A fine way to celebrate August 2, the birthday of Sophia Fahs, is to announce that her classic story collection, From Long Ago and Many Lands: Stories for Children Told Anew, is now available on the Unitarian Universalist Association website (PDF, 288 pages; no charge) and as an eBook on Amazon ($6).
Originally published in 1948 by Beacon Press with a small teacher’s guide by Florence Wolff Klaber, From Long Ago and Many Lands was reprinted six times before its second edition was published by Skinner House Books in 1995. In the forward to the second edition, Pat Hoertdoerfer, then UUA Children’s Program Director, wrote, “Sophia Lyon Fahs and Florence Wolff Klaber…were truly pioneering in many ways. They envisioned religious education as a lifelong experience, integrated wisdom from many religions and cultures into their work, promoted values that are currently stated in our Principles and Purposes, nurtured a religious harmony of spirituality and ethics, and cooperated across the liberal religious community in educational pursuits and publications.”
Reverend Dr. Barry Andrews endorsed the second edition: “These tales, culled from cultures and wisdom traditions the world over, deal with timeless themes – life, death, faith and human diversity. The teacher’s guide contains discussion questions and suggestions for program enrichment, making this a valuable resource for parents, teachers and leaders of worship. Ideal for children and intergenerational groups. Heartily recommended.”
For twenty or so years since then, From Long Ago and Many Lands as remained a valuable and relevant resource in our congregations and beyond. Some contemporary uses include:
stories from the book being shared in worship services;
stories providing a basis for children’s, multi-age, or multigenerational RE sessions, using a variety of models including small group ministry and workshop rotation;
congregations developing summer or winter day camps using selected stories;
interfaith gatherings making use of the stories beyond the congregation; and
parents using the book for bedtime stories or as a basis for homeschooling activities.
One UU grandparent found From Long Ago and Many Lands was the perfect gift to share her faith and religious values with grandchildren being raised in a different faith tradition! Fahs and Klaber’s pioneering spirits live on in the varied and creative ways people are using From Long Ago and Many Lands. Share your ideas with us.
Learn about Sophia Fahs and her influence on liberal religious education from biographies provided by:
For several years, my family and I participated in the Birmingham Hospitality Network, a non-profit that worked to provide shelter space for families who lost a home. The families are hosted by congregations. Congregation members volunteer to provide meals. My family would pick a night, bring dinner, share the meal with the families housed in the shelter, and provide some entertainment: movies, games, etc.
One night, my seven year-old daughter brought her Pokemon cards with her. She and a young boy played with them all night. That night, we were also the overnight volunteers, so we spent the night at the congregational shelter. In the morning, immediately upon arriving home, my daughter disappeared into her room. She came out several minutes later, with a bag full of Pokemon cards. She said breathlessly, “Can you take me back to the shelter?” When we asked why, she told us that the boy she had met loved Pokemon, but had been forced to leave all his cards when they lost their home. “I’ve got lots of cards and can’t play with them all at once and I want to give him some of my cards.”
Of course, we drove back to the shelter so she could give the young man the cards. I was thrilled that my daughter understood the concept of “having enough” and just as happy that she was exhibiting empathy.
Empathy is one of those feelings many of us hope to nurture. It is identified as a theme in Tapestry of Faith; the high school program, Heeding the Call, has a workshop on empathy, and either empathy or its close relative, compassion, are mentioned in at least half of the Tapestry of Faith core curricula. But is a strong empathetic nature enough to help heal the oppressions and conflicts of our world?
A New York Times magazine story, “The Empathy Gap,” features the work of Emile Bruneau, a cognitive neuroscientist at M.I.T. Bruneau’s research seeks to determine why empathic people can still condone activities that oppress particular identity groups, such as racist policies against the Roma in Hungary and Israeli policies toward Palestinians. The scientist hopes to develop strategies to lessen the empathy gap. In one discussion, a peace activist thinks she has a small empathy gap because she experienced being “the other” at an early age and so can empathize with other marginalized people. But she warns that this could have the opposite effect. (Think of Felicity Huffman’s character in American Crime.)
Storytelling seems to be a possible way to grow empathy. I have always believed it is important for us to tell our story and listen to the stories of others.
At General Assembly this year, I facilitated a workshop with Rev. Kristen Maier, the author of A Good Telling: Bringing Worship to Life with Story. In the workshop, Rethinking “We,” several UUs told personal stories of times when their idea of who is included in “we” was challenged. I hope you keep telling your stories and listening to others’ – especially the stories that help us understand life on the margins.
If you did not catch ABC’s American Crime, find episodes on their website or On Demand, Hulu, or Google Play. The series was created by John Ridley, writer and producer, who wrote the screenplay for 12 Years a Slave and Undercover Brother. It is an intelligent, mature drama that touches on race, class, and people who are marginalized in our society. It is not the easiest TV to watch for it does not claim any easy answers. I found it Shakespearean in scope, both heartbreaking and redemptive.
Let us worship with our eyes and ears and fingertips;
let us love the world through heart and mind and body. — Reverend Kenneth Patton
In May, my daughter was married in an outdoor ceremony in Vermont. She and her new husband walked barefoot over a grassy pathway marked with hyacinth petals to reach the waiting officiant. It was lovely and appropriate; their bare feet symbolized both the solemnity and the playful joy of the occasion.
There is something profoundly spiritual about touching the earth with bare feet. There’s a solidity there, and an unmediated connection with the Spirit of Life, with all that is.
In Hebrew scripture, when Moses approached the burning bush he heard the voice of G-d telling him to put off his shoes. The place where he was standing was holy ground. I AM was present there, the Ground of Being, and Moses, in awe, removed his shoes. When I tell that familiar story in multigenerational worship settings, I ask people of all ages to remove their shoes, to feel their feet against the floor, connecting through it to the earth below. In that act, I ask them to understand that when we are in worship, experiencing the call to be fully present, fully loved and fully loving, that place is holy ground.
Many of us spend a good deal of time barefoot in the summer, enjoying the playfulness and ease of moving across or through grass, sand, smooth rocks, and shallow water. Can you imagine moments of barefoot family worship? Wiggle your toes, the whole family together. Feel the air against your foot, the warmth of the sun, the dampness of the grass or sand or stones. Remember that the air that touches you, that moves around your wiggling toes, is the same air that has been cycling through the breath of animals, plants, and other creatures for millions of years. Feel the ground beneath your feet. Is it smooth or rough, warm or cold, damp or dry? Feel your connection with the whole earth and with all that is. Imagine that through the earth you are connected to all beings and to the Ground of Being, the Spirit of Life, G-d.
Walk, run, or simply remain in one place, the flesh of your feet against the solidity of the earth. Be fully present, fully loved, and fully loving. Enjoy the moment in silence, in awe, and then in playful joy.
Let us worship with our eyes and ears and fingertips – and with bare feet! Happy Summer!
Ask adults what they remember from Sunday School and you’ll hear memories of doing. That convinces me that religious education (RE) should be as hands-on, innovative, and creative as possible. Like Makerspaces.
Around the country, “Maker Culture” is developing. Communities, libraries, and schools have installed “Makerspaces” that encourage kids to design, collaborate, and create. According to the Makerspace Playbook: “Makerspaces serve as gathering points where communities of new and experienced makers connect to work on real and personally meaningful projects, informed by helpful mentors and expertise, using new technologies and traditional tools.”
Tony Wagner, at Harvard’s new Innovation Lab, says this new way is “the future,” doing what “instructional” models cannot: teaching children to innovate. In a recent book, Wagner says kids supported in creative play, problem solving opportunities, and allowed to learn from failure grow up to change the world.
But can we do that in RE? I think we have to. William Ellery Channing said, “The great end in religious education is not to stamp our minds upon the young, but to stir up their own.” Perhaps the best way to do that is to hand them tools now and give them the opportunity to grow knowledge and skills, becoming problem-solvers who really can change the world.
My work in a children’s museum convinced me that kids love to create, build, and invent because these activities are so engaging and FUN. They end up learning a great deal, by default. But is it faith development? Does it reflect and teach our theology?
By teaching early that there are problems in the world that need our combined focus, we teach, like Forrest Church, that deeds, not creeds, are of great value.
Problem solving and project planning in RE are developmentally appropriate ways for kids to encounter challenging social justice issues in a safe space. They will be better prepared later to engage in social justice work.
By asking kids to help solve problems, we teach that we can “choose to bless the world,” as Rebecca Parker describes. This reflects our Universalist belief that we are all in this together, so we should figure out our shared human challenges.
Makerspace projects for young children can be positive. If we want a young person to be able to understand the ecological consequences of deforestation when she is older, let her work to get the church grounds certified as a wildlife habitat when she is 8. This lays the groundwork for an integrated understanding of the issue. She learns she can be an active, not passive, seventh Principle steward.
Likewise, an RE container garden invites a child to understand the value of water and soil and organically demonstrates how producing food is a fundamental human experience and right. A social justice project on hunger or water scarcity will be more meaningful to him if he has experienced planning, preparing, planting, tending, harvesting, and sharing a garden’s bounty.
Our kids thrive on DOING. It changes their brains and the way they see themselves: When we make things, we are more confident, more open, less anxious about perfection. We naturally collaborate and take risks, and we begin to see ourselves as creators of the world around us, not passive consumers.
We know our children need RE experiences that help them “take it home” every day of the week, in all their activities. Makerspace work lets them bring skills and passion into their daily lives. We can bring our UU values and theology to life when we build capacity in our kids for imagining, doing, helping, healing. We say we are the church of the open minds, loving hearts, and helping hands. Makerspace work in RE programs can help make that a reality.
Want to explore the possibility of Makerspace in your program? The Makerspace Playbook (School Edition), available online as a PDF file, provides detailed how-to and why-to information.
About the Blogger
Joy Berry is a professional religious educator in Asheville, NC, where she raises chickens, tinkers, and dreams about her future permaculture homestead. She is terminally excited about UUism and her favorite thing ever is witnessing children fall in love with the world around them.
Many parents will spend the next few months packing college dorm-bound boxes with bed linens, ramen noodles, and laundry soap. I hope they will also include condoms, dams, and personal lubricant; a book on sexuality; and encouragement to make smart sexual decisions as well as smart academic choices.
A few years ago, a college first-year and Our Whole Lives Sexuality Education program graduate told me: “Living in a dorm gives you a live lesson in how STIs (sexually transmitted infections) can spread. In the first week, one person on my floor slept with four people!”
A parent may consider their live-away college freshman a newly minted adult, but, biologically, teens remain in adolescence until about age 25. While their brains are still developing, they are more likely to take risks, use poor impulse control, and be self-conscious. These are all risk factors for unhealthy sexual decisions.
But, there is good news: College offers a time of great learning, exploration, and social development, all of which contribute to healthy sexuality.
Parents often warn their children to “stay safe” or “be smart” about college drinking and sex, but I have yet to meet a student whose parents taught them how to negotiate sexual activity in a sexually healthy, non-coercive way. Every 21 hours, a rape occurs on a college campus in the U.S. All of those rapes were committed by someone’s child, against someone else’s child.
As a professor of undergraduate Human Sexuality, I’ve observed that each class has several students who:
regret at least a few of their sexual decisions;
have not engaged in sexual intercourse;
have sexual health concerns;
wonder whether or how to disclose their sexual identity;
are in abusive relationships;
are having sex that, while consensual, isn’t pleasurable;
have experienced their own, a partner’s, or a friend’s unintended pregnancy;
aren’t sure whether they’ve been coerced or assaulted, due to excessive drinking;
aren’t sure whether they’ve sexually coerced or assaulted someone.
Use the time before college starts to educate about healthy sexual behavior. Say it unequivocally: Sexual activity should never occur unless a potential partner gives enthusiastic, on-going consent while clear-headed, that is, not pressured, drunk, drugged, or cognitively/developmentally impaired in any way.
Other ways you can help prepare a sexually smart, new college student:
Encourage your young person to schedule a physical exam with their primary care provider. This is a good opportunity for them to find out about protection against STIs and unintended pregnancy. Prior to the visit, discuss whether you’re OK with your family insurance coverage being used for contraceptives and STI screenings.
Tour the campus health center together or encourage your young person to visit early in the semester, before they need help. Kurt Conklin, an instructional specialist at Montclair State University, says “Obtaining preventive sexual health services will feel more routine if your young adult has prior acquaintance with how to use the health service. You can sit with them at a computer and do a dress rehearsal of how to schedule an appointment online or by phone.“
Buy sex books when you buy textbooks. Good resources for college students include Our Bodies, Ourselves: A New Edition for a New Era, 4th edition, by Judy Norsigian and Boston Women’s Health Book Collective (New York: Touchstone, 2011); Guide To Getting It On, 8th edition, by Paul Joannides (Waldport, OR: Goofy Foot Press, 2015); S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-To-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College, by Heather Corinna (Boston, MA: De Capo Press,2007).
Iman Messado, 18, a staff writer for the popular Sex, Etc. website, tells new college students, “Besides checking out Sex, Etc., I think it’s good to know that you have all the time in the world to be sexually active. Hooking up might be a prominent part of the stereotypical college experience, but you still have to deal with the possible consequences. If you really do want to be sexually active, go ahead! Only, be as safe as you can: use condoms, contraceptives, get tested for STIs, etc.”
Encourage your young person to locate a Unitarian Universalist congregation near their campus and ask whether they offer Our Whole Lives Sexuality Education for Young Adults. Use Find a Congregation on the UUA website home page.
With your young person, watch sexuality educator Al Vernacchio’s TEDTalk offering a new way to think about sexual decision making. Forget baseball metaphors; bring on the pizza!
Discuss with your young person what they can do if they or a friend is sexually assaulted. Many colleges have specially trained advisers for this purpose. NotAlone.gov lists resources in every state.
About the Blogger
Melanie Davis is the Our Whole Lives Program Associate in the Faith Development Office of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
In a previous Call and Response post (Parents and “Fellow Laborers,” July 2013), we shared advice for parents from the famous Sunday School Address by William Ellery Channing (1780-1842). The Unitarian minister also had lots to say for those who teach in our religious education programs. In his times, he spoke with urgency, warning, “So great is my dread of tame, mechanical teaching that I am sometimes almost tempted to question the utility of Sunday schools.”
Herewith, some wisdom and inspiration for teachers, from Channing:
As the first means of establishing influence over the young, I would say, you must love them.
To awaken in the young an interest in what you teach, you must take an interest in it yourselves. You must not only understand, but feel, the truth. Your manner must have the natural animation which always accompanies a work into which our hearts enter.
Teach much by questions. These stimulate, stir up the young mind, and make it its own teacher. They encourage the spirit of inquiry, the habit of thought. Questions, skillfully proposed, turn the child to his own consciousness and experience, and will often draw out from his own soul the truth which you wish to impart; and no lesson is so well learned as that which [an adult] or a child teaches [themselves].
Cultivate the power of description. A story well told, and in which the most important particulars are brought out in a strong light, not only fixes attention, but often carries a truth farthest into the soul.
Carry a cheerful spirit into religious teaching.
Like all schools, the Sunday-school must owe its influence to its teachers. I would, therefore, close this discourse with saying that the most gifted in our congregation cannot find a worthier field of labor than the Sunday-school. The noblest work on earth is to act with an elevating power on a human spirit.
Read William Ellery Channing’s 1837 Sunday School Address online, in his collected writings on GoogleBooks.
The UUA supports teachers and facilitators, both professional and lay volunteer, with curricula, webinars, the Renaissance program of continuing education for religious educators, and a variety of guide books online and in print. Visit the UUA website’s portal to resources for teachers and facilitators to build skills, find inspiration, and deepen engagement in religious education.
When I was six years old, my family moved to a town along the Merrimack River in northeastern Massachusetts. In those days, we talked about living “within smelling distance” of the river. It was a mess, about as close as one could get to an open sewer, with manufacturing plants, homes, and schools all along its banks using it for waste disposal.
And yet, even then, I was drawn to the river, the way its muddy banks were exposed at low tide and its rapid current pulled sticks and debris toward the mouth. It held me. It was the most significant part of the landscape of the place I now called home.
It was also one of the 10 most polluted rivers in the country. My father, who worked in factory buildings along the banks, watched the waters change color as the textile factories released their used dyes into the river.
When I was in high school, my senior biology project was about the pollution in the Merrimack River. Wearing hip boots to protect our skin, my lab partner and I waded in. We took water samples, observed the toilet tissue and other debris rushing by, and looked for signs of life. There were none, other than worms in the mud. In petri dishes we grew E. coli and other, equally scary things from drops of water. (I can’t imagine anyone letting high school students do any of this today!) That same year, 1972, the Clean Water Act passed in Congress, and people were forced to begin cleaning up the river and bringing it back to life.
As a religious educator, I think about the deep needs and hurts of our world, and how to equip each of us to offer our gifts to make the world a better place. Over time, I’ve come to believe that an important part of our spiritual grounding is tied up in the place where we are from. As we understand the layers of living that have made our place, our hearts will open to the stories and lives–human and not–in our own place and in other parts of the world. As we engage with the wisdom of our place, we will learn to bring our whole selves to justice-making. To deeply know one’s own place is foundational to affirming and supporting the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part.
So, I’ve spent time learning the stories of my place, the lower valley of the Merrimack River, stretching from the falls in Lowell where the Concord River joins the Merrimack to where the river joins the sea in Newburyport. Stories of fragmentation and fracture, and of hope, reconciliation, and connection. I imagine how we from this valley might repair this piece of the world by reconnecting with the river and with each other.
Promise of Place, a website dedicated to “enriching lives through place-based education,” offers detailed information and stories to help you understand, plan, and lead place-based learning.
Gather the Spirit is a multigenerational Tapestry of Faith program that teaches stewardship with a focus on water. Circle of Trees is a multigenerational program of eight workshops that nurture deep connection with trees, nature, and all of earth’s living creatures.
When I started my vocation as a Director of Religious Education twenty years ago, recruiting teachers was in my job description. No problem. Parents and other members of the congregation stepped up and volunteered. I continued to have a positive experience of recruiting teachers in several mid-size Unitarian Universalist congregations.
Three and a half years ago I was hired to serve a smaller congregation of 160 members with 60 children and youth. The Search Committee told me I would have a difficult time recruiting. I didn’t believe them. I was wrong.
After the first difficult year of trying to get people to volunteer, I hired one lead teacher for our Little Lights classroom of preschool and kindergarten children. Some of our leaders thought it was a bad idea, but I had support from the minister and the Faith Development Ministry Team. The classroom blossomed. The children loved their teacher and we had consistent attendance. The following year I hired a lead teacher for our Chalice Children classroom of grades 1 through 5 children. Again, it made a big difference in the classroom. We have good attendance now, the children love having the same teacher every week, and some parents tell me their children are responsible for getting them to church on Sunday when the parents are tired and don’t want to go.
Another great benefit of hiring lead teachers is the increase of parent volunteers to assist in the classrooms. No longer are parents complaining about missing worship, teaching too often, having to buy supplies, and planning lessons. Lead teachers and parent assistants have been a winning combination at the UU Church of Greater Lynn.
Last year, Katie Covey, Director, School of the Spirit at the Boulder Valley UU Fellowship, Lafayette (CO) and Unitarian Universalist curriculum author, wrote, “I believe the days of volunteer teachers are over. Volunteer mom teachers hark back to pre-feminist days when women with talents volunteered and created superb structures for hospitals, churches, schools, etc. But this is 2014. Women’s talents are not marginalized, they are part of the working society…” Read more on Covey’s blog site and find out about the financial structure of her SpiritJam program.
The Unitarian Universalist Association Fair Compensation Guidelines describe duties of paid congregational staff, including credentialed and non-credentialed religious educators.
About the Blogger
Karen Brown is Director of Lifespan Faith Development for the UU Church of Greater Lynn in Swampscott, Massachusetts and a co-chair of the North Shore Religious Educator’s Group (MA). Previously, she served other congregations as a religious educator on the East Coast and in the Midwest and has volunteered for leadership roles in a small congregation. She holds a Master’s in Religious Education from Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis.
[Editors’ note: The UUA Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries, in collaboration with a number of UUA regional teams, has published eight Youth Advising Competencies as an optional tool to help Congregational Life field staff, religious professionals, lay leaders, and advising teams identify excellence and assess needs for growth among the people trusted to advise Unitarian Universalist youth.]
By Jennica Davis-Hockett
When I first became an advisor, I certainly didn’t know what I was getting into! I thought being a youth advisor meant hanging with teens and helping them plan a summer service trip. I didn’t realize it could also mean helping youth understand and practice the complexities of covenantal community, being present with youth as they come out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, processing trauma, or dealing with addiction. Nor did I understand that I needed to be finding my own spiritual community outside youth ministry, deepening my UU theology, and becoming more effective and organized in my communications with parents, teammates and supervisors.
I remember walking home from youth group on multiple occasions with the anxious question “Am I doing this right?” circling in my head. I tried to seek counsel from my supervisor. I did some self-educating and plenty of soul searching to figure out how I could grow into my ministry. Advising youth is an important ministry, and I didn’t want to mess it up.
My religious educator and I did the best we could to synthesize all the information out there for youth advisor development, but it was A LOT! She was new in her position, just like me. I can only imagine from her perspective what it must have been like to figure out how to support me in my growth as an advisor.
Whether you are a youth advisor, a religious educator, a minister, music director, lay leader, or member of the UUA’s Congregational Life staff, at some point in your ministry you, too, may have asked yourself “How are we doing with this whole youth ministry advising thing?”
UUA field staff can use this compilation of advising competencies to support religious educators in building a breadth and depth of competence for healthy, safe congregational youth ministry.
Religious educators can use these competencies as a guideline for healthy best practices in hiring advisors and evaluating existing advising teams. We know religious educators aspire to hire the best advisors for their youth. This tool can help religious educators hire and mentor the right adults.
Youth advising teams can use the list of competencies to self-assess ways they complement one another and areas in which they can grow. Evaluation matrices for advisors and their supervisors will help assess strengths and improvements in the competencies UU youth need advisors to have.
We’ve created three categories for each competency: entry level (critical for an advisor to have on day one), basic (competencies which form the foundation of a healthy youth ministry), and advanced (appropriate for long-term advisors, paid staff, and other highly committed adults). Each category comes with an evaluation tool so advising teams and religious educators can identify areas for growth.
Vital youth ministry and resilient Unitarian Universalist youth begin with healthy, spiritually mature adults. Advising is an important ministry, one that adults might not know what they’re getting into when they sign up. My hope is that, if you choose to use it, this tool can provide some insight into the question we all ask ourselves at times, “How are we doing with this whole youth ministry thing?”
To explore using the Youth Advisor Competencies in your UU faith community, join Jennica Davis-Hockett and the UUA Faith Development Office (FDO) for a free, one-hour webinar either Tuesday, May 19 (1 pm Eastern) or Wednesday, May 20 (9 pm Eastern). Register for a webinar here. See more FDO webinars here.
The UUA sponsors an email list for youth advisors. Members ask one another questions and share best practices about working with youth. Contact the UUA to subscribe to this email group.
About the Author
Jennica Davis-Hockett, Leadership Development Associate in the UUA Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries, began her ministry with youth in 2008 at First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City, Utah, her hometown. Since then she has served as District Youth Ministry Consultant (Mountain Desert) and Regional Youth Ministry Specialist (Pacific Western). Her vision for youth ministry is that every Unitarian Universalist youth has a dependable support network that acknowledges their inherent worth and dignity and fosters their potential as a spiritual leader, and that every UU adult in that network has the wisdom, compassion, and support to meet that call. Her spiritual practices include gardening, yoga, rock climbing, playing the ukulele, and nature adventures in the Utah wilderness with her husband Mat.
Working in youth ministry, supporting young people in their search for identity, voice, and calling, is at best incredibly gratifying. It can also be heartbreakingly challenging. Raising two multi-racial young women of my own is equal parts of both, and everything in between, sometimes all in one day! It is with them in mind that I hold in my heart all of our Unitarian Universalist youth of color.
Over the years I have witnessed the struggles to blend in and be accepted. I have witnessed the silence when another youth says something like “You’re the whitest black person I know!” or “I think people in our generation have gotten over the whole racism thing.” I know about not wanting to be the voice of every [insert your minority of choice]. But, I worry. Although I do not want any youth to have to be a spokesperson, I do want them to add their personal, unique perspective to the vital multicultural conversation going on in our faith.
Recently, traveling to Denver, Colorado for Finding Our Way Home, a conference for UU professionals of color, I was reminded how important this gathering is to my own multicultural identity in work that can sometimes be culturally isolating. Having a safe place to share and learn together; to have hard conversations and to encourage and console one another; to celebrate and become rejuvenated—the conference feeds my ministry and my soul.
But I also thought back to my very first Finding Our Way Home conference. At first, I wasn’t even sure I belonged there. A fellow DRE and close friend had told me about it. Like me, she is multiracial, brought up in a predominantly “white” culture. We had shared in the past how our connection to our ethnic culture and heritage was “complicated.” I wasn’t sure, honestly, that I was really of color enough to attend a special conference. I even questioned why UU professionals of color needed a special conference at all. I already felt very supported by my colleagues in our local and national LREDA (Liberal Religious Educators Association) chapters.
Once I arrived though, it didn’t take long to realize that not only was I exactly where I belonged but that this was what I had been yearning for without even knowing. I needed a place to share my experiences as a person of color in a faith community that is overwhelmingly of European descent. I needed to know that my story was not unique, that many of us struggle with finding our place in a world that wants to label and judge before they even talk to us. I needed to tell my story to people who would not merely acknowledge and give me sympathy but who would truly understand and could commiserate. I needed to hear their stories, which gave a context to my own struggles.
In the same way the Finding Our Way Home conference supports professional UU leaders of color working in our faith, the summer Multicultural Leadership School supports our young and future leaders of color. I feel so fortunate to be part of a faith that recognizes the need for a leadership school specifically for youth and young adults of color. Because, I believe, the more young people of color we have in our communities and the world, equipped with the confidence and tools to give voice to their unique perspectives and vision, the more honest and powerful our vital, Unitarian Universalist, multicultural dialogue will be.
The Unitarian Universalist Association holds an annual, summer Multicultural Leadership School, open to UU youth and young adults of color (people of African Descent, Caribbean, Native/American Indian, Asian and Pacific Islander, Latina/o and Hispanic, Middle Eastern/Arab, multiracial and multiethnic). The MLS is four-day gathering to deepen faith, lift spirits, and build critical skills for leadership, hosted on the Walker Center campus near Boston.
About the Blogger
Shannon Harper serves as Director of Religious Education at Miami Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Dayton, OH. Her passion is encouraging and supporting youth leaders. She has served six years as an Adult Adviser and Religious Educator liaison on the Heartland Area Youth Council (previously Heartland District Youth Steering Committee) and more recently as a Youth Consultant for MidAmerica Region. Summer, 2015 will mark her third year on staff at Midwest Youth Leadership School and her first year working with GA Youth Caucus. Shannon and her family enjoy attending SUUSI (Southeast UU Summer Institute) each year where, you guessed it, she also works on Teen Staff. Shannon also teaches art to children and youth at a local community center and is mother to two lovely young women.