“The great end in religious instruction is not to stamp our minds upon the young, but to stir up their own … Not to give them a definite amount of knowledge, but to inspire a fervent love of truth.”
These words, written in 1837 by William Ellery Channing, one of the most influential ministers in the history of Unitarian Universalism, continue to resonate strongly in the approach to Religious Exploration (RE) at UUCF. Rather than indoctrinating students, the RE curricula invite children on a mission of self-discovery. Deeper understanding of the UU principles root within them over the years as children and youth learn how to live and interact in a loving community.
UUCF does this by providing curricula and experiences of substance and significance to children and youth in the congregation. The Tapestry of Faith curricula for our first- through fifth-grade students strongly focus on developing compassion for others, a commitment to fairness and equity and a great respect for nature and the interconnectedness of all creation. Additionally, the lessons promote a spiritual connection to wonder and awe, as well as an awareness of the sacred within ourselves and one another. Older elementary students and youth build on this foundation in meaningful classes like Inclusive Virginia History, where they learn more about the experiences of marginalized people; Heeding the Call, which emphasizes turning values into action for social justice; and Coming of Age, where they explore the history and theology of Unitarian Universalism and build their own moral compasses to guide their life choices. And throughout all the ages, UUCF offers Our Whole Lives (OWL), the comprehensive human sexuality courses that are grounded in care and respect for oneself and one another.
In addition to classes, the RE program provides learning opportunities during Special RE and Youth Group. This year, children and youth have supported the monthly food drives, made hygiene kits for unhoused individuals, written letters to their state legislators to promote reproductive justice and created signs and place mats welcoming our Hypothermia Shelter guests. We also enrich our children and youth by taking learning off the campus. This year fifth- and sixth-grade students visited the National Museum of African American History & Culture, our families with young children will visit Rosie’s Farm Sanctuary in April (our Share the Plate recipient for that month) and the seventh and eighth graders will head to Boston in May to learn more about the origins of Unitarian Universalism.
This dynamic RE program is attracting families to the congregation, and resources are needed to sustain it. Since September, 25 new children have enrolled in RE and eight more who had participated before the pandemic have returned. This increasing enrollment will require an expansion of RE classes next year. We are in a growth period, but that growth will be hampered without resources, both financial and human. This spring, UUCF begins the pledge drive and the teacher recruitment drive for the next program year. Religious Exploration programming costs money, and that money comes from annual pledges to the operating fund. This year, we have several three-person teaching teams instead of four-person teams, which has placed an unfair burden on those who agreed to teach. We cannot expand RE classes to meet the growing need without volunteers to teach. As you make your 2023 plans, please consider increasing your pledge to support the transformative work of the congregation. Also, please consider volunteering time to teach RE next year. If you value UUCF’s work to nurture children and youth, please get involved. It takes all of us together to sustain this faith tradition for future generations.
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