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Quotes to Live By: Will our Faith Have Children?

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“[We] want to ensure that we offer a religious home so relevant, meaningful, and sustaining that our children will choose to remain Unitarian Universalists throughout their lives.” ~Judith Frediani, former director, Lifespan Faith Development for the UUA~

 Growing Life-long UUs

Full Circle: Fifteen Ways to Grow Lifelong UUs, written by well-known religious educator Kate Tweedie Erslev (Covey), is based on surveys and interviews with 82 lifelong Unitarian Universalists.  As part of our ongoing conversation about excellent programming for all ages, I thought I’d share the fifteen suggestions Kate made in her book.  If you’d like to borrow the book, there are several copies in the RE Office and I’d be happy to let you read through one of them.

  1. Embrace our UU identity.  “Neglecting to foster a UU identity is similar to leaving the meaning of the Bible to the fundamentalists.  It is time to clarify who we are.  When it comes to religious education, this means creating lifelong learners, responsible decision-makers, and agents of transformation in the world who recognize the power of being in UU community.”  
  2. Recognize religious education as an important portal to institutional involvement.  Many new families come to Unitarian Universalism to find religious education for their children.  Teaching RE classes is the door through which the parents become involved in the church.  Kate also says, however, that many young adults remember their first leadership role in their churches as being a leader in RE – an officer in YRUU, a summer teacher of younger children, teaching RE classes when they first come back to church as adults. 
  3. Share the value of attending regularly (at least three times a month).  Lifelong UUs almost universally report that going to church every Sunday was a family expectation, a ritual that they may have fought at times but which helped them feel part of the church community. 
  4. Ritualize holiday events and celebratory activities.  Many lifelong UUs cite holidays and celebrations among their favorite memories.  Easter egg hunts, Halloween parties, Christmas trees, holiday pageants, weddings and memorial services – as religious educator Maria Harris famously said “the church IS the curriculum”. 
  5. Prepare all for the negative side of community.   In any community there are divisions, controversies, and discomfort.  If we prepare our children (and ourselves) for the inevitable conflicts of building community, we are better able to handle them when they come up. 
  6. Provide background for teachers in everything we do.  This honors our commitment to lifelong UUs who are becoming re-involved as adults, as well as supporting our new UUs who are often teaching about a faith they are just beginning to understand themselves. 
  7. Provide parent resources.  Lifelong UUs describe a family heritage that teaches UU-ism at home – so we need to support our parents in teaching the faith at home as well as at church. 
  8. Offer opportunities for all ages to live out our UU values. Social justice drives our faith.  Good church programming offers opportunities for everyone to learn and internalize this important motivator, as well as helping us remember that when we stand up for the right thing, we have the whole church and denomination standing with us. 
  9. Offer engaging programs for kindergarten through sixth grade.  Lifelong UUs report memories of nurturing teachers, engaging craft projects, dropping money into collection boxes, singing in children’s choir, and challenging questions – a blend of skilled, caring teachers and programs that balance fun (which keeps children coming back) and teachable moments (which create mature religious individuals). 
  10. Take every opportunity for ministers and lay leaders to mentor children and teens.  “If we hope to make our young people’s faith a lifelong commitment, then we must make sure that our leaders have time to notice and appreciate our youth.  Our society often treats youth as anonymous.  Yet the responses of lifelong UUs bear witness to the power of having one’s emerging talents recognized.” 
  11. Sweep teens into immersion experiences. Rallies, conferences, camps, service trips – these are the events that create lifelong bonds.  People of all ages need them, but teens are developmentally poised to get the most “lift” out of these buoyant experiences. 
  12. Bolster and protect youth groups.  Kate says, “The most stunning result of the survey was the number of people who mentioned their youth groups as positive experiences … A youth group requires balanced, mature, creative and flexible leadership, governance, and guidelines to protect the youth group experience for our teens.  Maintaining a healthy youth group under healthy advisors requires a commitment to provide financial and leadership resources.  However, the lasting commitment to our faith that youth groups can impart to young people is worth the investment.” 
  13. Connect with our young adults.  Programming for young adults is good (and needed).  But we could start simply – a holiday homecoming reception for returning college students, an invitation to read or speak at a worship service. 
  14. Sing together.  Support great music programs and encourage them to reach out to all ages – children’s choirs, youth music groups, hospice choirs.  Music connects often overly-intellectual UUs with transcendent feelings. 
  15. Celebrate founders, lifers, and heritage.  Write the congregational history, keep the archives current, tell the founders’ story regularly, have a founders’ day celebration, put up the historical plaques, keep current and historical photo albums in a place people can see them.  In short, CELEBRATE!

Some of these suggestions are things we are already doing. Others are ideas that build upon the foundation this church has laid in its good work to this point. I’m looking forward to working together to build family ministry that grows and supports lifelong Unitarian Universalists.

By Kathy E. Smith, Director of Family Ministry