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As promised, I’ve uploaded to SlideShare the PowerPoint for the presentation on “Bringing the Faith Formation 2020 Scenarios to Life” that Sue Sinnamon and I did on Thursday at the Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly in Charlotte, North Carolina. The transfer wasn’t 100% perfect (some of the bullets and numbers are a little screwy), but all of the important information is there. I was also going to give a rundown of what Sue and I covered during the workshop, but the fine folks at the have already done that for me. Fellow blogger Dan Harper (Yet Another Unitarian Universalist) has written up an excellent summary of the workshop and the Faith Formation 2020 initiative entitled “Faith formation in a changing world” as part of the UU World‘s online GA event coverage. I can’t think of anything I’d like to add to Dan’s write up, other than emphasizing the importance of using the Faith Formation 2020 initiative resources as an invitation to try out new things in your congregation. The 20th century (and even 19th century) models of faith formation and religious education that we’ve been using in our programs are desperately in need of an update. The Faith Formation 2020 initiative gives us the insights and the inspiration to make that happen.

By the way, if you’d like a non-wonky copy of the PowerPoint to use in your congregation, just leave me a comment with your email address and I’ll send it you.


Today I’m presenting the Seven Tools for Building a UU Home to the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Liberal Religious Educators Association. Quite a mouthful, I know. But that’s okay…I’ve got more than enough to say to them (or anyone who’ll listen) about Family and Multigenerational Ministry. Here’s a quick summary of the presentation. First, Family Ministry and Multigenerational Ministry are two sides of the same coin. One side (Family Ministry) is all about how families practice their faith, in their home and in their congregation. It’s the congregation’s job to provide resources for individual families so they can practice their faith in a way that gives their life together a meaningful existence. The specific resources a congregation offers to families to help them practice their faith as families, both in the congregation and in the home, constitutes Family Ministry. So things like family worship, family fun nights, and having families light the chalice at worship are example of Family Ministry within the congregation. The Seven Tools for Building a UU Home are, for the most part, examples of Family Ministry within the home.

Multigenerational Ministry is more about the context in which Family Ministry takes place. It’s all about how welcoming a congregation is to the different ages and generations of which it is comprised. It’s about offering opportunities for different ages and generations to experience the fullness of their faith within their religious community. Sometimes I like to think of Multigenerational Ministry as the desire to embody the abstract concept of the Living Tradition in a sacramental way. The traditional definition of a sacrament is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace,” so gathering in a truly multigenerational community is the outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace of our Living Tradition. The elders are our link to the past and the children are our link to our future. They are of equal importance because their presence in a multigenerational gathering ties us to all who have come before us as well as all who will come after us.

We need to be attentive to both Family Ministry and Multigenerational Ministry in our congregations. These Seven Tools for Building at UU Home are primarily about Family Ministry. They are: Bedtime Rituals, Caring Conversations, Celebrating Holidays, Congregational Participation, Family Meals, Family Service, and Symbols of Faith. I would like to see congregations offer families guidance in how to use these tools in as many ways as possible, formally and informally: through sermons, religious education classes, small group ministry sessions, newsletter articles, and retreats. And to all of these traditional ways of doing faith development, I would add the internet as well. I would love to see every UU congregation in the country have a “Family Page” on their website. Ideally, this page would be part of a complete “Faith Development Network” that the congregation has created to offer faith development and spiritual opportunities to members, friends, and fellow travelers of all ages and generations (more on that later). A link to the page would have a prominent place on the congregation’s home page, and the content would continually be refreshed. A “Table Grace of the Week” would encourage families to engage in the practice of saying grace before their family meals, and a “Family Favorite Recipe of the Week” (ideally from actual families in the church) would help remove some of the obstacles families face when trying to share meals more often. Weekly “Conversations Starters” could be offered as well. You get the idea.

So that’s the presentation in a nutshell. Okay, a rather large nutshell. If you have any examples of a congregational “Family Page,” I love to see them. Just post a link in the comments section.

Here’s Part II of “The Enchanted Congregation.” You can read Part I here.

For some time, the congregation muddled through from Sunday to Sunday despite the undercurrent of dissatisfaction that dribbled into almost every activity. But eventually feelings of restlessness and boredom made their way to the surface, and folks began to talk about how things had been different once, when they had their fairy godmother with them. What we need, some folks said, is a new fairy godmother, someone who can wave a wand and makes us feel the same enchantment we used to feel. Other folks pointed out that times had changed, and that what might have been enchanting in the past might seem merely old-fashioned today. What we need, they said, is a magical consultant to come in and tell us what other congregations are doing to stir things up. A third group of folks said, Nope! What we need is a marketing wizard to help us attract new people who will reinvigorate us. All we need is some new blood around here and things will be much better. They talked among themselves for a long, long time, never reaching a decision on what to do next.

When it looked like things would never change, one of the elders of the congregation suddenly came down with a mysterious illness and fell into a deep, deep sleep. While he was sleeping he had a dream, and in that dream he saw the congregation’s beloved fairy godmother. He saw her first as an elder, frail but wise. And he saw the world through her eyes. Everything—everywhere—was still so bright and new. Then he saw a slightly younger version of the fairy godmother. She looked a little worn and tired after a long, hard day’s work. Yet he could sense her mind was still working, dreaming of all sorts of wonderful things she still might do with her life. Next he saw the fairy godmother as a young adult, riding the same bicycle she had used when see toured India. He traveled with her for awhile, and he felt with every beat of her heart the gradual accumulation of knowledge and understanding that would serve her well all her days. And then he saw her as a youth, and he remembered the wonder of a life yet to be fully lived, and he felt the stirrings of a fierce determination deep inside to make the world a better place. And finally, he saw the fairy godmother as a child. And he felt the veil between himself and the universe slip away until all that remained was an intense, heart-pounding passion to live, to be, to love. In this dream he realized that their fairy godmother was always more than any single congregant saw in her. Yes, she was wise, but she was strong and brave and passionate and curious, as well.

The mysterious illness soon passed as swiftly as it had appeared, and the elder awoke. He knew what had to be done. As soon as he regained his strength, he asked everyone—children, youth, young adults, older adults, and elders—to join him for a special potluck to celebrate his recovery. They decorated the parish hall and lined the walls with long tables to hold the food that everyone would bring. Together the congregants ate and talked and laughed and lauded the elder’s regained health. And when the meal was over, the elder tapped a spoon against his water glass and waited until the fellowship hall grew quiet. Once it had, the elder asked if they wouldn’t mind doing him a favor. He asked them to clear away the tables and chairs, which they gladly did. Then he asked them to line up in the center of the hall according to age, starting with the youngest congregant and ending with oldest. Once they had, the elder asked for everyone to join hands. Then he took the hand of the youngest congregant and slowly led her to the other end of the line. As he did, the rest of the congregants gradually began to shuffle along, so when he reached the other side and placed the young girl’s hand in the hand of the oldest member of the congregation, the entire group had formed a circle. Then the eldest took his place in the circle and looked around the room into every person’s eyes. As he did, he once again felt the presence of their fairy godmother—her curiosity, her passion, her courage, strength, and wisdom. The smile that grew on his face quickly spread around the room.

The elder cleared his throat. “Dear friends,” he said, “whom I love. I want to tell you about a dream.”

Here’s the first part of a story I told at the Central Midwest District’s LREDA (Liberal Religious Educators Association) chapter retreat:

Once upon a time there was a congregation that was pretty much just like any other congregation, except for one thing. It had a fairy godmother. The congregation loved the fairy godmother very much because she was special in so many ways. First of all, she was always very curious and the children in the congregation loved to follow her around as she explored all sorts of wonderful things. And she was passionate, too. The youth in the congregation liked nothing better than to sit around for hours with the fairy godmother drinking heavily caffeinated beverages and talking about their deepest thoughts and feelings. The fairy godmother was brave, as well. And the young adults in the congregation were fascinated by all of the courageous things the fairy godmother had done in her life, like backpacking through Europe or bicycling across India or spending a year in Mongolia, where all there was to eat was yak meat and yogurt. The older adults found much to admire in the fairy godmother, too, for she was strong, reliable and hardworking. But perhaps it was the elders who loved the fairy godmother the most because she possessed the wisdom of the ages, and they would turn to her as they made the difficult, sometimes final, decisions about their lives.

Now while fairy godmothers are very nice to have around, they have busy lives of their own. Inevitably there comes a time when every fairy godmother disappears. It’s just part of who they are, and this congregation’s fairy godmother was no exception. So late one Sunday morning, just as the congregation’s monthly potluck was beginning, the fairy godmother began to tap her water glass with her magic wand. It took a little doing to get everyone’s attention because even though the congregants loved and respected the fairy godmother, they loved to talk among themselves even more! Finally the fellowship hall grew silent and the fairy godmother gave them the sad news. “I have been your fairy godmother for many years now, but the time has come for me to move on. Don’t ask me why. It’s just the nature of fairy godmothers.” There was a collective gasp from the assembled congregation, followed by a huge, sad moan. And that was followed by a din of protest as everyone at once, from the youngest child to the eldest elder, tried to explain to the fairy godmother why she mustn’t leave them. But her mind was made up, she told them. There was nothing they could do or say to stop her.

However, just as it is inevitable that a fairy godmother will eventually disappear, it’s also true that fairy godmothers never leave without bestowing some sort of extra special gift. So once the congregation settled down and faced the reality of her departure, the fairy godmother told them what she was leaving with them. “To the children,” she said, “whom I love, I leave you a hearty portion of my curiosity. You live in a wonderful world and there’s much to explore. May you always be intrigued by every nook and cranny of it!” And the children smiled and clapped their hands and were delighted by her gift. “And to the youth,” she said, “whom I love, I leave you an abundant supply of my passion. Your thoughts and emotions run broad and deep. May they make your lives rich and full, and may you use them to heal the world.” And the youth looked sullenly at their shoes and felt a stirring of sadness in their hearts as they thought of losing their dear friend. “And to you, my young adult companions, whom I love,” she said. “I leave you with a healthy dose of courage. Now is the time for you to spread your wings. May you bravely go where your imagination leads you, no matter how far…or how near.” And the young adults smiled at thought of making their youthful dreams come true. The fairy godmother then looked at the older adults in the congregation and said, “And to you, whom love, I leave you with two huge fistfuls of my strength. Although it may seem that your days are never long enough to do all that must be done, please know that it is always worth the effort.” Finally, the fairy godmother’s eyes found those of the elders, and she whispered to them, “And you, my friends, whom I love without hesitation. I leave you with a fathomless well of wisdom. You have seen and heard so much in your lives. What you know is a blessing to us all.” The fairy godmother then raised her wand and flicked her wrist and in a burst of glittering fairy dust, she was gone.

While they were sad that their fairy godmother had left them, the congregation was thrilled with their new gifts. The children found that their curiosity was now insatiable. The youth discovered that their talks were deeper and more meaningful than they had ever been before. The young adults immediately began planning a service trip to far-off land that they had always dreamed about. The adults decided that now was the time to hunker down and completely revise the congregation’s by-laws. And the elders smiled and nodded wisely at the flurry of activity they saw around them. The congregation was humming and buzzing as it never had before. Each generation was learning and growing and expanding their horizons. Soon their sadness ebbed away and they found themselves wrapped in a warm and cozy sense of contentment. And hardly anyone noticed when the feeling of enchantment they had shared when the fairy godmother was with them gradually dissipated, like fog lifting in the mid-morning sun.

Soon the enchantment became a distant memory. And the sense of contentment began to dull their minds and hearts. The children grew tired of the same old routine in their Sunday school classes, no matter how exciting the subject might seem. The youth found that their thoughts and feelings could take them only so far, and a vague sense of disconnection began to seep into their meetings. The young adults returned from their service trip to a far-off land only to discover that the other generations were too involved with their own projects to pay much attention to what they had done. The older adults began to feel anxious that so many of the key milestones they had envisioned in their latest 10 year plan still lay far ahead of them. And the elders found themselves increasingly isolated at their monthly luncheons. They still had so much to offer, but no one really seemed to care.

Part II here.

This fall, for or the first time in many, many years, I’ve had the opportunity to teach Sunday school. Back when I was a religious educator on the congregational level, I had plenty of chances to actually teach. And teach I did–from preschool through adult education, I taught ’em all.  But once I started working at the district level, the opportunities disappeared. That is until this year, when the combination of having a three-year-old son and a 4:30 in the afternoon service at my home church combined to offer another chance for me to teach preschool. So, for the last few months I’ve been one of the co-teachers for Henry David’s Spirit Play class at Unity Church-Unitarian in Saint Paul. I have to say that I’m really loving it–for a couple of reasons. One, I do miss teaching Sunday school on a regular basis, and two, I believe that time spent at church should be family time, so being a teacher in H.D.’s class gives me a chance to spend a little more time with him.

Getting back into the RE classroom has also raised a couple of new questions for me. One question is, “What are we trying to accomplish here?” Another is, “How do we know we’re accomplishing it?” These questions might sound familiar to anyone who’s had to come up with definite goals for themselves in their work place (something we’re taking more seriously here in Prairie Star). They’re the kind of questions organizations need to ask themselves, too. And here’s the thing–now that I’m actively teaching again, I’m beginning to wonder what we really are trying to do in our RE classroom. My wonderment comes more from the second question than the first. I have no idea how we would get a sense of whether or not we’re actually accomplishing anything specific in our classrooms. To be sure, we’re doing all of the things UUs try to do for their children: expose them to the sources of our faith, give them a moral grounding, even teach them a thing or two about what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist. But that’s all starting to sound a little mushy to me right now, especially when I think in terms of measuring outcomes.

I mean, this would be easy if we had something like a final exam for our children once they reached middle school or high school (think of Jewish children having to read Hebrew for their Bar Mitzvah/Bat Mitzvah). But that runs against the notion of a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. A more accurate measure might be to actually figure the percentage of youth who are still part of a congregation at a specific time in their lives, say, ninth grade. Do we really have any idea how many of our preschoolers actually stick around long enough to complete a coming of age or OWL program? And while those figures might be useful (if we could ever get them–right now I know of no congregation that keeps track of those sort of things), I’m afraid that we might be measuring the wrong thing. We would still be looking at individual involvement, which is how we’ve pretty much measure everything in our movement. We count heads (or souls) as our basic unit of measure.

Quiet Please "Testing"

Quiet Please

So I’m looking for another kind of test to help us measure whether or not we’re actually achieving what we hope to in our Sunday school classes. And I’ve got some ideas. But before I share them, I’d like to hear your thoughts on the subject. What do you think we should be looking for to test whether or not our Sunday school programs are doing what we hope they’re doing? And while you’re at it, just what the heck are we trying to do in our RE programs?

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