Every summer it was the same. Pack a sleeping bag, and a week’s worth of contraband snacks, and take the seven hour bus ride to Haliburton, Ontario. The attraction was a youth camp for reform Judaism. The Jewish youth circle in my small town never exceeded a handful, so I was always happy to make the trip.
Invariably, by the end of the first evening a guitar would be brought out, and we’d settle in for an hour of singing the common songs we learned in our own congregations. Shaky adult voices from home disappeared from memory and were replaced by a hundred high school singers, all realizing we were experiencing a special sense of belonging.
Looking back, the adults were pretty smart. They provided the foundation of a culture of singing in dozens of small congregations, and only when we came together did we feel the payoff. In talking to a number of church friends who come from various Christian traditions, I learned for them it was the same.
But what of UU? Would two hundred high schoolers at summer con enjoy the rush of familiarity as the first guitar chords of a song special to our tradition rang out? Would they involuntarily flinch toward a hymnal that wasn’t there, vaguely remembering half a verse or a chorus, but not really feeling connected?
This past year, ERUUF received a significant grant from the UUA, augmented by a generous match from the Foundation to support the foundation of a culture of singing among UU youth. We know that the richer the religious experience is for our children, the deeper the connection to UU will be in adulthood, and so we hope ERUUF can be ground zero for something special. We identified 22 songs which reflect our history, our diversity, and our values. We professionally recorded them using the wealth of talent in our fellowship. We created an RE teacher’s guide so that this resource could be used in our classes. By having songs shared throughout the program, we will first capture a little bit of that familiar magic by singing here and there around campus.
This resource will be made available to as many UU fellowships and churches as would like to join us. It will help underserved and underfunded congregations bring music to their youth programs. It will hopefully be adopted by large institutions as well. Maybe someday a guitar will come out at a youth con, and a few hundred high schoolers will smile as they hear themselves and their new friends sharing a culture of singing in their own faith tradition