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Spotlight: UU Young Adults of Des Moines

Posted by Annie Gonzalez Milliken // January 13th 2014 // Spotlight, Stories and Voices, young adults // no comments

Welcome to the Spotlight Series!  Each month we’ll feature a different Unitarian Universalist congregation or community that is doing effective, innovative or otherwise interesting ministry with young adults. –Ed.

YA_Spotlight_logoMarisa Williams is a new parent in Des Moines, Iowa.  When her daughter Lilian was born in October of 2013 she had a community of people who instantly loved her child, bringing meals and supporting the young family.  The tight knit community that supported her had only known her for about a year, but they had welcomed her in with open arms.


Who are these incredibly supportive and welcoming folks?  They’re the Unitarian Universalist young adults of the First Unitarian Church of Des Moines, also known as GenUU on facebook.  Like many young adult groups at our UU congregations, this one has waxed and waned over the years, but is currently thriving thanks to a new model for leadership and activities.  Today, three leaders cooperatively run the group, providing a small group ministry session each month, plus an alternating schedule of social outings and service projects.

How did they get here?  Lori Emison Clair, the Director of Congregational Life at First Unitarian Church, is the staff person who supports the group.  She explained that their congregation was part of the UUA’s Leap of Faith program in 2011.  They were paired with the UU church in Albuquerque, NM.  Albuquerque’s young adult group inspired Lori to re-start a group in Des Moines, but she found it difficult to recruit a young adult leader.  “I’m too new to the church,” they would say or “I can’t organize a whole group, I’m too busy.”

So Lori tried a new tactic.  She asked a young man named Lance Massey, who was passionate about justice work, if he would help fellow young adults organize service projects.  He said yes.  She found another young woman, the life of the party, to coordinate social events, and a third leader to work on small group ministry.  Soon they had a three-person leadership team with a three-part mission: exploring spirituality together, serving the wider community, and having fun.

a small group ministry session

Bob Brunia, Lisa Linnenkamp, Hanna Lengeling, Dana Stuehling, Lance Massey, Kat Beane, and Megan Hoerner gather together for small group ministry February 2012 to discuss “What’s Your Sentence?“.

Today all of the original leaders have rotated out of those positions and new folks like Marisa have stepped up to lead.  The three-person team stays connected by using a shared email address that is listed on a business card they hand out to young adult visitors at church.  They also stay in touch via the facebook group.  Amy Luebbert, who coordinated the small group ministry until recently, shared one advantage of a three person leadership team: usually at least one of them is present at coffee hour to welcome new young adults into their ranks.

volunteering at a food pantry

Kristi Conley, Bob Brunia, Marisa Williams, Steve Williams, Tori Godfree and Don Godfree helped re-organize the DMARC Emergency Food Pantry as one of our monthly service projects in June 2013.

Once the new folks have been welcomed, they can attend a wide variety of events.   Along with the discussion group, social outings and service projects there are informal events such as trivia night at the local bar, where the UU young adults compete regularly as a team.  Last year a committed portion of their numbers delved deeper into spiritual issues with  a church wide program called Soul Matters that Amy describes as “small group ministry on steroids.”

enjoying some local ice skating

Back row: Dana Stuehling, Laura Thomas, Tori Godfree
Front row: Don Godfree, Lance Massey, Amy Luebbert and Seth Ream
Social outing at a church-wide ice skating party at Brenton Skating Plaza in December 2012

But the young adults in Des Moines don’t just keep to themselves.  They are a visible presence at church events from the summer BBQ to the Christmas party.  “They have a balance between forming their own community and also not separating from the church,” explains Lori.  Balance is a good word to summarize the approach of these young adults: a balance provided by having three rotating leaders, a three part mission, and a variety of ways to engage.  And as Tori Godfree put it “we have a really good compromise between having similar principles and also very different beliefs…it fosters really good discussion.”  That sounds like good Unitarian Universalism to me: sustainable, engaging and balanced.

Special thanks to Marisa Williams, Don Godfree, Tori Godfree, Lori Emison Clair and Amy Luebbert whom Annie interviewed via google+ in order to write this piece! Want to get in touch with their group?  Email them at youngadultsuudsm@gmail.com

Does your UU congregation or community do exciting ministry with young adults?  Email Annie at agonzalez@uua.org to set up an interview and get your group in the Spotlight Series!

About the Author

Annie is an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister and currently serves our faith as the Young Adult and Campus Ministry Associate for the Unitarian Universalist Association.
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