Wednesday, April 25, 2012


I watch my sons navigate the busy world of today's teen, and I find myself on-my-knees grateful that we've found a way to offer an intimate Coming of Age program, a break,  for the four high school teens at our little church. Sorry, our middle sized church. I forget.

This church has grown like one of those crazy huge sunflowers that you can almost see stretch for the sun, the children's program often leading the way. But as often seems to happen, the families who attend like clockwork with little ones, get busy, get burned out, get lost or just stop bringing the kids along as they reach the teen years. So our numbers of high schoolers are small.

For my middle son, he was the only one left in his age group when it came time to do a "Coming of Age" so we did it DIY style--you can read about it here.

At our little church on the hill we have one teen a year younger than my middle son, and three two years behind. Not a whole lot of teens. But there are many 8th graders on their way up. If there is one thing that we've learned, it's to do something small before you do it big. Run a program with five core kids, learn all kinds of things, and then run it big with a group. Even with my leaving in a few weeks, a fabulous group of adults have taken on leading this group, with a commitment to hold what they've learned to use next time. Lessons learned will stay put. We are calling the program "Sanctuary" because it's a little time out of the triple-speed teen life to think and dream and just be for a while with a group of other teens who you have known since you were just a little kid. A safe place to rest and prepare for the next part of life.

Then, this morning I read this great post in the UU World about religious heritage and how a search of the religious identity of your ancestors can help you be grounded in your own identity, and I realize what an amazing group of leaders we have. This was their inspiration for our little group as one of their projects, a family tree of faith--or "what did you great grandfather believe and where did he go to worship?"


This is the biggest lesson I've learned in my work these last seven years. We must trust the wisdom of the people, trust the process of a small group of committed people. Yes, there are wonderful curricula out there to guide groups through this Coming of Age process, but sometimes knowing and dreaming and creating together brings to life just the thing that is needed.

Sometimes you just have to pray and talk and hope and then take a huge running leap.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Church in the Balcony

Yesterday I sat down in church. Yes, I did tell the story for all ages, and I helped with the sorting of children after they left the sanctuary, helped calm a three-year-old and distract him with playdoh and building train bridges until he forgot he missed his pop-pop. I counted noses before the 6th-7th grade group headed down to the park for Earth Day. Then I grabbed a secret cup of coffee and headed to the balcony where there is no carpeting to ruin if coffee spills and I disturb fewer people with my coming and going.

Then I sat. Only one other person was with me in the balcony, but he was tolerant of my leaving to check on classes. The day was so beautiful many of our families were not at church, small classes often mean fewer issues and less need for the "mean lady" to take kids from class for a while for a little break.

So, I got to hear most of the service. Most of the music. I even got to have a little of the fellowship of experiencing a moving service next to a kind person. I can't remember the last time I listened to a sermon in the pleasant company of a fellow congregant. It magnifies the meaning and deepens the emotion.

Then I ran off to set up tables advertising a fund raiser, peeked in for the singing of the final hymn and then zipped back down to the fellowship hall to welcome the hot and sweaty middle schoolers back from the park, reminded young ones not to eat a whole cake and poured more coffee.

When I leave my work as a religious educator after these seven years, I will leave church for a full year. For a year I will hike or have brunch or visit friends or just sleep on Sunday mornings. Then, I hope, I'll come back to church and sit through services and experience a moving sermon in the warm embrace of loving fellowship. I don't think I had any idea how much I missed it.


Friday, April 20, 2012

Spiritual and Religious

I was driving home in the pouring rain last night, listening to my friend National Public Radio when the hour turned and a new program came on, I think it had been the BBC which often just sounds like people chatting in the seat next to me, I pay so little attention. This was a speakers' forum and the speaker was religion scholar and author Diana Butler Bass, and her topic? The whole spiritual but not religious controversy. (Link here)

Oh my, this is the thing to say here in Washington state. "Oh, we don't really do the church thing, I'm spiritual and everything, but not, you know... religious." 

I hear this from families and emptynesters. It's what all the cool kids are saying. 

But why on earth would you want the magical dance of spirituality without the fabulous gift that is church life? I know, it's not perfect. my friend Barbara Cornell says that everyone has baggage, but people come to church and unpack. And it's true. There is hubris and elitism and snobbery and discrimination and gossip at church. People treat each other poorly sometimes and we don't always remember the very core of our faith--whichever faith that may be. 

That's just the thing. We come to church with our whole broken, messy, screwed-up selves and still, we are loved. We are reminded again and again that we are whole and holy and good, and not just by the person who is ordained. No, in fact I think we are more often reminded by the person who reaches for our hand when we are moved to tears, by the crew of teens who help us move heavy things without being asked, by the small child who shares with us a cupcake because they are "so good you HAVE to have one" and by the people who forgive us again and again and again for our messed-up, screwed-up, completely imperfect selves. 

Church takes some of the muddy crud of our human selves and washes it away, or plants good seeds in it, or just sits with us while we wallow in it for a while. Or, really, the people of church do that. 

Even more, they bring soup when we're sick and sit with us when we're at the hospital waiting with scary news on the other side of the door, they email and ask how we are after a bad spell and they will drive our children to and from preschool so we can make it through another week of battling a horrible disease. 

Yes, I do I love the spiritual kick of hiking to a vista of beauty, or seeing whales in the ocean. I love the way that prayer can sometimes work like a short order cook, serving up exactly the right plate of steaming soul nourishment at exactly the right time. But I also like church. 

Nope, I love church. I really do. 

People sometimes scoff and say that modern church is just a social club, just a place for people to gather. What? What on earth could be more important than that? A place where people smile and welcome you, where you are to come in just as you are and sit a while. A place where even though you are broken and battered, people just know that inside all your bluster and blunder that you are whole and holy and good. 

And it always smells like coffee and there is always something good that needs to be done. 


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Loving Leaving

I am not sure why no one told me this, but when you leave a job a really bizzaro thing happens. Someone else comes in to do the job after you. For real. And people really care a whole lot about who they get to do your job. Yes, for real.

The next Director of Religious Exploration was announced today. And my gosh, she sounds just amazing! And when I emailed her to congratulate her, she seemed super kind and intelligent and very caring. Holy amazing transition batman! I think we're in the middle of the middle phase of a loving leaving. Hot dog!

One thing though. I promised her that we'd have the library all organized before she arrives. Maybe you haven't seen our office, but the library might be half in stacks on the floor. We worked really hard on organizing it last summer, or well--our ADRE did. And I know where most of the books are. But if someone who wasn't us looked at it, well they might think it was, you know. A mess! A really big mess with sloping piles of fabulous resources for children, families and teachers. But still. A mess.

Better get on that.

At the same time, we've got almost all of the summer program in place. The story tellers for summer are just about set. And the teaching teams for next year are shaping up. I brought home the dog bed that used to sit under our desk. And while the files will take a few more weeks, we're on it. SO many files we collect in seven years. Oh my!

This is what we do when we leave because it's time to leave and we want more than anything in the world for everything that happens after we leave to be good. It's a lot of work, but it's good work.

And really, I'm on the library. Seven weeks, that's about 39 books a week! Psssht. No prob.