by Diana Tycer, Interim Director of Religious Exploration.
Many people conceptualize their lives as a linear continuum, a collection of their experiences along an established timeline. I have long conceptualized my life as a three-dimensional spiral, continually returning to the same place only on another plane, having gained greater wisdom through my experiences. When I was offered this opportunity to serve UUCF as the interim Director of Religious Exploration (DRE), I was conscious that I was coming back around to the mission most dear to my heart, but with a toolbox full of new skills to offer.
I grew up Catholic, but had a branch of my family who were UUs (the cool relatives) and started early on my personal spiritual path. By the time I was in graduate school at George Mason, I had explored the major Protestant faith traditions and felt most at home with Unitarian Universalism. I was an occasional visitor to UUCF during that time, although studying or sleeping were usually my priorities on Sunday mornings. I was in no rush to join a faith community and get bogged down in additional responsibilities.
But a chance conversation about religion over lunch changed that. I was dining with graduate friends, one who had grown up in a UU congregation but was no longer affiliated with it, when another friend at the table asked her what UUs believe. The friend from the UU congregation had no answer. She had grown up attending Religious Exploration programs, but could not articulate the UU Seven Principles. She could not explain that a creedless church could hold a shared vision for living a life in service to humanity, and our world, while its members followed their own spiritual journeys. The irony was that this person was living her life in concert with the Seven Principles. She was a kind, compassionate and respectful person. She supported environmental causes, she had married a person of color and was raising two wonderful bi-racial children, she was working in a career in social change. However, at the time of our conversation she did not belong to any congregation and she was not raising her children as UUs.
I left lunch that day grieving. How had a UU congregation shaped such a wonderful person, and then set her adrift with no understanding of her own faith formation? How had that congregation failed to embrace its own youth and help them progress on to full membership within the community? That was the day I promised myself that eventually I would be a member here, and that my mission would be to serve the children and youth in RE so that every one of our children would be able to answer that lunch table question.
For the past 10 years I have been in the Program Building doing just that. There I found a cadré of caring adults and staff who shared a vision for strong faith formation. I can attest that during those years I have seen the RE program here transformed. The Tapestry of Faith curriculum fully integrates the Seven Principles into interesting classes that span the elementary grades. Our Coming of Age program for 7th grade provides a solid grounding in Unitarian Universalism while connecting the youth to adult mentors to learn about the expansive work of our congregation. We now offer Our Whole Lives (OWL) sexuality education to 1st and 5th graders as well as high school students, and our exemplary 8th grade OWL program now draws students from outside the congregation who pay to attend. And throughout all our grades, our teachers display a commitment to full inclusion of all children, no matter their differences or learning challenges, which is the embodiment of our first and second principles. As your interim DRE, I will spend the next 8 months supporting our wonderful teachers, delightful children and fantastic programs until I can pass them safely into the hands of our new DRE.
So I have come around full circle, only on an additional plane. The mission that brought me to this congregation – service to improving religious exploration, now finds me as steward of our excellent programs. I look forward to serving you in the months ahead.