Thursday, April 2, 2009

Busy, busy, busy, busy, busy families

There was a moment of darkness early this week. "Is this worth it?" "Why do we work so hard?" "Who really cares anyway?"

It was bad. I looked for jobs at Starbucks. I thrashed around and washed dishes like they deserved some wicked punishing.

It's passed, I talked to people who know that I don't really mean it, that this is part of the work we do.

But man, I wish I could see into a crystal ball and know which kids are going to show up on any given Sunday. And if only one is going to show up? Well, I wish I could call the dedicated teacher for that class early in the week and tell them to relax, not to buy a box of donuts, not to prepare an amazing lesson, not to give thought and time and prayer to a group of kids who just are not going to be there. Maybe I should work on my psychic powers.

This is the hardest part of being a Religious Educator. Keeping the faith that some people do care, and that a spiritual home is important for children, even if they come only once in a while.

Ours is a culture of power programming for kids. This week on the LREDA list we were talking about how you deal with games and lessons and recitals being actually scheduled on Sunday mornings. How do we plan? How do we know what families want and need? Church can't just be a drive thru where you order one unit of world religions and two sides of spiritual development. It takes the commitment of a whole family, it takes a whole family wide understanding of the role of a spiritual life in the development of a child. Yes, soccer and swim team are important--and my children have missed church for these things, too. Yes. But our families are pulled so hard in so many directions, what are they supposed to do? It's critical to have some down time as a family, too. What if Sunday is the only day that isn't packed full, and what if Sunday is crammed full from dawn to dusk, too?

I'm used to counter culture living. We had a family bed, years of breastfeeding, homeschooling and were radical liberals--we only really fit in with our UU church homeschooling group! So telling a swim coach that we wouldn't be coming to Sunday meets was not too big a deal, until my son didn't qualify for the yearly regional meet in some of his best events because those qualifying races were always held on Sundays. And premier soccer simply never takes "no" on required practices--sometimes we skipped anyway. Eventually my kids backed down from these sports that took their lives away from them. But for most families it's extremely difficult.

My goal this year was to help our families realize that "our religion isn't taught, it's caught" and that to really have children absorb all the good stuff about being Unitarian Universalist, families have to show up on Sundays. The dark part is that even when they really get that, life still pulls hard, and most of them come less than half the time. Maybe it's our substandard programming, but I really don't think so--our programming really is excellent. Maybe it's the nasty building we meet in, could be. I know it's not the teachers, they are dedicated, top quality, dear folks who commit for a whole year to the kids. I really think it's just the pace of life. As we're spinning and spinning through our week, it's hard to gear up and get the energy to get the family to church on Sunday mornings. It's just really hard.

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify. (H.D. Thoreau). Maybe this is next year's theme. Maybe.


plaidshoes said...

It is sometimes hard to get across the idea that you really need to be there every Sunday to get the full experience. That our religion is worth committing to every Sunday. I wish I had a good answer!

Lizard Eater said...

I hear ya.

I keep coming back to the idea of Shabbat ... of having one day (Sunday) that is just for church and family.

To do it properly would take some preparation -- food in the crockpot, so you don't have to rush home to cook, or skip and eat out, which is good for neither wallets nor bodies.

No soccer practice. No TV or Internet! Church and family time.

I've really got to try that. Hmm. Maybe we could start with a "Shabbat Sunday" (oh, we'd call it something different so as not to be offensive) ... kind of like "Earth Hour" or "No TV week" ...

Sara said...

Our administrator is fond of saying "people just don't do what you want them to" and then shrugging her shoulders.

I had a family that I had thought had completely dropped out. I called and emailed to check on them, and got no replies. Then, this Wednesday they phoned me out of the blue to say that they had noticed they were down on the schedule to be the snack parents this Sunday. And they wanted to know what to bring ...

Sometimes, people just don't do what you want them to. You're doing your part, and that's all you can.

Kristina said...

As a relative newbie, and someone who struggles with the commitment sometimes, I thought I'd respond.

It's the fact that our lives are so scheduled. So very, very scheduled. We try to squeeze so much living into every single day, and sometimes, we just get tired of rushing about,even if it is to do something great.

We do try to make it to church most Sundays, and we do a fair job of it. But sometimes the best way for our family to be spiritual is to snuggle in our bed, to drink coffee together (okay Tessa gets left out of that one) and to stay in our pajamas until noon. We are so hurried, that even the beautiful lessons of our UU community beome too much...we just need to stop for a minute.

It's not the building - it does fine for what we need. It's not the programming - we're happy with that. It's not the community - it's wonderful. It's just that in the hustle and bustle of our lives, sometimes the best way to be spiritual is to just stop and stay where we are.

The other thing? Becoming "churh people" is a major shift for us. A MAJOR one. Where we had no time, we added a commitment. Where we had no money, we added a financial commitment. When we already had a strong community, we added another. It takes a while to become fully's a lot to take on. We think it's worth it, and we're moving that direction...but it doesn't come easily sometimes, and it's a big transition.

I imagine in your shoes that is no comfort, and I wish it was. I want to reassure you that it is not you, or the program. We are happy, satisfied, content with all of the above. It's CERTAINLY not you, dear woman.

Kari said...

Thanks for all the thoughtful comments. In case you missed it, the conversation continues over at Moxie Life ( and Surviving the Workday ( So sorry, I have not learned enough html to embed these links and my computer tech support guy is at the Youth Caucus GA presite in Salt Lake City.

Just to be absolutely clear, I love my work, love my congregation, know that every minute of work is absolutely worth it and I would never short the precious children and youth I serve because of frustration that I don't see their shining faces more often. Sometimes it's just hard. But then, anything worth doing is going to be hard, sometimes.

Keep talking!

Kristina said...

Kari, just so you know - I don't hold anything you say against you, and I KNOW how much love you give to our congregation. Blog world is a little strange because we can share our thoughts so easily and I may not be your intended audience, but I AM a sympathetic audience. :-)