Spring Religious Exploration will end on May 22, when we bid the dedicated teacher volunteers and classmates goodbye and transition to the relaxed summer RE schedule. I am not sad to put this year in the rearview mirror. The year challenged us all. We struggled with incomplete teaching teams and the frequent absences of both students and teachers as COVID kept resurging and required families to quarantine. We had to keep classes small to allow for social distancing, and we started the year with outdoor classrooms where distractions were numerous. Everyone wore masks, which made effective communication difficult. And many parents struggled when their children and youth attended the early RE session that didn’t coincide with a worship service, leaving some adults feeling spiritually unsupported. In spite of all the hardships, the parents, students and dedicated teacher volunteers persevered. More than 30 adults taught 120 returning students and sustained a vital ministry of this congregation – nurturing and growing the next generation of Unitarian Universalists. As we close out this program year, I am already looking ahead, planning and preparing for fall RE. A huge component of that planning is finding volunteers willing to teach. The reality for us all is that without adult volunteers, RE at UUCF cannot occur.
I am frequently asked by newcomers “What is Religious Exploration?” Do we teach various religions? Do we explore how to be a religious person? In a way, this very important ministry is hampered by its nebulous name. I imagine the term evolved as an alternative to “religious education,” which connotes an indoctrination in a particular creed. But the phrase religious exploration is misleading because it implies that children in the congregation are choosing among belief systems or that they can believe whatever they want. This is not the case. The RE program at UUCF focuses on developing ethical, justice-minded, kind and loving people. Children learn how to be good people, but not from a deity-based curriculum. RE curricula are humanist based, but they leave open the possibility of the Divine and an appreciation of the wonder, mystery and awe that perpetually surround us. The Six UU Sources and Eight UU Principles adopted by the congregation constitute the map that guides children and youth on their spiritual journeys. But those journeys can’t begin without the adult volunteers in RE who serve as trip organizers and forest rangers, walking alongside children and youth, helping them over hazards and around obstacles, interpreting the amazing facets of the surrounding environment and enabling them to maintain a steady and true course.
This work, guiding UUCF’s children to become the best human beings they can be, is deep, spiritual work. Teaching RE is a spiritual practice. Now, for full disclosure, this idea is not my own. Rev. Dr. Barry Andrews, minister emeritus at the UU Congregation at Shelter Rock in New York, wrote an article a few years ago that I use at teacher training that presents this concept. He maintains that the best RE teachers are not the ones who know a lot about children, teaching or Unitarian Universalism. The best RE teachers – the ones who truly succeed at guiding children in becoming moral, ethical and loving human beings – are those who give deeply of themselves and of their souls. But what does this mean – giving deeply of your soul? It means sharing who you really are and what you are passionate about. A few examples among the many wonderful teachers spring to mind. Jerry Poje has shared his passion for the natural world with the kindergarten and first grade students and has sparked in them a love for the interdependent web of all creation. This year, Marcia Tugendhat and Marcia Simpkins have brought their passion for social justice to their students, creating class lessons and activities that emphasized equity and fairness. Laurie Cunningham and Dillon Ginley are dedicated Elementary Our Whole Lives (OWL) teachers committed to helping young children develop healthy concepts of sexuality in concert with the UU 1st Principle. The passion these teachers bring to their students generates authentic relationships and much joy.
Fortunately, UUCF has a large number of adults who are passionate about their UU values. Many could become fantastic teachers in the RE program. As I look ahead, I know that the teachers who have held us together this year are exhausted. We need new adult volunteers to step into their shoes and teach RE in the fall. I ask every adult in the congregation to reflect on two questions: Are you passionate about your UU values? and Do you want to help UUCF’s children and youth grow up to be ethical and moral people? If the answer to both questions is yes, please join the RE ministry and make teaching RE your spiritual practice next year. Sign up here.