I’m typing this at church–the First Unitarian Universalist Church here in Columbus–around 2:30 in the morning. I have spent many an hour in this building in the last three decades–as a guest, and as a member–but this is the first time I have spent the night. Columbus is hosting the spring Youth-Adult Committee conference (known as a “con” in the lingua franca of the Unitarian Universalist Association) this weekend. Susie is here, and I am a sponsor.
But how am I a night angel? I am one of the adults who volunteered to take a shift walking around the church and making sure that all the kids are safe, doors to the outside are shut, that no one is doing anything they shouldn’t be doing, etc. I have the 3 a.m.-5 a.m. shift, so I’m racing against the clock (and my battery power–I left my cord in the other room) to bring this blog up to date before I go on duty.
As the clock nears 3 a.m., many kids are still wide awake, playing games, singing, socializing, playing euchre, washing down Tortilla chips with room-temperature lemonade and playing the piano in Fellowship Hall. (The piano selections have run the gamut from the “Ode to Joy” to “Piano Man” to “Eleanor Rigby.”)
When Susie and I went to the fall conference in Pittsburgh, it was a bit overwhelming for her, and for me I felt like I had come full circle. In the spring of 1979, I was dragged, kicking and screaming, to the spring youth-adult conference of the Ohio-Meadville District. (North America is divided into several autonomous geographic districts by the Unitarian Universalist Association in Boston, somewhat analogous to a diocese in the Roman Catholic or Episcopal churches. The Ohio-Meadville District covers most of Ohio, all of West Virginia, Western Pennsylvania, and Southwestern New York.) The camp was at Camp Tippecanoe, a YMCA facility in Harrison County, Ohio, and by the end of the first evening I was happy that I had gone.
For the next five years, I faithfully attended district youth conferences, fall and spring, as well as conferences at the national level (sponsored by Liberal Religious Youth (LRY), the national youth group, which, I soon learned, had an uneasy, and often very antagonistic relationship with many churches and with the denomination itself) travelling any way I could. I rode Greyhound buses, I hitchhiked, I pre-arranged rides with friends headed to the same conferences. All of this was before Internet and flat-rate long distance and cell phones, so I ran up astronomical phone bills at home and at church, impatiently awaited the arrival of the letter carrier daily, and developed many friendships that have lasted to the present day.
The youth have a much freer hand in governance than they did during my teen years. I am eagerly looking forward to the worship service Saturday evening, because the one in Pittsburgh last fall was quite moving.
SEMI-TANGENT ALERT: Compare this to a conference I went to in Massachusetts, which had no worship service on its agenda. A musician and composer friend of mine at the conference and I were not happy about this. He and I told the advisors (adults), “Just give us about 45 minutes in private, we’ll have a worship service for you.” Locking ourselves in the minister’s study, we spread out several books of poetry, the Bible, and Hymns for the Celebration of Life (the predecessor to the current hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition), and a notebook. We batted ideas and reading suggestions back and forth, hashed out an Order of Worship, and emerged with a service that went quite well. I regret to this day that we didn’t think to record it. One or two people were unhappy that two people ran the entire worship service, but if someone else had stepped up to the plate, we would have been happy to let them help us, or even take over the entire show. Except for these minor rumblings, people complimented us on the service the rest of the weekend.
I do not know if Susie will be as enthusiastic or as zealous about conferences as I was. It fulfilled a need in me that is far different from the way she is maturing. It is no exaggeration (and this is neither the time nor the place for me to elaborate) that had I not found Unitarian Universalism, and through it the youth movement in its many incarnations, I would be in a very different place and situation than I am now. It is not too much of a stretch to say that I would either be incarcerated or dead today. I was listening to Steely Dan’s Katy Lied during work today, and the refrain of the penultimate song on that album is “Any world that I’m welcome to/Is better than the one I come from.”
If my life had a soundtrack, that would cover that aspect of my life.