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Spotlight: UU Young Adults at Channing-Murray

Posted by Annie Gonzalez Milliken // August 31st 2014 // Featured Young Adults, On Campus, 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.

It’s not every day that I highlight a young adult or campus ministry that has its roots in the consolidation between the Unitarian and Universalists, but then again, the Channing-Murray Foundation is not your average young adult or campus ministry. This non-profit center was formed when the Unitarian and Universalist congregations in town joined together to form the UU Church of Urbana Champaign (UUCUC), or what the folks I interviewed called “the Green Street Church.” In that shift, a decision was made to keep both historical buildings, and the Unitarian building located on the campus of the University of Illinois became the Channing-Murray Foundation. The non-profit was endowed by this single congregation, which re-committed one third of their assets to this campus ministry by placing the building in an irrevocable land trust in 1991.

Photo from the Red Herring benefit of 2006.

Photo from the Red Herring Benefit of 2006.

Today Channing-Murray is community center for students, faculty and staff of the University of Illinois as well as for community members. Their Red Herring Vegetarian Restaurant serves 7 meals a week, some with themes such as cuisine from around the world or farm-to-table food. Student groups such as the “What You Will” Shakespeare troupe or the Penny Dreadful Players meet in the space, as do community groups of fiction writers and poets. Other forms of art are popular here too; people come to dance tango, swing, blues and African dance. Channing-Murray is also dedicated to living out UU values. They were historically the home of the “Gay Illini” in the 1970s when LGBT folks were not welcomed in any other part of campus. They also hosted the beginning of the local Occupy movement more recently. Today they partner with other progressive organizations to host justice-based films. This year’s topic has been immigration reform.

According to Doug Jones, a long time supporter and leader in the Channing-Murray community, it is estimated that Channing-Murray touches the lives of 10-15% of the students who come to the University of Illinois through their wide variety of programs. Given the student population of 50,000, that’s a pretty large reach! But while they reach most students through the restaurant, coffee house and arts activities, they also have two UU young adult small group ministries that meet each week for a meal and deep listening.

Amanda Owings is a graduate student in biology and is one of the key leaders of the UU young adult groups. She also sits on Channing-Murray’s board. She said that the deep listening conversations help her gain confidence to take with her into the rest of her week and give her a space to think about putting UU principles into daily action. John Milano, another young adult leader who is also on the board, said he likes that each member can bring topics that interest them. Amanda also appreciates the older community members who are dedicated to the Channing-Murray Foundation and finds the appreciation is mutual. “They really love having young people around,” she noted.

UU young adults on a canoe trip in 2013.

UU young adults on a canoe trip in 2013.

John and Amanda are also part of the newer UU young adult group affiliated with UUCUC and there is significant crossover between Channing-Murray Foundation and the local UU congregation. In fact, Doug, John and Amanda are all members at UUCUC. The young adult group affiliated with the congregation holds discussions every other week and also has monthly outings that are either community building or justice oriented. Some young adults prefer the congregation based group, some prefer the small group ministry on campus, and others, like Amanda and John, enjoy both!

Of course, Channing-Murray has the typical struggles of any young adult ministry: getting the word out and getting folks to show up. John noted the frustration of planning an event and then having folks show up late or not at all. Amanda agreed, explaining that she tends to lead many discussions because it’s hard to get folks to step up into leadership. For Doug, that’s a crucial reason to make sure the less transient older adult supporters stay involved. He said he feels fortunate that they find folks like Amanda, dedicated grad students who stick around for a while, but with the undergrad population the turnover is constant and it’s hard to cultivate leadership. He aptly said “the biggest challenge is maintaining visibility to the stream of changing students.”

They try to meet this challenge by handing out invitations to their young adult groups that double as coupons for a free coffee or tea on “Quad Day,” a tabling fair on the U of I campus. Doug estimates they hand out up to 6,000 of these invitations each year. And with all the other reasons to come to Channing-Murray: the art, the music, the dancing, the writers groups, it is clear that this group will stay on the radar of many members of the U of I community as a place for community building, justice making, creativity and yes, even Unitarian Universalist young adult ministry.

Special thanks to Amanda Owings, John Milano, and Doug Jones whom Annie interviewed via phone in order to write this piece!

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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