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
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.
(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.
“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.
I just returned from being an adult sponsor at youth con. Seven of our high school youth attended this youth lead conference, and it was so inspiring to participate in worship, small groups, dancing, meals, and workshops with them and over a hundred other youth. The atmosphere was so welcoming, and it was one of the few places I have witnessed radical hospitality done really well.
Throughout the weekend, several youth talked about how they have a difficult time being accepted at school and in their communities for many reasons. For some, that distance was due to what they look like or the social class they belong to. For others, conditions like autism, bi-polar disorder, or cerebral palsy played a role in their being treated as different. For still others race, gender, or sexual orientation made them feel like outsiders. But in the intentional community created for 2 days at youth con everyone was included. No one was left on the sidelines. Everyone had people to sit with at meals. Hugs, cuddling, conversation, and listening included the whole group.
The youth observe what they call the Robbie Rule. When they make a circle whether formally in a group or informally in a conversation, they try to always leave a space open for anyone else who might want to join. At the Saturday night dance, it was beautiful to see a horseshoe-shaped group with arms around each other swaying together to the music. Not only was there opportunity for others to join, but some youth from the circle actively ran over to people who were standing, dancing or sitting alone and invited them to join.
I wonder how we adults can follow this example provided by our youth? Can we practice the openness, the welcoming, the radical hospitality they model for us? It may not be sustainable all the time, but I wonder if our time at church can be a time where we pay close attention to the needs of others? Can WUUC be a place where our spiritual practice involves radical hospitality; where we make it a point to include the people who are on the edges of society in their normal lives? Can we be a people of love, of listening, of acceptance for all those who need it? I think we can. Let’s give it a try!
Peace and Laughter,
As we move from the month of September to the month of October, and the Soul Matters theme shifts from Expectation to Belonging, I have been giving a lot of thought to what my expectations were for the RE program at the start of this year, and whether or not they were realistic. One of the things I hoped for but didn’t necessarily expect was the amazing response we received to our summer outreach. Several families who haven’t been here in a while have come back in response to the phone conversations, texts and invitations extended to them. And I think most of them are returning with a desire to feel as if they belong here.
As we transition this month to thinking about what it means to be a people of belonging, I encourage you all to think about what it means for families to belong here at WUUC, and what your role in nurturing that feeling of belonging might be. We have had several families come back, what can you do to help make them feel like they belong here? Here are a few suggestions.
you make time to assist in the nursery, RE class or youth group? We are
still looking for volunteers at all levels of the RE program.
the service, think about how you can make the parents and children who are
there feel more welcome. Smiles, comments of encouragement and
solidarity, offers of help; all of those things make families feel like they
belong here with us in our church.
· During coffee hour, talk to the children, the youth, the parents. Learn their names. Find out what their interests are. Ask what they are doing in RE or if they have attended any of the parent groups.
· On the 2nd Wednesday of the month (beginning Oct. 9), you could volunteer to cook a meal and have dinner with the families of young children in our congregation. It is a great opportunity to support our parents, have dinner with and get to know church members you might not otherwise interact with. Or you could volunteer to provide childcare on those evenings after dinner while the parents are having their support group meeting.
We have had an
amazing and busy September. I can’t wait to see what the next month
brings! As always, I welcome your questions and suggestions.
Committee and I have been busy planning for the upcoming church year, and I am
incredibly excited about what we have in store for WUUC! Our primary
focus this year will be on family ministry. Studies have shown that the
most important factor in determining whether or not grown children remain in
church (or come back to church after a break in young adulthood) is their
parents’ active involvement in their religious education and their commitment
to church life.
Unfortunately, many parents come to Unitarian Universalist churches without the knowledge of how to include religious education as part of family life. Many parents were raised “unchurched” or quit attending church at a young age and never learned how to incorporate spiritual growth and learning into their personal lives, much less into the lives of their children. To that end, we will be starting many programs to encourage the spiritual growth within our families.
Some of these
for families to participate together in the Sunday morning worship service by
serving as greeters and lighting the chalice.
home lessons with activities to reinforce what was taught during the RE class
each Sunday, and for families who couldn’t make it to church that week.
· I will lead several parent groups which will meet monthly to discuss parenting issues, questions, and offering ideas for incorporating UU Spirituality into family life. Tentatively, the list of parent groups includes: parents of High School Students, parents of upper elementary & middle school age children, parents of young children, and parents of children attending 8th-9th grade OWL.
Traveling chalice boxes which can be “checked out” from the church by
children or families. Each box will include information on a different
aspect of Unitarian Universalism and include activities, games, and ideas on
how to integrate our faith and values into daily family life.
I will be
reaching out to WUUC’s parents and guardians soon to learn more about ways in
which we can support our families. If you have any questions, comments,
or ideas I would love to hear from you. I hope the rest of your summer is a
time of renewal, peace and fun!