Last week I received an email inquiry about “religious exploration.” The parent wondered whether the children learn about various religions in the RE program. The question was reasonable; the term we’ve been using implies this. But it’s really a misnomer. The RE program teaches Unitarian Universalism. But unlike other faith traditions, UUs lack a creed or doctrine that all are required to believe. Instead we journey on our own spiritual paths (like those independent rivers Rev. David described in yesterday’s Ingathering service) but we join together in a sea of community, with our shared values. Those values are our Eight Principles. The RE program teaches the Eight Principles at every age and level, using a combination of curricula from the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Soul Matters Sharing Circle team. Faith formation of children and youth is a major ministry of UUCF. But how we teach at UUCF is even more important than what we teach.
Every year at teacher orientation I remind our wonderful teacher volunteers that RE is not school. There are no benchmarks, no assessments, no exams. The focus of RE is building community among the children – creating caring relationships with one another and with other supportive adults at UUCF. Unlike the rest of society that requires children to behave, conform and fit in, RE encourages children to just be themselves. RE’s mission is to embrace and love each child for who they are as individuals. Belonging (the worship theme for September) is not about conforming to the group – it is about the group respecting and honoring all its members. The patience, kindness, fairness and respect the teachers model for the children and youth enable them to become more accepting, inclusive and justice-minded. RE curriculum content is presented through stories, games and activities that are varied, fun and address different learning styles. I know our RE program is successful when the children are dragging their parents to UUCF, eager to see their friends and enjoy a new adventure in class. Another measure of success is the ability to retain students in RE as they grow and become youth in the congregation.
Serving youth and investing in their well-being has become a major focus for RE. A majority of the youth who participated at UUCF in 2019 became disconnected, drifted apart and then quit attending or graduated during the pandemic. Only a few juniors and seniors remain. However, a sizable cohort of 7th-10th graders have stayed active and connected. Keeping them engaged and growing them into leaders is a priority. To that end, we’ve created new learning opportunities and class choices. Youth ages 13-15 can choose between Coming of Age, Our Whole Lives (comprehensive sexuality education class) or the new Crossing Paths, which teaches about the major world religions. The strategy seems to be working: 33 students showed up to take those classes yesterday. Additionally, Director of Music & Arts Laura Weiss has begun a youth choir, creating an additional way for youth to connect in community and strengthen relationships with one another. The middle school and high school youth groups are also underway, planning social justice projects and fun excursions. All are designed to keep youth relationships strong and help youth grow as Unitarian Universalists.
It looks like an exciting year is ahead for RE and our youth programs – but these activities cannot succeed without help and support from you. The Coming of Age students will be looking for adult mentors from the congregation. Teachers are still needed for the Crossing Paths, Moral Tales and Love Connects Us classes. Chaperones are needed for the youth groups. And our younger grades desperately need additional class helpers to support the teachers on Sundays. Whether you have 90 minutes to help out a class, 3 hours to give as a chaperone, 20 hours to mentor a Coming of Age youth or 30 hours to join a teaching team this year – we need your help. I invite you to join the RE community and participate in this meaningful and rewarding ministry.