Often when I sit down to write my column for the Heirloom I pull up previous years’ columns for that month to see what was going through my head a year or two years or even more years ago.
Back in 2016, my column was titled “Taking the ‘School’ Out of Sunday School.”. You’ll find it reprinted below.
This past week I (remotely) attended a workshop offered by the CENTER Institute for Excellence in Ministry titled “Embracing Family Ministry.” Much of the workshop was about how our old ways no longer fit our current culture. What is different about family life today and how do we minister to families in ways that are life affirming and congruent with our call to help heal the world? You’ll be hearing more about some of these ideas in months to come.
If you are an adult in a household with children, please consider signing up for our new parent support group led by me entitled “Tending the Flame: The Art of Unitarian Universalist Parenting.” This group will explore the book by the same name authored by Michelle Richards and will meet the fourth Monday of each month beginning on February 26th. Watch for more information coming soon.
Finally, I’d like to alert everyone that I will be on sabbatical at the end of 2018, beginning on August 1st. This will be a time for me to rest, explore new ideas, and renew my spirit. As the time grows close you’ll get more information about what this means both for me and for Heritage.
Taking the “School” Out of Sunday School
Here at Heritage we have an enduring tradition of dedicated, adults volunteering their time to teach our children and youth about the basics of our Unitarian Universalist faith. We teach them about our Principles and the Sources of our faith. We tell them multicultural stories to illustrate how our UU values are reflected in other religions. We celebrate the lives of great women and men, Universalist, Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist, who contributed to our faith in the past, and also talk about those who are still with us today, working for justice.
But if you ask an HUUC child or youth what they learned in their class on any given Sunday you rarely, if ever, hear of any of these pertinent topics. Instead they might tell you about baking pretzels, or about playing the penguin game, or about decorating reusable grocery bags to help save the earth.
Over the last 10 years or so, RE professionals have worked hard to incorporate art, music, full-body activities and even cooking into our UU lesson plans. Not surprising, these are the things that our kids remember, and love, about Sunday mornings. Still, some of our children complain that RE is too much like school, and why should they have to go to yet another hour of school on Sundays?
Maybe they have a point. Maybe using the “school” model of sharing our faith with our children is outdated, and some might even say ineffective. But what do you do instead?
Some of our UU congregations are already taking RE to the next level — devising new programs featuring self-selected activities that emphasize “doing” as being the most important aspect of learning. These churches abandon the typical, age-separated classrooms in favor of innovative and flexible learning spaces that might include an art room, a meditation room, a music room or an outdoor garden. These spaces are intentionally designed for all ages (yes, including adults!) and often offer activities for people outside the church membership as well. You can learn about one such program at the UU Congregation of Asheville, NC in this blog post by their DRE, Joy Berry.
Is this the future of Unitarian Universalist religious education? You might remember that our summer programs at Heritage are already designed around “doing” rather than sitting and listening, with a healthy dose of fun and pop culture built in. Hogwarts School of UU Wisdom and Wizardry from two years ago, and this past summer’s Super Silly Science Summer were both tremendously popular with both children and their adult leaders. We can promise the same with our program for summer of 2016, though we’re keeping our theme a mystery for now!
Could we do Hogwarts as a year-round program? Could we have an organic garden learning space for children and adults on our grounds? Or an art room? Or a “maker” space? And what about worship? Could we do worship for all ages every Sunday and offer religious education for EVERYONE at a different time?
Am I dreaming? Perhaps. But as the song goes “You gotta have a dream, if you don’t have a dream; how’re you gonna have a dream come true?”
The future will be wonderful at Heritage. Won’t you join us?