Lessons From Youth Group
Everything I Know About Parish Ministry I Learned in Youth Group
By Alex Haider-Winnett
I grew up UU in Southern California in the 90s. My home church in Orange County had an excellent religious education program and a vibrant youth group. Some of my best friends were people I met at cons. I married my wife at the summer camp where we met. My greatest allies, mentors and cheerleaders were adult advisors I had. I found my calling to serve Unitarian Universalism (UU) at General Assembly Youth Caucus. Instead of going to my Senior Prom, I went to a training on youth empowerment and leadership. I credit YRUU with saving my life and giving me a life worth living.
I am now halfway done with seminary and preparing for professional, ordained UU ministry. For the past academic year, I have been serving as a seminarian intern at a Methodist church in San Francisco. And yesterday, I had a realization: nearly everything I know about parish ministry I learned in youth group.
While I could probably go on for pages about how youth group has informed my commitment to anti-racist, multi-cultural, intergenerational ministry, I would like to offer you my top ten list lessons I learned:
1. Don’t ask anyone to do something you aren’t willing to do yourself.
2. An invitation is always preferable to an explanation.
3. If the work is not necessary or liberatory, it is okay to stop.
4. Those in power are not responsible for preventing mistakes but they are responsible to help others learn from mistakes.
5. A request is not empowering if the same people have to do the crappiest jobs.
6. There is a relatively short period of time between “We have never done it that way” and “We have always done it this way.”
7. Circles can always be widened to let more people in.
8. Whoever isn’t at the table is the one that needs to be there the most.
9. Sometimes the best thing to do is sit in silence.
10. Remember to take care of yourself. No one is going to do it for you.
Alex Haider-Winnett is a life-long Unitarian Universalist, a seminarian at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA and a member at First Unitarian Church of Oakland. When not thinking about Universalist theology, he is reading comics, listening to podcasts while riding the bus and imagining the future of the church. He lives with his wife Christine and their two cats–Julian and LuLu.