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.
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.