Anti-R, Anti-O, Anti-Agesim
We thank the Reverend Jude Geiger for this article. – Ed.
I have found that even in the healthiest of congregations, young adult ministries can strongly benefit from the teachings we learn in Anti-Racism and Anti-Oppression work to help mitigate ageism or generational bias. Let’s look at 2 myths I’ve heard casually mentioned at numerous congregations over the past 17 years as a UU, and consider what AR/AO may have to say about it.
“Well, there really aren’t any Young Adults in our our area. They couldn’t afford to live here.” Fact: The UU Congregation is located within a few miles of a major college or university with between 6,000 and 40,000 students. I’ve heard this said at four congregations. This massive discrepancy makes me wonder why we need to make invisible our Young Adults. Saying YA’s are not nearby gets us off the hook of doing the work we need to do to change our community in ways that make us more welcoming to the strangers among us. The first step to resolving this is beginning to call out the discrepancy when it’s voiced aloud. We’ll never do the work we need to do, if we allow ourselves to live in a fantasy that doesn’t match reality. Plus, if a YA is nearby and hears “that they’re not there” it’s far from a welcoming experience for them.
“Young Adults aren’t ready for serious leadership roles. They lack the maturity and commitment.” Or, “Young Adults aren’t willing to do the work of ‘church.’ They won’t volunteer to do the things we need them to do.” First off, our conscious should be kicking in anytime we generalize about any group. If we replaced YA in these two statements with “Women” or “LGBT” or “People of Color”, most of us would be shaking our heads in disapproval, yet we tend to look past the same when it’s generational bias. The first step again is calling it out when it happens. The second step is more systematic. Shift away from the unsuccessful model of plugging YA’s into tasks that another generation wants them to do, and more actively seek to invite them into leadership roles so that they can have a meaningful voice in determining their involvement. Seeing a few YA’s in genuine leadership roles, where their personal or professional expertise fits the need, will radically expand your Young Adult ministry.
As your YA community grows, allies will need to be mindful of patronizing statements from well meaning folks. “Someday you’ll understand.” “With a little more experience…”. “I’d like the Young Adults to do…”. “We’ve been doing this for XX years this way.” Each statement either demeans, puts a YA in “their place” or sets the conversation in such a way that a YA would have little actual power to be a real leader. I feel that real access to power, to leadership, is the cornerstone for building a successful Young Adult ministry. However, it means that some folks will feel dis-empowered in doing so, because they won’t have the same level of power they once had. And yet, we’ll all be healthier and more whole for the change. That’s the work of AR/AO.
Rev. Jude Geiger is the Minister of Lifespan Religious Education at the First Unitarian Universalist Congregational Society of Brooklyn. After years as leader in the Young Adult community, he is now a glad Ally. His Young Adult Ministry has grown from 30 YAs to over 130 in the past four years. You can follow him on twitter @revjudegeiger or his personal blog http://revwho.com or his blog on the Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-g-jude-geiger