Children and Youth Religious Education

Children and Youth Religious Education

The hills are alive, with the sound of…

Well, not quite “the hills.”  More like “the mountains.” If you really want to get the tune right, it was the The Mountain Retreat and Learning Center in Highland, North Carolina and the mountains were indeed alive last fall with the sound of talking, laughing, singing, and thinking Unitarian Universalist children and youth from the Southeast Region of the United States. Why? They were participating in The Unitarian Universalist Youth CONferences last November and December. And that giggle, yes, the one you just heard, well, that was from one of our children and youth!

Wait, what is the Youth CONference you may ask?

“[The] Youth CONference is a gathering of Unitarian Universalist youth and advisors from congregations all over the southeast (and sometimes beyond!) for a weekend program filled with a variety of workshops, activities, good food, a safe environment, and warm, cozy cabins. Youth participate in all the activities, share with new friends in small get-to-know-you groups, bond during free time, contribute to times of fun and reflection and grow spiritually through worship. (“Youth CONference.” The Mountain Retreat and Learning Center Highlands NC;”

In my “Keeper of the Faith” interview, Lee Carnes asked what I hoped the youth would get out of the CONferences. I shared that I wanted our youth to form new relationships beyond our gathering – I wanted them to see how large the UU faith was. The CONferences presented more opportunities for relationship building than I could have imagined.

Our two children, one from the Salisbury gathering and the other from the University gathering, who attended the Elementary CON met at park a few weeks before their CON to get to know each other better. They ran. They played. They were reluctant to go home – even when the park ranger told them the park was closed.  A few weeks later, their circle of friends grew. We could not find an advisor to accompany them, so the Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte (UUCC), graciously, offered to let them join their group. When we arrived in the UUCC parking lot for the departure, one of our children discovered that an old soccer buddy was a UU at UUCC!  All the boys immediately connected and jumped into the van where they quickly forgot their chauffeurs (parents) and began chatting away with the two Peer Advocate Leaders (PALS), Youth CON teen and young adult leads, inside the van. Upon their return, I asked one of the youth what he thought. “It was great! I want to go to the next one!”

For the Intermediate CON, eight youth from Salisbury, University, and Lake Norman gathering traveled to The Mountain together. (We had our fifth-grade students attend this CON rather than the Elementary CON.) The girls drove with the caring and loving Alice Carnes. They bonded to her and she to them (and I to her). I don’t know all the details of their car ride, but they refused to switch cars on the return trip! I drove the boys and although I want them to have a male advisor next time, I felt fortunate to have had the time with them. They were hilarious…and wise…and sensitive…and silly…and kind. They rotated sitting in the front seat and helping me navigate. I was able to learn so much about each of them that I’d have to say it was my favorite part of the trip. Throughout the trip, youth talked and played in assigned small groups led by PALS, chose from a variety of activities to do with a friend or on their own, played or hung out together in a large field, danced, performed in a talent show, and ate tasty meals in a common hall while being mindful not to waste food.  And, of course, they stayed up late into the night and drove their advisors crazy! Ahem!

One last shout out…Majel Wolfe, the Salisbury CYRE Lead, not only served as a Peer Advocate Leader during the Intermediate CON, she was one of the more experienced and senior PALs there. Our children and youth were able to watch her be one of the leads for the CON who stilled joined them on the dance floor. Personally, I appreciated having her there as it was my first time at a Youth CON, and Majel was the perfect host.

Spring Youth CONference 2017 is happening in March. Want to be a part of this experience?

  •       Learn more about The Youth CONferences here:
  •       Consider chaperoning and driving a group. Trust me, it will be worth it (and we really need volunteers for this.)
  •       Consider donating to the cost of the trip. It’s $100 per child, plus a $35 transportation fee. Surprise our youth…drop an envelope with $10 or $25 or $50 or whatever in the plate offering. Make sure to label the envelope “For Youth CON”
  •       If you have children or youth…PLEASE ENCOURAGE THEM TO JOIN US THIS SPRING!

I’ll leave you with this (I can only hope that you made it to the end of this article). Children from three gatherings have formed friendships over a weekend. These friendships are still strong today. When they see each other at the other’s gathering, they hug, they sit together, they bring THEIR community together. One day they will be our leaders and the melding we adults are feeling now during this time…it will simply be all they ever knew.

Jolena James-Szanton
Director of Religious Education