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Director of Religious Education

Director of Religious Education

Director of Religious Education

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Today's guest blog post is from Nancy West, co-facilitator of the Adult RE Workshop, Cracking the Codes. This an other Religious Education for All offerings are held on Sunday mornings from 9:30 until 10:30 a.m. Please join us! (Click here for information.)

On Sunday, it was so exciting to gather with those of you who share our goal of attaining Racial Equity for all in Baltimore.  We began First Unitarian Church’s six-week class: “Cracking the Codes,” viewing World-Trust’s video with that title. We used the video as a catalyst for our learning from each other and discussing and figuring out the systems that sustain Racial Inequity so that we can work toward dismantling those systems. There seemed to be a real commitment to looking at ourselves and at our cultures in open and honest ways so we can effect change.

Our goal in offering the class is to provide the opportunity for each participant to do the work necessary to change the system of Racial Inequity in Baltimore. On that first day, there were 24 of us there, all with the desire to engage in a community dialogue aimed at helping us to deepen our understanding of Racial Inequity and what we can do to establish Racial Equity as a norm in our community.

Our different experiences growing up in our own unique cultures have determined how we see the world, how we see various cultures and how we see race. Those experiences have created unique identities for each of us. If we are to make changes in our city, we must see and understand how our different experiences have led us to different ways of being in the world.

We need to examine what we have learned about culture and race growing up and whether or not we would like to learn new and/or different ways of navigating and negotiating our world today. If we are going to discover those parts of our identity that do not work in a multi-racial society, we have to bring them into our conscious minds. We cannot fix what we cannot see so if we really want to fix the system of Racial Inequity, we must bring all of our learned responses right out in front of us. This class will give us many opportunities to do just that. It is very encouraging to know that culture and race are social constructs that can be reconfigured. We can learn new ways of being in our world!

The history and system dynamics that have established Racial Inequity in our society were presented in the video. It gave us lots to discuss about our understanding of and our experience of Racism. Some participants identified how they experience racism in our society. Others identified unconscious ways in which they learned from the cultures in which they grew up, to contribute to the establishment of that system of Racial Inequity. There will be many more avenues to understanding how we got where we are and how we can get to a different place.

Please join us! The “Cracking the Codes” class meets every Sunday through 10/25. We look forward to more challenging and enlightening discussions as we continue the class. You are welcome to attend classes even if you cannot every one.

On 10/27, Dorothy Critcher will lead the class. Nancy West will return on 10/4.

It has been my honor and privilege to serve as your Interim Director of Religious Education these past six months. I will be leaving on June 30. I am looking forward to some time off before starting a ministerial internship in the fall. 

The congregation will be looking for another interim DRE for the 2015-16 church year to continue the work of the interim period. 

This work includes coming to terms with the congregation's history, discovering your unique RE history, revitalizing your relationship with the denomination, and committing to new RE leadership and a vibrant future for religious education at First Unitarian.

You have made a good start on exploring these areas during the Interim RE Startup in March with Unitarian Universalist Association Congregational Consultant Rev. David Pyle as well as the Board of Trustees listening sessions on Religious Education for All Ages and the Budget.

The RE Committee for Children and Youth, the Adult RE Committee, Rev. David Carl Olson and those working on the Interim RE Transition have also been involved in thoughtfully discussing a vibrant Religious Education program for all ages at First Unitarian. I hope you  continue and deepen that discussion this church year.

Moving forward, Michael Brown has volunteered to chair the RE Committee for Children and Youth and is awaiting confirmation by the Board of Trustees.  As you may know, Michael is entering his final year at Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago, preparing to enter Unitarian Universalist ministry in late 2016.  Active at First Unitarian since moving to Baltimore in November 2013, he is serving as the Summer Minister for Worship Arts and has been working with the First Unitarian’s Youth Group since September 2014.

Outgoing chair Melissa Walker, is staying on RECCY to assist with the RE transition along with Board member and former RE Chair Karla Peterson and Board member Laura Laing, the current the chair of the Adult RE Committee.  

Dorothy Critcher has stepped up to chair the Interim RE Transition Team, which among other things, will be working on finding your next interim DRE and assisting with the transition to the new two hour RE Hour/Worship Hour format.  This committee will also be working with the board’s Transition Team in looking at staffing options for the 2016 -17 year.

When I took the job at First Unitarian, I also hoped to learn about more social justice work from a congregation with a longstanding commitment to making a difference in its community and a minister with history of and dedication to community organizing.

The experience has been far deeper, richer and transformative than I could have ever imagined. Thank you for welcoming me into your congregation and letting me walk with you for part of your journey.

Best practices for religious leaders leaving a congregations call for me to leave space for the next religious educator by maintaining a respectful absence from First Unitarian for the 2015-16 church year.

This means I will not be attending First Unitarian services or events or responding to e-mails or Facebook friend requests. However, if our paths happen to cross, I will happily to greet you but cannot engage in any church-related conversations.

In the meantime, know that you remain in my heart and I wish you many blessings in the coming year.

In Faith and Fellowship,


Looking Ahead to Next Year In Religious Education for Children and Youth

From Melinda Walker, chair of the RE Committee for Children and Youth


It has been my pleasure to be the Religious Education for Children and Youth chairperson for the 2014 to 2015 church year. It has been an exciting and challenging year of growth for this program.  Our children have participated in social action projects and explored and discussed many of the same topics that the Rev. David Carl Olson and adults discussed "upstairs" during the service.

The 2015-16 church year will continue to be a time of transition for religious education. 

In the RE Committee’s discussions with children, parents and the Board of Trustees’ listening sessions with the wider congregation, we have identified some opportunities for growth.  Our goal is to make our religious education program even more vibrant and meaningful for the youngest members of our congregation.

For the fall, we plan to use the excellent curriculum resources available through the Unitarian Universalist Association. We will also be grouping our teachers into supportive clusters with the autonomy to organize their own schedules and lesson plans.  There will also be structure and support from more experienced volunteers and the religious educator wherever and whenever needed.

We are planning an orientation and training in August to help all our teachers have the tools they need to be successful. We envision being able to further divide our children by age in the coming year to better address their developmental needs.

Pending recruitment of enough volunteers, we would like to have a preschool class, two young elementary classes, an older elementary class and a youth group. To help provide the consistency that the preschoolers require - we hope to continue to employ Laurissa Hurst, our excellent experienced educator, supplemented by youth and adult volunteers.

We want to continue to have adults from the wider congregation visit our classrooms and to provide the richness of their experience to enhance our programming.

 Finally, we hope to experiment with a new design for Sundays during the next church year.  There would be Religious Education for all ages in the first hour (times to be determined) and then Worship for all ages for the second hour.

The exact details of how this might work for our youngest children as well as providing childcare are being discussed. This approach, which has been implemented in other churches, allows children to engage in the life of the upstairs church and allows our religious education volunteers to nurture their spiritual needs.

I have had an exciting year with the children and youth of First Unitarian and will cherish the many lovely experiences it has provided. I plan to continue as an active member of the RE Committee for Children and Youth and to assist whomever volunteers as our next chair, to ensure a smooth transition. I also plan to continue my work as a lead teacher in one of the teaching teams.

Thanks to all the many volunteers who made this year so successful and to those of you considering being part of the religious education for the children of our congregation. 



By Interim DRE Karen Lee Scrivo

Thanks to the more than 30 members and friends who turned out last month for our Interim Religious Education Startup, expertly facilitated by the Rev. David Pyle, executive for the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Joseph Priestley District.

I want to personally invite you to join us as we continue this important conversation about the hopes and dreams for the future of religious education for all ages here at First Unitarian Church at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, April 19 at the Board of Trustees’ Listening Session. This will also be a chance to reflect on what you value about religious education, the challenges ahead and what’s needed to achieve the vision of a vibrant and transformative religious education program for all ages.

A vibrant Religious Education program for children, youth and adults is an important part of the mission of all growing and thriving congregations. So we need you: parents of children in the program, volunteers, mentors, teachers, committee chairs, current and former church leaders, people who know part of the history of our RE program and people who are familiar with successful religious education at other congregations.

As we continue thinking about the future of religious education here at First Unitarian, I invite you to consider some of the thoughtful questions Rev. Pyle asked those attending the Interim RE Startup:

  • Name three things that you want to celebrate about RE.
  • Name three things that are challenges for RE.
  • What resources do we have in abundance for our vision of a vibrant RE program?
  • What opportunities are unfolding that if taken advantage of could help us achieve the vision of a vibrant RE program?


What We Celebrate

One of the most frequent responses from those attending the Startup was the inspiring and consistent professional leadership provided by former Director of Religious Education Becky Brooks from 2006 to 2015.  This serves as a wonderful foundation to build upon as you look to the future.

Attendees also cited the RE programs for children, youth and adults and the commitment to multi-generational services and activities and the many passionate and talented RE teachers and volunteers who support those programs including the RE and Adult RE committees. The congregation’s wonderful children and youth as well as the current energetic Young Adult Group were also frequently mentioned.   

Specific programs mentioned – among others -- Coming of Age, Our Whole Lives, Mystery Buddies, Christmas Pageant, Popcorn Theology  (Youth Group), Home Groups (Children) Halloween party, and past Adult RE programs such as Building Your Own Theology, Rise Up many other great programs past and present. 



Recruiting enough teachers and volunteers and budget limitations counted among the most frequently cited challenges facing RE for all ages by those attending last month’s Interim Startup workshop.  Many congregations of all sizes are facing similar challenges as they adjust to changing demographics, lifestyles and availability and expectations of volunteers.

Consistent RE class attendance for children, youth and adults was also frequently mentioned.  Some cited problems with RE offerings or times and/or program philosophies for children, youth, young adults or adults.  Lack of resources and/or feedback for RE teachers was also mentioned.  Some also noted that holding Children’s RE during the services makes it hard for people to participate in worship – including being in the choir -- and volunteering in RE classes.

Integration of children, youth and adults into worship and the life of the congregation was another challenge mentioned.  Some cited an “Upstairs/Downstairs Divide” and the lack of being “One Church” while others mentioned the need for the whole congregation to embrace RE for all ages.  Some also noted the need for more community among RE families and retaining parents as members once their children graduate from the RE program.

Space and Location issues were also mentioned as ongoing challenges.  This included small and old classroom space, which limits growth as well as difficulty finding parking. Others mentioned better Internal Communications including easily finding RE-related information on the website.    


Resources in Abundance

Those attending came up with a long list of the abundant resources this congregation has to help it achieve its vision for a vibrant religious education program.  The list included:

Dedicated People including experienced and potential RE teachers and volunteers, the minister and staff engaged in RE, many clergy, youth, young adults, educated members with with leadership experience or potential or particular skill sets and personal resources.

Intangible Qualities such as renewed energy, goodwill, vision, creative minds, vision, new ideas, a congregation with many talents, gifts and varied UU experience and the congregation’s rich heritage and history.

Materials including a well-stocked library with many books and curriculum, resources created and compiled by former DRE Becky Brooks, supplies for activities and projects and access to the expertise of the Unitarian Universalist Association, Joseph Priestly District and area Clusters. 


Unfolding Opportunities

Times of transition bring with them opportunities as well as challenges.  Rev. Pyle reminded us that taking of advantage of those opportunities can help First Unitarian achieve its vision of a vibrant religious education program for all ages.

Those attending the Startup came up with a long list of such opportunities that involve the congregation, the wider UU world and the Baltimore community.  They included:

Congregation – Using the interim period as a positive time for reflecting and renewing RE leadership, Extending the successful Our Whole Lives (OWL) human sexuality program to Kindergarten and younger grades as well as Adults, Spreading the lessons learned by lay leaders participating in the Healthy Congregations workshops and Taking advantage of the reinvigorated Stewardship campaign.

UU World -- Collaborating with other area UU churches on events and Taking advantage of District Workshops to explore adult RE opportunities and develop congregational lay leadership.

Baltimore Community -- Offering OWL in the community, Making community aware of First Unitarian’s resources for spiritual exploration and education, Promoting First Unitarian’s Bicentennial celebration, and other upcoming important congregational events, Capitalizing on the area’s fast- growing young adult population,  Improving congregation’s use of Social media, Partnering with other Baltimore non-profits organizations and Opening the church more often. 

Interim RE Startup Needs You!

Tuesday, 10 March 2015 12:14 Published in RE-Connect Baltimore

We hope you’ll join us on Saturday, March 21 for the Interim RE Startup as First Unitarian Church of Baltimore looks at the past, present and future of the congregation’s religious education program for all ages. Childcare will be provided!

Vibrant RE programming for Children, Youth and Adults is an important part of the mission of all growing and thriving congregations. So we need you: parents of children in the program, volunteers, mentors, teachers, committee chairs, current and former church leaders, people who know part of the history of our RE program and people who are familiar with RE at a previous church.  

The Startup will run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.  Beforehand, there will be a light brunch from 10:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.  Please RSVP Interim DRE Karen Lee Scrivo at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it by March 19 so we have enough food and chairs for all.

What’s Involved?

The Interim RE Startup will be facilitated by Rev. David Pyle, our new Joseph Priestley District executive director.  No stranger to First Unitarian, Rev. Pyle has been working with the Board of Trustees on several important issues and will be conducting the upcoming Healthy Congregations workshops that First Unitarian leaders will be participating in.

The Interim RE workshop will focus on three areas:  History, Roles and Responsibilities and Goals and Planning.

History: Where Do We Come From?

When starting out on any journey, it’s important to remember where we’ve been and how we got to where we are now.  Looking at the history of RE for children, youth and adults, will help us understand the congregation’s rich traditions as well as some of the challenges of maintaining and growing an RE program that speaks to all ages.

As the 20th century philosopher George Santayana reminds us, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” 

Roles and Responsibilities: Whose Job is It Anyway?

Effective RE programs are a partnership that includes the religious educator, minister and RE volunteers.  Like any successful partnership, it works best when we all agree on who is responsible for what. 

The interim period is a good time to clarify this and see if the current assignments are working.  It’s important to revisit these periodically in light of our rapidly changing world. The many changes that have occurred during the 21st century have affected all of our lives and churches need to adapt.  It’s not surprising that things that worked well in the past may not be working now.

Goals and Planning: Where Are We Going?

In religious education, as in other aspects of church life, there’s generally more work to do than there is time.  So it is critical to have goals and priorities that guide our choices and let us know where to put our limited time and resources.  It’s also important that we all agree on those goals and priorities.

Once we have common goals, it’s much easier to work together to find the best path forward.  A clear sense of First Unitarian’s goals for religious education will also help in the search for a permanent religious educator.  You’ll have a much better sense of who you’re looking for and what skills and experience are most important.

So we hope you can be part of this important conversation on March 21. If you’re interested but can’t make the Startup, please let us know so we can keep you informed and involved in future discussions as we move forward.  It takes all of us to create and maintain a transformative religious education program for all.

Karen Lee Scrivo, new Interim DRE

Monday, 02 February 2015 14:40 Published in RE-Connect Baltimore

I feel blessed and honored to be joining the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore as your Interim Director of Religious Education, following my wonderful colleague and friend Becky Brooks. I look forward to getting you and serving this historic congregation.

Involved in religious education for more than 20 years, I have been a director of religious education, RE teacher, Our Whole Lives leader, youth adviser and RE Committee member. I am currently on the adjunct staff of the Joseph Priestley District of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

I have served as interim director of religious education at Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethesda, Md.; Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church in Adelphi. Md., the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia (MD) and my home congregation of Goodloe Memorial Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bowie, Md.,

A low-residency student at Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, Calif., I hope to graduate this May. In my past lives, I have been a journalist, a college professor and a Montessori teacher. I hold masters’ degrees in International Relations (George Washington University) and Communications (American University) and a bachelor’s in Journalism from Kent State University.  

My husband, Ken Shilling, and I live in Glenn Dale, Md., and have a grown son, Kelson, who is lab research assistant at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. I am a native of Pittsburgh, Pa., and grew up in Wheaton, Ill. and Lorain, Ohio.

If you haven't had a chance to meet Karen yet, please introduce yourself before or after a Sunday service. And pay attention to this spot for information on how Karen is helping us in our religious education program. Welcome, Karen!

Here are some of the ways you can get involved:


Come to church — make church a priority for your family.  Don’t forget to spend some time at Social Hour with your family after worship services.  Enjoy a snack, browse the bookstore, visit the Social Action and RE tables and chat with your fellow First Unitarianites.  


Pledge to the church — the existence of our Religious Education program is due to members and friends’ financial support.  If you already pledge to the church, consider increasing your pledge.  Even a small increase can result in incredibly positive changes for the program and the whole congregation.


Meet your child’s teachers — make a point to speak with your child’s teachers regularly.  All RE teachers are volunteer church members and friends, just like you.  Your kids say and do amazing things in class. Be sure to talk to the teachers to hear more about it!  Better yet, sit in on a class every once in a while to get the real scoop


Sign up to assist in the nursery — we provide childcare for infants and toddlers every Sunday.  This is a great way to meet parents and a totally fun way to volunteer!


Join the Usher team — Families are welcome to serve together as Sunday morning usher/greeters.  Not only is this a vital service to the congregation, but is especially good for making connections in the community.  For more information, contact Usher coordinator, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


Sign up to be a Mystery Buddy — throughout the year there are exciting intergenerational events and programs to get involved in.  Be sure to keep an eye out to find out what events are coming up.


Join in the Multi-Generational fun — From our annual Halloween party to worship, to Mystery Buddies in March, there are plenty of events that families can do together at First Unitarian.  


Volunteer to be an RE teacher — there is nearly always an opportunity to join a teaching team and there’s no better way to make an impact in the lives of our kids and youth than to guide them in the fun and fabulous world of Religious Education.  It’s easier than you think and more important than you can imagine!


Call your Director of Lifespan Religious Education — Give Becky a call or drop her an This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it if you ever have any questions or concerns about the program or about Unitarian Universalism or Religious Education in general.  Hearing directly from families helps make our program a better one for everybody!

(download the flyer)

Our minister, Rev. David Carl Olson, will offer a weekly class entitled “Meaning My Most: Relationality and Power” beginning March 26. 



Religious communities like ours are places where people build relationships. Many relationships are simple and uncomplicated, others offer deeper mutuality and intimacy, just a few may grow to contain vibrancy and power. This series of conversations and activities with our minister will reveal the ways that he makes meaning of his life, and may offer you a place to think about what most makes meaningful sense to you.


The class will run five consecutive Wednesdays, through April 23, 7-8:30 p.m. There will always be soup and bread available before the class. You are welcome to come at 6:30 to help serve and share. 


This and all religious education opportunities are offered free of charge, thanks to the generosity of the members and friends of First Unitarian Church. All are welcome. To register, contact Director of Lifespan Religious Education, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or sign up at the RE table during coffee hour.

Seven Principles Online Class

Sunday, 23 February 2014 06:07 Published in RE-Connect Baltimore

Mar. 1-Apr. 19 

We are excited to offer our first ever online class. Each week we will embark on a study of one of Unitarian Universalism’s Seven Principles. 

In our online classroom, facilitator, Becky Brooks, will post resources, discussion questions and assignments each week. Participants will engage with the materials and complete assignments on their own timeline, online. 

The bulk of our work will be centered around the book, Seven Principles In Word and Worship, edited by Ellen Brandenburg. It is not necessary to purchase the book, but it might be convenient for you to have your own copy. This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it to purchase (6 copies are available) or buy online


We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote:

1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person (Week starting Mar. 1); 

2. Justice, equity and compassion in human relations (Mar. 8); 

3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement  to spiritual growth in our congregations (Mar. 15); 

4. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning (Mar. 22);

5. The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large  (Mar. 29);

6. The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all (Apr. 5);

7. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part (Apr. 12).

To register for this class, contact Director of Religious Education,  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  or sign up at the Adult RE Table during coffee hour.

Please note! Participants must have a reliable working email address and a way of accessing the internet. If you would like to participate but are constrained by the technological requirements, contact  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  to see if alternate arrangements might be made. 

Common Conversations, Sunday Feb. 23

Tuesday, 18 February 2014 18:35 Published in RE-Connect Baltimore

This Sunday, Feb. 23, there will be an opportunity to share in our "Common Conversation" about this month's theme: forgiveness. Director of Lifespan Religious Education, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , will facilitate a small group discussion before church (9:30 am) in the first floor classrooms. Can't be with us? Check out the guide online or catch up with our 5 Things video series. This is a great chance to drop in and enjoy a cup of coffee and fellowship with other First U folks. Hope to see you there! Questions? Contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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