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We Love Acronyms! Here’s Another

YASC

YASC. Young Adult Service Communities. Rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it? If I were still living in Tennessee and I heard someone say YASC I’d likely have to respond, “did I ask what?” But I digress.

YASC is a fantastic program that the UCC offers each and every year for young adults age 21-30. The program places participants in one-year long assignments where they live in intentional community with several other young adults, and engage in direct service and/or justice advocacy work. Here in southern California a group of four people are hosted by the fine people of Carlsbad Pilgrim UCC, north of San Diego. In addition to being oh-so-close to the ocean, these YASC participants gain valuable experience in community organizing, advocating for food security issues and more, while also working alongside the people of Pilgrim UCC.

Other locations for YASC projects include Bethesda, MD and Phoenix, AZ, and in the 2012-2013 academic year there will be additional communities in Seattle, WA, Chapel Hill, NC, China Grove, NC (45 minutes NE of Charlotte) and Saginaw, MI (2 hours NNW of Detroit). Opportunities include interfaith work, advocacy and service for immigrant communities, early childhood education, work with Habitat For Humanity and others.

When accepted into the YASC program, housing, a food stipend and health insurance are provided. Participants can also qualify for an AmeriCorps Education Grant. At a time when so many people are getting shut out of jobs due to lack of experience (“so how do I get any experience?”), the YASC program is a great way to do just that. So right now, click on something in this post and check it out!

Register For This Today! Centro Romero Sex Trafficking Conference

Centro Romero Sex Trafficking Conference

April 26-28, 2012. Mark the dates, register now, and join the work of The Romero Center / Centro Romero in advocating for justice for some of the most vulnerable members of our community. With one of the busiest border crossings in the country, San Diego is home to a growing network of people who betray the trust of people looking for better lives and enslave young people in lives of forced prostitution and the sex trade.

Carlos Correa, the director of Centro Romero, has designed a robust program that will have participants meeting together with religious and community leaders, government officials, law enforcement officers and justice practitioners, including a trip across the border into Tijuana to meet with officials and Centro Romero partners.

In an effort to include the voices of young adults in this process, there are scholarships and grants available through the conference. Just click here and download an application (English, Spanish and Samoan language applications are provided). This is an issue that young people around the world have been rallying around, and I’d love it if our conference was able to invest more into this work.

So click on some links and sign yourself up for this event! You’ll be glad you did.

Why We’re Leaving; Why PopUp Church Is A Step In The Right Direction

Why We’re Leaving; Why PopUp Church Is A Step In The Right Direction

This theme of why young people are leaving the church is picking up steam all over, and instead of recapping them, i’m going to link to a few recent articles. two are from Christian Piatt, a writer and DOC pastor that I’ve been getting to know. He started with a “7 Reasons Young People Quit Church” for the Sojourners blog, and followed up today with “4 more BIG reasons” on his own blog, hosted at Patheos.com. I appreciate Christian’s insight, especially as it’s grounded not only in his personal faith story, but is also rooted in his experience as a minister in a local church, alongside his wife Amy.

One particularly striking experience he recounted has to do with the disconnect with churches after high school. He says, “When I went to college, I was contacted by fraternities, campus activity groups and credit card companies, but not one church.” He goes on to recount the myriad needs he had and would have appreciated being addressed by churches, but found none of them. Whether one heads to college (a shrinking percentage in these economic times), enters the workforce or a combination, our program-centric models are not doing anything substantial to help bridge this time in life. I’ll be writing more about that in the coming weeks.

Side note: The Piatts have recently been called from their current home in Durango, CO to First Christian Church (DOC) in Portland, OR, where they will start June 1st. Amy will be the senior pastor and Christian will serve in a part time role. Portland is getting a boatload of wisdom, talent and passion.

I'm Ben Boruff. Alienate me!

The other article is an editorial from the United Methodist church website, as a young adult there, Ben Boruff, explains just how the church can keep youth away. It’s a nice piece of passion, insight, satire and to-the-point challenge. His assertion is that churches know how to engage young people, but his conclusion reads, “it took quite some time for my naïve mind to find the only logical conclusion. These churchgoers did not want young people in their churches.”  Ben then goes on to outline his own list of ways that churches can continue to alienate and be made irrelevant to young adults. The substance of this satire, though, is all about substance. It’s not about programs, flashiness or hipsterism – it’s about connection, challenge, meaning and community.

I’m thankful to hear voices like these in our work to challenge and inspire us to dig deeper and be intentional about how we approach our lives of faith and community.

On the, “this is a FANTASTIC idea” side of things, I want to point out something I discovered in December, which is good, because it started with an Advent program. It’s as growing experiment by our Episcopal family in Portland, OR, and is called Pop-Up Church. It was semi-inspired by the growing trend of food trucks and portable culinary experiences. Simply put, one congregation worked with a number of others in the Portland area and created 30-minute advent devotional services that were rooted in the liturgy of the church. No technology, no bells and whistles, just ancient spiritual devotional practices, followed by an open invitation to discuss afterward at a nearby pub.

My understanding is that the experiment took hold, and has continued into the new year. A couple of the things that I love about this are:

1) The service is low/no tech. It provides a quiet space to get away from the busy-ness of life and technology.

2) The means of invitation are primarily online. They use Facebook, Twitter and a simple website to convey information about how to find a meaningful experience.

3) It has a social / process component built in to not only address the experience, but allow for community to build.

4) It allows congregations throughout the diocese to host something for a different audience with minimal planning or anxiety.

This last part is of particular interest, because the bar for “success” is set pretty low. There’s no massive period of each church planning, programming and worrying about what happens if 10 people show up to a 600 seat sanctuary. It was designed to work for whoever was there, and by using the existing liturgy, the content of the service was taken care of. It took a motivated core team to come up with the idea and invite other churches to participate. But they got to experiment and play with the idea, and it took hold. What a great way for these church buildings to be used and made known to different communities in their midst.

PopUp Church is an example of low risk / high creativity innovation. It lets people experiment in fun ways, blending tradition and new technology, community and invitation in a cultural vocabulary that connects. What’s more, they don’t intend it to replace a church or even build itself into an institution. When it no longer meets peoples’ needs, it will stop. If it continues to meet needs, it continues. Either way, the folks at All Saints Episcopal are trying things that express their values in new and different ways, and that’s an exciting development.

Later this week: The Centro Romero Sex Trafficking Conference  is coming in late April. PLEASE consider attending this. There is partial scholarship money available and we need to have younger voices advocating for those victimized by the sex trade.

Thank you Rachel Held Evans

Thank you Rachel Held Evans

This past Saturday we hosted a time with award-winning author, speaker and blogger Rachel Held Evans. Rachel shared with us some of her insights on the evolving faith of young adults, and we had a spirited conversation about opportunities (both missed and embraced), challenges of ministry in the UCC (and DOC for our partners in ministry from that denomination), and where each of us fit into the landscape.

Rachel referenced the Barna research that I’ve posted about, and we discussed not only how the UCC embraces many of the values that many young adults find missing in their church experiences, but also how we may have gotten lazy and passive in our expression of those values. An example: one of the frustrations that drives young people away from the church is a sense of anti-intellectualism or anti-science in their churches.

Now, the UCC is anything but, and has a long history of embracing the roles of science and faith, and seeing their complementary roles. But where we may well be missing out is assuming that because we’re “not like that”, that young people may be able to identify and recognize our beliefs and feel welcome and at home. How are we actually engaging those who have been captured by the beauty, the depth and the wonder of science? Instead of issuing statements of support for our friends in the scientific community, why aren’t we opening up our sanctuaries and meeting spaces to host public forums on the roles of faith & science? And we don’t need to do it all ourselves – we can use the infrastructure of our buildings and facilities open to groups so that we are known as hubs of activity in our communities.

And lest I seem to be placing myself too high on a non-existent pedestal, this idea struck me as I realized that a woman in my own congregation is part of a San Diego area science competition for youth, and one of the finalists is a young person in my Sunday School class.

The crux of this is that often we don’t take the time to realize just how few people realize about all that our congregations are doing. We remain “best-kept secrets” when we should strive to be the worst-kept secrets in our communities. I hope that in my role with the conference, we can play some part in widening the awareness of and invitation to the vital ministries that so many of our congregations enact. Rachel also shared with us dozens of responses to her blog asking why young adults had left or had considered leaving the church, and among those were: – I want  a safe place to ask hard questions – I don’t feel welcome in church as the true person that I am – I can’t be myself in church – I don’t feel I can contribute the gifts that I have, only the gifts that people in my church seem to want – Challenge me! I want depth in preaching and worship and study. Take me deeper – Music: whether it’s modern, traditional or ancient, please let it be good! – My church doesn’t help me make any connection between my faith and my life – I want to hear about the faith journeys of other people in my church. I want to know their stories, so perhaps I can learn from other peoples’ experiences – Unwelcoming to LGBT people – I want to be engaged, not tolerated – Just because I’m search that doesn’t mean I’m walking away – I want my faith to connect to social justice, and know why it’s important to my faith; otherwise I can join a service club somewhere else – Where is the place for art and creativity in church? – Repressive / disingenuous views about sexuality – It’s too focused on us vs. them (and this includes liberals as well as conservatives) – Church is not a safe place for me to evolve.

It’s quite a list, and one that could be discussed for years, except that we don’t have the luxury of that time. I’ll spend a little more time with some of these in the coming weeks. In the meantime, if anyone has other thoughts, ideas, comments or editorials on any of these, please comment or send me an email. I think that much of what we experienced with Rachel Held Evans was a catharsis, and an opportunity to express ourselves in a safe place, and look for ideas and opportunities to serve one another. More on that ahead. Thanks to Rachel Held Evans, and to the 15 folks who sat around the table with her and were part of a great Saturday afternoon.

Why Young People Are Leaving The Church; Why We Should Be A Home

Why Young People Are Leaving The Church; Why We Should Be A Home

It seems that nearly every week there is hand-wringing over the state of mainline Christian denominations and the decline in attendance, membership and giving. It provokes a crisis of confidence in many of our leaders, both pastoral and lay. And while there are myriad reasons that have to do with a shift in culture (job-related location change is more prevalent, youth ministry programs have done a poor job of connecting people to the broader church

A recent research study by the Barna Group caught my eye. It’s called, Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church. Two things in particular struck me about the report:

1) The leading reasons were about intrinsic values rather than external circumstance. In other words, the values that were or weren’t reflected by churches had more influence than whether someone had to relocate for a job or school.

2) The values that seemed lacking in young Christians’ experiences in church are those that I think the UCC is uniquely positioned to champion.

The six reasons are here in bold, with comments and quotes included:

1) Churches seem overprotective. In the Barna research, teens and young adults expressed, “the desire for their faith in Christ to connect to the world they live in. However, much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse. One-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” (23% indicated this “completely” or “mostly” describes their experience).” Sound like the UCC to you? Me neither. In fact, the UCC has been clear about placing value on exploring, examining and engaging with diverse points of view and being a place that openly pursues understanding.

2) Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow. This had much to do with peoples’ experience with church. “One-third said “church is boring” (31%). One-quarter of these young adults said that “faith is not relevant to my career or interests” (24%) or that “the Bible is not taught clearly or often enough” (23%). Sadly, one-fifth of these young adults who attended a church as a teenager said that “God seems missing from my experience of church” (20%).” This is a tough one, as every single congregation is different in this regard. Our forms of worship, music, service, spiritual practice and pursuit vary by community. But the value of creating deep, meaningful spiritual experiences is embedded in the UCC, and we would be wise to explore new forms that are at least guided by our young adults.

3) Churches come a cross as antagonistic to science. No need to worry about this in the UCC. In fact, the denomination has a wonderful post to affirm that, “we extend our unequivocal welcome to persons who devote their lives to scientific inquiry,” and there is a great statement on faith and science and the belief that they are not mutually exclusive.

4) Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental. The research showed that, “teen and twentysometing Christians are struggling with how to live meaningful lives in terms of sex and sexuality.” The UCC (and UU) have made great strides in producing the Our Whole Lives curriculum that is a holistic, comprehensive and affirming view of sexuality that respects the complexity of the subject in an authentic way.

5) They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity. Three out of ten young Christians (29%) said “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths” and an identical proportion felt they are “forced to choose between my faith and my friends.” One-fifth of young adults with a Christian background said “church is like a country club, only for insiders” (22%).” The first two statistics here address theological exclusivity, and in that regard the UCC again gives hope in our commitment to ecumenical and interfaith dialogue and understanding. In fact, Claremont Theological Seminary is pioneering a new model of an interfaith seminary, where multiple faiths study alongside one another. The last statistic is a challenge to any established congregation that can grow insular in nature over time. No one is immune to it, but hopefully our values of openness, diversity and community can help to combat any temptations to stay inwardly-focused rather than outwardly directed.

6) The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt. “Some of the perceptions in this regard include not being able “to ask my most pressing life questions in church” (36%) and having “significant intellectual doubts about my faith” (23%).” This reason for departure is a near polar opposite of the values that we at UCCLM have espoused. We value diversity in thought and welcome the questions and doubts as a vital part of our own spiritual journeys. The complementary value of listening goes hand in hand, as our congregations must become adept at actively listening to the questions, doubts, desires and passions of those in our communities.

The majority of this is good news for us! We are a denomination whose espoused values are in almost direct opposition to the things that seem to drive young adults away from participation in churches. What this means is that we have tremendous opportunity to welcome people into our community – people who may not realize that there are church communities that express values that positively address their questions, struggles and desire to belong. But we need to be seen, heard and available in order to do this. In some ways the UCC is one of the best-kept secrets in American Christianity. But to change the tide we need that to stop. It would be my hope that we be among the worst-kept secrets in our communities. We have a great opportunity to extend our extravagant welcome in a pro-active way to share with people what a community like ours can offer.

Greeting As This Thing Launches

Greeting As This Thing Launches

Hi. My name is Dave Palmer, and I’m in the newly created position of Young Adult Ministry Coordinator for the Southern California-Nevada Conference of the UCC. I’m thrilled and honored to be able to serve in this capacity, as it falls in line with many of the things I’ve been engaged with in service during the course of my life.

This blog will outline many of the things we’ll be doing throughout the conference, and beyond.

One of the things I’m most excited about is my conviction that our shared UCC values are exactly those that many young adults find missing in their faith experiences, and that if they knew that a place existed that addressed their deep needs and desires for a spiritual journey, they would jump in.

In this role I’ve outlined several areas where I’ll be focusing my efforts, and I hope that this quick overview will help you to see what we’re building, and also to help you to generate ideas, questions, opportunities and more.

The Conference: I’ll be working to develop resources, events, content and opportunities for the SCNC to join the many disparate ways that the church is serving and being served by our young adults.

Congregations: I am a resource for congregations in the conference wanting to better understand the unique cultural context that speaks to and engages young adults, and to discuss means of more deeply engaging young adults. Let’s be in touch!

Young Adults: I want to meet our conference’s young adults and learn from them what they are wanting to engage, how they want to serve, and to be a resource to help connect them to the places where their greatest passions meet the world’s greatest needs. This is also an area where I’ll be working with Neal Washburn to develop a conduit for engagement from high school to next-steps in life for our young adults.

Communication: I will be working to develop a consistent pipeline of communication with the members of our conference, to help us more easily connect and work together.

Outdoor Ministry: As part of this position I will be a part of the Outdoor Ministry Team, and will join with the team to develop and promote wonderful opportunities at Pilgrim Pines, and see our outdoor ministries grow in the coming years.

There are links to our Facebook page and Twitter handle (@scncYA) at the top of the home page; content on the conference website will be updated, and we’ll be starting to look at things for the annual gathering, June 8-9 at Chapman University. I’d love to hear from you with ideas for things you’d like to see addressed, as well as having multiple contributors to the blog. In all of this, I need your help. I need your input, your points of view, your history, your frustrations, challenges and hopes. All of these will help to better understand how we can work together to better serve one another.

So please be in touch if you:

– want to discuss young adult ministry
– are a young adult interested in helping us dream up and launch the new things we’ll be doing
– would like to explore a time for me to meet with your congregation and talk through the culture and trends of Millennials

I appreciate your time and your willingness to engage and look forward to talking with many new friends.

Yours in service,
dave
palmer@scncucc.org