January: Religious Exploration

The children in a UU church Sunday school class were drawing pictures. The teacher asked one, “What are you drawing a picture of?” “I’m drawing a picture of God,” was the reply. “But nobody knows what God looks like,” objected the teacher. “They will,” said the UU child, “when I get my picture done.” -anonymous

That little “supposed to be funny” story is from a UU website. It caught my attention because of the engagement, freedom, and enthusiasm of the child. Exploring, making discoveries, and allowing our children to form their own conclusions is what we want to do in our Religious Exploration Programming. That’s what I hope will happen to an even greater degree than what we had before with the “new to us” workshop rotation model we will begin on January 6th. First, a little background for those who may be wondering about why we are making the change. Last spring, a UUA district consultant spent a day with the committed and caring souls who showed up during spring break for a workshop to help us to consider our religious education programming.

She asked us, why is it important for a church to offer R.E.? After we mulled that over and created a list, she went deeper asking: What kind of young people do we want our program to produce? Here is the condensed version of responses we came up with:

  • Connected: to different generations in our local church community, to the larger Unitarian Universalist movement, and to the larger community and world
  • Ready for the world: Independent, with critical thinking and problem solving skills. Comfortable and accepting of diverse peoples.
  • Justifiably self confident: Responsible and mature. Able to celebrate themselves and their faith.
  • Passionate about something: could be art, could be music, could be social justice.
  • Have a basic understanding of UU values, world religions, social justice issues.
  • And finally, to have fond memories of growing up in the UU Church community.

Going a little further, we were asked what program components were needed to get the results we desired? Here’s the final version of that list:

  • fun way to get content
  • wider congregational involvement and ownership with our children and youth
  • lifting up spiritual practice, passion, and self-care
  • including children in the social justice work we do

During a second full day workshop, we were exposed to research and trends the national UUA is working with, including cutting edge materials from Faith Formation 2020. Out of that day came the decision to experiment with two ideas: the Thematic Church and Workshop Rotation. Both models encourage a strong multi- generational church environment. By having a monthly theme that inspires both the worship service in the sanctuary and what we are doing in the children’s Religious Exploration Program, we hope to facilitate deeper conversation and exploration for families to continue at home. The workshop rotation model breaks away from a school-like academic experience and moves towards a more experiential, spiritual experience (no more coloring sheets, more creative movement, music making, art, science). It facilitates interaction and mentorship for the children from the rich pool of experience and passion that our congregation has to offer. For those of you who are aware of or who may have participated in our Hogwarts Camp this past summer, that was our first “toes in the water” workshop rotation trial. As we move forward, we will continue to make adjustments to best meet the needs of our children and what works for our congregation.

So—what will Sunday mornings look like? Like before, everyone will start out in the sanctuary and stay through the Time for All Ages Story. The story will be related to that month’s theme. Initially, children will go to the same classroom every week and teachers will rotate from one classroom to the next from week to week (later on, I hope to transform our traditional classrooms into workshops or studios, reflecting what happens in each). Children will experience three workshops and one Children’s Chapel per month. The Children’s Chapel will have at large group activity and discussion to hopefully extract meaning and tie the month’s activities together. Each age grouping of students will have one of the two guides that is assigned to their class who will be with them every week. The guide is the familiar face in the room, who knows the children and can help workshop teachers make modifications if needed. The teachers commit to teaching for 3 weeks, teaching a lesson (and hopefully sharing a passion) related to our all church theme of the month to each of the classrooms (one group per week). From time to time, the children will show the congregation what we’ve been working on during the time for all ages portion of the worship service.

There will be an informational session/training right after church on Sunday, January 13th in the Forum Rooms. Child care and refreshments will be available. Come join us to learn more and perhaps consider what you might be able to share. What better way to live our first principle and demonstrate how important our children are to us… and to the future of this congregation.

See you in church,

Sheila Garrett,
Director of Religious Exploration

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