Last Saturday morning I arrived at the UUCF office to help a few RE teachers load the used books donated by congregants into vehicles to drive them to the drop sites for the organization we are supporting. We had expected maybe 500 books to be donated; there were several times more than that. Boxes and bags of books covered the office floor, almost to the door. They covered desk tops and fully blocked the entry into my office. We filled three vehicles and had to leave a car’s worth of books behind still stacked on the tables in the Library. The response of the congregation to this RE class project addressing illiteracy was heartwarming, but this project would never have occurred if not for the interest, passion and commitment of the RE teachers. This congregation is truly blessed to have so many caring, loving adults willing to serve our children and youth as Religious Exploration teachers. Particularly this year, when we could not meet in person and our youngsters were isolated from their friends, the volunteers who stepped up to run online classes deserve our praise and thanks.
This Sun., May 2, is RE Teacher Appreciation Sunday – the one time each year when we recognize the essential role these volunteers fill in our congregation. Faith formation is a core function of UUCF, and we could not guide the next generation of Unitarian Universalists without these amazing adults. This year, we had to shelve many of our staple curricula and use new material better suited to online formats. Four of the seven teaching teams used new curricula, so there were no notes or lesson plans from last year to follow; they had to figure it out on their own. Additionally, we ran combined-age classes, so the teachers had to create class connections among children who had never been together before. On top of that, they had to become adept at Zoom, so they could show videos, PowerPoint presentations, run polling, use whiteboards, all while keeping the children and youth engaged. They did a phenomenal job. Thanks to their efforts, our preschoolers could enjoy stories and songs, our younger children could meet to talk, do crafts and read books, the older kids could have deeper discussions about justice topics and do service projects, and our youth could compare and contrast the major world religions and have virtual visits with leaders of other faiths. The flexibility of these dedicated volunteers allowed UUCF to provide a robust set of virtual classes for our children and youth this year. I am deeply grateful for their hard work. I hope you will join worship on Sunday to recognize and celebrate the RE volunteers who served.
Next year promises to be easier. At some point we’ll be back together in person and most of our familiar curricula will return. We’ll need a slew of new adults ready to create loving classroom communities and shape UU identity for our youngsters. Are you ready to get involved? It’s OK if you’ve never taught anything before or if you don’t have much experience working with children. As Rev. Dr. Barry Andrews, author of the article “The Soul Only Avails: Teaching as a Spiritual Act,” states, the critical qualities of a good RE teacher are a love of children, a sense of wonder about life, empathy and the ability to listen, and a willingness more to share who you are than what you know. Andrews views teachers as mentors and companions of children as they undertake their religious journeys in life. In his view (and mine) teaching RE can be a meaningful spiritual practice. It’s not about how great you are with kids or how much you know about Unitarian Universalism. The essential work of teaching RE is your willingness to give of yourself, of your soul. If this is work you feel called to, I’m eager to hear from you.