With the bold move to move forward with the first regional position of the Mid America Region, (comprised of the staff of the Central Midwest, Prairie Star and Heartland Districts of the UUA), the focus for this position was intended to mirror the new and innovative direction of such a shared endeavor. As the title states, this position is to focus on emerging models for youth and young adult ministries in our MidAmerica congregations. As I set about this endeavor, congregational leaders, from all three districts, shared with me the distinct need for heightened trainings, virtual and face to face, for youth advisors, religious educators, ministers, and congregational leaders who care deeply about youth and young adult ministry. With that request in mind, we set out to have a rich offering of trainings this last fall, which included webinars on: “Basic Youth Advisor 101 Training,” “Sustainable Youth Ministry,” and “New Ideas for Young Adult and Campus Ministry.” The response for the youth advisor trainings was decided, and it generated the development of a series for Youth Advisors, which started this last January and will be continuing through the Spring. Each session of the “Youth Advisor Series” will delve into the topics I get asked about most frequently, such as resource suggestions for new formats in youth programming; conversations on boundaries, confidentiality and safety issues, and how to make sure that youth ministry is part of a larger multigenerational lens in our congregations.
In addition, to expanding the webinar offerings, we are continuing to provide up to date and helpful information on trends in lifespan faith development. The REALL conference (held in Milwaukee this last March) was one further example of an engaging face to face continuing education opportunity for CMwD leaders, which had a rich array of pastoral care workshops and information on the emerging model of “lifelong learning networks,” (as indicated from the “Faith Formation 2020” study).
I am very pleased to report that we are maintaining our deep commitment to leadership development for youth and young adults throughout MidAmerica, and a cornerstone experience for such leadership development is our Youth Midwest Leadership School and the Midwest Leadership School (for adults). We continue to hear so many success stories of the experiences of youth who took part in YMLS, and also have been inspired with the narratives of young adults who also have been a part of the adult MWLS. In addition to face to face opportunities for leadership development, we are building a rich resource section of our shared website with a wide host of leadership and lifespan faith development resources. We have the site up and running and will be expanding the site, in new ways, come this summer.
Another message I have been hearing loud and clear from leaders throughout MidAmerica is the need for engaging social justice opportunities for youth and young adults. We are mapping out a multi-year process for new models of justice work for youth and young adults. This March the first regional youth conference, JusticeCON, was held in Ann Arbor, MI, with a focus of empowering youth and adults to step up on issues of immigration reform. This conference also prepared folks to take part in the “National Day of Witness,” June, 23rd, which will be happening during JusticeGA in Phoenix. Also, I will be working this Spring with leaders from southwest Florida, who have partnered for the last few years with the Collective of Immokalee Workers in Southwest Florida. Our dream is to have a spring break experience up and ready for the Spring of 2013, where youth groups and young adults from MidAmerica can work directly in support for dignity and justice in the tomato fields of southwest Florida and immerse themselves in the Fair Food Movement.
In addition, a very new initiative in Unitarian Universalist campus ministry is in the formation stage, which is an effort to work with UU congregations who seek to branch out their young adult ministry by enabling Young Adult OWL on campuses. We will be training our “beta” group of campus leaders this August to take the lead on offering YA OWL on campuses throughout MidAmerica. This will be an interfaith experience with other groups, such as the Hillel Campus Centers, and will also be an opportunity to partner with our OWL co-creators in the UCC movement. There is also an additional creative experiment emerging around creating and sustaining new young adult UU covenanted communities on campuses.
The repeatable themes of my work, echo the themes of our entire MidAmerica team, which is that we seek to enable sustainable, repeatable, scalable and transformative experiences in our member congregations, and of critical importance is our deep commitment to growing Unitarian Universalism throughout the Midwest. Finally, we seek to model an interconnected team working with congregational teams. Our MA team has an understanding where we all have a deep generalist grasp of the multilayered issues in congregational life, yet we invite one another to have our individual particular passions and specialties, such as my passion for Unitarian Universalist youth and young adult ministries.
Nancy Combs-Morgan, MidAmerica Coordinator of Emerging Models of Youth And Young Adult Ministries