The previous year our youth group had 18 teens who made a joyful presence in our congregation. 16 graduated and there were no 8th graders moving up. What to do? Do two people make up a youth group?
Our congregation made a bold decision. They funded the two-member youth group as if they were the rowdy 18.
And I have to say, that while the previous year was fun and eventful. It was the year of Ben and Justin that I found to be the most profound and worthwhile.
Justin was the popular, likable Prom King. Ben was from a newly divorced family, in a new school, and had just gotten word that his father had seriously ill. When I asked them each what they wanted out of youth group, Justin, said, “I just want to be myself without the stress.” Ben said, “I want to do what normal kids do.”
And that is what we did most of the year. We hung out at Denny’s and ate cheese fries and just talked. And tried to grasp a sense of normalcy.
One night we hung out in the youth group room painting our toe nails (because we could) and someone had the idea of paining a nail polish chalice on the stereo. We declared the stereo a Unitarian Universalist Only Zone (pronounced ooze) and our ritual became debating the UU appropriateness of current musical lyrics. What could we play that upheld our faith tradition and principles? Which songs would be tossed, at least while in the sanctuary of our black-light lit youth room? Such conversations were continued at Denny’s over cheese fries. Rarely have opportunities arisen to go that deep theologically for any of us. Ben, Justin and I were forever changed.
I’m still in contact with both Justin and Ben, who are in their mid-20s now. They look back at our youth group year with just the three of us and are grateful that the congregation saw them as legitimate and worthy of the effort.
Religious Education is implicit in the decisions we make as a congregation, including fiscal decisions. Religious Education is nestled in those leaps of faith and small actions that say, “We see you. We need you. You are worthy.”