¿Que pasa? Faith Development Update

I’m three months into my ministry at UUCA and I’m grateful for the warm welcome and support I have received. My transition from living near the ocean to living in the mountains has been exhilarating as I experience the fall colors, bear sightings (three so far!) and awe-inspiring hikes in the mountains around Asheville.

My work with you so far has been challenging and rewarding as I identify priorities in each of my areas of responsibility: pastoral care, faith development and worship. Last month I provided an update on pastoral care. This month I will focus on faith development which includes religious education for children and youth as well as adult programming. But first, an exploration of what faith development is about. I look to the ideas of theologian John Westerhoff summarizing his theory of “how faith happens”[1]. He explains that faith is initially “caught,” like a cold, as children imitate their parents and the adults in church. Children learn: This is what we do. As children grow older, religion is “taught.” Children learn about history, traditions, rituals and other aspects of their faith and the community they are a part of. It is a time of belonging to a group. Children learn: This is what we believe and do.  Later, in adolescence questioning happens, faith is “sought.” It is a time of inquisitiveness and curiosity. Adolescents ask: Is this what I believe? So, faith is first caught, then taught, then sought and, in early adulthood…. faith is “bought.” After much searching and questioning the individual states: This is what I believe. And, throughout our lives that faith is “wrought” as we continue to learn, question and deepen our understanding of what gives meaning to our lives.

Our religious education programs are based on this understanding of faith development. This year K-3rd grades are using stories to explore UU values and sources using wondering questions to engage more deeply with the stories and share their insights in a welcoming space. The activity centers in the rooms around the RE Commons are set up to provide activities that engage multiple learning styles and allow further engagement with the story and their peers. Older elementary youth are using UUA curricula to explore topics such as what it means to be a covenanted community and to develop a greater understanding of right and wrong by answering questions such as, “Why do bad things happen?” or “Is evil or goodness within us?”

Older youth are exploring world religions, learning about healthy sexuality, and articulating their personal credos. High school youth (10-12 grade) are exploring how to bridge from religious education classes to congregational life as they prepare for college or the workforce once they graduate from high school. Whew! There is so much happening at UUCA beyond the faith formation that occurs during worship on Sunday mornings. Faith is being caught, taught and wrought as our youth engage in the programming facilitated by 80 committed volunteers and our RE Coordinators Kim Collins and Jen Johnson. We are grateful for their sharing of their time and talent with our children and youth!

 And adults are also engaging in faith formation as they participate in small group ministry through covenant groups, spiritual deepening groups such as the Buddhist Fellowship and CUUPS (Covenant of UU Pagans) and social justice outreach.  Faith formation is also happening during The Wednesday Thing as volunteers and staff facilitate programs that support the individual search for meaning in the context of a supportive spiritual community. For example, during the last two multigenerational Pageant & Puppetry programs it was uplifting and fun to witness adults and children working together creating posters and a paper mâché unicorn for our holiday pageant. We also experienced the power of story when Bonnie Habel Stone launched the Wednesday Thing Odyssey. This program invites members of the congregation to know each other in greater depth. Too often we only learn about people’s stories at their memorial services. Our goal is to create opportunities to celebrate each other’s lives now. Starting in January there will be a monthly Odyssey speaker. I encourage you to join us!

Another important part of faith development at UUCA has been offering more whole- church services. Religious educator, Kim Sweeney, has written an essay about the importance of families worshipping together.[2]  She advocates for intentional family ministry that welcomes the whole congregation to worship together on Sunday morning and also offers religious education programs. I like the both/and possibility of her proposal: whole-church worship some Sundays and age-appropriate religious education programs other Sundays. It is important for children to attend service with the congregation and participate in the rituals, the songs and the experiences of the gathered community. My goal in implementing the faith development aspect of my portfolio is to co-create with you, the congregation, opportunities for faith to be caught, taught, and wrought in community.  I am available if you have ideas or feedback about our programs. My office hours are Monday, 9:30am-noon and Tuesday-Thursday, 9:30am-2:30pm. Appointments are preferred because I am also at meetings or doing pastoral visits during those times. See you at UUCA!

[1] Meadville Lombard poster: Making Faith Happen by Joy Berry, FAHS Collaborative; additional research https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/f738/75aa0ffc001ebc887fda6e1e19faed080438.pdf

[2] “The Death of Sunday School and the Future of Faith Formation,” Kim Sweeney, p 7-15

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