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Chris Conkling, Youth Programs Coordinator
East Shore Unitarian Church, Bellevue, WA
Archived 3/29/2011

 Chris Conkling
 Youth Programs Coordinator
 East Shore Unitarian Church, Bellevue, WA

Jill M. Schwendeman says in her excellent book, When Youth Lead, "'ministry' refers to our interactions with one another that enrich, comfort, and challenge our spiritual selves…taking part in the congregation and being with one another attentively in the context of our faith” is one expression of this. This year, Unitarian Universalist youth around the Pacific Northwest District and across North America are providing a ministry of love and service that couldn’t be more timely and essential.

Here in the Pacific Northwest District, our youth and youth groups are supported by the volunteer efforts of the YES team (Youth Empowerment Services). Consisting primarily of youth, with a few rotating adult advisors, this team helps support youth in the district in a number of different ways. They help to ensure that the district youth conferences are healthy, rewarding, and fun; they support individual youth groups that are in transition or are in need of some guidance; and they help to coordinate larger district projects.

Members of the YES team have been working very hard this year to create a district-wide social justice fundraiser through screenings and staged readings of the play/film The Laramie Project. Anne-Marie Davidson, YES team advisor, explains:

Samaya Oakley of the BC region suggested we do a cross-border social justice project. The YES team announced it at our fall youth conference and recruited people from each congregation attending Con. Elissa McDavid and Rev. Liz Stevens created and sent out materials, helping others stay on track to host a successful event. Tandi Rogers promoted the event through the youth ministry Facebook page and the Youth/Young Adult office newsletter. 

The original intention of this collective effort was to draw attention to the injustices that GBLTQ youth have faced in North America through the screening of the film. By having district youth groups raise funds for local and national organizations supporting GBLTQ youth, UU youth would be making a statement that they stand on the side of love. But since the planning stages, the vision has expanded significantly.

Elissa McDavid, YES team member from Saltwater UU Congregation shares:

Last August, when the idea of doing a district-wide youth fundraiser was brought up at the YES meeting, I would never have guessed how important it would become to me and to the greater PNWD district of youth. I don't think people truly understand what has happened. We managed to connect the youth in not only the PNWD but all across North America: from Honolulu, Hawaii to Marietta, Georgia. But we have also empowered youth to take ownership. It's remarkable. The Laramie project is such a powerful cause. Over the past year there have been so many tragic deaths of GLBTQ youth, which makes this fundraiser so much more important in light of that.

Everything about my faith calls me to action. My deeds guide my creeds. UU's have been working on fighting injustice for years. You can see the beginnings of this from the youth. Before Unitarians and Universalists were one faith, the youth groups of the separate faiths met together and helped African-Americans during the fight of civil rights movement. That's what inspires me. That is what lights my chalice. This is why I'm called to action.

When we provide space for our youth to grow, to be loved, and to learn - we are providing space for them to step up and to act on their faith, and to minister to all those around them.

I encourage the reader to support the efforts of your local youth group and GBLTQ youth by attending a screening of The Laramie Project. And if you don’t have an active youth group nearby - why not follow the lead of our youth and host a screening yourself?  

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