Category Archives: Religious Education

We Are Not Better II: Retaining Our UU Youth

UU center of the world

I have been asked a lot of follow-up questions about my last post entitled “We are Not Better” (found here: https://uuacreligiouseducation.wordpress.com/2014/04/03/we-are-not-better/). Melissa asked me the following question, and I wrote her a novel of a response that probably deserves it’s own post, so here it is.

Melissa writes:
Can you speak to how the subtle or not so subtle messages of “better” and “not better” may be impacting retention of young (second generation, perhaps?) Unitarian Universalists?

This is a really important question that everyone has been talking about in my circles for the 15 years I have been an adult hanging around the UUA. We know that our retention rate stinks, right? 10% of kids who grow up UU remain UU and we are all dying to know why our churches hemorrhage kids so we speculate a lot about why.

I think it’s a really complicated subject, and I have attacked it from many different angles because there just are a lot of different angles. I think a lot of things impact retention of young Unitarian Universalists, not the least of which is the culture that impacts all Mainline Protestant churches in the United States. The Church is quickly losing its status as the voice of human religion and spirituality. This isn’t Unitarian Universalism’s problem alone, nor is it our fault. I think this problem/opportunity in American religion right now (the loss of our cultural status) very largely impacts UUism. It impacts UUism because UU churches used to be the place where you went because it was the only alternative–-because there was nowhere else to go on Sunday. Now there is somewhere else to go! It’s called Sorella’s–the best brunch place in all of Jamaica Plain, MA–for delicious ginger bread pancakes with strawberries and whipped cream following your kid’s soccer game. Church-going used to be seen as normative and “what one had to do to be a good person,” and so all boats rose together, including ours’. But now church-going is counter-cultural, especially where we live in the Northeast. Now we have to give our children, youth and adults reasons to choose church over other things they could be doing, and that’s a hard task for us.

Many have posited that Unitarian Universalists have a hard time, like all liberal mainline churches, compelling people to choose us over pancakes for the same reason why we have trouble retaining our youth. We churches in the mainline ask very little of our members, and the overwhelming message children receive is that you can “be good” without (God, church, religious community), you fill in the blank. So I think churches like ours ironically contribute to our own demise.

And then there’s this issue of hypocrisy.

We keep hearing that the Christian Church is dying because of hypocrisy, right? Millennials are done with church forever because we all know “those” Christian churches that claim to want to follow Christ and tell us to “love our neighbor”, and then they turn around and have very loud and public fights about who is and who isn’t our “neighbor.” Like the poor United Methodist Church that is being torn apart right now on the gay marriage issue, for instance. We all know that the younger generations just think that’s all a load of baloney sauce, and so they are leaving church in droves. They can see the hypocrisy dripping from it all like syrup on their gingerbread pancakes they are choosing to eat instead of going to church.

Then when you add in the liberal church’s very human tendency toward our own brand of hypocrisy, we have our very own recipe for disaffected youth. Our hypocrisy comes in when we start to self-congratulate ourselves for being the “better” choice: the less oppressive, less offensive, more justice-oriented choice. There are many people who say and think that the reason why we don’t retain our young people is because we haven’t given them the message that we are the “better” choice. That we haven’t cheer-leaded for our own faith enough. That we’ve equated all the world’s religions to the point that it doesn’t matter what religion they choose when they grow. I used to be one of those people, truthfully, and I think this is true in the sense that we don’t do the best job at giving our kids a religious narrative and symbols to use. You know this, because I say it all the time.

But in addition to handing down a sacred text, a theology, and some symbols to engage, I think we would do better retaining youth and adults if we were a little more humble. If we didn’t scoff at the religion of our ancestors so much, or the religion of other people so much. (See my post “Children Will Listen” for more of my thoughts on this subject.) Because overwhelmingly what I find is that people (especially our own kids) can sniff out hypocrisy in churches really, really fast. Just the other day I was over at a colleague’s house with our spouses, and we were voicing frustration about other people who were driving us crazy. My 7 year old daughter whispered in my ear the following: “Mommy, Jesus said to love your enemies. You’re a minister now.” I rolled my eyes and said, “Oh good GOD, who told you that?” She’s right of course. Kids are so, so good at telling us the truth. So is Jesus.

AND if we say we are a liberal religion that honors all paths to Truth, and then a visitor comes in and asks for a prayer, and we scoff and say “we don’t do that supernatural mumbo jumbo here,” (and don’t think that doesn’t happen in UU churches because I’ve heard that story too many times) we are falsely advertising. People have to figure out the orthodoxy of our church after they get here by saying or needing the “wrong” thing, rather than just reading our creeds, beliefs, etc. on our website. We need to recognize, with humility, that we are not better than any other church, nor are we less orthodox. And we need to find freedom and forgiveness for ourselves in that. THIS IS THE AWESOME THING ABOUT BEING HUMAN! We aren’t God! We get to mess up all the time and then ask for forgiveness, and then get it, overflowing, back in our laps. But we also need to say it out loud so our kids know that we see our own tendency to fail to live up to our ideals. We are human just like everyone else, and we create in-groups and out-groups and cultural norms, and “right belief” and “wrong belief” just like any other group of humans. The trouble happens when we self-righteously advertise something we can’t actually deliver.

I think retaining our youth starts with being honest about who we are. And our beautiful, fallible human enterprise of a religion blossoms with that honesty, as well. Now go and be good humans. ‘Cause that’s what Jesus would do (according to my self-righteous daughter, anyway).

Don’t Go To Church for Your Children

going to church

by Robin Bartlett

Many of you know that I go to church in the late afternoons in my neighborhood, and that I bring my children there with me. It’s too long a day for them here in Sherborn, so I don’t bring them here much. I’m here from 8:30 am-2:00 pm on Sundays, and I can’t mom and work at the same time. I’ve never been good at that. (Yes, I just made the word “mom” into a verb).

The church I go to is UCC. Theologically, it is both Unitarian and Universalist, in my humble understandings of those two theologies. These are two theologies that have taught me everything I know. They rest in my bones and in my heart as a life-long UU. That’s one reason why I love my UCC church, because it reflects the best of my own faith tradition and allows me to worship from that deep well.

And folks have asked me this before: “aren’t you worried that the church you are bringing your children to isn’t UU, so you aren’t, in effect, raising your children UU? Isn’t that a problem for a UU minister?” This is a good question. The question has many answers, but the first answer is this: I don’t go to church for my children. I go to church for me. Basically, as long as my kids are safe and there is sometimes childcare for the little ones, and there aren’t any sharp objects like rusty nails jutting out of the floor, and they are made to feel loved and known, that’s all I care about. I picked my church for entirely selfish reasons. 1) Because I need to worship on Sundays, and I can’t when I’m running an RE program. 2) Because this particular church gives me what I need from church: which is to say a reminder that I am not alone, that grace is real, that I am loved just as I am and that I am expected to repay the world with my love because I have been offered that grace. I am sure my kids get the same message, but they are completely secondary in my choice of churches.

And, as a long-time religious educator, the following is a conversation I am very accustomed to. Does it sound familiar to you?

Robin: So, Jane, why did you start coming to this church? What led you here?
Jane: I came to this church originally because my children started asking me questions about God;
or
I came to this church because my child’s grandmother died, and she started to ask me about heaven, and I didn’t know what to say because I don’t believe in heaven;
or
I came to this church because I wanted my children to have a good understanding of Unitarian Universalist principles and the world’s religions in a high quality, well-run religious education program with lots of other kids in it.
or
I came to this church because I want my kid to have a religious education without being indoctrinated into a specific faith.
And so on, in different variations.

“I started going to this church because it is good for my children.” I think that’s one reason why churches like ours’ stay in business, or at least one important way we attract newcomers. And I’m not knocking it, because as parents we are accustomed to considering our children first.

A lot of what we do with our time is “for the children.” We enroll our children in private music lessons and drive them there every Wednesday after school, ensuring that we won’t be able to eat dinner at the appointed hour. We stand in the freezing cold on the soccer field clutching our coffee and yelling enthusiastically for our not- particularly-sporty 8 year old. We bring our children to the doctor to get shots, to school to gain knowledge, to our parents’ houses so that they might know and love their extended family. We even go to the germ factory that is Chuck E. Cheese to kindergarten birthday parties on the weekends, and God knows that’s not good for us. These things are all “good for our children”, and so we do them regardless of whether we’d rather be doing something else.

Therefore, it makes sense that we go to church simply because it will be good for our children, too. We want our children, after all, to know themselves beloved, to know themselves as part of a community in which their doubts will be cherished, their questions will be encouraged, their mind will be broadened, their spiritual explorations will be nurtured, and their friendships will be predicated on shared principles and a deep sense of purpose. Church is good for them, and so we take them with dogged determination, regardless of whether we’d rather be home reading the Sunday paper. I admire that determination.

But I’m going to say something I think is important. I don’t want you to come to church if you are only coming for your children. That’s a fine reason to come in the first place, to get in the door, but I don’t want it to be the reason you stay. Go to church for you. Go to church because of your own needs: for community, for learning, for solidarity, for a good word, for love, for hope, for comfort, even for salvation. Go to church because you can’t imagine not going. Go to church because your church claims you and demands of you. Go to church because you cry in the worship service at least once a month. Go to church because you look forward to seeing the people. Go to church because your church forces you to put your money where your mouth is–to use your financial resources to make a statement about what has worth. Go to church because you are known here. Go to church because you want to be known. Go to church because you pray for this same imperfect, rag-tag group of people all week until you meet again. Go to church because you need to in order to get through your week. Go to church because if you miss a week, you feel like something was really missing in your life. Go to church because your church community helps you to go deeper; to risk transformation; to yank you further down a path–to ultimate reality, to truth, to God–kicking and screaming. Go to church because it is a statement to yourself and your children about what has value and meaning. Go to church to find your purpose and live it. Give yourself the gift of church.

If church is not a gift for you, it won’t be a gift for your children. You know that old trope that we borrow from plane instructions we hear read by flight attendants–that you have to apply your own oxygen mask first before you apply your child’s, right? Well, you are your child’s religious educator and oxygen mask. Not me. Not our UUA’s religious education curricula. Not our volunteer teachers. Not even our minister. You. That’s a big responsibility, and I know you don’t feel up to the task because none of us do. But if we aren’t getting our spiritual needs met–our religious yearnings satiated; our deepest cries in the night soothed; our need to serve and be served; our God-sized hole occasionally filled, emptied and then filled up again– then we are never going to be up to the task of helping our children do the same.

Don’t go to church for your children; go to church for you.

You deserve it. Your children deserve it. And this brutal and beautiful world needs you to.

UU Area CHURCH: PLEASE REGISTER FOR RELIGIOUS EDUCATION 2013-2014!!

Dear friends,

REGISTRATION BEGINS for 2013-2014!

It is time to register for religious education classes for the 2013-2014 church year! It really helps for planning purposes if you register sooner rather than later, so please fill out the easy and fast religious education registration form below. PLEASE sign up all children in your family, birth to 18. Even if you aren’t sure they will be attending, we would like to send you information at the very least about programming. Our registration is entirely online, and takes about 5-8 minutes of your time. PLEASE MAKE SURE TO FILL OUT BOTH PAGES of the form. Thank you, dear parents. Your cooperation helps us plan for everything from supplies to curricula!

The RE Registration form is found here:

http://religiouseducationsherborn.wufoo.com/forms/religious-education-registration-20132014/

Do you want to know what you are signing your child/youth up for? Next year’s prospectus is also online on this very blog. Please read more about the classes and offerings here.

2013-2014 PROSPECTUS:

https://uuacreligiouseducation.wordpress.com/welcome-to-the-2012-2013-religious-education-program/

TEACHING COMMITMENT: PLEASE READ

“It’s funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools – friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty – and said ‘do the best you can with these, they will have to do’. And mostly, against all odds, they do.”
― Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

So you’re interested in teaching, or feel like it might be your turn? Great! We only ask that you give our children your own rusty best tools, and do the best you can with them. Our kids thrive from being offered your human wisdom and friendship more than anything else.

Just so’s you know, my friends, some things have changed this year. In an effort to recruit fewer teachers to teach in the Religious Education program, and to improve the experience of teachers and students with fewer transitions during the year, we are going to a semester system vs. our previous trimester system. This means we will have two semesters: Fall and Spring, with a January Winterim session in between. Believe it or not, we are asking you to teach for approximately the same amount of Sundays as you always have (about 8-10) per semester, with at least one (and sometimes two) Sundays “off” per month for children’s church or multigenerational worship in the sanctuary.

This means a few things:

1) Not everyone has to teach this year. I will let you know this summer (the sooner you register, the sooner I’ll know!) whether or not you have been assigned to a classroom, but don’t assume that you have been assigned unless I tell you. You may just get the whole year off!

2) if you have a special skill that you would like to teach for four weeks in January in a “workshop” that children in mixed age groups will have the option to choose, please indicate your interest on the registration form. For instance, you love to do potato paintings of biblical scenes, or you are a yoga instructor, and you have always wanted to try out child pose with real children. The sky’s the limit. Please let me know if this is something that interests or excites you.

3) The fall semester teachers will be teaching from September 15-December 15. Again, you will have about 8-10 teaching Sundays, with Sunday(s) off every month. Per usual, if you have a date that you can’t make it, we have term subs who can fill in for you.

4) The spring semester teachers will teach from February 2-June 1. You will have about 8-10 teaching Sundays with Sunday(s) off every month. Per usual, if you have a date that you can’t make it, we have term subs who can fill in for you.

5) Non-parents, empty nesters, elders…we are particularly interested in YOU! If you have always wanted to nurture the younger generation and their spiritual lives please fill out the RE Registration form above (skip the children’s names/ages and go straight to the second page).

Thank you for your investment in and support of our religious education programming for children and youth!

Please register early and often.

With every good wish,

Robin Bartlett

Interim Director of Religious Education

If I could touch God, it would feel like my mom

By Robin Bartlett Barraza

My kids come with me to a church service in the late afternoons on Sundays at Hope Central Church in Jamaica Plain. This isn’t because I have decided to raise them Christian instead of UU; it is because my days at UUAC are long and my two year old, in particular, can’t handle being at church all day without turning into the anti-Christ, and that seems decidedly beside the whole point of going to church. And I need to worship. I need it big time. Working in a church doesn’t allow for that. I thank God every day for the churches that open at times other than Sunday mornings; churches that pastor to the pastors and the pastors’ kids.

So both of my kids are learning to be more Christ-like (I hope!) at a scrappy, spirit-filled, loving United Church of Christ/Disciples of Christ church that I adore with all my heart. My two year old only has to be there for an hour or so, and they let her run up and down the aisles and give her all you can eat “Jesus bread” at the communion table. This is what building the kin-dom is about, my people.

Anyway, this week, while the grown ups reflected on Lent and the nature of God, my kids were in the RE class also learning about the nature of God. They read Sandra Eisenburg Sasso’s book, “What is God’s Name?” Then they were asked what God was like through their senses.

My two year old said:
“If I could touch God, God will feel like my mom,” (which made me cry, and forced me to forgive her for every obnoxious and defiant “no!” She has thrown at me this week. I imagine God would feel like a mother if I touched God, too. Forgiving my every tantrum and my every defiant “no,” with a warm embrace before I fall asleep.)

My six year old said:
“I would feel happy that I found God. It feels soft.”

The two of them said:
“If God had a sound, she would sound like a butterfly and flowers with a low voice.”

“If God were a color, God would be white, of course.” (As a good white liberal, this quote made me turn five shades of red and purple until the teacher explained that my children said they found God mostly in snow. I still plan to pull out Peggy McIntosh’s “unpacking the invisible knapsack” as bed time reading for tomorrow. Don’t worry.)

“If God were music, God would be a big drum….and a harp with a low sound.”

“God looks like a tall building (Eloisa) and God looks like snow (Cecilia).”

My six year old’s question about God:

“How did God turn into a human?”

Her answer:

“With love and happiness.”

Amen.

Don’t be afraid to ask your kiddos what God looks and feels and sounds and smells and tastes like, even if you can’t conceptualize of these questions yourself. Even if you yourself don’t believe in God. Our youngest children are often our best spiritual teachers. We lose that unabashed love and awe of mystery as we get older (though it often returns to us again in our elder-hoods).

You might be surprised by the answers. Your kids may even answer some of your own questions about God.

I’m pretty sure God smells like the intoxicating aroma of baby shampoo mixed with summer kid head sweat as I nuzzle my babies’ little heads before they go to bed, and feels like the exhausted and overwhelming love that cancels out every sibling throw down and every time-out-inducing sassy comment I bore witness to that day.

God also smells like coffee the next morning, after my two year old has woken me up three times at 1, 3 and 5 am. Amen.

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Are you wondering what we *do* in Coming of Age class?

CHURCH!

Your fourteen year olds are geniuses. They are deep. They are astounding. They go to church services religiously (ahem), so you should talk to them. Look at them in the back on the left hand side if you’re facing the pulpit.

They are in Coming of Age class this year, a class that meets every week after church, grounds them in our Unitarian Universalist theological tradition and history, and asks them to add to that rich tapestry of revelation by adding their own beliefs to the mix. At the end, they will present their credo statements, which is just a snippet of what they are asked to do. So far this year they have tackled the subjects of sin, evil, forgiveness, prayer, God, death, after life beliefs, Unitarian Universalism, worship, values and more. And they have another 10 weeks or so to go!

Here’s their assignment for this week excerpted from the email I wrote them. Why don’t you ALL do this homework in support of our youth and mentors? Write your belief statements and favorite quotes in the comments…you might even help them out!

………

You may remember that for your “homework” you were asked to write 3-4 statements of *religious* belief that undergird the reasons why we come together as a faith community and share the values that we share.

Some guidance:

Remember that I asked you to dig deeper than using statements like “we believe in justice” because that doesn’t set us apart as a *religious* institution. The Human Rights Coalition works for justice. The United States constitution has belief statements about justice. Every church in America, on some level, cares about justice. Why do we work for justice *in this church*? What spurs us to work for justice in this particular context? Why do we come together at all? (Justice is just an example, but you get the idea). What is the theology that undergirds the value?

You can start with “I” statements, particularly since we are going to *work together* to make “we” statements as a group later in our Ten Most Commonly Believed Things Among Us statement. Please try to make sure your belief statements are grounded in our theological tradition(s). We are part of a long and rich tradition of saints whose shoulders we stand on. We don’t make this up as we go along, or “build our own theology.” We build on top of the theologies we have inherited, recognizing that “god is still speaking,” or “revelation is never sealed.” Remember that the humanist tradition is part of our historical heritage, so you don’t have to believe in God to have a theology. [For those of you who jumped up during “All my Friends and Neighbors” as out atheists, be sure to google “the Humanist Manifesto.”]

Here are some examples of belief statements:
“I believe that all people are children of the same God, and therefore I practice equity in human relationships.”
OR,
“I believe that humans are capable of both good and bad behaviors, therefore we need to atone for the ways in which we harm others.”
OR,
“I believe that this world is our paradise, and all we have, and therefore, we must work to make it peaceful, loving and justice-filled.”
OR,
“I believe that God is love, and therefore all are saved (no one goes to hell). Our job is to destroy the earthly hells we encounter every day.”
OR,
“I believe that prayer doesn’t change things, but prayer changes people and people change things.”
OR,
“I believe in the perfectability of the human spirit, therefore we are all capable of making the world a better place through progress.”

To make sure these belief statements are grounded in our vast and rich tradition, I’m going to ask you to look up quotes by Unitarian, Universalist and Unitarian Universalist theologians/ministers to support your statements. This will also help with your credos, and our “Ten Most Commonly Believed Things Among Us”. This may sound hard to you, but I don’t even want you to go to the library. Google “Unitarian Universalist quotes.” Google Forrest Church quotes. Google Rob Hardies quotes. Google Sophia Lyons Fahs quotes. Google Marilyn Sewall quotes. Google Ralph Waldo Emerson quotes. Google Theodore Parker quotes. Google John Dietrich quotes. Google Bill Schultz quotes. Google Bill Sinkford quotes. Google Marjorie Bowens Wheatly quotes. Google the Iowa Sisterhood. Google Hosea Ballou quotes. Google Mark Morrison-Reed quotes. Google Nathan Detering quotes. Trust me, this will be fun. Just pick one or two that really speak to you. Put it all in notebook paper to add to your journals.

This week, the whole group will be working on choosing a social action project for everyone to do together. You will use your quotes and belief statements to help prioritize which social action projects are most deserving of our time as a church. In other words, we will look at our values, how they are informed by our theology, and choose which projects are our way of doing our unique work of love in the world.

So bring what you have of your belief statements. Bring your hearts.

Bright blessings to all of you,

Robin

Can Unitarian Universalism be a “Religion for Our Time”?

nones

by Robin Bartlett Barraza

Have you all been paying attention to the NPR series on the rise of the “nones”? The “nones” are people who check “none” when asked which religious organization they affiliate with, and they are now famously growing like gangbusters spelling doomsday for all religion in America. The “nones” have some characteristics in common. The majority of them don’t claim to be atheist, but they do claim to be skeptical about organized religion. The other major commonality that they share is that most “nones” are in the younger generations. As people for whom church makes a difference in your life, I hope you are paying attention to this trend. It matters for us. It particularly matters for those of us who are attempting to shepherd the younger generations into faithful adulthood. The reality is this: most of our young people won’t choose to be participants in faith communities as adults. Not unless we can bring our churches into the 21st century, anyway. I think this is a thrilling challenge set before us that we need to rise to. Not for the sake of keeping our historic buildings and our historic silver and our historic hymns and our historic Sunday Schools and our historic ways of bickering about things that don’t matter. I think we need to rise to this challenge for the sake of the soul of our nation and world. Some people won’t agree with me that religion matters this much. But I think that religion offers us a sacred narrative to be a part of; a narrative that orders and gives meaning to our lives. I think that entering and continuing a story about humankind in unbroken line with our ancestors–a story that has more to do with Love and transformation than the story of empty consumerism–this matters a lot.

Listen to the series here: http://www.npr.org/2013/01/15/169342349/more-young-people-are-moving-away-from-religion-but-why?utm_source=NPR&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=20130115.

So how does Unitarian Universalism fit into this trend?

We are in an era of Unitarian Universalism that is unprecedented. Church as we know it in our culture is declining. People no longer feel as though they “need” church in order to be good people, or to appear to others as though they are good people. We can all meet our needs for community, social justice organizing, consumerism, and moral discernment, at many different secular organizations. As a faith tradition, we are tiny and declining. We are finding ourselves at a crossroads and on the brink of survival, needing to reclaim and reposition our niche within the meaning-making spectrum. People aren’t coming to church simply to reject the church that they came from anymore. There is nothing in the broader culture to compel them to go to church on Sunday morning, particularly in our part of the Northeastern United States. Therefore, as a denomination, we are finding that people who come through our church doors aren’t just looking for a healing method of “doing church” anymore. In addition, they are looking for a healing message; one that says something about the nature of humanity, life, death, brokenness, God and suffering.

Angus McClean once said that our “method is our message.” It is true that the method we have used to organize our churches and our religious education programs was radical at one time, and even healing, to our adherents. In the past fifty years of our history, we have claimed our covenantal (not creedal) tradition as the message in and of itself. Our covenantal method, after all, is a departure from the orthodox and dogmatic traditions many of our congregants have come to us from.

However, as Unitarian Universalists, we are increasingly finding that our method is no longer particularly unique in the secular or religious worlds. Schools, social justice organizations, liberal Christian, Buddhist and Reformed Jewish congregations (among others) use similar methods to teach morality, justice, and the tenants of their traditions. For instance, there are UCC churches that use their own version of Neighboring Faiths. There are Episcopal churches that stress deeds rather than creeds. There are public schools that empower our children with messages of their inherent worth and dignity. There are Human Rights organizations that work for equal marriage and immigrant justice. And so on.

So, Unitarian Universalism finds itself struggling to answer the question: what is our unique, bold message? Our seven principles, a beloved covenant between our congregations written in the 1980s, are often held up as a statement of our shared beliefs. At the same time, they are criticized by some as too creed-like, or as a set of principles that could be appropriated for use in the American constitution or any human rights organization. “What makes them uniquely religious?” People have rightly countered.

I think our attachment to our principles, and the desire for our principles to be used as a catechetical tool within our own congregation, is indicative of a deeper search for truth and meaning by modern Unitarian Universalists. We crave a message, one that is inclusive, but still contains religious meaning; a message that says something about life, death, creation, human unity, interconnectedness, God, suffering, Love.

I believe that our method needs to be informed by our message, and not the other way around.

There is also a great fear in Unitarian Universalist churches of claiming a bold message of faith, one that includes a robust theology, or one that re-claims our Judeo-Christian texts, for fear of offending our current constituents. As a result, we remain timid in the effort to nurture the inherent spirituality of our children. We run the risk of becoming a mile wide and an inch deep because of this fear. I believe we hemorrhage our children as a result of this fear, as well. 90% of them do not remain Unitarian Universalist as adults.

But there is hope!

I believe Unitarian Universalism can, in fact, become a religion for our time. I see this era of Unitarian Universalism as an incredible opportunity for growth, if we are willing to be bold. Our historic theological traditions make bold theological claims. Our Unitarian tradition reminds us that we derive from one sacred source, therefore we are connected to one another and to the earth, and are capable of committing Godly acts of love in the world. Our Universalist tradition reminds us that we are fated to the same destination, and that our liberation is bound up in one another’s. We believe in this-earthly salvation. Therefore, it is imperative that we love our neighbor as ourselves, and that we work for justice in human relationships—that we help save one another in Love. We believe that Truth comes in the form of sacred scripture from our own Judeo-Christian tradition, and from all of the world’s religious traditions. Therefore, we engage our Jewish and Christian scriptures and other religious texts, mining them for metaphorical truth. We believe that all people contain the spark of the divine. Therefore, art, poetry and our lives themselves are inspired texts. We believe that we must be stewards of this earthly paradise, which is the heaven we have been given. Therefore, we uphold the interconnectedness of all existence and take care of the earth on which we dwell. We believe that hell is also on this earth, and comes in the form of separation from our best selves and one another. Therefore, we strive to create Beloved Community wherever we go by loving one another with humility, curiosity and respect.

We have a message beyond our method, and our method is inspired by our message.

With an emphasis on the healthy, multi-faceted spiritual development of our children, the Religious Education Committee at UU Area Church in Sherborn embarked in December on the important project of boldly naming the fundamentals of our Religious Education program. The RE Committee seeks to create a statement of faith that might help provide a lens through which to interpret sacred story, evaluate curricula and write new curricula, develop programming and ensure excellence and depth of meaning at all levels of child, youth and adult religious education and faith development.

Below is a draft of the “message” the RE Committee would like to convey at all levels in our faith development program at the UUAC in Sherborn. While we have yet to develop this into a terse statement, I thought you might be interested in our initial brainstorm.

At the Unitarian Universalist Area Church in Sherborn…
• We have respect for minds, bodies and souls.
• We believe that grace is real, and that we must be grateful for unearned gifts.
• We believe that revelation is continuous. We are seekers, questioners and stewards of hope.
• Love is our religious ethic.
• We believe that the universe is benevolent. Love wins.
• We know that we are connected to one another in our humanity: in our celebrations, our capacity to love, our sorrows, and our brokenness.
• We believe that suffering is a part of life, not a punishment for living
• We believe that God offers us presence, not protection.
• We believe that God is bigger than any name we give God, and any religion or doctrine that tries to contain God.
• We believe that religion is horizontal, not only vertical. God is present in relationship.
• We offer a ministry of radical hospitality. We are hosts who provide a grand welcoming table for all.
• We believe that we must not think alike to love alike.
• We believe that to whom much is given, much is expected, and thus we use the gifts we have been given wisely – We believe that STEWARDSHIP MATTERS.
• Our task is to grow souls so that we may send forth visible saints into the world.
• We seek to build what Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to as the Beloved Community. We come to church not to be a beloved community, but to practice the ethics of the Beloved Community for use outside our church walls. Practicing being beloved community means treating all people who we encounter as though they are beloved, unique, children of the divine.
• As such, we see church not as a sanctuary from the world, but as a training ground that helps us to live in the world in a way that transforms the world.

May we be a place where these truths are practiced and realized.

Faith Formation 2020

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Friends,

I went to this really compelling workshop about bringing religious education programs out of the 19th century straight into the 21st by Catholic author of “Faith Formation 2020” John Roberto on Tuesday. It was awesome, and I’m going to blog more about it soon. Among the provocative points Roberto made (which are not necessarily endorsed by me or UUAC Sherborn, but are interesting conversation starters, no?):

1) People don’t fear change, they fear loss.
2) Along those lines: Sunday School is dead. Bury it in the churchyard cemetary and have a funeral for it.
3) The research shows that people are more and more unlikely to attend church, and that isn’t going to change in the future. People are identifying as “no religious affiliation”, or “spiritual but not religious” in increasing amounts. However, only 4-5% of Americans identify as atheist, a statistic that hasn’t changed since George Washington was president.
4) Kids should be worshipping with adults full stop with multigenerational religious education programming happening at a different time. Read “The Sticky Church”. The research is in: kids who don’t worship with adults don’t grow up to be church-goers. Period.
5) We need to harness the power of 21st century technology to do faith formation. NOW. Because it isn’t going away. We need to be up to date with social media strategies, websites that point people to as many resources as possible to deepen in their faith, and use the internet as opportunities for religious education (webinars, podcasts, etc.)
6) We need to stop getting mad at our fellow parishioners who don’t show up to church because they want to spend time with their kids on Sunday morning, or because of soccer practice. That’s our reality, and it’s not anyone’s fault. Bring church to the soccer field instead, and stop being bitter. We’re here to serve the people where they are.
7) Fail early and often.
8) Be creative and have fun.

In the meantime, if you are interested in this topic, you should read my friend and colleague Cindy Beal’s storified version of the workshop because it is beautiful and funny and visually appealing.

http://storify.com/CindyBeal/faith-formation-2020-brief-notes

Faith formation forever,

Robin