Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Young adult urban ministry weekend

I'm still glowing from a really exciting weekend spent with 22 young adult unitarian universalists at First Unitarian Church, Los Angeles. Jointly sponsored as a program of the UULMCA and the Pacific Southwest District, and hosted at the urban Los Angeles church, we put together an experience of what our faith can look like in an urban setting and with a commitment to a vision of a church placed in service to the larger community, rather than only focused on serving the church members.

Here's what we did:

Friday night we gathered at the church for dinner and worship. Then we had a conversation with PSWD District Executive, Ken Brown, who was involved with First Church 20 years ago, and helped form an intentional urban ministry program at First Church as a way of healing after the Rodney King Riots. Some of the urban ministry programs started at that time still exist, and that program became the foundation for a new, outward-focused vision for the church. We spent Friday night at a local hotel.

Saturday morning started with breakfast at the church and the opportunity to observe our food distribution program in action. Every Saturday from 8 to 10 AM volunteers hand out about 650 bags of groceries. When the distribution ended we had a chance for questions and answers with Rochelle McAdam, the church member who has been spearheading this program for years.

Then we had a presentation from Michael Mata, an urban ministry specialist, currently working with World Vision, who has created a tool called "exegeting the city" as a way of quickly identifying the needs, and potential ministry areas, of an urban neighborhood. Then with the tool in our heads he led us on a walk around the neighborhood to practice our observational skills.

We ended the walk with lunch at the Francis Avenue Garden, the neighborhood garden started by the church a dozen years ago and now a jointly owned and operated community resources. While we ate lunch we listened to a presentation from a volunteer with CLUE (Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice) who told us about their current work in support of hotel workers who are being prevented from unionizing and are being paid a less than livable wage. CLUE is specifically targeting the Hilton Long Beach hotel. BOYCOTT THIS HOTEL. So after we got the background we all piled into vans and drove down to Long Beach to take part in a demonstration with the workers in front of the hotel. We picketed and chanted for about an hour, and then spoke to some of the workers and heard about their experience and their frustration with management who won't talk with them.

We drove back to the church for dinner, for a talk about young adult programs with Lindi Ramsden, the Executive Director of UULMCA, and then a Karaoke party, donated by a young adult friend of the church. Then one more night at the hotel.

Sunday morning we had a wrap-up session and then a really incredible worship with both Tera Little (from the PSWD) and I preaching, the entire congregation of Santa Clarita joining the First Church congregation, a combined choir, and then a potluck lunch.

I was consistently impressed with the participation of the young adults. They were present, generous, thoughtful, engaged, reflective, passionate. I felt honored to be with them. Hopeful about the future of this faith. And hopeful about the direction that our ministry might take us in the coming generation.

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