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Internet congregation focuses on young adults

New on-line church lets UU young adults stay connected 24/7.
By Donald E. Skinner
8.22.05

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If it’s 2 a.m. and you feel like going to church, what do you do?

Until recently you’d have had to hang out in a dark parking lot. But now, if you’re between 18 and 35, there’s a church where the lights are always on. The Church of the Younger Fellowship is open 24/7 on the Internet. Designed for young religious liberals who might not have a church close by, or who might not find a bricks-and-mortar church to their liking, or who simply like the interactive style of the Internet, CYF is proving to be an attractive option.

Announced at General Assembly 2005 in June, the Church of the Younger Fellowship had 130 members by August, attracted by a Web site, www.uucyf.org, that permits them to worship, share joys and concerns, write blogs, read any number of religious texts, listen to a meditation, or chat on-line with other members.

CYF was organized with the support of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, the 2,500-member congregation for isolated religious liberals of all ages. CYF is designed to be a virtual spiritual home for young adults, many of whom are highly mobile, may not want to get up for church on Sunday morning, or may just prefer a more intimate and interactive form of worship, says the Rev. Jane Rzepka, CLF senior minister.

CYF’s growth has far exceeded expectations, Rzepka says: “The enthusiasm for it at General Assembly was just over the top.”

Rzepka says two types of young adults like CYF, people who found it on the Internet and “UUs who want a supplement to their congregational life or for whatever reason have not been well matched with a local congregation. We hope this will be a way of maintaining a strong connection with UU young adults and a way to draw other young adults into our movement.” The Web site has a public side and a members-only side that requires a password.

Frank Wells, 35, music director for UUs of Clearwater, Florida, is a member of the organizing task force for CYF and on the CLF board. He says a lot of effort and expense are going into expanding the CYF Web site. “We’re collecting, poems, sermons, opening words, music,” he says. “We can do streaming audio and video so our members can watch worship services and we hope to do some live trainings and workshops as well.” You can listen to the Qur’an in Arabic while reading it in English. You can also read the Bible, the Buddhist Eightfold Path, Tao Te Ching, and Wiccan texts.

CYF has active discussion forums. “People talk about upcoming conferences, social justice and political issues, or a book someone read,” Wells said. “In the joys and concerns section you can really feel the pulse of the community.” On a recent day members were lighting candles for relatives’ illnesses, personal relationships, and other issues. On a blog, a member was agonizing over a job search and describing the joys and inadequacies he felt as a parent.

There are things the Web site can’t do, Wells says, “such as do grassroots social justice, or hold potluck dinners. We hope young adults will connect with local congregations for that—we hope there will be a symbiotic relationship.” Wells’s own congregation has a young adult group, but he finds that CYF lets him meet his religious needs in different ways than he can in the congregation that he works for.

CYF members are expected to contribute to the support of CYF just as they would support any other congregation. “Monthly contributions, of $5, $10, or $25 or more, are encouraged as a way of developing a practice of stewardship and ensuring that CYF will continue,” Wells says. “Regular contributions are also a way of placing a value on what one receives from one’s spiritual community.” He says no one is turned away for inability to pay.

One of those who recently joined CYF is Anthony Severe, a professional rock and jazz musician from Virginia. He had often attended UU events such as the annual summer young adult gathering of Opus and the Southeast UU Summer Institute, but he had never joined a church because, “I just wasn’t going to wake up early on my own and go to a service where I didn’t know anyone and where there might not be anyone under the age of 30.” But CYF, and the social justice work that he witnessed among UU young adults, won him over; he officially joined CYF at the summer 2005 Opus. “This is something I’m ready to be a part of,” he said.

CYF is inviting UUs of all ages to donate funds for Web site development and scholarships for members who cannot pay. Rzepka said many congregations are making donations on behalf of their graduating high school seniors and college-age members. Donations may be made on-line at www.uucyf.org or mailed to CYF, c/o CLF, 25 Beacon Street, Boston MA 02108. Rzepka stresses that CYF is not sponsored by the UUA, but by CLF, which itself is a member congregation of the UUA.

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