“Hybrid” Renaissance Modules: Survey Says… YES!

Last spring, 20 religious educators experienced continuing education that blended online and in-person learning in the first ever “hybrid” Renaissance module, co-led by Pat Infante and Gabrielle Farrell.

The module topic was UU Adult Faith Development. The experiment was a rousing success, offering the best of both worlds. Webinars allowed for unhurried preparation time as well as time for reflection and processing between sessions. The in-person day provided face-to-face support and collaboration with colleagues, including the presentation of final projects, hallmarks of the traditional, in-person Renaissance module.

Infante, the Regional Consultant for Faith Development for the UUA Central East Regional Group (CERG), collaborated with the UUA Renaissance Office on the structure of the hybrid—which portions would be held via webinar and which would be covered in the one-day, in-person session. She and Farrell, Lifespan Religious Educator at River Road Unitarian Universalist (UU) Congregation in Bethesda, MD led five 90-minute webinars from January through March, culminating in a full day workshop at Cedar Lane UU Church in Bethesda. Because a large number of participants signed up, each webinar was offered twice for two online groups of ten people. Then, all participants joined together for the in-person session.

Comments from participants were enthusiastic, for example:

  • I experienced a model of combining online and face-to-face education which may be useful in my congregation; I’m inspired to explore hybrid models for adult faith development classes.
  • This format of the webinar and one in-person session is definitely a good idea. I appreciate that it was offered because the lower cost allowed me to be able to take the class which I very much wanted to take.
  • I thought there was a good balance between webinar sessions and in-person meeting time. The webinar sessions offered time to absorb the reading and other materials, while the in-person time offered a wonderful opportunity to connect and focus on ways to use ideas we discussed during the module.
  • I would like to take more classes like this.

Next Steps!

If you would like to sponsor a hybrid Renaissance module in your area, contact Pat Kahn in the Renaissance Office at pkahn@uua.org to discuss the possibilities.

Find out more about the Renaissance continuing education program here.The Renaissance Module calendar lists upcoming workshops.


Bedtime Stories

As parents and caregivers, we sometimes have to hold difficult conversations with children. I have had a few of those while raising my daughter. One that I will never forget happened in January, 1998. My daughter was seven and a serious book lover. Though she could read for herself now, she still looked forward to a nightly bedtime story, as did I. As a busy working mom, I cherished that nightly ritual of mother-daughter time.

racism is still with usFor African American History Month, her school library had displayed a number of books for checkout. She brought one home on the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As she nestled into her bed, I turned pages describing civil rights rallies that ended with police turning hoses and dogs on peaceful demonstrators. She turned to me, her sweet, brown eyes round with fear. “I thought the police officer was our friend?”

I froze. I did not remember ever talking to my child about the police, yet, I knew that in school and from television shows, she had absorbed the standard civics message that the police officer is there to keep you safe. How could she reconcile that message with this new knowledge?

I took a breath. I took my time. I knew that this was a “teachable moment.” What would I teach her?

I worried about stealing my daughter’s innocence. But, as Mark Morrison-Reed made clear in his presentation at the 2014 Liberal Religious Educators Association’s Professional Day, black parents have to choose between protecting innocence and protecting lives.

I explained that just as there were people who do good things and people who do bad things everywhere, there were some police who do good things and some who do bad. Most police officers, I assured her, do good things and protect us. But during that time in history, many people felt threatened by the demonstrators, and people sometimes do the wrong thing when they feel threatened. It was wrong of those police officers to attack the protestors.

I had the luxury of couching the police attacks in the past. Today, we do not have that luxury.

We know that the violent interactions between black people and the police in the headlines today are not new. Social media; 24-hour news channels; widespread use of camera phones, body cams, and dashboard cams; and a public more aware of these events are bringing them to our attention in a way that has never happened before. Our children may hear about and even see these attacks and deaths. It is still true that some cops do good things and some bad. I believe it is still true that the vast majority of police officers put their lives on the line to keep all Americans safe. What is coming to light is that police violence against blacks is not always fueled by fear. Sometimes, the fuel is simply hate, and hate-plus-power is a dangerous combination.

When my daughter was just a litle older, I talked to her about hate: “Some people hate black people,” I said. “They think black people are different from white people, not as good as white people. Maybe they were raised to believe that. People who think this way are racist. But I know it is wrong to think this way. I know it is not true that black people are not as good as white people, or not as smart, or in any way not deserving of the same respect and rights as all people. Racism and racial hatred is always wrong. When we see racism, whether against us or someone else, we need to say it is wrong, even if the police or the government are the ones being racist. If we suspect that a black person has been mistreated because of racism, we need to say it is wrong.”

As my daughter grew, we had many conversations about standing up against oppression of all people. We need to have these talks. Our country’s relationship with black people is unique. If lumped together into a conversation about how “all lives matter,” that unique aspect of American life and culture is obscured, harder to recognize, easier to ignore. My black ancestors did not come willingly to this country in search of a better life: They were forced here, in chains, to work night and day in subhuman conditions for a better life for other people. Our nation has never adequately acknowledged or recovered from this foundational act. Older children need to know about our country’s history with slavery and be shown how to recognize oppressions black people still face today. They need to know we do not live in a post-racial society, and that the playing field is not level and never has been. As a black woman, I can testify that my race affects almost every aspect of my life in America. If our children are going to be effective towards further dismantling racism in our world, they need to know what they are up against.

What are you saying to your children in your home, your congregation, or community about racism against black people? Would you be willing to share it, in the comments below?

One of the jobs of a faith community is to support each other in hard times. What support do you need to help young people understand the need for the Black Lives Matter campaign? Do not let the fear of saying the wrong thing keep you silent. As Martin Luther King said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good [people] do nothing.”

Next Steps!

The Institute for Humane Education has a short list of children’s book about race and racism.

One organization, Do Justice, a Christian social justice group, has a series of blog posts about talking to children about Dylan Rule’s shooting attack at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC. This post is from a black mother. While she writes from a Christian perspective, we as Unitarian Universalists have a theology of love and justice that is just as strong, so please do not let the theology stop you from hearing the stories told here.

The Anti-Defamation League has a blog post about Charleston.

Here is a PowerPoint from the presentation by Rev. Morrison Reed for LREDA’ in 2014.

This mother’s approach might feel too bold for you, but I’m including it because there are a couple of good resources mentioned and this approach might work for older children.

A blog post from the Dayton Children’s Hospital may be a bit light on advice, but it includes links to other useful resources.

From Long Ago and Many Lands….to Here and Now!

A fine way to celebrate August 2, the birthday of Sophia Fahs, is to take a look at her classic story collection, From Long Ago and Many Lands: Stories for Children Told Anew. It is now available on the Unitarian Universalist Association website, at no charge (PDF, 288 pages).

Sophia Lyon Fahs, born in China on August 2, 1876.
Sophia Lyon Fahs, born in China on August 2, 1876.

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.

Next Steps!

Learn about Sophia Fahs and her influence on liberal religious education from biographies provided by:

You Don’t Gotta Catch ‘Em All

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.

Next Steps!

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.

Heeding the Call: Qualities of a Justice Maker, is a Tapestry of Faith program written by Nicole Bowmer and Jodi Tharan, for middle school youth.

The Empathy Gap was a featured story in The New York Times Sunday magazine, 3/22/15.



Let Us Worship Barefoot

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.bare feet (2)

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!


Makerspace: A New Way in Religious Education

By Joy Berry

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.

Illustration by Michelle Hlubinka
Illustration by Michelle Hlubinka

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 DSC03896a_morguefileget 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.

Next Steps!

Read more about Maker Culture on Wikipedia.

Why are Makerspaces so popular? Read “The ‘maker movement’ creates D.I.Y. revolution,'” a 2014 article in the online Christian Science Monitor, and learn what young people do in Detroit’s Mt. Elliott Makerspace.

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

IMG_7957Joy 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.

How to Help First-Year College Students Be Sexually Smarter

By Melanie Davis

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!”

10805587915_56407fd90c_k by COD newsroom Flickr Creative CommonsA 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.”

Next Steps!

  • 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 Melanie Davisassaulted. 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.

Channing Is Still Relevant on “the Noblest Work on Earth”

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. 1858teaching400In 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.

Next Steps!

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.


The Place I Am From

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.

Merrimack River spring 2015 from Natl Park Service
National Park Service photo, Merrimack River in spring, 2015

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.

Next Steps!

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.

For an intimate, place-based learning memoir, read Early Spring: An Ecologist and Her Children Wake to a Warming World (Beacon, 2010). Author Amy Seidl demonstrates how climate change has altered her daughters’ experiences of their woods and garden and describes engaging with seasonal community events in her small New England town.

Paying RE Teachers Can Boost Attendance …and Attract Volunteers

By Karen Brown

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.

Next Steps!

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.

image karen brown 18mar15About 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.