By Liz Strong
[Editors' note: The Rev. Eugene Barnett Navias, who died August 17, 2014, served the UUA as a religious education (RE) field consultant for nearly 20 years, then as Director of the UUA Religious Education Department (1982-1993). He gave us advocacy for professional development for religious educators, a commitment to sexuality education, creative teacher workshops, and song lyrics to teach history and theology.]
Gene Navias interviewed me in 1977 for acceptance in the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Accreditation Program for Directors of Religious Education. Through the years, he was there as a mentor and friend with compassion, humor, and intellectual challenge. His leadership of the Religious Education Department at the UUA benefited—and was deeply appreciated by—hundreds of religious educators, including me.
Gene developed the Religion Making Model to revamp the boxed curriculum kits of the 1960s. I shall always remember him at the Ferry Beach conference center when he co-led a program on that Religion Making model. He guided us to adapt “Man the Meaning Maker: Kung of the Kalahari,” to bring it to life for a new generation. Role playing was part of the plan and we became members of a Kung tribe for a day’s experience in the Kalahari Desert. As we set out across the sand dunes at Ferry Beach, Gene played the role of a little boy of five. Hopping and skipping along, he thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the role. I thoroughly enjoyed playing the role of a girl about that same age frolicking across the sand in cahoots with him. He taught me that even the “high UUA brass” could have fun and enjoy the company of novice religious educators. I hoped that Gene’s ability to interact as his joyful self with all whom he met would always remain. I know that that child of five always did hop and skip within him, because, later in our friendship, Gene would hop and skip up Roslin Street in Dorchester to play Scrabble with Jim and me.
Gene, In my times of crisis and pain you gave condolences, comfort, and insight into my struggles. For that I thank you. Your support will always remain a powerful part of why I cherish you as I do. You served Unitarian Universalism with your heart and soul.
Dear friend, admired colleague, esteemed role model, you are now my cherished memory. Rest in peace, I loved you living and I love you now.
See the obituary posted by the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association, online.
Rev. Dr. Elizabeth M. Strong, a third generation Unitarian Universalist, is a retired minister of religious education who has served congregations in Rochester and Syracuse, NY; as program consultant for the Mass. Bay District of the UUA; and, as consulting minister for the First Parish Church in Ashby (MA) where she was named Minister Emerita. A recipient of the Angus MacLean Award for Excellence in Religious Education and the Meadville Lombard Alumni Board Service Award, Liz is a past president of the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA) and a member of the Meadville Lombard Theological School Board.