Apr. 16, 2018.
We are in the midst of our Annual Giving pledge campaign, and we all know that to achieve the beloved community our congregation desires, money does matter. But so does the commitment of time and talent that a thriving Religious Exploration program requires. And we do have a thriving RE program. Just last Sunday, more than 200 children and youth, and more than 60 adults, participated in one of our RE programs (this includes those adventuring in DC with the Coming of Age 7th grade classes.) In fact, we have so many students attending RE that we had to move classes to the Chapel and the Library because rooms 1 and 2 are too small.
But sustaining a program like this requires a sizable commitment from the adults of this congregation. Running our full slate of classes requires a minimum of 106 teachers each year because we group them on teaching teams that function more like small-group ministries than school classrooms. Every RE class has four teachers plus a liaison who provides support and guidance. Teachers write and follow a covenant among themselves and collaborate to establish the teaching schedule to ensure all sessions are covered, and that everyone enjoys many “free” Sundays to attend worship services.
Every class also has a covenant, performs a chalice ritual and provides check-in time with students to share important events from their week. While our classes have content and activities that teach important concepts, a main goal of the RE program is to build relationships – among children, teachers, parents and families. In fact, some teams remain together teaching the same class for years because of the friendships, camaraderie and respect they develop for one another and for their students. Many of those most dear to me in this congregation are people I first met on an RE teaching team. I also receive much joy watching those children I have taught in the past mature into fine young adults in our community.
Additionally, teaching RE gives adults a place to deepen their own spirituality and a space to model UU values in their interactions with others. In doing so, they guide our children toward a fuller understanding of community. A few weeks ago, I got to witness a perfect example of this process when I asked for help from our 6th graders to solve a space problem: We currently have 18 1st graders participating in Our Whole Lives sexuality education, and room 1 was too small for them. I appealed to the 6th graders across the hall in the combined rooms 3-4 if they would be willing to give the little ones that room and relocate their class to the Library in the basement of the Administration Building. It has limited natural light, smells musty, has two posts obstructing the open area, and has a perimeter lined with bookshelves piled high with archived files, books and stray items.
In keeping with our Unitarian Universalist 5th Principle, I did not force the 6th graders to move. Rather, I made it clear that the choice belonged to the students themselves. Their teachers took a significant portion of one class session to take the 6th graders to the Library and lead them in a thorough discussion of the pros and cons of the move, followed by a vote. Our 6th graders voted 8:3 to relinquish their classroom for the benefit of the 1st graders. While I am proud that the students decided to make a sacrifice to help out the younger children, I am even more proud of their teachers who had the patience and commitment to do the process properly. Democratic processes are lengthy, and often messy. But they are essential for fairness and to affirm that every person is important, and everyone has a voice that deserves to be heard.
Every Sunday in a myriad of ways, our RE teachers model our UU values. This is how, over years, we grow caring, responsible and committed youth – the next generation of UU leaders. This is important work, this is a ministry. And I hope it is one that you will be called to join, because teaching RE matters.