This month, I wanted to highlight one of the programs for which the Youth and Families (YAF) Committee and I are responsible: Coming of Age (COA).
COA is a year-long rite of passage for 8th-10th graders. UUFRC offers COA every two years. This church year is one of those years. COA is intended to help participants integrate their childhood with their emerging adulthood as they discover their place in the world and within Unitarian Universalism (UU). At the end of this program, youth can choose to join UUFRC as full members.
There are two pieces to the COA program: one that happens at the congregation (UUFRC) and one that happens at the district (Pacific Central District [PCD] of the Unitarian Universalist Association [UUA]).
At UUFRC, COA participants meet monthly to discuss relevant topics, including evil, sin, choice, worship, interdependence, otherness, UU values, death, afterlife, god, why bad things happen, and what it means to be a member of a faith community. These discussions are intended to help participants clarify their own beliefs. As UUs, we do not have a creed, which is a set of statements about what we all believe. Instead, we have our 4th Principle: we affirm and promote a responsible search for truth and meaning. Thus, we decide for ourselves what we believe (an ongoing process, no matter one’s age). At the end of the program, each participant creates a personal credo, or belief statement, that they present to the congregation during the COA celebration in the worship service (this year’s will be on May 12, 2019).
As part of learning what it means to be a member of a faith community, participants perform at least 10 hours of volunteer service for the church in an area of their choice. Past areas of service have included being greeters, helping the Ministry of Culinary Arts (MOCA) during social hour, teaching Sunday school, running sound during the worship service, giving a musical offering during the worship service, creating a center of interest in the sanctuary, helping at church work days, serving on a committee, and creating a social action project.
Participants are assigned an adult mentor to provide guidance during the COA journey. Participants meet with their mentors at least once per month.
At the district level, participants attend three weekend-long retreats attended by other youth from UU churches in the PCD. The retreats are designed to challenge them physically and spiritually. The threshold retreat involves team building. The social justice retreat is intended to challenge notions of otherness. Its centerpiece is a day-long street retreat in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. The nature retreat’s centerpiece is a 4 to 6 hour solo vigil.
We see COA as the culmination of our Sunday school programming. In Sunday school, our children learn not only our UU Principles and values, but also the basic tenets of many faith traditions: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and earth-based spirituality. Our children can pull from any of these sources to create their credo and build a spiritual life for themselves.