Religious Education and You
by Joyce Dowling
Aug. 13, 2017
“On Children” is a poem I took to heart as a parent. It is so hard to do. We somehow think we’re in control or something. We can influence, but we cannot control their thoughts, which, of course, affects their actions. We do want to be influencers and we are whether it’s intentional or not.
So I’m doing this service today for many reasons. It started with our process of deciding where we’re going here at Davies when Pastor Dave came two years ago. I was unaware that we no longer had a Religious Education Committee and that first year of his 2-yr. interim ministry here, we didn’t have a Religious Education program at all. That was a shocker for me as I grew up in Unitarian religious education and really feel that it not only helped shape who I am, but “saved my life”. I was part of a service about that and you can find it on the internet so I won’t get into that now.
But the outcome of our processing was that most people felt we needed young families and children in our church and I decided the only way our church could change is if we change. I mean, think about it, the church is the congregation – a group of people – how can it change if we don’t change?
So I committed to teaching religious education again, whether or not we had children on any given Sunday. I would be prepared to be with the children with Kristen, our nursery provider, as an assistant. We pay for nursery care whether or not children are here. Children are our hope for the future.
Fortunately, Ashley came on as our administrator, and she has a background in religious education also and decided to volunteer in the religious education program and jumped in with both feet.
So people have asked: “What do we do back there with the children?” “What do we teach them?” And to be quite honest, we also could use some more volunteers. So the songs this morning weren’t just for the children – you’re a teacher, too. Granted it helps if you know something to teach, but you probably know more than you think.
This summer we’ve been teaching the principles, not just through song and the rainbow mnemonic device, actually we don’t do a lot of singing, usually none. The main teaching elements this summer have been stories, through many wonderful books that are available related to these topics, discussion which starts with a simple question pertaining to the story and the principle it relates to – I learn from the children, I think, as much as they might be learning from me. Then we have an activity that will result in something we’re presenting the church next month. The children also play together, look out the window at the wonderful nature we have out there and we sometimes go outside to get a closer look, and they are getting to know each other to have meaningful relationships, just as adults do during our interactions – it’s an important part of being a congregation – a community of caring people.
In the fall, we will go back to a theme-based curriculum. Rev. Norman will be giving us the themes he’s using for the sermons and we will be using them with the children, along with resources based on those themes pulled from the Unitarian Universalist Association (aka “UUA”)’s website. The UUA website also has a page explaining about why we do theme ministry, but basically so parents and children have a common topic to discuss on the trip home from church and hopefully, more than that – the ideal is that we communicate with each other as an intergenerational congregation. Our youth have already participated in the sermon discussion called “the Sunday Circle with adults”. It wasn’t a direct plan; it’s the way we are – our heart is in the right place around children.
If you’re interested in helping to teach, we can give you an orientation and there are also training resources for teachers at other churches, and even some online. Ideally, no parent, including Ashley, should teach their own children; we should have two adults in each room for safety and convenience. So we’d have an experienced teacher and an assistant each Sunday. The assistant is also learning and can become a teacher if interested. We should have enough teachers and assistants so each would only need to volunteer about twice per month. I hope some of you can help make this happen.
We expect to have two classes this year – one for the elementary ages (preschoolers sometimes attend with their older siblings and play nearby in the same room – you’d be surprised how much children can pick up when they don’t look like they’re listening or even old enough to understand – they often do). And we’ll have a class for the “tweens” (aka middle school ages) and young teenagers. As we grow, we hope to have more classes.
We also are planning for a future class with our youth to include children from other congregations in order to have a big and diverse enough group to teach the Our Whole Lives curriculum (aka OWL). This is our sexuality curriculum that the UUA developed along with the United Church of Christ (or UCC), which are 5 separate curricula for different age groups and developmental stages. Identity is, of course, part of this curriculum and social justice is a big part of our religious education program for all ages – we call it Lifespan Religious Education.
And that brings us to the SMYAL presentation that Hiram is going to make.