Coming of Age

Coming of Age program description

The popular 9-month Coming of Age program, for youth in grades 8-10, is offered at the UU Church of Palo Alto (UUCPA) in alternate years (2012-2013; 2014-2015; 2016-2017; etc.).

The goal of our Coming of Age program is to help young people sort out their ethical and religious identity (recognizing that some young people do not feel religious at all), so that they may make rational decisions about the kind of person they want to become.

We have three objectives that help us reach this broad goal:

  • (1) We want participants to have fun, and to bond with a community of young people who share similar moral and spiritual values.
  • (2) We want participants to articulate their own ethical and religious identity, to gain a deeper sense of identity and to present that identity through the arts, spoken word, etc.
  • (3) We want participants to engage in direct experience, including social justice projects and the arts, so they can experience living out their religious and ethical values in the world.

We will help young people meet these three objectives through four types of fun activities:

  • (A) Participants will meet sixteen times as a group to get to know each other, have fun, and reflect on religion and ethics. Many of the meetings will be on the second and fourth Sundays of the month from 6:30 to 8:00 (the same time as the OWL program met). There will also be one Saturday evening meeting for a social justice project, and two overnights. Participants should plan to attend an absolute minimum of 13 of the 16 meetings, including at least one of the overnights, and the final services.
  • (B) Participants will meet with an adult mentor of their choice, responsible adults from the congregation who can help them reflect on their identities. We will help young people find appropriate adults from whom they can choose a mentor who will be a good match. Participants meet with mentors once a month from November through April.
  • (C) Participants will write a “credo statement” setting forth their ethical and religious identity as it stands now. These statements are usually about 500-700 words long, and mentors help youth to write their credos.
  • (D) Participants will lead the services here at UUCPA on a Sunday in May, usually the third Sunday (at both the 9:30 and 11:00 services). They will present their “credo statements” during this service. This will be followed by a closing celebration.

Youth have reported that the Coming of Age program is both fun and meaningful. The program will help them grow in self-knowledge, it will allow them to spend time with youth and adults who share similar values, and it provides additional strong adult role models at a time in life when that’s what many young people are looking for.

Coming of Age class meetings

There are 17 class meetings from September through May, generally on first and third Sundays of the month. There will also be one Saturday evening meeting for a social justice project (serving dinner to Hotel de Zink), two 12-hour overnights, and one service opportunity to be scheduled with mentors. Participants are asked to attend a minimum of 14 of the 17 meetings, including at least one of the overnights.

Separate from the class meetings, participants arrange to meet on their own with their mentors at least once a month from November through April, for a total of six meetings. Mentor meetings are an excellent time for youth to talk about their “credo” statements, their statements of religious/spiritual identity. The adult leaders of the twice-monthly Sunday meetings may invite mentors to attend class sessions with their “mentees.”

Class sessions balance fun activities, social justice, explorations of ethics and religion, and preparation for the final Coming of Age service. Depending on the needs and interests of the participants and adult leaders, other topics may be substituted for some of the topics below.

Click here for the dates for the current Coming of Age program.

Introductory meeting (Aug., Sunday evening)

Led by the Minister of Religious Education and Coming of Age teachers. Parents and youth are invited to learn about the program and ask any questions they may have about the program. Light refreshments are provided.

I/ Icebreakers (pick games that youth and adults will both play)
Grocery store game
— Zip, Zap, Zoop

II/ Names around circle (attendance)

III/ Explain focus of the program:
— “Who am I?” is one of the half dozen biggest religious questions.
— This is an especially big question for people in their teen years. Erik Erikson termed the crisis of these years the “identity crisis.” We must deal with this question of identity in our teens, or it will come back to haunt us in later years.
— We don’t believe that it is possible to answer this question outside of community. Human beings are essentially social beings, and we define ourselves in relation to others.
— Thus the Coming of Age program aims to provide a communal setting in which to address this question.
— Mind you, we’re not going to answer this question — not going to come up with the one last and final answer for all time — for there is no final answer for any person.

IV/ How we do the program:
— Coming of Age is “outcome drive,” that is, everything we do is driven by the requirements of the final Coming of Age service.– So, in rough chronological order, here’s what we do:
(1) We do lots of community-building (having fun, shared leadership), because we want youth to get to know each other so that they feel comfortable with each other when it’s time to plan and lead the service.
(2) We do activities in class that will help youth write their “credo,” or statement of religious identity. Sow some examples: mirror project; life size sculptures; etc.
(3) Mentors serve as a sounding board and support for writing “credos.”
(4) By spring, youth are working as a team (maybe even as friends), and begin planning the service.

V/ Answer questions. Encourage questions from youth as well as from parents.

Session one: Planning Hotel de Zink meal (Sept., Sunday evening)

I/ Opening: take attendance, time for check-in

II/ Games and group intiatives

III/ The next meeting will be cooking dinner for Hotel de Zink, so must plan the meal. Brainstorm a menu. Participants sign up on the following sign-up sheet:

Coming of Age ~ Hotel de Zink
September __, 201_
Schedule: Start prep at 6, serve dinner promptly at 9
Main dish:
Veggie or salad:
Who will buy food? (adults and youth)
Who can promise to show up at 6 to do food prep?
Who can stay until 10 to finish clean-up?

Session 2: Make and serve dinner for Hotel de Zink (Sept., prob. Sat. eve., to be arranged with Hotel de Zink coordinators)

6:00: begin food prep
have icebreaker games to play while waiting for food to cook
9:00: serve dinner
9:30: Hotel de Zink guests do clean-up, but in the past Coming of Age has helped out or done clean up

Session 3: Planning the first overnight (Oct., Sunday evening)

I/ Opening: take attendance, time for check-in

II/ Talking over Hotel de Zink
“What?” What happened:
— What did you notice about how we worked together to make dinner?
— What did you notice about what went on when we served dinner, then ate with the guests?
“So what?” Why was it of interest:
— Why did some people skip the meal or not want to eat with us?
— Did you have fun? Why or why not?
— Did Hotel de Zink raise any questions for you?
“Now what?” What comes out of this experience for you:
— Does this spark any thoughts for your “credo”?

II/ Taking care of business: Talk about mentors. Explain how mentoring works. Do youth know any adults they would like to have as mentors?

III/ Plan overnight: Set up schedule: One person writes as we make decisions.
— Scheduling decisions: start time, end time, how much sleep do we realistically need to get (given sports and homework realities), what meals will we cook together, what time will we have for activities?
Probably basic schedule: arrive at 7 p.m., check-in, game, strt cooking 7:30, finish cooking and eating and clean-up by 9:30, games, activity led by adults, meditation activity led by adults, sleep, get up, make breakfast, eat, clean up, closing circle.
— Leadership decisions: who will lead cooking meals (2 people each meal, everyone else will help), who will lead cleaning up (2 people each meal, everyone helps), who will buy food, who will lead check-in, who will lead a game? Are there activities for OWL that we can adapt for this overnight? Any other activities you’d like to lead?
— One adult should plan to lead a night-time worship service, but get a youth to co-lead it with them.

Session 4: First overnight (Oct., Sat.-Sun.)

Plan developed in previous session.

One adult leads an hour or so on meditation and mysticism. Talk about meditation and transcendental experiences. Teach basic concentration meditation (straight out of Herbert Benson’s “The Relaxation Response”), and meditate for about 20 minutes. Talk about what it’s like.

Session 5: Mirror project, part one (Nov., Sunday evening)

Two sessions spent decorating mirrors. Get mirrors with a bare wood frame at a crafts store (e.g., Michael’s). Other supplies include: acrylic paints, collage materials, decoupage paste (e.g., Mod Podge), brushes, etc.

I/ Check-in, attendance.

II/ Make sure everyone has mentors, and is meeting with them.

III/ Mirror project: The main question we’re asking is: “Who am I?” So that’s what this mirror is to be. When you look into it, you see yourself surrounded by … ? what?

Process: This first week, look through the materials, come up with a concept (adults make mirrors, too). Plan to get about half done tonight. Maybe look for more collage material at home.

Hints about using acrylic paint:
1. It dries fast, so mix a little slow-dry medium in with your paint.
2. Because it dries fast, only squeeze out what you need, and cap tubes of paint.

Using collage materials:
1. Cut to size, try out on mirror before pasting down.
2. Coat back with Mod Podge, stick down, ten paint a coat of Mod Podge over the collage item.
3. Don’t panic, Mod Podge goes on white, dries clear.

We’re answering the question: “Who am I?” So if you look into a mirror and see your face, what would you like to see around your face? What would you put on a mirror frame to show who you are?

Show examples of mirrors.


Above: Completed mirror by Aliana Miller, 2012.

Session 6: Mirror project, part two (Nov., Sunday evening)

I/ Just start right in working working on mirrors. Do check-in and talk about mentors or other business while working.

II/ With half an hour to go, tell people they have to be finished tonight!

Session 7: An absurd world: Existentialism (Dec., Sunday evening)

I/ Attendance, check-in

II/ Read “The Wall” by Jean-Paul Sartre out loud. (This story is available on Google Books, as the first story in this book.)

III/ Discuss
Give summary of existentialism. Key points: Existence comes before essence, i.e., there is no pre-existing meaning or essence in the world; if there is a God, God does not completely define the world for us. In this absurd world, we create meaning through our actions. You can’t not create meaning — everything you do has some effect (as when the narrator gives a false place where Juan Gris is hiding). We are the sum of our actions.

Session 8: “God Talk” checklist (Dec. or Jan., Sunday evening)

I/ Check-in, attendance

II/ Business: Plan meals for next overnight

III/ Pass out the God Talk checklist, and go over it briefly to make sure everyone understands it.


Ask participants to think about the checklist on their own, circling their preferred responses and making notes as needed.

Put participants into pairs (add a trio if an odd number of participants; at this point it’s best for adult leaders to pair up with each other, not with young people).

Then pairs report back in to the whole group: “Say what you or your partner said that was most interesting to you.”

After pairs report in to the whole group, the adults can go over the checklist and point out some of the Unitarian and Universalist theologies behind some of the statements. Here’s a cheat sheet summarizing some of these theologies:

Unitarian and Universalist theologies behind the statements in Part I, listed in order:
— generic liberal theology
— classic Universalism
— classic Unitarianism
— classic liberal theological emphasis on the use of reason in religion
— a typical argument of classic Universalism
— William R. Jones and Charles Hartshorne use sophisticated versions of this argument
— a typical argument of process theology

Unitarian and Universalist theologies behind the statements in Part II, listed in order:
— this statement would be counter to most UU theology
— classic second-wave feminist theology
— a common theme of classic Unitarianism and Universalism
— definitely a belief of many early nineteenth century Unitarians and Universalists
— a version of deism
— classic Latin American liberation theology
— similar to the religious naturalism of Thoreau and the later Bernard Loomer, and perhaps related to twentieth century ecofeminists
— pantheism or panentheism, held by such UU figures as Abner Kneeland
— an argument of some humanists, e.g., Charles Lyttle
— some later Universalists would agree with this

No meetings late Dec. and early Jan.

Session 9: 12-hour overnight to work on plywood self portraits (Jan., Sat.-Sun. — avoid MLK weekend)

The plywood sculpture self-portrait is made by tracing a silhouette of each youth onto a 4/8′ sheet of plywood (use 5-ply 1/2″ CD grade plywood). This silhouette can be made by having the youth lie on or stand next to the sheet of plywood and tracing around them with a carpenter’s pencil; or by projecting their shadow onto the plywood and tracing that. N.B.: projecting the shadow distorts the silhouette; you can keep moving the light source to help reduce the distortion.

Then each youth cuts out out the silhouette using a saber saw — the youth cuts, an adult supervises and helps hold the plywood, another youth helps hold the plywood too. So ideally you’ll have one adult per two or three youth for the evening (not all adults have to stay overnight).

Once cut out, each youth paints the plywood silhouette as they please. Use latex house paint, small rollers, brushes, etc.

Approximate schedule:

7:00 p.m.: Prime plywood with white primer (about 1 qt. water-based primer per 3-4 sheets of plywood)
7:45 p.m.: Start cooking dinner
8:30 p.m.: Eat, clean up
9:00 p.m.: Trace silhouettes, begin cutting out
11:00 p.m.: Start cleaning up. Don’t work too late, that’s how people get hurt.
7:00 a.m.: Up for breakfast.


Above: Completed sculpture by Ethan Christianson, 2013

Session 10: Continue working on plywood self-portraits (Feb., Sun. evening — avoid Superbowl Sunday)

Begin painting. Urge youth to refine and further their designs.

Session 11: Complete plywood self-portraits (Feb., Sunday evening)

Encourage youth to paint edges of plywood for a finished appearance.


Above: Completed sculpture by Olivia Nayler, 2013.

Session 12: Flexible session (March, Sunday evening)

I/ Some youth may need more time to complete plywood self-portraits, and some youth may be done. To make this a flexible meeting, read aloud a piece of humanist fiction, Ray Bradbury’s “Kaleidescope.” (His story “The Pedestrian” is also good.) Those who need to work on self-portraits may do so while listening. Discuss story as needed. How is this a humanist story? (Or is it?)

II/ Plan for potluck dinner next session. Pass out the following:

“You are what you eat” handout

Session 13: “You are what you eat” (March, Sunday evening)

Everyone brings a potluck dish per the handout above. Mentors are explicitly invited — and they, too, should bring a potluck dish, and be prepared to explain what it means to them.

Session 14: Work on “credos” (April, Sunday evening)

Invite mentors. Plan to have one adult for every two youth.

I/ Find out how credos are coming (mostly, no one will have done much).

II/ Hand out packet of sample credos. Explain that there are two basic methods for writing credos:
(a) The list method, where you list what you affirm, one paragraph on each belief or affirmation
(b) The story method, where you tell a story that illustrates a key belief or affirmation

Sample Coming of Age Credo Statements

III/ Break into small groups. Adults get youth to start talking about what their credo is going to say. Often, youth will come out with a nice opening sentence or paragraph — stop them, and get them to write it down while it’s still fresh. Then let the conversation flow. Expect to get into some pretty deep conversations!

N.B.: Credos will generally be written, but sometimes youth with particular talents will use another medium. In 2013, Anna Luehrs, a talented artist, made a video credo.


Above: Still from Anna Luehrs’s video credo.

Session 15: Plan Coming of Age service (April, Sunday evening)

A key principle: You can have people focus on the form of the service, or on the content of the service, but not both together. Best to stick to the standard order of service, so the congregation will focus on the credos!

Go through the standard order of service, and figure out who will do which pieces. Have hymnals available to choose opening words, hymns, etc.

Session 16: Dress rehearsal for the Coming of Age service (May, Sunday evening)

Go through the whole service. Emphasize that we want the youth to look comfortable, and we want them to look great. Have youth read their entire credo, using the microphone. Practice lighting the chalice, doing transitions, etc. Figure out where people are going to sit. There should be time to run through all credos twice.

Finale: The Coming of Age service (May, Sunday morning)

Youth lead both the 9:30 and 11:00 services. There is a celebration lunch afterwards.



Note: After negative reviews from youth in 2011-12, attendance at Pacific Central District Coming of Age [PCD CoA] overnights will no longer be a part of UUCPA’s Coming of Age program. However, youth may participate in the PCD CoA overnights on their own.

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