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Summer Travels to the Youth Ministry Consultation

Dori Davenport Thexton
dori2005-11-10c.jpgMy travels this summer included a week in Boston at the “Summit” gathering for the Youth Ministry Consultation (http://archive.uua.org/TRUS/youth/). As 60 of us discussed (in small groups, of course!) our hopes and dreams for the future of ministry to and with youth in Unitarian Universalism, it was exciting to see some common themes emerge.

Everyone wanted to see youth well-integrated into UU congregations. Everyone wanted youth who grow up in our congregations to feel they belong and have meaningful relationships with many people from elders to infants.
Dreams of multigenerational UU faith communities have sustained me for many years. Imagine what our association would look like if we retained more of our young people. What if even 30% of those who grew up as Unitarian Universalists stayed in our congregations instead of disappearing after high school? I have wonderful images in my head of what this might feel and look like and I hope you do, too.

To achieve this, we need to make a cultural shift in our congregations and in our thinking. For too long, we have let ourselves accept age-segregated faith communities. Congregations are the only institution in our culture where people of all ages come together every week. What do we do when they arrive? We separate children and youth from the adults, both physically and symbolically. And, in doing this we miss tremendous opportunities to DO things together. By missing these opportunities, we teach our young people that adults aren’t interested in relationships with them.

One sad symptom of how we segregate the ages is how our religious educators struggle every year to find enough church school teachers or youth group advisors. Too many adults say that they don’t want to miss the service, or – where there are two or more services – they say that they don’t want to invest that much time. On another occasion I might talk here I about the “responsibility” of all members to be involved in the religious education program… Now I invite us to think about how our own lives could be changed by ending this separation and stretching to build relationships with children and teenagers.

Great youth ministry is not primarily built by recruiting teachers. It is built by involving children and teens in what is already happening. Teens could be great participants in the Adult Religious Education program of virtually any congregation. Our amazing and talented youth could be great contributors to any program or committee in our congregations.

This full involvement is what comprehensive, multigenerational, congregation-based youth ministry should be. This was the theme that came through clearly at the end of our Summit gathering. It may be hard to believe that 60 Unitarian Universalists agreed on something, but we were all behind this as our goal and the need for creating a culture change.

My colleague, Tera Little from the Pacific Southwest District, was also at the Summit meeting. She wrote this in her newsletter (http://sourceresource.blogspot.com/)

For now, we are given that theme and it is up to each one of us - that means you, too, and not just me or the Summit participants - to figure out which piece can we take and do well?
What will it mean for us to make a shift out of a program-based approach to youth "work" and move into the fullness of a ministry to and with our youth? A ministry to and with our youth must be much more grounded in the faith development of all our youth. It will require a deep understanding of racial and sexual identity development in regards to our youth of color and youth who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning. It means that any adult who is doing sustained ministry to and with youth will need to have theological grounding in Unitarian Universalism, a clear Unitarian Universalist identity, and adeptness at pastoral care. It means that after years and years of youth being on the sidelines of our faith, that we finally grow up and take this ministry seriously - we fund it, we train our leaders, and we put it at the center of congregational life.

So – how will you respond to this call for action?

I’m excited about the possibilities. I look forward to hearing from you with your ideas for how you can be a part of the change.

Dori Davenport
Faith Development and Growth Director

A Great Welcome

Ian Evison

ian07.jpgLate Summer and early Fall are high season for congregation shopping. Congregations need to be ready. It is a basic rule of thumb for congregational life that, when you begin to see advertisements for back to school supplies, you are already late. There is bad news and good in this.

The bad news is that some of the challenge of preparing to welcome visitors requires basic cultural change and takes a long time. Many of our UU congregations have been working on this cultural change inspired in part by the book, Radical Hospitality: Benedict’s Way of Love by Lonni Pratt Collins and Daniel Homan (available at the UUA bookstore https://secure.uua.org/bookstore). For those who want a flavor of how we UUs are using these perspectives a search of the internet on the subject of “radical hospitality” and “Unitarian” will give a flavor (see, for example: www.uu.corvallis.uua.org/sermons/04_0919--Radical%20Hospitality.htm and www.uufairhaven.org/2006/Ser2006Oct8.htm). The best UU resources for working on this level of basic cultural change see The Membership Journey (www.uua.org/documents/congservices/membershipjourney.pdf).

The good news is that any congregation with a modicum of effort can quickly and dramatically improve the experience of visitors. There is a pretty good literature on this but all the advice comes down to this: (1) think through step-by-step a visitor’s experience and ask how each element can be improved and (2) create a system for learning from the experience of visitors and new members.

Luckily, to help you get started with this process, there is a wealth of practical, free resources. The best UU resources on this subject are the past articles from the wonderful UU resource periodical, Interconnections. These are a little hard to find at the moment on the UUA website (www.UUA.org). The editor, Don Skinner, was helpful in providing me a links to the most relevant articles. As Michael Feldman would say on What’ Ya Know this is the mother lode of UU resources on the subject:


Don Skinner also mentioned that he is in the midst of an article about anonymous visitor programs that are developing in a number of Districts including Pacific Central and Joseph Priestly. Look for that in the September issue of Interconnections. Interdenominationally these are quite popular, often called mystery visitor or mystery guest programs (http://www.churchexecutive.com/Page.cfm/PageID/3262). Clara Barton District has a description of their program on the web (http://bcduua.org/contents/mysteryVisitor-description.html).

Harlan Limpert reminds me also of the Ideas for Growth DVD that was mailed to every congregation. See especially the segment about Jefferson Unitarian Church. They have an excellent collection of materials online (http://www.jeffersonunitarian.org/programs/volunteers/documentation.html). Our district office has some extra copies of the Ideas for Growth DVD. Also, this DVD can be easily copied should anyone wish more copies (that is, easily copied by any teenager!). The Congregational Handbook (http://www.uua.org/leaders/leaderslibrary/congregationalhandbook/index.shtml,) contains some good material, especially in the facilities section. Susanna Whitman and Tracey Robinson Harris of the UUA Congregational Services Office offer that the resources from the UUA Uncommon Denomination campaign include a great number of media resources (http://archive.uua.org/programs/congservices/uncommon/).

For doing a bit of quick review of your procedures in advance of the Fall visitor season, I like the check-list style of resource. The UU version of this in the Uncommon Denomination materials contains some good suggestions about how a group might use the checklist
(http://www.uua.org/leaders/leaderslibrary/uncommondenomination/hospitalityand/index.shtml )
For those wishing for getting themselves ready for visitors this season, the do-it-yourself hospitality assessment may be more useful. The UU Congregations in the San Francisco Bay area have collected some nice materials including a hospitality assessment form (http://www.uucpa.org/hospitality/Hospitality%20Assessment%20PCD.pdf.).

Other religious traditions also have a lot of good material that can be easily adapted for UU use. I find particularly useful the checklist style resource produced by many denominations. These may require some translation. Yet looking at a few examples, should provide good guidance about questions we should ask ourselves: Lutheran (www.elca.org/evangelism/assessments/hospitality.html) , Episcopalian(www.episcopalchurch.org/adcollaborative_56908_ENG_HTM.htm), and Mennonite (www.mennoniteusa.org/pdf/missional_letter/Aug2005.pdf).

In the future, be sure to return to the UUA Leader’s Library page. New materials will continue to appear there. Susanna Whitman, the UUA’s Growth Services Administrator, mentions that later this month they will, for example, be posting what she calls “a cool new resource,” courtesy of Linda Laskowski, a talented PCD lay leader. I have not yet seen this material, though some of you may have. Linda Laskowski gave a workshop in June at General Assembly, “Congregations Count: Evaluating Your Membership Process” (http://www.uua.org/leaders/leaderslibrary/leaderslibrary/ga2007/30779.shtml). Remember that CDs of this and all other General Assembly workshops are available.

One thing these resources do not mention prominently is websites. For many UU congregations, websites are a primary way new people hear about the congregation. Part of preparing for the visiting season is to prepare the website. While redesigning the entire website may be too much to do before Labor Day, a number of congregations have put up great—and simple—descriptions of what visitors should expect (www.allenavenueuu.org/visitor_info.html).

Also, these resources do not emphasize as strongly as I might that welcome must be the work of the entire leadership. In the first ten minutes in the building, a visitor may well step on the turf of many groups—Membership, Building and Groups, Religious Education, Worship, and Administration. Many groups in a congregation must work together to improve the full experience of visitors. And all leaders must think of themselves as part of the welcoming committee, meeting visitors after the service and before doing other business.

Ian Evison

PS—This Fall our national UUA is asking all congregations to celebrate Association Sunday (http://www.uua.org/giving/associationsunday/index.shtml). Money raised will go in part to a national marketing campaign. This campaign will work best in synergy with the efforts of individual congregations to improve outreach and welcome.

PPS—This resource article has focused on web resources. I thank everyone who has given me book suggestions. I hope to post a list of these later on my blog.

Workshop for Small and Emerging Congregations

Michelle Richards

st-louis.jpgWhile growth is an important issue for all congregations, for small and emerging congregations, growth is essential for survival. What are the best ways to "get the word out"? And what are the important areas of growth which need to happen within the small group of volunteers that is laboring to sustain a small congregation?

On Saturday, October 6, the Central Midwest District will present a workshop on these issues in the St. Louis area. Join us as we explore such ideas as:
  • how to design and offer high quality lay-led worship services
  • how to select programming to meet the needs of newcomers as well as current volunteers
  • growth strategies, publicity and reaching out to the community
  • financial and legal issues such as establishing bank accounts, tax exempt status and creating bylaws
  • setting priorities and avoiding volunteer burnout

This workshop will be a day-long venture including lunch and an optional stay-over to experience worship within a large congregational setting. Teams of three are encouraged to attend together. Cost for a team of three is $100 with $30 for each additional team member. Download the PDF registration form and mail to the District Office address on the form.

The registration deadline is September 21, after that date an added late fee of $40 is required to register. If you will be staying overnight to attend the worship service on Sunday morning, you will need to make overnight accommodations on your own.

If you have any questions, contact the Central Midwest District's Event Coordinator Michelle Richards.

Summer Transitions and Renewal

Michelle Richards

Summer is the time for transitions and renewal when it comes to our congregations. Whether you are going through the annual changes of leadership on the Board or also experiencing staff transitions, why not use this time of renewal as an opportunity to utilize the Central Midwest District’s consultant program?

Perhaps it's time for a new strategic plan as you head toward that long awaited building project or you are looking for some growth strategies. Perhaps you need some community building and leadership development for your new Board to covenant together and begin the important work of the year ahead. Perhaps your religious education program could use some reinvigorating or organizational development.

Our district consultant program offers congregations the support of a trained network of consultants who are available to provide outside expertise and facilitation in a wide variety of congregational needs. Whether you are looking for strategic planning, leadership development, improved communication or techniques for conflict engagement, our consultants program can help you. The consultant program can even help your congregation to explore new ministries, improve newcomer hospitality, develop a long-range plan, strategize about building issues, and offer ideas for launching a capital campaign.

For fair-share congregations, the cost of a full-day workshop is $285 and a half-day workshop is $210. Non-fair share congregations have an extra cost of $150. All of these workshops also require a travel equalization fee of $55. To arrange a consultation, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. at 708-805-1866. For a listing of services available and biographies of our district consultants, click here.

Worship Renaissance Module

Michelle Richards

dupage_unitarian_universalist_church.jpgThis Fall, the Central Midwest District will offer the Worship for All Ages Renaissance Module on Thursday, October 4th through Saturday, October 6th at the Dupage Unitarian Universalist Church in Naperville, IL. Goals of this module are:

  • To expand and deepen the understanding of worship experiences,
  • To develop competence and confidence in leading worship,
  • To make participants feel inspired to make worship a significant part of the religious education experience

Drawing upon insights from recent studies of human and faith development, participants will become acquainted with the theories of communal worship and consider the nature and needs of children, youth and adults in worship. They will consider the conditions that encourage worship in a communal setting (such as the role of silence, meditation, and prayer) the aesthetic dimension (including music and dance) and finding the balance between spontaneity and ritual.

There will be worship and celebration throughout this workshop and ample opportunities for participants to design worship experiences.

Participants are required to attend the full module to receive credit for completion which includes 7 - 9:30 pm on Thursday, 9 am - 9 pm on Friday and 9am to Noon on Saturday. Particpants will receive an email confirmation about a week before the module, including names of all the participants and information on housing, roomates selected. The Reader for the Module will be sent after registration has been received and processed.

To register by the September 21st deadline, complete the registration form and submit the appropriate fee to the Central Midwest District office. A limited number of scholarships are available to CMwD congregations only. If you have questions, contact the Central Midwest District's Event Coordinator. Download a PDF flyer and registration form.

Renaissance Modules are a series of standardized fifteen hour workshops designed for religious educators and program coordinators by the Unitarian Universalist Association. RE committee chairs, ministerial students, ministers, youth advisors and interested others are always welcome to attend. There are nine professional development modules designed by the UUA Religious Education Department to provide basic training in a specific area useful to religious educators. Each training is equivalent to 15 hours. After five modules have been completed, the UUA recognizes this achievement with a Letter of Recognition, and the Central Midwest District awards a lapel pin. Attendance for the full 15 hours is expected for certification. Completion of five Renaissance Modules also qualifies as learning experiences needed for any level of the UUA Credentialing Program.

Caring Congregation Training

Bob Skrocki


Your congregation is invited to consider sending two representatives to be trained in the Caring Congregation Program: Embracing Mental Health Issues, November 9-11, 2007 at DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church, Naperville Illinois.

People with mental disorders and their loved ones fill our pews. The Caring Congregation Program helps congregations in welcoming and supporting those with mental disorders and their families. It uses a book with workshops written and pilot tested by Rev. Barbara F. Meyers, a UU community minister who focuses on mental health issues. This interactional training will include getting familiar with the curriculum, basic facilitation skills, practice teaching and open time to explore concerns for your congregation. Sunday morning will be free time for worship. More information on Barbara’s programs is at her web site. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Each congregation who wants to use this program should train two people as leaders. Leaders ideally should have a strong commitment to the issue, probably through experience as a mental health professional, as a family member or caregiver/ friend of someone with mental health issues, or as a recovering mental health client (person with a mental disorder). Co-leaders ideally should come from different backgrounds (not both professionals, family/ caregivers, or clients). It is also helpful if the leaders are respected within the congregation, have accepting attitudes toward mental illness, and are good potential facilitators, with an ability to share thoughts and feelings and be comfortable with others emotional expression. The schedule is

Friday 5pm to 9pm (dinner included)
Saturday 8am to 9pm (lunch & dinner included)
Sunday Noon to 4pm (lunch included)

The location is

DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church,
4 S535 Old Naperville Rd, Naperville, IL

A UUA Grant and contributions to the ministry are covering some of the expenses of this training. Expenses for the participating congregations are $90 per person or $180 for the total of two representatives per congregation. Curriculum workbooks are included. Some scholarship money is available, so don’t let money keep you from doing the program! The host congregation, Du Page UU Church, will provide home hospitality for Friday and Saturday evening for those who require it. The host congregation will provide meals. Register your congregational representatives by going to the registration brochure.

Checks will need to be made out to “DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church, with “Caring Congregations” in the memo field. Bob will coordinate scholarship requests with Barbara Meyers. Send the check and registration form to

Bob Skrocki
DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church
4 South 535 Old Naperville Road
Naperville, Illinois 60563

UUA Trustee's Column August 2007

Justine Urbikas
At our District’s Annual Meeting this past April, the Delegates of our congregations elected me as the new Central Midwest District Trustee to the UUA Board. I am very excited and honored to be in this position. In addition to thanking all of you for electing me, I would also like to thank the other two candidates worthy candidates who ran for this position: the Rev. Georgette Wonders of Bradford Community Church and David Gross, PhD of Champaign-Urbana.


It is exciting to have multiple candidates who are willing to take on this position. It shows the willingness and dedication of our volunteers through which our faith survives. It is good to see people motivated to step up and take on leadership roles in order to keep the UU engine oiled and running smoothly or to instigate changes and new ideas.

I would also like to take the opportunity to highlight this election as noteworthy because of what it means for our district to have elected the first Young Adult District Trustee onto the UUA Board. I am proud to be there as the Trustee from our great District and am ecstatic to be able to bring new ideas and perspectives to the Board and our community. I have been a leader in the UU community for many years, and am excited to take on the new and challenging tasks ahead.

At GA this year in beautiful Portland, Oregon, Open Space Technology was introduced to give the Board grassroots guidelines on the mission and direction of the Association. The suggestions were prioritized by the delegates and those results will be reviewed by the Board. There was a lot of energy in the plenary hall for statements around supporting our Youth and Young Adults as a means of sustaining our numbers and ultimately achieving growth. Needless to say this statement is a large part of what I support and preach. I look forward to my time on the Board working to achieve this goal, as well as the many others worthwhile statements laid out by the participants at GA.

In gratitude and service,
Justine Urbikas

Youth Advisor Unite August 2007

Kimberlee Tomczak
kimberlee.jpgYouth advisors are the people who sustain our ministry with and to youth. These brave volunteers are some of the most dedicated Unitarian Universalists I have had the honor to work with and know. Each week, they meet and collaborate with the teens in your congregation to create programming, social action, and a faith community within a faith community.

Three times a year many of the advisors load up their vehicles with youth and drive to a district conference or training. Here they commune with the youth and sacrifice their weekend to sleep on the floors, go without showers, and watch their youth rejoice in connecting and finding UU youth from across the district.

But when do the youth advisors get to rejoice and connect with their peer group?

The Youth Advisor Convocation is an opportunity for all the youth advisors across CMWD to come together. This event will be a both a training for new advisors and a chance for all advisors around the district to connect and share ideas about youth ministry work that they do in their congregations. We are hoping that this opportunity will grow a supportive youth advisor community across our district and the time together will give advisors a chance to plan potential collaborations.
The Youth Advisor Convocation will be Sept. 28-29.
Friday 7pm-10pm: A Time to Socialize
Saturday 9am-5pm: Our Work Begins
at Dupage UU Church in Naperville, IL.
Home Hospitality will be available on request.
Cost $25 each-Saturday Meals Provided.

I hope to see many of you there!


Young Adult News August 2007

Kimberlee Tomczak
kimberlee.jpgAt our District Assembly in April, the Young Adult Steering Committee (YASC) presented an intergenerational worship on Saturday evening honoring the prophetic voices in our Unitarian Universalist heritage. For the collection we were able to donate $250 to the both UUSC Darfur project and the CMwD young adult scholarship fund.

Congratulations to Justine Urbikas, newly elected member of the UUA Board of Trustees. Justine has served as the District Youth Board member and YASC member for the past two years. We wish her the best in her new position representing CMwD on the UUA Board. YASC Secretary Erik Carlson will also be leaving this fall for his ministerial internship in New Orleans with Community Church. We wish them both the best in their endeavors and look forward to working with them both in new ways.

At General Assembly there was a strong CMwD Youth and Young Adult presence. Many of our youth bridged into the young adult community and participated in the GA Bridging Ceremony. Young adults welcome Nick Cable, Emily Brunts, Hannah Roberts, Zarinah Ali, Sarah Cates, Rebecca Madison, Misha Davydov, Max Gorkowski, and more to our community! Also, Dan Maitland a YASC steering committee member was elected to the position of Young Adult GA moderator, congratulations Danny!

In addition, Chris Hagy and I both participated in staffing the Church of the Younger Fellowship Booth that received the Donna DiScillio for Excellence in Young Adult Ministry this year.

This summer Opus and Concentric will be in near Toronto, Canada this year at Unicamp August 10-18th. Opus and Concentric is the continental spiritual and business retreats for the young adults. YASC was proud to give 7 scholarships to CMwd Young adults to assist them in attending Opus and Concentric.

Mark your calendar for Condiments: CMwD Young Adult Fall Conference in Rockford, IL on Nov. 9-10! Hope to see you there!