Spotlight: First Unitarian Dallas YAs
This is the first in a monthly spotlight on the great work that various young adult groups across the country are doing. Today, I interviewed Lillian Drab-Braddick, Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry at First Unitarian Church of Dallas, and Lisa Peterson, one of the leaders of the young adult group there. If you would like your congregation to have the spotlight next month, let me know at email@example.com. Thanks- Ed.
Tell me about the young adult group.
Lillian: The young adult ministry at First Unitarian Church of Dallas serves church members, friends and visitors in their late teens, 20s and 30s. Since January 2012, the ministry has served 92 young adults through classes, fellowship events, and service opportunities. It’s a vibrant group with committed young adult lay leaders and participants.
Lisa: We’re a large group of your classic 18-35ish year olds. Some are native Dallasites, some moved here for work. We are single and attached, gay and straight. The group has been active for many years, but when the church added a staff member a year ago whose role included helping organize us, we became a much more active and cohesive group.
What was your most successful activity?
Lillian: One of our most exciting events was hosting Waleed Rashed of the Egyptian April 6 Youth Movement. Waleed Rashed met with our young adults and spoke to a large group from the community about creating the ‘revolution within.’ Our young adults helped promote, usher and greet visitors for this event.
Lisa: Last summer we held a series of gatherings at local restaurants called Pints and Ponderings. During the summer, young adults were invited to have a drink, get to know each other, and listen to a speaker from our church community who, for this first series, were involved in community service and social action. Pints and Ponderings was the perfect mix of social event and church function, and we had a great combination of established members and visitors who wanted a casual way to get to know our community. We were so happy with the success of Pints and Ponderings that it has continued during the church year.
How do you balance creating cohesive community with allowing new people to feel welcome?
Lillian: Young adults who have been involved in the program for awhile often become our lay leaders. The leadership team meets about once a month to help plan upcoming classes and events. They volunteer to lead class sessions, greet new people at Pints & Ponderings classes, introduce guest speakers and make a point to identify and chat with young adult visitors after services. We’re trying to make sure there are various levels of involvement in this program, for new UUs as well as young adult leaders.
Lisa: We have tried to find new people at service and introduce ourselves to them, and make sure that they are invited to whatever events are coming up, whether it is brunch that day or a class or Pints and Ponderings in the near future. I think part of what helps people feel welcome is the diversity of our group- you can be a single college student, a professional with children, or anything in between and you will find people you connect with. Within our diversity, we are a cohesive community because of our shared Unitarian Universalist values. Even in a large city such as Dallas, we come together because it is important to have friends who respect and understand our views. We also tend to naturally have shared interests, which makes it easy to plan social events and other activities.
How does the YA group interact with the congregation? How did you build connections? How does the congregation support the YA group?
Lillian: First Unitarian Church of Dallas is focused on strengthening UU identity for children, youth and young adults. In 2012, church leadership demonstrated this dedication to serving Young Adults by formalizing programming for this age group. The new Youth & Young Adults Ministry was created to serve this growing demographic, with staff leadership and support.
Young adults at First Dallas are fully engaged members of the larger church community. They teach Religious Education, work as Youth Advisors, sing in the Choirs, volunteer as ushers and greeters and hold leadership positions, including serving on the Board of Trustees.
Lisa: The young adults have good relationships with the congregation. Many of us are involved in the church in other ways, and do not limit ourselves to activities that just our friends participate in. Some are RE teachers, some sing in choirs, and others focus on social justice issues. The congregation seems to enjoy and appreciate our involvement and feedback. Additionally, we have been building relationships as a group, particularly as we have invited notable leaders to speak at our Pints and Ponderings sessions. These leaders have been enthusiastic about getting to know us, and we are hopeful that this will build into more relationships in the future.
A word of advice to someone starting a young adult group at their congregation?
Lillian:Mobilize young adult leadership! Engage volunteers in all aspects: brainstorming, planning and executing programs.
Lisa: If you don’t have anything else organized yet, plan to do lunch at least every other week after church! You are probably doing this anyway with your friends, so just try to make it more intentional. If you make it a guaranteed event, then when a new person shows up you can invite them to join you. And make sure you exchange information so that you can invite them when you have other events ! (Okay, that’s a second piece of advice, but it’s equally important!)
What are your plans for the future?Lisa: We are in the middle of a 6-lesson class on Emerson, Thoreau, and the Transcendalist Movement, which is being taught by young adults to young adults as a way for us to catch up on some UU 101. We are still doing Pints and Ponderings, with a focus on getting to know the great leaders in our congregation. I don’t know what’s next, but we have great people with ideas and enthusiasm so I am looking forward to a wonderful year!