Major rethink of UCC youth ministries is set for Feb. 7-8
It’s time to rethink youth ministries in the United Church of Christ, with insights from people who do that work in local churches.
That’s the word from the Rev. Trayce Potter, UCC minister of youth and young adult engagement. She said there are many reasons for the rethink — and, with it, the cancellation of the 2022 UCC National Youth Event.
To discuss the situation, and to plan what’s next, UCC youth ministers are being invited to “Building the Future for Our Youth.” It’s a Feb. 7-8 online conference with space for 100 participants. Information is here. The registration deadline is Jan. 26. It’s free.
“We will spend two days virtually gathering to gain insight into the changes that youth ministry and the wider church are going through due to advances in technology, competing priorities and a long-lasting pandemic,” Potter said. She said participants will also help envision “a comprehensive youth ministry that encompasses local, conference, regional and national ministries of the United Church of Christ.”
In addition, “we are asking anyone who has regular contact with youth in the United Church of Christ to complete a short survey” by Feb. 1, she said. Found here, it will further inform Potter and her colleagues on the Faith Education, Innovation and Formation team of Justice and Local Church Ministries as they look ahead.
Alternatives to NYE
Potter said uncertainty about COVID-19 was a big reason JLCM decided to cancel NYE. The every-four-years event — a tradition in the UCC since 1980 — had been scheduled for July 2020 at Purdue University in Indiana. Because of COVID-19, online programming took its place that year — and the in-person version was rescheduled for July 27-30, 2022.
But then came COVID’s fall 2021 resurgence. “Knowing that we would have been locked into contracts with Purdue, and with so much still unresolved, we thought it best to fully cancel,” Potter said.
Instead, Potter and UCC Conferences are encouraging youth to go to camp. Interested young people, family and advisers can find a directory of camps here. Created by the UCC Outdoor Ministries Association and organized by region, it links to the website of each camp — many of which have summer sessions especially for youth.
Potter also urged people to sign up now for a March 24 webinar on summer youth opportunities. It will discuss “mission trips, camps and other faith-filled activities,” she said. UCC national staff members and faith partners will be on hand for the live webcast. Titled “Preparing for Youth and Young Adult Summers,” its registration link is here.
‘A lot of shifts happening’
Meantime, COVID is just one of many reasons to pause and plan, Potter said.
“There are a lot of shifts happening with and for youth that mirror the daily news cycle,” she said. “There is a growing sense of unrest and uneasiness due to the COVID-19 pandemic, school shootings and the growing chasms between people — the ‘us versus them’ attitude that has taken over the news. Youth are looking for answers and ways to be a part of the change and progress that they believe are important.
“We have seen a shift in the willingness of young people to engage in virtual and technology-based events, with so much of their formal education being done online — and that being the sole way of communicating with peers. Now they are longing for in-person, face-to-face contact. At the same time, younger youth are having a hard time with the adjustment of face-to-face, because this is their first time in a youth group and it all feels forced and new.”
And competition for young people’s time has never been greater than it is now.
“Young people are being pulled in a lot of directions and everything seems urgent,” Potter said. “Youth ministers frequently voice their frustrations with all that they feel interferes with youth group and faith formation. Youth have jobs after school, school sports and competitions, heavy homework loads, college entrance exams, and are balancing other expectations while navigating the basic demands of being a teenager or preteen.”
‘Changes, desires, call’
She said the Feb. 7-8 conference will lean into all of that. “Special attention will be made to ensure diversity which truly reflects our church,” Potter said. She said she aims to fill the 100 slots with:
- 70 from local churches, with at least 25 from congregations affiliated with the Council for Racial and Ethnic Ministries
- 20 people from the Network of Wider Church Youth Ministry
- 10 from outdoor ministries
Young people themselves will get a voice in the process, too, in 2022.
“We are recruiting for a newly created Youth Ambassadors Program,” Potter said. Its members “will be instrumental in ongoing feedback about youth ministry, their needs, and giving voice to the wider church.” Young people can apply by clicking here. The application deadline is Jan. 30.
Regional focus groups for youth in 2022 are also in the planning stages, as is a spring survey — a follow-up to the one now available to youth ministers.
Now is simply a good time for the church to take stock of everything, according to the registration page for the February youth ministers’ conference: “The Faith INFO team believes that this is an opportunity for us to evaluate many of the ways we have gathered traditionally and offer new ways of being the church. To that end, we are taking a close look at the youth ministry and National Youth Event to support the changes, desires and call of young people today.”
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