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NCM-edited-200In 2012-2013 a momentum has been building to sustain and nurture congregational youth and young adult ministries in Central Midwest District, and the evolving MidAmerica region.  We are truly blessed in the Central MidWest District with a robust and sustainable youth ministry experience created by talented leaders from our congregations who step up to organize the Fall and Spring Youth Cons.

The success of these youth events is enabled by the DRE’s, ministers, and congregational leaders who heartily welcome events and then help to make them a reality and success.  The  successful partnering of congregational leaders with our veteran youth conference coordinators,  such as Heather Godbout, from Unity, and Kim Tilford from Palatine, who have made these events possible.  Also, I am so pleased with the willingness to open up these conferences to leaders from the entire MidAmerica region.

An example of a premium event, which is one of the highlights of my program year, is the Youth Midwest Leadership School in Beloit, WI. This last July was no exception, for YMLS continued to be a remarkable experience.  I was so moved at the commitment of CMwD congregations who intentionally raised funds to send youth to YMLS.  We celebrate the talents of many of the CMwD youth and adults, who have been asked to serve on the faculty for YMLS.  Included on our 2013 faculty are Andrew Connet, a youth from Naperville, IL and Andy Singleton, an adult, from Deerfield, IL.

YMLS is an amazing face to face experience, but we do remain committed to offering virtual opportunities for leaders to share and learn.  Our MidAmerica webinars have been well attended, and in the last year I offered webinars on: Basic Youth Advising; Chaperoning Children and Youth; Sustainable Youth Ministry; New Trends in Young Adult/Campus Ministry, and a webinar for new DRE’s, “Start As You Mean to Continue.”  One totally new virtual opportunity is a collaboration with Rev. Phil Lund, where we are offering a 6 session online course on “Youth and Young Adult Ministry.”   Our target group has been religious professionals, and in particular, members of the RE Credentialing program.  This experience galvanized my own professional development, and in February I was accepted into the UUA’s Religious Education Credentialing program.  I am excited about this new endeavor and hope to have other religious educators from the  MidAmerica region join as well.  What a blessing it is to be part of any intentional learning community.

One such intentional learning experience, has been a series of virtual and face to face open meetings on the future of youth and young adult ministries in MidAmerica.  I took part, with Phil Lund and Dori Davenport Thexton, in a series of “Thoughtful Conversations,” which were held from August 2012-December 2012.   The results indicated that: Youth and Young Adult ministry in the MidAmerica region is highly valued.  Congregations are thirsting for more for more leadership development opportunities; for more skills, resources, and opportunities to connect youth and young adults. Congregations are ready, and in many areas are already hosting, and even co-hosting with other congregations, terrific youth and young adult conferences. Leaders are naming the need for a regional body of youth and adults working together to maintain a greater vision and structure of accountability.  The language being used is the emergence of a “Youth Ministry Advisory Group.” The YMAG would work directly with MA staff in mapping out multi-year plans for enriching youth training opportunities (which congregations are not equipped to handle solo); to provide feedback on staffing for our Youth Midwest Leadership School; to provide opportunities for youth and adults to become co-trainers for such events as Basic Youth Advisor workshops; Spirituality Development conferences; Pastoral Care/Lay Chaplaincy trainings; Leadership Development Conferences, etc….   The YMAG will also be the communication portal for congregations to contact when they want to host a conference.  The advisory group will have trained and talented Con Coordinators who can assist congregations in realizing their goal to have a successful event.  The YMAG will also be working with staff in creating and sustaining service trip opportunities for youth groups in the region.

There is clarity that current Young Adult structures need to be fostered and to deepen/grow support for YA’s in MidAmerica. Leaders expressed a vision for a Young Adult Ministry Advisory Group, focusing on the entire region.  Current YA groups, such as the CMwD Young Adult Steering Committee, who have been on the forefront of using a regional lens in their programming and vision, will hopefully be working in solidarity with other YA leaders throughout the region, and our MA staff, working directly with congregations who want to hold a YA conference. Also, there would be YA’s,  who are serving on the YAMAG, to work directly with congregations and clusters of congregations who want to deepen their commitment to young adult ministry.  Having engaging service trip opportunities for young adults, as well as strengthening support for campus ministry in our region were all expressed as clear goals.  Linkage with our Midwest Leadership School is seen as an excellent goal, to make sure that congregations have a commitment to send young adults and for funding/scholarships to be available to realize this goal.  We are currently partnering with the leaders at People’s UU Church in Kalamazoo, MI, who have requested to have their leaders trained in Young Adult OWL.  Thanks to a grant from our national UUA Youth and Young Adult office, we will be able to host this training in late spring or summer of this year, which will be open to Young Adults in CMwD and throughout the region.  

There was a consensus throughout all of the conversations on youth and young adult ministry that “safe congregations” issues remain paramount.  Congregations are wanting standards clarified by the region on what specific criteria is needed to make sure that any experience provides the highest standard of safety for all participants.   One participant expressed the hope that the MA region would have a safety and liability document, posted, to make sure that all congregations would be striving to maintain those same safety practices in youth ministry.  With regard to young adult ministry, there was discussion of have and maintain a statement of ethical standards, which are currently being used at young adult events.   I plan to continue in partnering with our regional Directors of Religious Education around issues of safety and liability in youth and young adult programming.

For the future, I dream that we partner together with the shared pursuit of growing Unitarian Universalism:  Growing our faith by raising lifelong UU’s, and by having an outward and invitational element to all of our endeavors.

With confidence in our future,