I was born at the tail end of Generation X. This weekend, I age out of the UUA’s “Young Adult” designation. I have had a long, strange trip from “pagan looking for community” to “born-again UU evangelist” over the 16 years that I’ve been familiar with the fellowship where my soon-to-be wife and I are about to “sign the book” and formalize our membership.
I’ve always been a spiritual person, with a strange relationship to the divine that does not fit neatly into a box or a label short enough to expect you to read. I’ve always known that different people had very real, very important, and very different relationships with G!d than I do. It was instinctive, in a way, that if no one else was describing their version of religion the way I understood it, they must have a different religion, and I was always fine with that.
I called myself a pagan for a while, having always felt close to the Earth and the life around me. I found some sense of community with the Earth-centered spiritualities. They were open to taking good ideas from almost anywhere (a few even still made room for Bible verses). I appreciated that a person could call themselves “pagan,” and there was no test. That was as specific as I ever was, though. I never joined a tradition or a covenanted group. I read, I listened, I prayed, and I did what was right for me and those around me.
Then, a friend invited me to the local UU fellowship. I joined the Young Adult group, and really felt like I had found something that I didn’t know I had been missing. I had a community I could trust to encourage me to grow, without some preconceived template that I had to fit into. We had something amazing, and it changed my life. It didn’t last, though. Young adult groups are inherently unstable, and more so in a college town. Ours didn’t really have the support of the congregation, and when problems arose, there wasn’t anyone worried about holding us together.
Part of the reason for that was that the congregation was extremely Humanist. Many of us never felt like a part of the Sunday services, because we were looking for something spiritual that wasn’t present in the congregation as a whole. I couldn’t see the point in getting up early on a Sunday to sing “hymns” that didn’t address anything in particular. I wanted more than just a community; I was looking for a covenant and a vision. Unitarian Universalism has one, but too many congregations do not. That is part of what it has meant to me, being a Young Adult in the UUA over the last decade. Wanting to be part of a movement with a vision/mission to fix things in a broken world and make good things happen, while being part of a local community that catered to personal projects. They were trying so hard not to offend anyone too much that they failed to inspire anybody at all. I recently left the congregation that saved me from the lowest point in my life. I made friends there who are closer than family, but I didn’t find a real covenant I could commit to.
If we want to be more attractive, we need to be more enthusiastic about what we have to offer; our theology and our relentless love. We need to be willing to offend people, if they are offended by love and a vision of a beloved community. We need to be willing to really inspire the people who want to live up to our Principles, rather than trying to cling to the people who are more than happy to just show up on Sunday.
There is a lot of talk about “The Nones“; mostly young people who do not affiliate with a church or a religion. They are still joining things, be they political causes or book clubs or hobby groups. They still want a community that does something they find fulfilling. We talk a lot about dropping the religious language and watering down our theology to be more appealing. What they want is to be inspired. What they want is to change the world. If we want to be attractive, we need to give them a place to come and be refreshed and energized to go out and build the beloved community of their dreams.
We need more, not less, liberal religion, radical love and acceptance. As I age out of being a Young Adult this weekend, I do not leave behind my passion for what Unitarian Universalism represents. Instead, I hope to help us do better at reconnecting with a group of people who are disillusioned and disaffected, but not disinterested or disconnected. They know that things cannot go on as they have been, and they are tired of being told to wait until the real world is ready for them. Let’s tell them that we are willing to be changed by them now. Let’s give them voice in our movement, and just maybe, our movement will find it has a voice again in the world.