Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Transformation and the Trans Am

I'm working on transformation. You know, transformation. When you fix stuff. Or evolve. Or you know-- transform.

The work that I do as a Religious Educator is so good for me, and so fulfilling and so rich with life. But as I'm writing my yearly report for the annual meeting, I'm realizing that this year has been a transformation of sorts. I think when you go into year five of a stint as a Religious Educator that it's often a transformation. I've seen a number of Religious Educators be transformed right out of a job at year five! So, yes, it's a little scary. But not really. I love my congregation (hi y'all!) and I love the kids--LOVE the kids. When you get to be the person a two-year-old will sit with at the pledge drive dinner while she eats her cupcake, and then get her on your lap for the Story for All Ages the next morning? Well, what's not to love there? It's all good. I think we've still got a good love fest going in my congregation.

But looking back over the year and looking at our goals from last year and the years before, evaluating our growth, looking at the changes we've made I realize that in some good ways I've kind of given up. For a long time I really wanted everyone to see what I saw; that bringing children to religious education classes on a regular basis could literally change their lives. It could. They would learn things and grow friendships with adults and children and become a part of their church in ways that coming once or twice a month will never, ever allow. This year I gave my heart and my soul and a ton of my time to sharing that message. And people really got it, they did.

It does not matter. Families may understand how valuable church can be. They can believe it. They can commit to coming as much as cold and flu season will allow. And still, life doesn't let them come. It hardly lets them participate in church life with any level of commitment. The family with a parent in a major role at our church is rare and usually fleeting. Family life is crushingly busy. There is no time for quiet or peace. Sometimes families need to just skip church to have a moment to breathe together. They need time to play and read and just be. Together.

So, for next year I guess we'll just work at being the very best drop-in program we can possibly be. I'll accept it. I may have to mourn a little. Things could be different, but I'm not sure they ever WILL be different. Parents and children have so many things pulling on their time that they sometimes just have to say no, and saying no to church is one of the easiest. There's no game, no RSVP, no starting line-up. And for us in the Unitarian Universalist church--as a fellow PNWD blogger notes, we're All Carrot and No Stick. There is nothing to scare folks into coming. Of course, I would never want that, really--never, but it is a little different than other mainstream churches. And families really need time together. It's just natural that church would be the thing to go for them.

I am revamping our whole plan for curriculum. There's no sense in crafting a big scheme that completes a long curriculum cycle. Almost no one is coming often enough to have it be meaningful. We'll keep it simple and try to keep the weekly class as consistent as possible, so the kids don't have to re-learn what to do and where to go in class if it's been a month since they've attended.

I'm sad, yes. I thought if people just understood they'd come more. They do understand. They try to come more often. Our lives just don't allow it. They just don't.

And with that transformation, I'm changing this little blog. I'll find some bright sunny pictures and keep playing with bright sunny colors and fonts and I'm looking into what it might take to move to wordpress and combine some of my wayward blogs and the pieces of my life. As my husband is preparing to be part of a panel discussion of the movie Adopted I'm reading KAD (Korean Adult-Adoptee) blogs like this amazing one called Harlow's Monkey and realizing that I just might find other spouses of adult adoptees who would understand the experience of being married to an adoptee. And people in recovery from compulsive food issues, maybe I should go there, too (at least I am in recovery today). I don't know. Lots of transformation.

So much transformation, I feel like I should be driving a TRANS am!. OK, bad joke with all the car stuff going on in this bad economy. Bad joke. But funny. At least, I'm laughing.

And hey, isn't that something after all? Laughing?

Yep, it is. For me anyway, it sure is.


ms. kitty said...

Ah, Kari, I just love you. That's such a common theme for all of us, not just DRE's and RE. It's not just the kids who are transformed by steady attendance, so are the adults. I"m so glad you put this out there.

Kari said...

Thanks, Kit. I am so focused on the kids I don't even think about what the adults are missing! But as a dear and trusted colleague has said to me "soccer is important, too" so I'm learning to let go! To trust that each Sunday happens just as it needs to with just the people who are meant to be there. It really is all good.

Kristina said...

Kari, I deeply love your commitment to our congregation and the work that you do. It is important work, and meaningful to our little family.
We try to come every week...and whereas we're there MOST of the time, we're not there all of the time. We have made a commitment not to schedule anything on Sundays, and yet we still can't be tehre every time. I can see how insanely frustrating this must be for someone in your position, and thanks to your blog posts, I've been thinking about it an awful lot, too.
For our family, church is important. And peace and quiet are important. We are working hard at putting more peace and quiet into our lives, and church does fit into that. Still, it is a struggle to make the jigsaw fit together.
In case you are wondering if you are successful in your job (and I think you are!), let me ask you this: how much has our congregation grown in the past two years? I can't believe how much! The "fivefold amen" isn't a circle most days, it's a wiggly amoeba because it's so large. And the children are coming...just not the same ones each week.
This was meant to be a "rah rah" post in response to you....just know that this family immensely appreciates your work. Know that we are grateful for this year's thoughtful programming, and we'll be really glad for your programs next year, too. It's constantly evolving, and I appreciate your williingness to evolve along with it/us!

Kelly KH said...

((((hugs)))) really. Hard squishy ones. I totally GET what you're saying. I've been working in RE for only a year, and know what a difference regular attendance can make in the life of a family.

My own daughter is becoming a force of change in our congregation and is forcing us to look at ways to offer spiritual development outside of curriculum.

We DO make a difference, so don't give up; just be kind to yourself.

Hugs again!

Kari said...

Thanks, All. Kristina is right. We're growing. In the summer of 2005 when I first started our program had 23 kids. In '06 it was 41, '07 we were at 59, '08 at 65 and now we're at 75. It's good. I'm just realizing that families simply can't come as often as I want them to! They can't! And it's still good and still enough.

And Kelly yep. NO giving up. It is all totally worth it, no matter what! You, too. Our children are not our future, they're our "right now!"

Andrea said...

I hear you as a DRE, but I'm really feelin' ya today as a parent. We've made conscious decisions to keep our involvements to a minimum (and by comparison they mostly are) but we are indeed crushingly busy. And one of us works on Sunday mornings! ;-)

This was a well-timed, validating post for me. Not in the "it's okay to stay home from church" way, but in the "my family is normal" way. Thanks for that.

Given that in the short time I've known you I've "watched" you go from singing a song about coming to church every week to this, I look forward to seeing where this transformation takes you!