Religious Education 2020: It Takes a Village (and a Zoom account)

Religious Education 2020: It Takes a Village (and a Zoom account)

By Bridget Laflin
Director of Religious Education

Hello WUUC!

Summer is winding down and we are ramping up for a church and school year like no other.  All of us are feeling the pressure of figuring out how to create a new normal during these challenging times.  WUUC’s Religious Education Committee is no different. 

But we are very excited about the upcoming church year and the offerings we are preparing for religious education for children and youth.  We will be kicking off our fall RE program on Sept. 20.  Here are just a few highlights:

·       All Ages Interactive Chapel on Sunday mornings

·       Online Bitmoji RE classroom that students can access whenever they want

·       Social justice projects for junior and senior youth

·       Coming of Age program for 9-11 graders

·       Monthly online regional youth cons

We will be reaching out to ALL members of the congregation to ask for support for our online RE programs.  Since much of the content will be pre-recorded and the children will access it at their convenience, we will be looking for people from the congregation to make short recordings so that our children get exposure to the faces and voices of their church family.  We will be looking for people to record some of the following things to share with the class:

·       Chalice Lightings / Extinguishings

·       Reading or telling stories

·       Craft / art demonstrations

·       Songs

·       Movement exercises (body prayers, yoga, dances etc)

·       Nature discoveries

·       Demonstrate a skill (building, cooking, garden etc.)

·       Messages of encouragement / affirmation

·       Puppet shows

·       Other???

We can’t wait to share in the experiences of our talented congregation!

In Trying Times, I Believe in Us

In Trying Times, I Believe in Us

By Bridget Laflin
Director of Religious Education
Hello Beloveds,

Will you breathe with me? Take a deep breath in slowly. Exhale slowly. Repeat as many times as necessary to feel a bit of calm.

Let’s just take a minute and remember that we love each other. At the very least, remember that I love all of you.

This pandemic is causing a lot of fear. And when we are afraid, we hold onto whatever we think will keep us safe. We have difficulty thinking clearly. It is so easy to create an us vs. them and forget that we are all interconnected and dependent on one another.

The truth is that there simply isn’t enough information about this virus. Statistics are unclear due to inconsistent testing, reporting, etc. Long-term effects are unknown. There is no vaccine yet, and speculations abound as to when or if it can be developed; much less the effectiveness of this potential vaccine when/if it is developed. It may be years before we have those kinds of answers.

What we do have right now is each other.

Isolation, financial difficulties, and lack of physical contact can all cause or contribute to depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems.

And depression and hopelessness can be as deadly as any virus.

Let’s think about how we can support each other rather than focus on the illusion of separateness. Remember we are ALL interconnected.

That might mean working on our humility; admitting that we might be wrong and that we don’t have all of the information. It might mean digging deep to find grace and compassion. It might mean putting in time and effort to search for the deeper fears and motivations for our own actions. It might mean looking for what is underneath other people’s anger and addressing that rather than reacting to the anger itself.

This is an incredibly trying and difficult time, my friends. And I believe that loving-kindness and compassion can get us through this together.

It is not in any way simple or easy, but I believe in us.

I love you. You are not alone.

Justice and Peace,

Bridget

REorganizing our REsources

REorganizing our REsources

Stewardship season is upon us again. It is the time in the church year when we are thinking about our pledges, our resources, what we want to give to the church, and what we feel we can afford. It is also the time of year when we plan our annual church budget, which is a true reflection of our values and what we deem important as a congregation.

And so, it seems to me, that it makes sense that we review where we are focusing our money and energy, and what values are being reflected by our choices.  As a community, we are doing a lot of wonderful things, but it has everyone spread pretty thin.  I feel that acutely in the Religious Education (RE) program. Parents, students, teachers, volunteers and leaders are all juggling so much. It is difficult for anyone to commit more time to anything, including religious education. This has resulted in smaller attendance numbers and fewer volunteers.   

In order to best utilize the resources that we do have, the Religious Education Committee has come to the decision to scale back the Sunday morning RE program through the end of May. This means that there will be two Sundays per month in which the children will experience the worship service with the community rather than going to class.  (Nursery and pre-school RE will continue every week.) I look forward to the community bonding that we can experience by sharing more worship services with our children.

And even though we are cutting back the number of classes, we are still in need of more volunteers.  As you review your commitments to WUUC, perhaps you can make a small sacrifice and volunteer to help with one RE class between now and the end of May.  Just one Sunday morning would reflect that you value the religious education of our community’s children. 

Thank you for all that you do to make WUUC a special and sacred space.

Peace,

Bridget

Are Our Children Learning  to Handle Conflict?

Are Our Children Learning to Handle Conflict?

Hello Friends! 

As I thought about the January and February Soul Matters themes of Integrity and Resilience and how these concepts relate to our Religious Education program, I began to think about the challenges and successes that our RE program has faced this year. 

This fall, we combined our First-Eighth graders into a single class on Sunday mornings.  There have been amazing moments of leadership from some of our older children along with some difficult situations that come from having such a broad age range of students working together.  I have witnessed some beautiful relationships form between some of the older kids and some of the younger children, and I’ve seen how frustrated both the children and adults can feel when there are conflicts due to varied expectations and levels of understanding.

All of these types of experiences happen not just in RE class, but in many different places in our congregation.  Beautiful relationships form that might never have happened without a shared church community.  Frustrations occur when there are different levels of understanding on specific topics.  Sometimes unexpected leaders emerge from within groups, which can be wonderful or it can cause friction. 

How our children and youth learn to handle these difficult situations while they are young will teach them how to resolve conflict and how to live in right relationship with other people as they grow.  They learn some of these skills at school and in Religious Education programs, but they learn most from watching the adults around them.  Our children and youth are watching the adult members of the congregation to observe how conflict is handled.  And from us they are learning how to live in right relationship within a beloved church community.   

Are they witnessing the congregation handle their disputes in healthy ways, with integrity and resilience?  Or are there other lessons they are learning?

This month, let us be mindful of what it means to be a people of resilience by working to resolve conflicts and mend relationships in healthy ways, not just for our own sakes, but also for the sake of the children and youth.

Happy Holidays, WUUC!

Happy Holidays, WUUC!

(Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary)

This time of year always gets me thinking about family.  And like many people, my extended family lives far away from me.  My parents and siblings all live halfway across the country, and I find myself getting nostalgic. 

When I miss my family, I am so grateful for my friends and specifically my church community.  A church community really can feel like family sometimes.  There can be arguments and disagreements, but these relationships are also (hopefully) based in love, compassion, and respect.

One of the most beautiful things about church life is that we have an opportunity to spend time with people who are in many different ages and stages in their lives.  Opportunities to engage with people outside our own generation are few and far between in our society.  But being part of a church community opens up so many possibilities for developing loving supportive friendships across multiple generations.

So, how can we
access these amazing relationship possibilities?

If you are you
a grandparent (or of grandparent age) and miss your grandkids or the presence
of young children in your life, think about striking up a conversation with the
parents whose children are wandering around the sanctuary.  Or offer to
hold a baby, or play with one of the pre-schoolers.  You could also
volunteer in the nursery or teach a Religious Education class.  We have an
amazing group of creative, intelligent, amazing, loving children in our
congregation.  Most of them would love it if you got to know them as
individual people.  Your lives will be richer for having these wonderful
people in your life.

If you are a
parent of younger children, especially if your parents don’t live nearby, seek
out conversations with some of the older members at church.  Introduce
them to your children.  Maybe you will develop some “adopted grandparent”
relationships with people who can share their wisdom with you and play with the
kids once in a while. You and your childrens’ lives will be enriched by the
love, experience and wisdom of the elders in our community.

We have a
unique and special chance to increase understanding and to share wisdom through
building relationships with our church family.   Let’s consider
taking advantage of the precious gifts of getting to know one another as we
enter this new year.

Peace,

Bridget Laflin,
DRE

Are Our Children Valued?

Are Our Children Valued?

“It’s a blessing you were born.
And it matters what you do.
What you know about God
Is a piece of the truth.
May the beauty you love,
Be what you do.
And you don’t have to do it alone.”
— Laila Ibrahim

This poem has been a cornerstone of my faith journey in Unitarian Universalism. To me, it is a beautiful encapsulation of why I have committed so much of my life, my energy and my hope to Unitarian Universalism. My hope is that the ideas expressed in this poem are embraced and embodied by each and every one of us. And it is important not only to recognize the importance of these ideals in our own lives, but to share them with others.
When we encounter other people, do we treat them as if it was a blessing they were born? Do we show them by example and teaching that it matters what they do? Do we respect the pieces of truth that each person has and make opportunities to learn from them? Are you a person who makes yourself available to accompany others as they seek to do “the beauty they love?”
I think most of us strive to do so, and it makes me proud to be a Unitarian Universalist.
However, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we often fail to extend the same generosity of spirit to the children in our congregation. Do we treat them as if the truths that they know are important? Do we truly believe that it matters what they do? Do we actually believe that they have pieces of the truth to share with us? Do we encourage them to do the beauty they love? Can we make them feel like they aren’t alone while they explore faith, truth and meaning? How do we manifest these important concepts to the children around us?
I encourage you all to think about your recent interactions with children and youth in our church community. Do you act as if the children are valued for the inherent worth and dignity they have at this stage of their development? Or do you treat them as if they are merely something to put up with until they are adults? Do you recognize the gifts and truths they can share with you, right now, as they are? Or do you assume you have nothing to learn from them? Do you approach them with curiosity and wonder or impatience and tolerance?
I hope we can all learn to cherish our children, approach them with curiosity, and recognize that they also have pieces of the truth to share with us. Most importantly, I hope we can enfold them in love so that they know deep in their souls that their church community supports them every step along the way, and they don’t have to do it alone.