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Sometimes it seems that the only time I find for posting is when I’m waiting in an airport for a flight to or from home. Which is what’s going on at this moment. I’m in the Albuquerque International Sunport waiting to catch a flight back to Minneapolis/Saint Paul. It’s been a long week away from my family and I’m looking forward to seeing them soon. It’s also been worth the time away, both personally and professionally. The most important part of this week has been the LREDA (Liberal Religious Educators Association) Fall Conference. The theme this year was on multigenerational religious community, and there was a lot of good information presented. Rebecca Parker (president of Starr King School for Ministry) was the keynote speaker, and she gave us a theological grounding for multigenerational community based on her new book Saving Paradise. There were also breakout workshops on various aspect of multigenerational programming, which I’ll write more about later. For now, I just wanted to share with you this bit of learning from Jesse Jaeger, former director of the Youth Office at the UUA. It’s a “Congregational Generational Continuum” he came up with that really lays out what’s involved in creating genuine multigenerational communities in our congregations:


  • Only one age group present
  • Most often people between the ages of 45 and 60
  • Sunday morning worship usually the only main program
  • If RE is present it is small and more like a childcare program

Generationally Segregated

  • There might be three or four generations present
  • RE is the realm of children, youth and their parents
  • Sunday worship is the realm of the middle aged and seniors
  • Generations rarely mix socially


  • Looks like the Generationally Segregated church
  • Main differences are specific and limited intergenerational events like:
  • Yearly youth worship
  • Holiday worship
  • Children attend first part of Sunday service only


    • There are programs (and ministries) that are designed to meet the specific developmental needs of all generations
    • There are programs (and ministries) that regularly bring different generational groups together in meaningful ways
    • These two are part of an intentional church plan

    The reason I’m so impressed with Jesse’s continuum is that it was a perfect set up for the workshop that Unity Church-Unitarian DRE Kerri Meyer and I presented today on multigenerational learning, which I’ll write about in my next post. For now it’s a quick bite to eat before boarding.


    We finished our final Multigenerational Worship online workshop last night, and I must say it was quite a success. We had the most participants of any of the 10 Good Ideas series of workshops offered by the Mid-America District staff group, and once again, almost all of the participants who completed the post-workshop evaluation said that the technology worked well for them. We’ll definitedly have more of these online learning opportunities in the future. (The next scheduled workshop is 10 Good Ideas about Adding a Service. You can find out more about it here.)

    One of the resources we shared last night was an upcoming workshop on Creative & Contemporary Worship, led by Marcia McFee. One of the things I like the most about the way Dr. McFee approaches worship is her belief that worship services should be “interactive, intergenerational, interesting and inspirational.” And she shows you how that’s done. I believe that if we’re going to retain more of our children and youth as lifelong Unitarian Universalists, we’ll need to break out of the mold of our traditional, watered-down, mainline Protestant worship. We’ll also need to start involving youth and young adults in planning our worship services. Marcia McFee’s approach to “creating worship with deep soul” can help us get there. Attending the November 15 workshop in Deerfield, Illinois, on Creative & Contemporary Worship is a great to find out more. Click here for more information.

    Today the Mid-America Staff Group of the UUA District Staff is offering two, count ’em, two online workshops! Actually, it’s just one workshop, two times. We really didn’t plan it that way, but it seems that I somehow failed to communicate to the folks promoting these workshops that today’s Ten Good Ideas about Multigenerational Worship would be at 10:00 a.m. CT rather than the customary 7:00 p.m. CT. At any rate, we had a bunch of folks who had signed up thinking that it was at 7:00 and a few folks who were available at 10:00, so we (Dori Davenport, Michelle Richards, and yours truly) decided to offer it twice. We finished the morning workshop a couple of hours ago, and it really went well. I’m sure that this evening’s one will be just as successful.

    What are these ten good ideas? Well, here’s the slide presentation followed by the our comments (and the links we shared with the participants:

    Keep It Simple. Rev. Tamara Lebak said this best at a GA workshop a few years ago—“I would continually ask myself: What’s the $10 word for? What do I want to say, and how can I say it so that it is relevant to everyone?” Mention SMOG (simplified measure of gobbledygook Also, applies to music. Consider using easier arrangements of familiar hymns. Come Sing a Song with Me: A Songbook for All Ages.

    Be Concrete. Importance of readings, meditations, stories/sermons being concrete, not abstract (toothpaste worship rather than sermon on how we can’t take back our words once they are out).

    Keep It Moving. Participation by whole the whole person and the entire congregation at worship (calling out responses, sharing thoughts, adding objects to worship table or other central gathering place). Also includes pacing. Run through the service at least once with participants to avoid awkward moments.

    Explain Each Part of the Service. Be attentive to transitions. “Now we’re going to…”; “this is why we…”; “For Unitarian Universalists, its important that we…” (also good for newcomers as well). Use introduction to hymns as an example. “Now as we prepare ourselves for a moment of silence and reflection, let us ask the Spirit of Life to move in our hearts by singing one of the best-loved hymns in Unitarian Universalism.” Between the Lines: Sources for Singing the Living Tradition

    Keep it Short. (The sermon that is). The briefer the better when it comes to sermons. If you must have longer elements, think in terms of chunking them/breaking into smaller segments. Think homily rather than sermon.

    Consider How We Learn. Multiple learning styles, add visuals, connections between people, engaging all five senses. (Review learning styles: Intelligences include visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, inter- and intrapersonal, linguistic, logical-mathematical, naturalistic, and spiritual.)

    Avoid a Need to Read. When it comes to participation, avoid parts which require reading ability (helpful to both oldest and youngest members of congregation plus many in between), using litanies or call-backs instead of responsive readings and familiar songs with words which are easily picked up. (Hymns and songs for children’s and intergenerational worship as well as junior choir use:

    Think Layers. Offer elements with multiple levels of meaning on your theme, like the layers of an onion which can be peeled away, adults will be able to get at the very “heart” of it, while children may only graze the surface (great example of this was worship at GA where in between verbal presentation of variety of ways the “Golden Rule” appears in many religious traditions was the singing of the song “Many windows, one light, many waters, one sea—all lifted hearts are free.”)

    Use Different People of All Ages. Involve people of all ages in different elements of the service: chalice lighting, offering, etc.; consider who is seen and whose voices are heard; ways of sharing beyond joys and concerns. A family choir is a great way to get folks of all ages in front of the congregation.

    Provide Tools for Parents. Include some reflective questions in the order of service to take home (and perhaps time in service for parents to explain); questions for adults and for children of varying ages, to stimulate discussion, perhaps within the context of the sermon (appeals to the interpersonal learning style).

    A link to Michelle’s book, Come into the Circle: Worshiping with Children.

    Creating Effective Intergenerational Worship Services (Without Going Insane)

    The 1st UUA Conference on Contemporary Worship

    This week the Rev. William G. Sinkford, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, released a letter regarding Transitions in Youth Ministry. In it he states that “it is true that YRUU as a continental organization has effectively ended.” This is, no doubt, the final word on the status of Young Religious Unitarian Universalists as an association-wide organization. This doesn’t mean that youth are no longer represented on a continental level. Sinkford states that “the mantle of continental youth leadership has been passed to those youth ably serving on the [Youth Ministry]  Working Group.” This is the group that has been charged to help “shape the future of our Association’s youth ministry.” Sinkford goes on to say that,  “of course, representative youth leadership continues at the district and congregational level throughout our Association.”

    If you, or anyone–youth or adult–in your congregation, have had questions about the future of youth ministry in the UUA, this letter is essential reading. You can read it yourself here. And you can find a complete roster of those serving on the Youth MInistry Working Group here. You’ll notice that Prairie Star’s own Nick Allen is at the topic of this list. Of course, the list is alphabetical. But those of us who know Nick think he could be number one on a lot of lists!

    Here’s a reconstruction of the post I lost yesterday…

    The Prairie Star District’s mission statement has four ends: healthy, vital congregations in the District; strong related UU organizations; an interconnected web of Unitarian Universalists; and a world which lives by the UU principles. Now I get the first three. I understand how my work as the district’s program consultant can help congregations become healthy and vital. I see how I can assist in strengthen UU organizations in the District. And I know the importance of connecting Unitarian Universalists across the District and beyond. But a world that lives by the UU principles? Just how the heck are we supposed to make that happen? Well this weekend has shown me one good way.

    Right now I’m in Des Moines, Iowa, helping with a combined Junior High/Senior High OWL (Our Whole Lives) training. As you may know, OWL is the successor to the UUA’s pioneering comprehensive sexuality education curriculum know as About Your Sexuality. AYS may well have been the most successful curricula ever developed by the UUA, and OWL has built on that reputation by completely revamping the material and applying it to all ages, not just middle school (hence the name, Our Whole Lives). There’s even been a recent addition that covers young adults. What’s more, while AYS was strictly a UU affair, OWL was developed in conjunction with the United Church of Christ.

    Okay, so what does this have to do with a world that lives by the UU principles? Everything. See, because OWL was a joint project with between the UUA and the UCC, the training of OWL facilitators has become an increasingly multi-denominational process. For example, here in Prairie Star we alway make sure that every OWL training we offer has one UUA facilitator and one UCC facilitator. And we promote them to congregations in both of our denominations (and yes, I realize that we’re technically an association–but there’s no need to go into that here). An unintended consequence (but not a crazy random happenstance) has been that denominations other than the Congregationalists have started to become interested in OWL. And that’s where this weekend comes in.

    Right now, as I’m writing this post, at the Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa‘s David & Elizabeth Kruidenier Center in Des Moines, a group of 24 people are being trained to become OWL facilitators in their home congregations. And while there are mostly UUs in attendance, there are folks from three other denominations as well (and that’s not counting the participants from Planned Parenthood co-sponsors). We have on person from the UCC, three from the Mennonites, and one more from the Disciples of Christ. I have to say that this is the most religiously diverse OWL training I’ve ever seen. And since OWL is the premier faith-based, abstinence-oriented, comprehensive sexuality curricula in the country, the probability for more progressive religious organizations becoming involved seems pretty high. And that’s where the fourth end of Prairie Star’s mission statement comes in. If helping people become sexually healthy beings is one of the ways we express our first principle, then involving other denominations in that work is one way we can definitely more toward a world which lives by the UU principles.

    Mary Louise Smith Resource Center
    Dean, Pat, Sherry, and Ben preparing for their presentation at the combined Jr. High/Sr. High OWL Training in Des Moines.

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