So Many Ways to Show Up for Faith Development

As we move toward the end of the regular church year, the calendar really fills up. We wanted to give you a short list of the special events coming up in RE so you can save the dates! You are invited to show up, share, support and sustain the ministry of faith development at UUCA for any and all of the following:

Gather for our final All Ages Worship, celebrating Earth Day, this Sunday 4/23

Join in witnessing a rite of passage: our graduating seniors’ Bridging ceremony on 5/14

Celebrate our Coming of Age students in a special worship service sharing their credos on 5/21
 
Plan for and recruit leaders (especially children and youth to share their skills!)
for Mission: Makers, our Summer Sundays programming
 
Create the teams of helpers and teachers needed for Fall faith development offerings:

9:15 All Ages RE, 11:15 Spirit Play Storytellers/Centers, and 11:15 4th-12th grade classes

Join in considering how we can reduce and limit our religious education offerings so that there is a better match between what is offered and what the congregation can support: look for an opportunity to share in that conversation

Joy Berry, Director of Lifespan Religious Education

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You Are Invited! RE Celebration Service: Sunday February 19

By now I hope everyone knows that you are invited to a very special service this Sunday. Our children, youth, and teachers will be sharing and showing the work and learning they do in religious education classes.

Come and see what is happening in faith development here in our congregation! Hear how this faith community is changing lives, building UU identity, supporting families in teaching their children, and helping to strengthen the voices of our youngest UUs, to be the social justice and equality advocates of the future.

After each service, please plan to come downstairs, for our first ever RE Open House. The RE Council, church leaders, and RE staff will show you around our amazing spaces and bring you into the story of our innovative, exciting RE program. Don’t miss the chalkboard walls where our children/youth’s answers to some important questions on display: What is CHURCH For?  What is the best thing about this church?

One thing to share that surprised and inspired me: When asked, “What would you change about church?” children had one answer that was by far the most popular: MORE TIME. We have created a program here that children are excited to attend, and bug their parents to take them to church–and they leave wishing they had been able to spend more time there each Sunday.  You can see the word cloud created from these answers above. The bigger the word, the more times that word (or phrase, in the case of “more time”) appeared. As you can see, MORE, also appears alone–because so many children also wanted more art. more stories, more singing, more opportunities to be with their family upstairs. In a time when we hear how few families attend church regularly, it’s a blessing to know that UUCA has created a faith development program that leaves our youngest wanting MORE.

I hope you want to see and hear more too, about what we are ding and how we are doing it–and ways you can get involved, as a learner or a leader, in our classes and activities. Been thinking of taking up yoga? Wishing you had more singing in your life but can’t make Thursday night choir rehearsal? Want to have a chance to do art, or to have a contemplative hour with kids and adults (yes, it’s possible!) on Sunday? Make sure you attend this Sunday’s service and join us downstairs afterward, to learn more.

Not able to attend? Check out this slideshow, showing some our projects and activities this year! And please consider joining us in RE soon–as a participant or a leader in Yoga, Hymn Sing, Contemplation, social justice activities, building Little Free Libraries, gardening, MakerSpace Summer program, storytelling, OWL for adults, and so much MORE.

Joy Berry, Director of Religious Education

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Growing Together in Faith, and a Special RE Sunday, Coming Soon: Joy Berry, DLRE

Almost two years ago, I asked a question, using a traditional Masai greeting: How Are the Children? I described how pleased I was that the UUCA board wanted to “build access” to the whole church community. They were open to my invitation to visit the RE classes and talk to the kids and youth, hearing firsthand how it was with our children. Those conversations were focused on three questions:

What do you love about your church?
What would you like to do more of in church?
What could you imagine doing differently at church?

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Favorite thing ever at church? “My parents were downstairs with me.”

The conversations that arose from that “appreciative inquiry” were surprising, and wonderful. And they stuck with me. Our kids were so thoughtful, so engaged, so creative. And their ideas were excellent. I made a promise to them that day that I would carry their ideas with me, and do my best to bring at least some of them come to life. Today I am excited to report several successes in that effort.

The younger kids wanted more stories, more singing, and more time in worship! And just one more little thing: to have adults join us more downstairs, and for kids to be upstairs with them more. This inspired me. I told them I would do my very best to help make that change, but that I needed their patience. It’s wonderful to say now that we have helped these wishes come true, in a couple of meaningful ways: each Sunday, we now have time in worship together as a community of all ages, as well as the opportunity for adults to take part in RE classes!

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We began a practice of being together for a short time at the beginning of each service, the part called Time for All Ages–the first 15-20 minutes. The majority of feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, although the change has been challenging for some. Especially for those who have gotten used to church without them–understandably so, in this age when fewer young families and their children are joining churches than ever before in our lifetimes.

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And yet, our 3rd Principle calls us to find a way to be together in this sacred time and space. How might we be transformed as a church by this change–now, and in the future?
It’s an opportunity to share our beloved faith with our young people, and an essential part of their faith formation as UUs. With every-Sunday TFAAs, our children get more stories, the number one request in their feedback to the board. But so do the congregation’s adults, including RE teachers, who have never been able to be in worship on a regular basis when teaching! Families, too, report enjoying the special time together in the sanctuary. It’s a beautiful, sacred space and our children and youth want and need to be invited whole-heartedly into the experience of worship: after all, it’s what we mostly do as adult UUs.

 

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Yoga for All Ages at 9:15 has been VERY popular!

Another success has been inviting adults to join in religious education for all ages at 9:15, after TFAA. We have 41 adults who have registered: just under half the total population of students at the early service. In yoga, hymnsing, social justice, and act-it-out sessions, as well as OWL for parents and a multigen class in “Miracles” from the UU perspective, we’ve made real strides in growing our capacity for faith development as shared work–not just for kids! Our Fourth Principle calls us to continue learning and growing in faith, throughout our lives.

I’m excited to share one more new opportunity for integrated worship and faith development of the congregation here at UUCA.

Mark your calendars for Feb 19th: our kids will plan and lead their own special worship service, coming up on Feb 19th, called Growing In Faith.

It will be a special time for our all ages and children/youth classes to show, tell, sing, and share what they have been up to this year in our RE program. We’ll see PreK kids lighting the chalice, and bear witness to the testimonials and talent of Spirit Play kids, the yoga class, drama, and hymnsing . You’ll hear songs and music, reports and snapshots,chosen by 4th-7th graders to bring you into their experience of growing in this faith. Like the CoA and Youth Worship service, seeing the work and creativity of our younger kids, co-led in this special program by senior high youth, should be a highlight of this year’s worship services.

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As UUs, it’s truly a delight to bring our young people into the soul and center of our life as a congregation and to see them growing in faith, right along with us, learning with and from the congregation–and sometimes, having a chance to help adults learn something about this faith, too.  I hope they’ll see you there!

Standing on the Side of Love: Sidewalk Edition

img_5047“Open minds, loving hearts, and helping hands.” Our youngest children learn this simple statement of faith, their first introduction to the idea of a shared Unitarian Universalist identity. As often as possible in our faith development activities, we go beyond thinking and feeling to embody the work that only our “helping hands” can accomplish.

UUs have a long legacy of being called beyond their church walls, to stand on the side of love where injustice occurs. From the Call to Selma, to the UUSC’s long history of work, to Standing Rock, UUs have consistently shown up to support, defend and advocate for the rights of the most vulnerable.img_5064Last Sunday, our children and youth took part in a kind of public witness: writing messages of love, inclusion, advocacy, and solidarity on the sidewalks near our church.

Remember, in times of challenge and uncertainty, our kids need to know that they are safe. But that isn’t enough. They also need to be assured that we can help make sure others are safe too. As UUs, we are committed to act on our faith values: speaking out and standing up for those who are most in need of support…whether in our church, in our community, or beyond.

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None of us are free until all of us are free.

We have many children, youth, and families at UUCA who are members of marginalized groups. They are feeling extra fearful and anxious right now as reports of bullying (and worse) come in from across America. Even more of our kids know and love someone who claims such an identity; nearly all of our kids are feeling the general anxiety, sadness, confusion, and frustration in the atmosphere.
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So we owe it to them to work on this, now. What better place than at church? That’s why we made space on Sunday to allow young people to process, share, and take action. How? We had a short chat with K-3rd graders, before they moved into their regular work, and then they joined the sidewalk chalk activity at the end of class. 4th-12th grade took a break from their regular lesson plans, and instead used this resource from the UUA.
(I encourage families to continue the post-election conversation using this guide. It can help you prepare yourself for that conversation, and help youth–to both name their hopes and fears, and be assured that we are committed as a faith to working for justice and equality. A sample suggestion: talking with your kids and grandkids about how your faith values give you moral courage and hope now, and discussing the history of how UUs have shown up to stand on the side of love as an expression of our faith.)

img_5038After having a chance to share and engage using the resources above, kids and youth went out to chalk our sidewalk with messages of love, unity, diversity, and solidarity meant to let those in our neighborhood know who we are and what we stand for as a congregation. Check out the pics in this article (and the full slideshow, below) to see what our UU kids are learning  (and teaching!) about our UU values. 

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Want to get involved? Perhaps you’d like to leave some “neighborhood love notes” of your own at UUCA this Sunday, or take on this activity as a family project!
Consider sharing such positive messages in your own neighborhood or in public places. It’s a great way to practice your faith as a family. Just pick up a box of sidewalk chalk, gather some quotes that inspire you, and start chalking those sidewalks.You can share your pictures and words to the neighborhood love notes facebook group. You can also see examples of many church, individual, and community sidewalk projects there (including our own!)
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This is a great way to show our kids (in an age-appropriate, fun, embodied way!) how we stand on the side of love, show up in the face of injustice. I look forward to hearing how you and your kids and youth are living our faith values to create a more inclusive community for all.
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Want to go further? You may wish to visit STANDING ON THE SIDE OF LOVE, aimed at helping UUs mobilize support in their communities for marginalized groups.It offers photos and videos, extensive resources for organizers, social networking tools, inspirational stories, and guidelines with best practices.

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DLRE Joy Berry: Snapshots From a Community of Faith on Ingathering Sunday

IMG_4393 (1).PNGHow does a person build deep faith identity?  By being welcomed into the circle, invited to share and know deeply the rhythms, rituals, and sacred spaces of their religious community. This kind of foundational faith development is taught not in a class but by, and throughout, the whole congregation.

Churches often refer to the first Sunday back together again from Summer as “Ingathering”. It’s a special word and a special occasion, a returning of the tribe from all over to the work and fun and worship and learning and music we do in faith community. We say we are a gathered people, and so it was last Sunday as we began putting into practice some of the goals and dreams that arose from our church-wide Visioning for the Future sessions in the Spring. Because a picture really is worth a thousand words, I’m delighted to share snapshots of the ways we came together in worship, classes, and activities at our Ingathering on 9/11.

Gathering in Time For All Ages (TFAA) at the beginning of every service is a change for us this year. It arose from a shared vision of more time together as a family and a congregation, hopes lifted up in the congregational visioning process this Spring. Worship literally means “what we give worth to”: by making room for all ages in our worship service, we demonstrate that we value the experience of shared worship as beneficial to everyone involved. As we begin to consistently share this sacred time and place, in our sanctuary, we tell our kids and families and RE teachers that they too are part of the whole congregation and that there is meaning and learning happening there that’s too important to miss.

TFAA is different qualitatively, too.  The “wordy bits” of announcements and greeting of visitors and the worship associate’s sharing have been moved out of the first fifteen minutes, now taking place after the RE community leaves for classes and activities. This creates space, in those brief moments we share each Sunday with our children and youth and teachers, for elements that get straight to the heart of  who we are: opening words and chalice lighting (now by a child or youth each Sunday!), a story for all ages or important ritual like teacher covenanting or child dedication, a hymn picked to be one we think accessible to everyone, and a ceremonial sharing of the congregational chalice to the RE and classroom chalices.

And those floor cushions! We wanted to make space for our whole community and for everyone to be comfortable. We also wanted to make a strong visual statement to newcomers about our commitment to making worship welcoming to families and children. The cushions have been well-received, giving young people a great view of what’s happening in worship. We also shared an insert in the order of service sharing our goals and suggestions for people of all ages, to help make this transition a good one. That will become a standard part of the literature available in the pews, as we go forward.

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DLRE Joy Berry: Making More Time for All Ages

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We all joined hands to learn about covenants this Spring. Feeling deeply included in this church is important for people of all ages.

This September, we begin a change in the way we worship together. As Rev. Mark Ward announced in his blog a few weeks ago, we will now begin each Sunday together as a faith community, for the first part of worship. Children and youth, as well as teachers, will now be with the rest of the congregation for the beginning of each worship service. This means they will be present for the chalice lighting (recruiting now for older chalice lighters: 8 and up), a hymn, a story or other element with layered meaning for adults and children alike, and a ceremonial leave taking, including passing the flame from the chalice. Then the RE community will go down for multigenerational classes and activities (at 9:15) and regular, age-separated classes at 11:15.

We believe this special time together, specially constructed to maximize involvement and spiritual development in children, will have many positive effects on the whole community. We also recognize that such a change can be hard to imagine, amd may present challenges for some. Change can feel hard! We will all be learning together how to be together, leaning in to our covenant and growing our sense of who we are, what we are called to do, and how we are, together!

It is in this awareness that I share the following document with you all, to help ease the transition. In it, you will find suggestions for parents and families, children, and others in the congregation, to support and enhance this time together.

We look forward to being “all together now” this Fall!

 

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Joy Berry: On Parenting in Troubled Times

We love to think of childhood as a magical kingdom where nobody dies, as Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote. The reality, as we know, is that many of our own childhoods were fractured and imperfect. And we know, too, that there are many children today–in our community and beyond–whose childhoods have rarely, or never, been so safe or pleasant.

Like many of you, I have struggled in the last few weeks and the last year.  Violence and injustice have become a presence even to my kids, who have been privileged (notice I don’t say blessed) to grow up safe, relatively whole, and healthy.  I became a mother as a teenager, and considered it my responsibility to not only protect my first child from harm, but to also protect him from knowing about the harm and damage in the wider world.

In the 22 years since then, my view of my responsibility as a parent has shifted, in tandem with my growing sense of what I was meant to do and be. As I became a more spiritually mature person, I began to see that protecting my children completely from the heartbreak of the world is no longer a primary goal.  Of course I am focused on making sure my children’s experience of the world is developmentally appropriate. I’m picky about what they see or play on screens, and I still do my best to reduce the risk of trauma and harm in their lives.  But it’s no longer the words of Edna St. Vincent Millay, but the Rev. Fred Rogers, I now lift up as my guiding parenting principle.

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We kid ourselves when we believe that our children, as they grow, don’t hear, see, and know about scary things happening. None of us can keep our four year old from seeing the car wreck as we drive by with no detour possible. None of us can erase the knowledge of the death of someone they love at 6 or 7. And none of us can completely insulate them at 8 or 10 from the news, these days so full of death, guns, and hate. All we can do is to attempt to build resilience, and to make sure they know that helpers are always on their way–to protect, to heal, to repair, to serve. And help them believe that they too, as they grow, are learning how to become a helper.

I had just begun my career as a professional religious educator and was in my home church working with a group of parents and children (including my own) when I received the call that my youngest brother and his partner had been murdered. I was 16 years into my mothering career, and I knew better than to think I could hide what was about to happen in our family. My children saw me grieve and rage. I had to make phone calls to the DA and the police and the news while they were in the car with me at times.There were funerals. Children left without parents. Shock and blame and anger and deep sorrow in every direction. I did the best I could to shield them from gruesome details or my worst reactions, but it wasn’t really possible, and I felt so sorry for that.

Two years later it became even harder to buffer them from painful reality. A member of my immediate family shot and killed his partner in a terrible moment catalyzed by extreme intoxication, but she was gone just the same, and he had pulled the trigger. My parents staggered under the weight of a second violent tragedy, and we all witnessed the anger and blame and shock of an entire community, this time pointed at our family, even as we too grieved her death and tried to come to grips with who we were, what had gone wrong, and so much loss. Then, too, my children saw and heard much more of this than I would have liked. And there was no way to protect them from it.

But in this second, unpreventable experience of exposure to violence and traumatic events, I began to have a different perspective on my responsibility to them, with respect to how I could best “protect and serve” them as a parent. I began to see that for my two younger kids especially, and for millions of others, having a firewall between them and the realities of the world is not an option. When your child’s family, neighborhood, larger community, or the world is beset by violence, it is that world they must find their way in, heartbreak and all.

I don’t normally speak of these very personal things in my professional life. But they came up for me in the last several weeks as I prepared to be with your children, and my own, in religious education activities and especially circle time on Sunday mornings. That special time when we gather and share is often the place where the difficult thoughts and fears they have been carrying get unshouldered and held in sacred space.  This Summer our very theme, Mission: Makers!, has called us to think and talk about how we could work to make change and a positive impact in the world. Especially, they’ve been sharing about big problems they are aware of, and brainstorming the kinds of inventions and changes that could help solve those problems.

Often the problems they mention include things they have seen or heard that they are clearly still needing to process. Sometimes they want to talk about what is on the news. I hold space for that, but guide them away from recounting a litany of scary details by telling them, basically, what Mr. Rogers shared above. That no matter what happens, no matter what scary or troubling thing occurs, help–and helpers–are on the way. We talk about who in our community they know as a helper. We talk about how those people are makers, too, because they help make things better. And then I bring them back to our work at hand, reminding them that THEY are makers, and they can help the world too, even right now. And we go on to discuss our project for the day, and how our mission as UUs calls us to keep striving to do whatever we can to make small changes that add to the net good in the world.

But I wanted to make sure I share with you my complicated, evolving take on what they need most from us right now, in such complicated times. Parents know best how to guide their children during traumatic events. Even for grown-ups, a constant stream of adult-focused news certainly isn’t good for any of us, so I encourage everyone to take in the information they need to be informed, but be sensitive to the need to have balance in their exposure to the news, especially graphic images. But please don’t go so far as to assume you will harm your school-aged child by discussing racism or the realities unfolding on our streets today, disturbing as they are. Your family values can still serve as the container that holds such conversations, and I hope you will remind your kids that there is much good in the world, and it’s that truth that we seek to increase.

But remember that only some of our kids get to be blissfully ignorant of the struggles and truths we often seek to keep from our own. And I wonder: if we want them to change the world, in reflection of our principles that hold up respect for all beings and the democratic process and equality for all people…do we do them any favors by pretending everything is fine? And if we hope they aren’t harmed by the reality we can’t change, doesn’t it help build resilience in them to see us commit ourselves to making things better, more just, more peaceful?

I look forward to talking more with you about how you are managing your children’s and grandchildren’s emotional and spiritual needs right now. And I appreciate the chance to share a bit more deeply about my own experience as a parent, and how it has changed over the years. Know that we are all holding each other in this challenging time, doing the very best we can. Take care of yourselves, and your kids–and stay open to having the difficult conversations that will best help build our children’s confidence, resilience and determination to create the world we dream about, for all children.