Why CONs Need Adults…and Adults Need CONs!

If you’ve ever been in a worship service while I’ve had the mic, you’ve probably heard me mention youth CONs. In fact, when it comes to our UU youth conferences, I trend toward a fairly unorthodox behavior (at least for UUs)– evangelism!

All too often, we’re non-participants in our congregation members’ teenage years, and this means we miss some of the most exciting things going on in the UU denomination today. Our youth are informed. They are passionate. They are kind, inclusive, and quirky. And they are often far more resilient when it comes to issues of privilege than we adults. 

Be Part of Something Special

We are particularly lucky to live in the Heartland Area, where CONs are organized and largely staffed by youth. Every year, the Heartland Area Youth Council (HAYC, or “hay-see”) runs at least one middle school conference and three high school conferences. During these weekends, UU youth run small group ministries, workshops, and worships. They craft covenants, provide chaplaincy, and practice restorative justice when necessary. Youth form close ties and have a lot of fun! As an adult new to CONs, I was unprepared for how liberating it is to be a mere participant at a youth-led event. I think a lot of us are hopeful about our youths’ potential to lead…but it’s one thing to believe in it. It’s another to actually see it!

This year’s annual social justice-themed CON will be hosted by All Souls on Valentine’s Day weekend, February 14th-16th. Aidan Hamilton, who is a Social Action Chair on the council, will serve as one of the youth co-deans. Evan and Graeme Cannon will serve as staff, and some of our All Souls youth may well end up serving as CON band leaders, as well! Because this is a busy weekend for youth, bylaws forbid them from driving themselves to CONs! Instead, adults from their home congregations bring them and attend as participants. 

Give and Receive

As the hosting site, All Souls provides volunteers to prepare and clean up after pre-planned meals (supplies and directions are provided, and “CON Bands” assist with part of the clean-up). We also provide volunteers to serve on “Angel Watch” teams on Saturday night. 

Angel Watch is perhaps the most important role at the CON. Many of our youth express that CONs are the only place they feel they can fully let their guard down and be themselves…and since these gatherings only happen a few times a year, the youth typically sacrifice sleep on Saturday night in order to spend more time together. Their adult chaperones are also their drivers, and may have a 3-5 hour trip ahead of them in the morning. By teaming up with a friend and hanging out at the church from 12-3 or 3-6 am, you ensure that there are adults awake in the church if the youth need anything, or if something occurs that requires waking the CON staff.

Angel Watch is how I got involved with CONs. It was a great way to dip my toe in. Six or so years later, I can honestly say that youth lay-leadership has changed my life for the better, and I owe it all to Angel Watch!

Believe it or not, the single biggest threat to CONs is a lack of adult volunteers. The most important thing you can do for the UU leaders of tomorrow is support their lay leadership efforts today. Make sure our youth can get to CONs at other churches, and ensure that our hosting duties are fulfilled this February. You can sign up to help with meals or Angel Watch for SJC here. And from the bottom of my heart, thank you.