Youth Ministry Development

by Amanda Alice Uluhan, RE Programs Coordinator

Throughout my time at East Shore, my direct supervisor, Aisha Hauser, has supported me in professional growth and development. Aisha encourages me regularly to attend training opportunities within the UUA and affiliated organizations, as well as participate in local trainings through other organizations. Working with organizations is critical to supporting a well-rounded knowledge base, one that stems from diverse perspectives. Working with UUA and affiliate organizations is also critical to the growth of our programming because it allows us the necessary professional connections and cohort that help us to stay relevant and true to our faith and the formation of faith in others.

Professional trainings inform the ways that I envision faith formation, create programming, and connect with our community. They help to provide information and answers to questions that come into play with regularity while on the job. This translates into the personnel, administrative, and imaginative aspects of the job. Working at East Shore, in this diverse and varied community, many needs and possibilities arise. Through professional training, I am able to learn from the experiences of others, a necessary aspect of growth, and to benefit from the collaboration founded in these spaces. Many of these forums help to create professional relationships that last, ones that I have come to rely on outside of our community for continual learning and support. This level of engagement helps me to adapt and in turn can help our community adapt to the every-changing needs of the children, youth, and families of this community.

One of my favorite trainings so far has been a chaplain training that I took nearly two years ago in Salem, Oregon. Offered through the Pacific Western Region of the UUA, this training brought youth and youth advisors (adults) together to learn about pastoral care to youth. Working in youth ministry, I get to know the people of our community ages 14-18 or so. This time of transformation physically, emotionally, and spiritually brings up many questions; it is a time of self-discovery, risk, and change. Learning skills and techniques for pastoral care helps to equip youth to relate to their peers and helps to equip youth advisors in creating safe and healthy connections with youth. The training is designed to teach skills necessary for effective chaplaining, such as active listening, responsive awareness, along with dealing with topics such as issues of confidentiality, ethical behavior, and youth lives. We talked about sensitive topics such as child abuse, suicide, or self-harming and learned rules for navigating these with grace, resilience, and equipping ourselves with an understanding of when pastoral conversations need to be escalated.

Training with youth and adults helps to create a shared vocabulary for the community. By introducing emotional and mental health, and by facilitating exercises to talk about these things in a secure and open foundation, our community becomes more resilient. Just like our human health and sexuality program, OWL, this training helps to normalize opening up to others and seeking support and safety in community. For many of the trainings participants, this is the first time they are encountering some of these conversations and skills, which they are then able to utilize and introduce informally to their respective communities.

One of the most important skills learned in the chaplain training is the practice of listening. Most of us are so caught up in our own stories and dramas, which are nonetheless important and real, that being present for someone else’s stories, struggles, and dramas is difficult. Introducing the practice of listening to youth is an awesome way of encouraging positive development of self and community, and helps to nurture their growth toward independence.

As a youth advisor, this skill becomes even more important. The gift of listening becomes one of the most important ways that we can connect with youth. As adults in this community, our growth trajectory is much different from that of youth, who are undergoing all sorts of changes and questioning all sorts of things. We offer something powerful and transformative to the youth in our practice of listening. Listening provides a basis of trust, relation, and can help to foster self-reflection and a non-judgemental attitude. Sometimes the changes and experiences of the youth can be very different from adult experiences. Listening and asking questions about their experiences helps to center their story, rather than making it about themselves. This is an opportunity! When a youth opens up to you, take time to cherish that, respect their stories, and provide that much-needed respite from the all-too-controlling adult world that many times surrounds them. If their story is sensitive, seek out a professional for more support and how to proceed, always first letting the youth know that you’ll need to do that. Otherwise, reiterate that their story is confidential and as adults, our job is to help lift up and hold that story with reverence. v