Religious Exploration — Living Into Our Vision Through Shared Ministry

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The Reverend Andrew C. Millard

A few years ago, we drafted a Vision for the UUFP’s future.  Given our Mission to grow in wonder, connect in love, engage in service and inspire generosity, we asked ourselves what the UUFP might look like in five or ten years’ time once we were living into that Mission more fully.  Not surprisingly, a large part of our Vision concerned our need for better facilities and more space; this had been on our minds for some years, and in fact was the reason we worked on articulating our Mission in the first place; and it’s been something that the Planning Committee, the Real Estate Task Force and others have continued to work on all through the pandemic.

However, that’s not all our Vision includes.  It also includes social justice and visibility to the public and staffing and spiritual development, and it names diversity and growth as being important, too, particularly when it comes to being more child-friendly and more teenager-friendly.  As reported by the Planning Committee following conversations with various people and groups, “Our vision is for every child, youth, parent and other caring adult to work together to build their understanding of this religion and spread it to the world.”  That was written before the pandemic, but it’s only become more vital since then.

“Our vision is for every child, youth, parent and other caring adult to work together to build their understanding of this religion and spread it to the world.”

The pandemic was hard on congregations generally, but it hit religious education particularly hard, and that’s not just UU, but across Christian denominations and other faiths, too.  I can speak from personal experience when it comes to how difficult it was for children to be isolated from their friends, for them to suffer through a week of doing school on Zoom (or, worse, Microsoft Teams!) and then for parents to try to convince them to do RE on-line, too?  To back up my anecdotal evidence, there’s a new report from the Hartford Institute for Religion Research with the data that on-line Religious Education did not work well for children, even as it had benefits for adult RE.  In fact, that report shows, although almost all congregations have resumed in-person worship, RE is still far from what it was pre-pandemic.  And then there’s this one sentence from the report; who comes to mind for you as you read it?

“Even in the midst of these challenges, religious education leaders showed considerable originality using on-line tools, strengthening at home DIY efforts, hosting intergenerational activities with COVID precautions, and creating novel approaches like Pizza Church or Dungeons and Dragons clubs.”

You thought of our Director of Religious Education, Joanne, didn't you?  I know that you know how hard she’s worked during the pandemic to provide creative ways for our children and youth to stay connected.

In the Financial Feasibility Study conducted last year to predict the success of our Capital Campaign, stewardship consultant Mark Ewert affirmed that RE is an important part of the UUFP’s Vision, that it’s a big part of the reason why we need more space, and that it matters to you, the congregation.  Mark also reported that we need a plan for intentional growth in membership and diversity, rather than wishfully thinking that “if we build it, they will come”, and our Vision for RE has got to be at the heart of that plan.

 

So, I’m pleased to report that, this week, Joanne and I met with Southern Region staff to talk about how we might develop such a plan.  A few of you are also part of that conversation about growth and our Vision for RE, and it’s open to anyone else who is interested, too.  I’m also pleased to report that, as one of our goals for this year’s Canvass, there is in the draft budget for next year funding for Kids’ Day In.  That’s the Sunday afternoon program that provides activities and structured play for children while their parents do whatever they want to do during that time.  Kids’ Day In was popular before the pandemic, and we believe it will help attract new families to the congregation now, too.

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Kids' Day In

The last two years have been particularly hard on RE, and I know that it’s been hard for Joanne and our RE volunteers, too.  The good news is that we are now in a great place to rebuild our RE program, to live into our Vision for ourselves by revitalizing this part of our church home, to plan for intentional growth in membership and diversity, and to recommit to becoming the congregation that our Mission calls us to be.  And with all of your help and support in this shared ministry that is Religious Exploration at the UUFP, I know that we will succeed.

Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see. -Neil Postman

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