Next week I’ll be presenting to the Pacific Northwest District chapter of the Liberal Religious Educators Association. The topic? Family ministry. Specifically, how congregations can help families with children have a shared Unitarian Universalist faith identity. Here’s a preview of what I’ll be talking about. I’ll cover each of the seven tools in future posts.

A DIY Faith?

It’s not surprising that some people think of Unitarian Universalism as a DIY faith, a do-it-yourself religion. Combine our first principle (the inherent worth and dignity of every person) with our fourth principle (a free and responsible search for truth and meaning), and you end up with the misguided notion that UUs can believe whatever they want. But as anyone who has set about the task of living out our principles in their daily life can attest, it’s not so much a matter of believing whatever one wants as it is creating a faith one can live by, a sturdy faith that can weather the vagaries of everyday living while allowing one to “experience hope, joy, mystery, healing, and personal transformation in the midst of life’s challenges.” Building such a faith is not easy. There are no standard plans for how one goes about it, no pre-fab kits one can hammer together.

A Tough Job Gets Even Tougher

The job becomes even tougher when a family with children tries to frame a faith they can share. Because the individual’s right to fashion a faith of their own serves as the foundation for most of the religious education and faith development opportunities we offer, families with children have traditionally been separated on Sunday mornings, with children and youth being sent off to child-centered religious education classes while parents are ushered into adult-oriented worship services. Rarely do the themes presented in the classroom and the sanctuary align. Why? Because most congregations have two distinct and separate groups making decisions about RE curricula, on one hand, and worship topics, on the other. The result is that families are left without a common experience of their faith on Sunday mornings. And Sunday mornings are likely to be the only time when a UU family’s faith is foremost in their collective hearts and minds.

Sharing a UU Identity

There are, of course, some exceptions: more and more congregations are choosing a monthly theme to explore in both the classroom and the sanctuary; each lesson in the UUA’s Tapestry of Faith curricula series includes a “Taking It Home” handout for parents; and the “Parent Trilogy” (Being a UU Parent, etc.) has long been a standard adult religious education offering in many congregations. Yet more often than not, our approach to faith development still favors the individual’s spiritual and ethical formation over a more communal approach to growth and learning. Which is unfortunate, since learning and growing together in faith is probably the most effective way for a family to create and maintain a Unitarian Universalist identity. So if a congregation is truly interested in seeing their families develop a shared identity as UUs, it makes sense to offer them as many opportunities as possible to learn and grow together in faith, not just in church on Sunday morning, but in the home all week long.

Building and Maintaining a UU Home

These opportunities are the tools for helping families build a Unitarian Universalist home. Some are heavy machinery that require skilled operators, like the professional religious leaders who plan and coordinate the weekly worship services, RE classes, and community-building events that make the church a spiritual home for its members and friends. Other tools are easier to handle; any motivated person can use them with a little help and guidance. These tools are the ones parents can use to build and maintain their UU homes. Many faith traditions have been aware of these tools for a long time. They know that anything from table graces and bedtime prayers to Passover seders and first communions can serve as tools for building a home where a family’s faith can thrive.

The Tools

Here, then, are seven tools Unitarian Universalist congregations can offer to help families build their UU homes: bedtime rituals, caring conversations, celebrating holidays, congregational participation, family meals, family service, and symbols of faith. It’s probably true that not every family needs or wants to use every tool. But it’s also true that any congregation interested in helping families develop a shared faith—a family faith—should be ready to give families helpful pointers on how to use as many of these tools as possible. And that’s what these posts are all about: helping congregations offer the tools families need to build their UU homes. So take your time and explore each tool. Perhaps your congregation is already employing some of them. Great! You may find a couple more to add to your toolbox. Maybe your congregation’s just starting to think about family faith development. Wonderful! Hopefully you’ll find these tools a great way to get started. Either way, please feel free to take and use whatever you find helpful. And if you have any questions or comments, please leave them below, or email them to psdlund at gmail dot org.