The weeks before Religious Exploration classes begin is a busy time. We clear out the old materials, restock the supply closet, decorate bulletin boards, train teachers and prepare spiritually for the joyful chaos that accompanies the first Sunday of classes. Personally, I was able to prepare for this coming year by taking a Unitarian Universalist Association class on curriculum development.
As a result, I’ve spent the past few weeks thinking about how the classes we teach shape the ethical and spiritual development of our children. We have many good courses for the children here at UUCF, but no teaching resource or curriculum is perfect, and to be honest, no particular lesson or single day of RE content is especially important. The real factor that matters is the delivery of the message. It is the presence of the caring, loving and nurturing volunteers who teach Religious Exploration that makes all the difference. They are the ones who model Beloved Community for our children. They are the ones here every week teaching our children kindness, respect and acceptance.
As I reflected on this, I remembered an incident in a summer RE class last year. I had a group of elementary-age students who were doing an art project. At one point, a student got up and turned out the lights. When I flipped them back on, they were off again a moment later. The student explained that the light bothered his eyes and he wanted the lights off. A couple of other students additionally advocated for lights off, but many others verbalized (a bit strenuously) for the lights to stay on. Seeing an opportunity to teach the 5th UU Principle – the use of democratic processes in our congregations – I promptly organized a vote. The “lights off” children were clearly the minority and when they saw that most of their peers wanted the lights on, they graciously, if dejectedly, were willing to abide by the vote. But then a soft voice, from the “winning” group spoke up: “Why can’t one side of the room be lights on, and the other side lights off?” And there it was – the drop that rippled throughout the room. Every child recognized the fairness, the kindness, the justice of the compromise. Immediately, the children sprang into action separating tables and chairs to create a new project area in the “lights off” space. Everyone was pleased with the solution and all happily returned to their projects in the space best suited to them.
I have no recollection of what the project or the lesson was that day. But I do know what was learned – that empathy for others, that recognizing the needs of others and that caring enough to compromise a little – can lead to solutions that work for everyone. Please note that it was a student who guided us in that lesson; I just reinforced it. Our Religious Exploration program teaches children how to be problem-solvers, leaders and advocates for justice in a Beloved Community. Apparently, they are learning that lesson brilliantly.
Every day I am thankful for the wonderful volunteer teachers who are here on Sundays, giving their time and talent to nurture the next generation of Unitarian Universalists. This is a very special ministry. If it is one you are called to join, we welcome you joyfully.