Now I know that Rev. Dr. Peter Morales is a good guy. Not only does he understand deeply the position our faith is in right now to either grow or fade away, but he's actually a warm, kind friendly man. He really is a good guy.
But one little tiny thing he said to us when he was with my congregation a few weeks ago just rankled me. I'm not going to remember the exact wording but it was something about how as a movement our religious education programs had made the mistake of focusing on teaching children about being Unitarian Universalists and not giving them the experience of faith.
I wake up in the middle of the night and that little exchange sticks in my mind. What? Really? Would we say that across the movement all of our worship committees are focusing too much on spiritual development of Buddhism or the sermon topics are all too humanist?
Rev. Morales did say that in the church he served before he became the president of the UUA they had tried to have multi generational worship services, but that in tracking attendance and listening to feedback, they could see that these services were unpopular and not well attended by families with children.
So, in an effort to let go of this little sticking point, I am writing a little letter to Rev. Morales. It's something more a kin to a family discussion that happens over coffee after dinner. And maybe there's even pie for dessert. I'm not angry, I just want Peter to understand that the little things he says get picked up by lots of people and they show that little thing to each other and say "well see what the UUA president said?" "Hmmmmm, I DO see that" Be careful, Peter! And remember that whatever you see as our future as a movement, it's already happening out there in churches across the continent.
Dear Rev. Morales,
Just wanted to drop you a note on the topic we chatted about at WSUU a few weeks ago: faith development in our RE programs. I don't think this is true for my church. And here's why:
This week at Westside we're having our regular monthly Chalice Chapel and Service Sunday. This month's focus is on UUSC.
Our children begin worship in the sanctuary with the adults each week, and on the second Sunday they all come straight downstairs to a children's worship that we call "Chalice Chapel". This week we'll enter a darkened space with an altar and a chalice. When we're all sitting in a big circle we'll begin our chant "Gathered here in the mystery of the hour, gathered here in one strong body, gathered here in the struggle and the power, spirit draw near". We all know the words, we all know the hand motions. We know how to sing it, how to whisper it and how to beat the floor hard with a heartbeat rhythm and to yell it loud. Then we'll invite the children into prayer "we breathe in peace, we breathe out love" The children know body prayers, chants, hymns and how to listen to their quiet inner voice.
We will talk a little during our Chalice Chapel about how we are called, as Unitarian Universalists of faith, to work for peace in the world, and that really--peace comes from justice. But then we'll close by singing Rev. Meg Barnhouse's "All Will Be Well". The whole service will take about 7 minutes. Then we will move to our stations of work, the "Service is our prayer" work.
This week we'll make a huge heart with one of our favorite elders and during coffee hour we'll invite the adults to add sticky notes that tell how they are "Standing on the Side of Love". There will be a station for some kids to assemble the boxes for the Guest at Your Table kick off. We'll have a station to make a physical "guest at your table" so we can all visualize the person we're imagining hosting for the next month. We'll have a game to show how hard it is to move water from one spot to the next without spilling it. And we'll have a station showing the videos on youtube that UUSC has posted about human rights. The best thing about these stations is that at each an adult engages with the children who are ages 4-14. There's no formal lesson, but we all learn together.
So, it's not perfect. No. Sometimes kids run around a little. Sometimes people talk about their week instead of water rights. But it's a good thing. Our children all learn how we worship, they learn about what we believe and they get to put those beliefs into action. It makes our faith formation dynamic and real. I have fun. They have fun. We all laugh together. There have been Chalice Chapels, like the pet blessing last October that let us all cry together. We are a community.
Now, during the five services a year when we're all together; all the baby boomers and the millennials and the silent generation and the gen x-ers and the toddlers and the teens and tweens and the elders and the preschoolers, during those services we are finding that we like worshiping together. We're still learning, we've learned that a plastic cup full of legos might be fun, but it's too loud for worship. We've learned that we have to be careful about meeting everyone's needs. But we've learned that part of meeting everyone's needs is to sometimes sit quietly while another group is the focus for a few minutes. And what meets our needs is not always what you'd expect.
So, Rev. Morales, remember that when we talk about Unitarian Universalists we can almost never say "All". All Religious Education programs are not focusing on education alone. Just like you could never say "All ministers are preaching about...." or "All music leaders are forgetting to...." We who work with the children and youth and families are doing so much more than just cranking through lessons. It's happening all over the movement, this dynamic faith formation. And it's really working.
So hey, thanks for stepping up and being our president. I know you get all kinds of passionate people just like me who take issue with one little thing you say. I know one of the people who I eat dinner with every night is not happy with your thoughts about youth and the "hanging out" article. But we appreciate your passion for this faith and we hope that you appreciate ours, too. Together we can be the faith we are meant to be. Thanks. Really, thanks.