA’s Boston headquarters (I have heard rumors that some of that archival material has since been destroyed), and I made copies of some of the records so I could work on them at home. One of those documents I was working with was the last issue of People Soup, the old newspaper of Liberal Religious Youth, and it contained this essay:

“Rape” by Jennifer Brett

I was originally going to write this paper on how many women are raped and then don’t do anything about it because of humiliation or because they know the courts make it very hard to prove anything. But when I started to talk to people I know in LRY about it, two things came into light: first, that quite a number of us had been raped by people outside of LRY; and second, that even more of us have been raped within LRY, but have not thought of it as such. It seems that someone will, say, be giving someone else a massage, and that massage will get more and more intense until suddenly the person receiving the massage will find him/herself in a sexual situation. The person giving the massage. The person giving the massage simply assumed that when the other person said s/he would love a massage, they meant they would like to go to bed with him/her. (How “massage” equals “sex” is something I still don’t understand.) One of two things usually happens next: either the one receiving the massage will excuse him/herself from the situation (possibly by falling asleep – the ultimate putdown.), or s/he will give in to the peer-pressure and the LRY stigma and let it ride. When I’ve asked these people why, they usually reply that they felt miserable in the situation, but they would have felt like a real ass if they said no.

Another type of rape that occures in LRY is when a former lover thinks everything is still “peaches and cream”. Sometimes h/she will begin stripping his/her former partner without even considering that anything new might have come up. The situation gets really bad when the one was sleeping by him/herself and still cares for the first.

So what is it that makes this type of rape so permissable? Is it something to do with LRY? Or does it have to do with society as a whole? I think it is some of both. The “sexual revolution” has changed the way society looks at sex. I, myself, used to think I had to have a good sexual experience to prove that I loved somebody. And I’ve found others who think that way. But LRY’s community spirit, the giving and wanting and needing and finding have amplified this attitude. When some people say they want a massage, they do mean they want to go to bed with you. It is one of those handy LRY come-ons. (You know, like “I forgot to bring my sleeping bag, can I share yours?”) I think it’s about time we understand that rape has become a part of LRY, and an accepted part as well. And it’s also time we do something about it. I don’t have any quick solutions. Maybe if people begin to talk to each other about what they think instead of telling tall stories about irrelevent things, many of the problems we have might evaporate.

People Soup, July, 1982, vol. X, issue II (Boston: Liberal Religious Youth Inc.), p. 5. Original spelling, punctuation, and typographical errors retained.

I would love to hear from you if you have any documentary evidence on the sexual revolution within Unitarian Universalism that you could pass along; or if you have any anecdotes you are able to share.

39 thoughts on “Historical document on the sexual revolution within UUism”

  1. No first hand recollections really. The closest I have was knocking on the door of a friend who published my schools underground paper and being greeted at the door by a guy in a jock strap. There was a circle of adults naked to the waist in the living room chanting or something. I was directed to the garage which had an upstairs where the kids were cutting and pasting the paper. I think this was the first time outside the public pool I had seen naked adults (and certainly a first for topless women). We Marxist youth were a puritanical lot and frowned on this. The family were active UU’s I believe and I guess I best leave the details of that obscure.

  2. Just this past weekend a colleague and I were talking about the intersection of the sexual revolution and the de-sacralizing of the professional Ministry and its impact today on both porous boundaries between clergy and congregations and the struggles around “ministerial authority” in our UU congregations. And I wake up Monday morning to discover your blog post and your historical work that is very interesting to me.

    The anecdote I’ll share with you is from a woman I met — a Gen-Xer like myself — who was raised in a large, well-known DC area church in the 70s and early 80s. Her recollection included parties at church members’ houses where spouse-swapping went on. Many divorces in the church followed. Her telling of this story was hard to hear; she was one of a lot of privileged yet lost kids of the time and she clearly had no interest in returning to a Unitarian Universalist congregation. At the same time in history, I was growing up in a 200 person church in New Hampshire. My friends and I didn’t see this in the church — not to say that it didn’t happen — but we clearly had a different and more positive congregational experience.

    This history is important and I am glad it has your critical and thoughtful attention.

  3. Daniel, please contact me. There is plenty of public evidence of the effects of the sexual revolution in the church I’m serving — it was the one where AYS images were shown to the media by the minister, and a lawsuit resulted…. I’d also echo what Rachel A. says above, about our congregations damaged by the poor boundaries of clergy of this era and having authority issues as a result.

  4. Well, Dan, since you asked…
    I have a vivid memory of passing on some half-understood information about sex, learned in the UU church, to a Catholic girlhood friend. I told her (I was about 8, as was she), “Your sister will have babies any day now.” Her sister was 14-ish, clearly no longer a girl. As you might imagine, this did not go over well.

    As for LRY — yuck. There was more making out and boyfriend/girlfriend swapping (and sex) than I could really handle. That and pot smoking. This was the mid-seventies. If you didn’t “play” (that is: have sex, smoke weed), you were not cool, not part of the inner circle. I didn’t. I wasn’t. Why adults didn’t see this, I have no idea. I found LRY to be a bit creepy, and often dreaded going to those Sunday night meetings.

    The only good thing to come out of this is that when I became a youth group leader, I was really hyper-aware of what the kids might be doing after lights out. And we talked about it. *Before* lights out. I could feel the relief from a lot of the kids — not that I solved the issue of peer pressure, but just that they knew that I knew. And they also knew they could tell me things, ask me things. I never felt that in LRY, as well-meaning as our leader was. He just didn’t get it.

  5. I remember Jennifer from LRY and I believe she makes some valid points in her article, but I think it’s a long stretch to take this one essay and imply it somehow sums up the “sexual revolution” of the 70s within UUism. If you want to look at a more varied and comprehensive collection of articles written about sexuality by youth in LRY from this era, the February, 1977 issue of People Soup (i.e. the Sexuality issue) is a better place to start:
    http://www.uua.org/documents/peoplesoup/1977_issue1.pdf

    It was, at the time, probably the most controversial issue of “Soup” ever produced.

    I’d also respectfully say to Jean, I’m sorry your particular experience in LRY was not good. It wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t for everybody, but for many of us it remains a time and place of good memories.

  6. You might get better responses if you left an email address people could write to privately. There’s not much I would say on a public forum. I do think the experiences some people had, or remember are more polarized than others. I am content to write off my own less than politically correct behavior to extreme youth and overpowering hormones. Others are more judgemental. In the mid-1980’s, we had a workshop at a COG conference where a lot of dirty laundry from LRY days was aired, concerning sexuality and peer pressure. It was an eye-opener for me. I wish I’d been a little more considerate in the day, but then again, what did I know at age 17??

  7. Wow… in just a few decades we went from open sex parties to being incredibly uptight. It’s funny how Boomer-centric the UU faith truly is.

  8. Neither of Jennifer’s examples are rape. Regrettable sex is a superset of rape, but includes a lot of instances outside of actual rape. If you consent to sex for bad reasons that make you feel ashamed of yourself, you might feel badly, but you weren’t raped.

  9. “Why adults didn’t see this, I have no idea. I found LRY to be a bit creepy, and often dreaded going to those Sunday night meetings.”

    I wasn’t there at the time, but I’ve heard about this sort of thing. And it may have taken a while, but it’s my understanding that the adults did ultimately figure it out, and when LRY was revamped into YRUU, the sort of problems you describe were one reason for this…

    (And I can see why you found it creepy…)

  10. @Jeremaiah I returned to a UU Church in 1986 at the depts of HIV. We lost both of our LRE directors to it. We had a key long time member infected via blood tranfusion. Our community had the largest per capita infection rate of any community in Illinois. You have no idea how the disease transformed the times.

  11. I heard about this discussion through the LRY Facebook group.

    I have told many folks how LRY (1965-69)got me through high school; I liked being around a group of thoughtful,intelligent young people for whom intellectual wasn’t a bad word. That said,there were a number of issues re: smoking,marijuana use and sexuality/consent.

    Although I felt some peer pressure to smoke cigarettes coming from both our local and regional LRY gatherings,far more problematic was the frequent absence of youth advisers to take responsibility for their actions and to supervise the young people who looked up to them. I remember several state and regional gatherings where alcohol and drug use/abuse were ignored,and some young people,esp.young women,
    were pressured into sexual situations. Further,I recall two advisers–one very well-liked–who acted in what would be today considered very inappropriate ways

  12. (I got cut off.)Anyway,the last LRY event I attended was in June 1969,an unstructured camping weekend with other chapters from mid-Michigan & the Detroit and Windsor,Ontario metro areas. Here’s what I recall: a former boyfriend running naked among the tents while tripping on LSD. One Canadian boy I’d just met trying to pressure me into sex; fortunately,I was able to get away from him.Today this would be considered attempted sexual assault. I don’t recall any structured activities,and I think the adults were highly negligent in failing to maintain a safe atmosphere.

    I stayed away from much to do with the UUs until 1977,when on a visit to my parents,my long-time church member mother convinced me to attend a sermon given by the new young female minister. She talked about Margaret Fuller and 19th Century feminism. About time,no?

  13. (I got cut off.)

    My last LRY event,in June 1969,was an unstructured camping event which included youth and adult advisers from perhaps 6 congregations. Besides the usual making-out among near-strangers and jokes about statutory rape,there was significant alcohol and drug abuse. I recall one young man,who the kids said was tripping on acid,running around naked between tents. Another young man gave me wine and then tried to pressure me into sex; fortunately,I was able to get away from him. I think the adults were highly negligent in their reponsibility to maintain a safe space,though the ideas of safety and consent were not even on the radar in those days.

    I had a sour taste re: the UUs for a number of years. In 1977,my mom convinced me to attend a sermon by a new young female minister. She was the first woman minister from the congregation,a warm thoughtful woman who discussed Margaret Fuller and 19th Century feminism. About time,no?

    Four years ago,I broke my silence on the camping event with a current member of the UU church I grew up in. He shrugged the whole thing off as insignificant,stopping short of saying “boys will be boys.” I think many men still need to do a whole lot of work around this issue,and it’s not women’s responsibility to educate them.

  14. (Apologies for the repetitive posts. I thought the second one got lost in cyberspace;hence the third.)

  15. Bill @ 1 — Thanks for the recollection. It fits a pattern i’ve heard elsewhere.

    Rachel @ 2 — You write: “My friends and I didn’t see this in the church”

    I’m pretty sure the situations varied widely from congregation to congregation. In any case, I have some documentary evidence that one congregation was about to have a workshop on open marriage, but when the (male) minister’s wife found out, she quashed the whole thing. (That congregation is now one of the healthiest congregations I know of.)

    Jean @ 5 — What I remember is that the LRY group got shut down completely a year or so before I was old enough to attend, supposedly due to sex and drugs. Since I’m two years younger, I think maybe you saw more of that than did I. But then, I was definitely not part of the inner circle, and had no hopes of being there, so maybe I was insulated by that. Nevertheless, I did see more sexualized behavior than I felt comfortable with — and I was very clear in my own mind that the district conferences were just plain scary.

    Ed @ 6 — Thanks for the link to the old People Soup issue. I had an old link to online People Soup archives that no longer works, so I just assumed it was gone from the UUA Web site. For the record, here’s the main index page: http://www.uua.org/publications/outprint/55780.shtml

    You write: “I think it’s a long stretch to take this one essay and imply it somehow sums up the ‘sexual revolution’ of the 70s within UUism.”

    Well, of course. I’m not writing history here — I’m not assessing this or any other historical document — I’m merely publishing the document on the Web. Please be careful to not confuse primary source materials with the interpretation of primary source materials.

    Tracey @ 7 — What I’m looking for at this point is documentary evidence, that is, written documents that date from that era. The kinds of things I’m interested in include church newsletters, correspondence, legal documents, publications, etc.

    If I continue with this research, at some point I may also be looking for reminiscences. While I haven’t thought too much about a methodology for tracking down such reminiscences, I can’t imagine simply soliciting random reminiscences on a Web site. I’d have to think pretty carefully about what kind of methodology I’d use — oral history? the kind of thing Robert Coles describes in his book Doing Documentary Work? sociology? some sort of psychotherapeutic approach? And I’d have to be really careful, because I lived through this era, and have my own biases which could easily bias the interviews.

    Having said all that, speaking now as a minister and as someone who lived through this era, if there’s anyone out there who just needs to talk this out, my email address is pretty easy to find.

    Jeremiah @ 8 — Well, to a point. But it’s not just about Boomers. The reality is that the whole country (all ages) is now far more socially conservative than it was c.1975. I think Gen-Xers are more socially conservative than Boomers. Plus there’s AIDS, which really changed things — see Bill’s comment below.

    George @ 9 — One of the biggest mistakes a historian can make is to unconsciously impose his or her own definitions on a historical document.

    Natasha @ 14 — You write: “Four years ago,I broke my silence on the camping event with a current member of the UU church I grew up in. He shrugged the whole thing off as insignificant,stopping short of saying ‘boys will be boys.’ I think many men still need to do a whole lot of work around this issue,and it’s not women’s responsibility to educate them.”

    Yes, and that’s part of why I’m slowly working on this. Most UUs manage to dismiss the sexual revolution, and the example you give is one way to dismiss it. There were some really good things that came out of the sexual revolution — more acceptance of sexuality as an integral part of our lives, better sexuality education, far more acceptance for GLBTQ persons, etc. But there was a real dark side to the sexual revolution within UUism, too — adults having sex with minors, people using sex to exploit others, people getting hurt, etc.

    The sexual revolution within UUism was extremely significant, in both good ways and bad ways. It’s time to take an objective look at it.

  16. I was a peer of Jennifer’s in LRY and I know of what she speaks. I remember clearly a conference in Summit New Jersey where a young female first time conference attender was approached by male conference veteran. In the brief conversation he asked if she was a virgin and she sad yes, and in utter astonshment he said she must be the ony one there! Ths male was someone I hd knownfor some time and I had a good relationship with prior to that time. I was appalled that he wouldbe that direct and frankly crass with such a vulnerable young woman. I have fond it hard to relate to this man ever since as a result. I think it spoke to my own vulnerability that I did not confront him then or ever. There were those of us who were active in LRY who were not as sexually active as the intimate envionment might lead people to believe.

  17. Thanks,Dan,for your thoughtful and thorough commentary.

    I’m happy to say that my experience at a UU family camp,which I attended with my sister and extended family in 2003,was a safe and affirmative experience for me.

  18. Teenage sexuality is an ever-complicated issue. It was hardly unique to LRY of the 70s, but central to our organization’s marginalization and demise within the UUA politically. I never thought LRY was beyond redemption or change, but that is a different discussion. In defense of the UUA and LRY of this era, I would note that there were programs like “About Your Sexuality” (AYS) which, if silent on institutional demands of sexual abistinence among youth at church conferences, at least *tried* to provide us with accurate information to make informed decisions sexually. For better or worse, that was the spirit of the times. Was it good policy, for example, that condoms were available for teenagers at many LRY/church conferences? It’s not a debate I really have energy for at this point, much less what really defines “age of consent” since there are 50 diffenent laws in 50 different states. But I still believe that with any approach to teenagers and sex, an ounce education is worth a pound of legislation.

  19. It appalls me that a single article is cited as the essence of the sexual revolution in LRY. This specific article was also written at a time of radical change and literally at the demise of LRY and it’s conversion to YRUU. Yet, I am keenly aware of some inappropriate sexual behavior during my time in both LRY and YRUU from 1978 – 1985. However, I need to turn the tables and stress that this was not only men perpetrating women, as I as a man was a victim a couple of times. At the 1981 Con-Con conference I was molested by a woman while swimming in the pool with several other people. She continued, even though I asked her to stop and reminded her that I was living with another woman. It took me getting out of the pool and leaving the area before she would listen. The same woman also came to my home unannounced prior to a conference and made direct advances, leading me to have to push her off of me and ask her to leave. Finally, while serving as registrar for the YRUU Star Island conference, two woman entered my private bed room and stripped their clothes and jumped into my bed.

    When I first attended LRY I primarily was interested in playing music with others and getting high. Yes, I recall stumbling into an orgy at my second conference in Morristown, NJ, and was somewhat shocked and intrigued at the same time. This orgy reminded me of playing spin the bottle without any rules and no waiting. I never happened across another one again in all of my subsequent years. I can say that there have been several long term lasting relationships that have come out of LRY, and many people whom never participated in sex or the use of marijuana or alcohol at conferences. I was one of the people who developed a long term relationship with a woman whom I met at a regional organizing event. We were together for about two years, and continued to attend conferences, while working, attending college, and traveling.

    Please continue to do your research, I think you will find LRY was a liberal microcosm of the era. As in general society, there are always deviants, outspoken people, addicts, nerds, and the status quo. Finally, I beg to differ that the sexual revolution has died away. I see it strong within the youth of today, with plenty of hook-ups, friends with benefits, and peer sex challenges. The times may change, the way we approach things may change, but in the long run, we are human and our sexual nature exists, but to interpret LRY as a bastion of sex and more sex is off the mark. In fact, looking at the youth in their adult years shows me that LRY provided something seldom offered to youth. LRY’ers were offered the ability to create their world and learn from their mistakes. Many of my LRY friends have gone on to become extremely successful people, from which LRY was the ground work for their future.

  20. Wesley @ 22 — Thank you for sharing your various memories, both good and bad.

    Please note that in the original post, I simply present the document without any attempt at analysis or interpretation; I do not cliam that this document represents “the essence of the sexual revolution in LRY.” In fact, I’m specifically asking for additional documents on this topic, and at least one commenter (Ed @ 6) actually points out an additional relevant document.

  21. I just started a discussion on the Facebook LRY Group re:social justice and intellectual discourse,especially during the 60s. I’d welcome contributions.

  22. Note the original post was how the sexual revolution “played out in Unitarian Universalism”. The responses have been recollections of LRY. I don’t know what’s in the UUWorld of the time. My Churches heritage committee was going through archives pulling out stamples and paper clips and I came accross folders from the late 60s on Marriage. I did notice someone (I assume the minister) had clipped an old playboy cartoon showing a groom in bed with a bridesmaid and getting caught by the bride. The caption was something about the groom saying he was still free up until the vows. It was a revealing cartoon and I supposed that would have been unusual (maybe) for a minister to use in marriage counciling then. Othwerwise there was absolutely nothing reflecting the sexual revolution and I was on the lookout too. I think it’s going to be awfully hard to find documentation. Not that it was hidden or anything, but mostly because I think the whole thing swept through so fast. My recollection of adults circa 1968 was people completely overwhelmed by events. Mostly recollections of the anti war demos and events around open housing in Oak Park Illinois. Unity Temple, First Cong. (My Church) were very active in both movements. No one was talking sex really but it was all in the air too.

  23. I grew up UU, was very involved in my congregation’s religious education, was also one of those who went through the AYS curriculum. When I was old enough, I became involved with LRY. I went to lots of conferences, from 1970-75, throughout the southeast. I was president of my local group, served on several conference planning committees for both weekend and week long conferences, and eventually was president of my federation. I also served on a committee to re-write our fed’s constitution and by-laws. And I served on my congregation’s Youth-Adult Committee. I remain UU and have raised my children as UU, both of them active in YRUU. My mother eventually became a UU minister and served several congregations in her 25 year career. I mention all of this to make clear that my UUism has been lifelong and that I was quite active, particularly in the ways that I served while I was a teen in LRY.

    I certainly won’t deny someone else’s experiences in LRY, but I can speak for myself and say that I was not a sex-crazed teen (though had a normal interest in sex and in trying to integrate sexuality as a whole spectrum of things and within loving relationship to the few others) nor was I a drug-crazed teen. I was a pretty responsible teen and though I likely looked hippie-ish, I was, and remain, a very responsible person. While I was in LRY, I did not see imitations of adult wife-swapping. What I saw were, mostly, boys and girls who did form relationships, also ended them, but for the most part, they were pretty conventional standards of relationship that seemed based on a desire for love and probably a healthy dose of sexual attraction. Some of those may have resulted in sex, some did not. It is true that at all of the conferences I can recall attending, condoms were available. What is also true is that a large number of those condoms were used for playing silly games, as if they were balloons, and seemed to be the source of amusement and entertainment more than anything else. Probably some young people used them for what they were intended but I think an awful lot of them were just used in service to silly games. I remember one of my friends whose mother was concerned about her going to conferences because the mother was afraid her daughter would see people having sex. Those of us who were aware of that maternal reservation thought it was hilarious since none of us had ever seen anyone having sex at a conference. And then there was a single conference, where probably 20 of us were all in the same room trying to sleep, lights out. It became apparent by way of sounds that two people were probably having sex. The rest of us, who were not having sex, were probably wondering what to do and feeling possibly embarrassed; I was. The coupled couple got up suddenly and left the room, went to the bathroom not far away, and the moment they were gone, everyone left in the room began to laugh. Apparently we had all been a little surprised and possibly embarrassed, judging from the laughter. I might add that the couple were older teens I’d not seen at a conference before, as I recall, nor do I think I ever saw them again. That is also the only occasion where I ever was directly aware of anyone having sex.

    I loved LRY with all my heart and soul. I was an extremely responsible teen. I may have looked like a hippie but was not swapping partners nor using drugs at conferences. And I was not the only relatively “straight” young person in LRY. I was painfully aware of the drug use in LRY, rather hated it, and felt powerless to stop it. But personally, I would see that drug use as a bigger problem, especially beginning in around 1974 or so, than teen sex.

    As an adult UU, I do mention to people that I was in LRY. And those who have heard of it make the assumption that I must have had some wild and outrageous youth but as I’ve said, my behavior was pretty tame and pretty responsible. LRY also gave me some of my closest and most enduring friendships. I think sometimes that gets underreported, the value it had in providing some strong and deep friendships, a place to talk about ideas, a place to play creatively. Sure, there was sex. Sure, there were ways, in hindsight, we might have been more emotionally responsible with sex and the feelings of others. But LRY was not just about group gropes and rampant sex.

  24. Dan, I’m posting something here that I wrote quite awhile back when I’d joined an online group for former LRYers. I reposted it recently, at the request of someone else, as part of an online discussion in another online LRY forum. Someone there mentioned your series of articles and suggested that I post it here. It may be too long for your blog or it may be off topic for the purposes of your blog. But since posts are moderated you have the option not to approve it. I offer it here:

    I wrote this on December 27, 1999, and posted it to the yahoo groups, which was at the time egroups, I think. Ed Fuqua, a fellow LRYer from my era and fed, suggested that I post it here.

    For the five years I was in LRY, the day after Christmas our local LRY
    group went to Frogmore. We met at the UU church in Atlanta and loaded
    ourselves and our gear on a bus owned by our advisor. The bus had been
    affectionately dubbed the Brown Shit Fucker, it being a
    not-always-reliable mode of transportation. The journey to a conference
    often seemed like an adventure every bit as important as the conference
    itself.

    Part of that pilgrimage to Frogmore included driving through the
    Savannah River Plant which is a nuclear plant. Our beloved advisor
    always made that part of the fun of getting to Frogmore. Before you
    drove onto the Savannah River Plant, the officials at the gate got a
    count of the number of people in your vehicle and noted the time. At
    the other end, they counted again and noted the time to make sure you
    hadn’t taken too long to drive the 20 or so miles through the grounds
    (proving that you hadn’t detoured into areas you weren’t supposed to
    enter).

    There wasn’t much to see but it all felt mysterious and vaguely
    dangerous what with the sign that stated that if these yellow lights
    are flashing turn back immediately. Steam rose and curled off of the
    little creeks we crossed and I wondered why. Radioactive run-off
    perhaps? Signs were also posted along the way that said you weren’t
    allowed to stop and take pictures. Our advisor stopped the bus once and
    took a picture of one of those signs.

    Frogmore, our destination, is (or was, it no longer officially exists)
    a small town on St. Helena’s Island near Beaufort South Carolina. The
    place we stayed was the Penn Conference Center. LRYers from SAM, SunCo
    and LSD all gathered there.

    The Penn Center had originally been established by Quakers as a school
    to educate free slaves, I believe. In the 60s it became a sometimes
    retreat for the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. For us LRYers it became
    home for one week after Christmas each year.

    The Low Country of South Carolina (which is where Frogmore is) is an
    area that seems loaded with atmosphere. If any one has ever seen the
    film “Daughters of the Dust” you’ll know what I’m talking about. Huge
    live oaks dripping with Spanish moss are everywhere their mighty arms
    spreading horizontally, their elbows sometimes touching the ground.
    There was so little light pollution that at night you could see an
    incredible number of stars and even the band of the Milky Way. There
    were long, sandy roads that disappeared off into the island
    countryside. It felt to me like a place where spirits must surely roam.

    One of my favorite things to do was walk down of those roads with a
    friend or two or three and sit on the rickety dock at the edge of the
    salt-marsh. I grew to love those salt -marshes, strange rich
    intersection of salt-water world and fresh-water world.

    I heard Gullah spoken at the small general store at the crossroads of
    Frogmore. That blending of African and English sounds has remained with
    me through the years.

    I remember staying up all night talking and getting pretty punchy with
    people. I remember taking lots of walks. We all played Hearts and
    Spades and other card games, laughing and joking into the wee hours. I
    remember we all went to Hunting Island ( a nearby island) each year
    where there was an old lighthouse you could climb. The promise of a
    spectacular view was enticing. Once, I got about half-way up with our
    advisor’s dog when we both chickened out and I had to coax the dog back
    down to the ground.

    I remember picking up sand dollars on the beach and finding out later
    that they were alive when I’d picked them up and being really sorry
    that I’d killed them. One year we made sand candles right there on the
    beach. Another year it was very cold with a stiff wind blowing inland
    and bits of sea foam zipping and scattering across the flat, packed,
    sandy land.

    Back in the woods of St. Helena’s Island, some of us discovered an old
    abandoned dump. We salvaged various interesting old glass bottles. I
    still have a White House Vinegar bottle with the design of the White
    house embossed in the glass and an old milk bottle that has the words
    “A Bottle of Milk is a Bottle of Health” stamped in it.

    At one Frogmore, I spent several hours barefoot in the drizzling rain
    with a friend wandering the open fields and tangled woods of the
    island, sort of intentionally lost. It was like stepping outside of
    time. And for myself and the person I walked with, it remains a very dear memory.

    The above are some of the good things but there are other memories,
    too. People who spent large chunks of their time stoned, sopered,
    quaaluded, tripping, speeding and drunk, sometimes passing out. A girl
    who had some health concerns that required a trip to the emergency room
    and her concern about her parents if they saw the bill and the diagnosis. So we took some of the conference money and paid her bill and hoped that that would succeed in
    heading off the problem. I remember maybe three of us driving back to Beaufort late at night, remember the headlights on the road, light carving a way through the darkness. I think I remember driving, though it’s been long enough that now I’m not sure but part of the reason I think I do remember is that it was someone else’s large car and that it was harder to drive than automatics I was accustomed to and that it was late at night and I was tired, had some fear about running off the road, but felt so acutely a sense of responsibility to others. I remember the year that locals, hearing that
    a bunch of hippies were at the Penn Center, came out to cause trouble
    and beat people up and we were ordered not to walk around outside for
    our own safety.

    I remember our advisor always had a tape of Crosby, Stills, Nash and
    Young cued so that as we returned to the UU church in Atlanta, it would
    be playing “Our House, is a very very fine house…”

    These are but a few of my memories from those conferences at Frogmore,
    some good, some not. I’m glad for them both. The good for the pleasure
    they still bring and the not-so-good for the balance they provide so I
    don’t get lost in misty-eyed nostalgia.

  25. @Nina: Thanks for the story about retreats held a wonderful historical location. Yes,I’ve seen Daughters of the Dust, a very moving film by Julie Dash produced ca.1990s. Amazing that Gullah was still being spoken we you folks were there; so many languages die out daily.

  26. Tom Wolfe’s “The Electric Koolaid Acid Test” chronicles Ken Kesey and friends as they drive around the country handing out LSD, circa 1965. It includes a small episode where the Merry Pranksters meet up with a church youth group and offer them (still legal) LSD. The pastor confronts the Pranksters, who leave.

    Rev Sid Peterman was my interim minister in New Orleans in ~1982. He told me that the church youth group was an LRY rally, and that he himself was the pastor in the story.

  27. @Nina, Frogmore the community is still around – but has never been an incorporated area, therefore most maps won’t have it. It is indeed one mile away from the Penn Center. Laura Towne, co-founder of the Penn Center, was an Unitarian, which is one of the reasons that the Penn Center is popular among UUs.

  28. IN the mid seventies, when I was 14, a friend brought me to my first conference, in Northern NJ. WOW! Lots of excited, sensitive, sensual, artistic, radical, groovy people, all doing things I loved most: pontificating, being artistic, singing, dancing, playing, getting high, and making out. In what was 90% of the time an adult-free environment.

    Over the next three years, I eventually focused entirely on the last two things on the list: Sex and Drugs. And yep, I was a purveyor and a predator. Sex, and drugs. And I wasn’t alone. There were a bunch of us, guys mostly, but a few women as well, who were promiscuous and predatory, out to blow people’s doors off with our over-the-top behavior. Some straight, some gay, some bi. And people got hurt. Some badly, I imagine.

    Don’t kid yourself that it was all bread and roses. It wasn’t– NYC was falling apart, mores that had been relaxed were being destroyed in anger and viciousness, the blooms of freedom and joy were withering into business as usual, disco hedonism was the “in” thing, and harder and harder drugs became glamorous. Desperation replaced hope for some of us, and enough was never enough.

    Safe to say I was one of more than a few who overdid it. Broken hearts, broken-into churches, broken promises (lies), all in the name of what we considered “fun.” And the amazing thing is that the elders had to have know it was happening. And frankly, pretty much everyone knew it was going on in conferences– everyone knew what was going on in this closet or corner or that, or in some locals home, or out on the lawn, or behind the altar. Nobody “knew” why that 25 year-old “gym teacher” was giving naked full body rubs. (Or was the whole scene so cool, so hip, that we didn’t dare challenge it, nor did we realize how close to, or over the edge we had collectively come?)

    I tell people I had the benefit of living in a pre-HIV era in which women (teenage girls, in fact) would get the pill and gain the liberty to have sex without fear of pregnancy. Sadly, I think they unwittingly became prey for a lot of people. And I had a lot of sex in LRY, with a lot of people. And I’m one of the guilty ones. Back then, frankly, the concept of rape was far from our minds; I believe “free love” was the concept under which we all were operating.

    For the ignorant, I offer this as a learning piece. For those of you who I harmed, misused, insulted, or otherwise unnecessarily offended or shocked, I apologize. Whether or not the times were fucked up, or how much we/I/you/everything was fucked up, I should have known better.

  29. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,
    it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,
    it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness,
    it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,
    we had everything before us, we had nothing before us,
    we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way

  30. In response to Teel’s post… I would agree with you that what you described is a part of what LRY became. I was in LRY from roughly 1970-75. I was seeing a real change in its focus. If I had stayed in LRY only from 1970 to about 1973, I think I would remember it only as fun and sweet and harmless. The dark side of LRY seemed to get worse from 1973 and by the time I had aged out and moved on from it in 1975, there was a lot I didn’t like about it anymore. I don’t remember those last two years with much fondness, though I do remember Frogmore as a place with fondness. And with the benefit of the distance of years and more growing up, I think I can also see that what was happening in LRY was happening more generally among young people, across the country. I happen to think that was rather ugly and didn’t want anything to do with it then, nor do I feel nostalgic about that part now. And by “that part” I mean the drug use in particular. It has been my conviction that the drug use was what fueled the rest and made those times seem unpleasant to me. As an adult, I feel surprised that peers of mine seem to recall that with a sense of longing or nostalgia. It seemed impoverished to me. I found it incredibly depressing. And at the time, I was pretty vocal about my objections to the drug use in particular at conferences, which earned me nothing much more than the contempt of others, as far as I could tell. There are things I do remember fondly about my time in LRY. But drug use at conferences was not among them. And by the time I had been out of LRY for a few years, and heard of LRY’s demise, my thought was that I wasn’t surprised, that there had been a lot of obnoxious irresponsible behavior in terms of the drug use. About ten years ago, when I had joined an online LRY community, I got to know some of the folks who had been in LRY around the time it was dissolved and have come to a fuller understanding of those events. I also get the impression that some of the things LRY had become while I was in it had possibly improved by the late 80s. But LRY’s reputation by then seemed larger than whatever changes may have been afoot. It still annoys me some that as a lifelong UU, if I mention to other UUs who are older than I am that I was in LRY, there is the assumption that I must have been doing all the things LRY was reputed to be doing. I was not, and it is annoying to me that it’s like that taint lingers. Anyway, I see the drug use to have been a bigger problem and issue in large part because those who were part-taking were not going to be making use of their best judgement. But whenever I think of this, the other part I always wonder is… what is it that goes on in the lives of young people that makes excessive drug use such an attractive option. I’m not talking about folks who may try things a couple of times just because they are curious; I mean folks who would spend an entire weekend or week at a conference (and likely elsewhere in their lives) staying high. My gut feeling is that something else was going on that made that seem like a better option than being in the world without being high.

  31. Dan, I think some documents you may find revealing are the ones which aren’t there. In the time period you’re curious about, there were few guidelines within the UUA about what constituted appropriate contact between the clergy and congregations. As such, given the flavor of the times, harm came to pass within various congregations over behaviors which may have been engaged in with the best of intentions, but were not always helpful, and now would be regarded as completely improper. I don’t know how you would go about researching that, and I’m not exactly clear on your intentions. Are you looking to publish something principally for consumption within the denomination? Is there a thesis you’re trying to refute or support? Are you curious for you own sake? Obviously you are, but whither to from here?

  32. I came across this while looking for something else entirely. Odd how some questions can converge.

    I don’t have, or have any leads to, documents from LRY.

    I don’t remember anything on sexual mores and sexual boundaries and ethics in “Follow the Gleam”.
    I don’t know what traditions Continental YRUU did and didn’t inherit, on those topics and at that level, from LRY. The transition from Federation to District was significant, but boundaries, traditions, written and unwritten codes, on how participants treat each other at conferences, camps and similar events, strike me as generally even more important. Then again, those vary: what happens at a continental conference, what happens at cons in Michigan, what happens at rallies in Texas, what happens at the youth group sleepovers at First UU of Macropolis, what happens at hotels at General Assembly, those vary from each other and they change from one decade to another. A lot of Americans junked a lot of rules in the 1960s and 1970s, without having anything else in place to prevent harm. Picking wheat on the Sabbath, sure, people before rules, that’s in Matthew, Mark and Luke, right? Drinking “Demon Rum”, slow dancing, burning a draft card, music with an African beat, men wearing earrings, marijuana, bare skin, same-sex couples holding hands in public, women riding bicycles, mixed-race couples, starting a massage at the shoulders and proceeding steadily southwards – which of these rule violations is inherently wrong?

    I recall an article from the Women’s Federation publication, perhaps 1992 or 1994 or so, on rape at UU youth events, with one or two first-person stories.

    I’ve heard one first-person account, in person, from an adult who’d been raped at a conference, perhaps in the 1980s. I don’t know what district, don’t know if it was under the name LRY or COG or YRUU or some other. (I was listening more pastorally than as a historian, at the time.) She said that the aggressor was one of the high-status youth, with friends among youth leadership; and she didn’t go to designated leaders because she expected them to side with their friend. I asked her about adult advisors. She said that advisors weren’t visible, or not very visible, at that event. I was hoping that advisors would not have the same loyalties she expected the boy’s friends to have. Advisors might be friendly with leadership youth, but should feel a greater responsibility to the safety of all participants, which should trump personal connections.

    That conversation changed my perspective as an advisor. It’s been in the background of every choice I’ve made since then. It confirmed a bias I already had: that adult advisors should be visible among the leadership and to all the participants at any UU youth event. That doesn’t necessarily mean adults running everything, deciding the menus of all the meals and the readings at all the worships. After all, in a kitchen, the oven and stove get used routinely, the fire extinguisher gathers dust, but by some measures, the fire extinguisher is the *most important item in the kitchen*, and it’s bright red so that if you ever DO need it, you can find it in a hurry. I’ve happily served as adult advisor, at YRUU events with youth leaders who did a fine job at menus for meals and readings for worships, where my active intervention on those topics were not needed and anything more than the gentlest of guidance would have been unhelpful. But darn it, I want advisors to be introduced along with the youth staff, and be participants in each of the small groups, and otherwise every bit as visible as a kitchen’s fire extinguisher, so that if some victim ever needs, as an ally, an adult advisor who’s not a peer participant in the social hierarchy of the teenagers, they can find one.

    When I’ve been one of dozens of people, adults and teens, all in sleeping bags on the floor of a church, I sometimes listen mostly to youth snoring, with part of my mind on permanent standby for anything, even a whisper, which might be the only audible indication of someone crossing a line of consent; and sometimes I sit up, pull out a flashlight, and scan. That’s not the same as a “flashlight patrol,” because I’m not emerging from the Adult Area, looking for trouble among the youth, and returning to base. I’m side by side with them and among them, on the same floor, enduring the same snores. I’m a resource – a youth wakes from a nightmare or a nosebleed, that sort of thing – much more often than I’m an enforcer; when I am an enforcer, my resource role adds to my moral authority.

    Of course, there’s also the larger consent of the community. No one, regardless of individual consent, has the community’s consent to, for example, have intercourse while at a PCD YRUU, MUUGs or COA event. If they do, then they’re breaking trust with the organizers. The organizers work hard to create a venue for spiritual growth and community, in a way that’s incompatible with also being a hookup party. Youth particpants who have sex – or drink beer or smoke marijuana or whatever- are breaking trust with everyone who signed the code of conduct, and with parents and advisors and ministers who aren’t fellow direct participants. But if I learned that, out of dozens of events where I’d served as an advisor, there was one incident of consensual, risk-managed sex, and a few beers drunk or joints smoked, well, I’d shrug and weigh that against hundreds of lives changed and perhaps a few lives saved. If I learned that rape had happened, at an event I’d served as advisor… I would see that as a much, much deeper failure.

    On another hand… I know youth who say YRUU cons saved their lives. I wish that YRUU – cons, church, any combination – had saved Sonya Raymakers, 1992-2009. She did PCD Coming of Age, she subsequently spoke at least once from the pulpit of UUCPA, she died by suicide at age 17. I see that as an even worse failure. Not mine particularly; I was only at one event she attended. A system, which I’m part of, was unwilling or unable to give Sonya enough lifelines. Sonya died shortly after the UUA terminated Con-Con and C*YRUU. There’s no causal link, no connection between those dots. But I’m still a member of a denomination which dismantled life-saving structures without having a successor in place. What, if anything, could have saved Sonya? We’ll never know, will we?

    The woman who told me her story about having being raped at a con… it wasn’t just this one thing that was unpleasant at the time; it was a lifelong shadow over her sexuality. But at least she was alive to tell me. Sonya isn’t. So I weigh that in the balance, too. Failures happen, some get detected, some never come to light; some failures get barely averted, some get fixed, some get deterred or nipped so closely in the bud that they never come to light either; there are visible immediate successes; there seeds that bear fruit long after YRUU; there’s the self-centered 14-year-old who becomes the big-hearted 17-year-old, and vice versa; so little sure knowledge, so much faith.

    Okay, here’s some good news. I was at a meeting, years ago, of a few advisors and several young adults , the latter being forced out of YRUU by the 20-22 end of an age range change, who were determined that that youth on the 13-14 end of that change would still have a program to attend. (Did I mention my opinion about whether a new bridge should be built before or after the demolition of the old bridge?) We discussed what traditions from YRUU cons we would carry over into the new only-for-junior-high program (which eventually became MUUGs), and which traditions to leave behind. Collective swearing, “Biff Biff Bam Bam”: didn’t make the cut. Circle-style worship: that’s at the very center of the experience. “Culture of consent”: absolutely a top priority. Teens who participate in PCD youth retreats get more systematic, repeated training on how to communicate boundaries, how to notice boundaries, how to respect boundaries, than… than any other venue I know, including undergrad colleges. “Consent is the presence of a YES, not the absence of a NO.” I mean, you could tell them the story of the Annunciation, and their first question wouldn’t be “How could a virgin bear a child”, it would be “Wait, at exactly what point did God get Mary’s consent to impregnate her? Was her consent both prior and informed?”

    Rev. Dan, you’re looking for documents, and getting stories. Documents created now, more than documents created back then. Of all the venues I where might write this, your blog was not the one I expected. The free and responsible search for truth and meaning sometimes leads to surprises.

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