Dear Youth

occupyyourfaith

 

When they go low, we go high – Michelle Obama

Dear Youth,

It’s a really hard time in our country right now.  I honestly wish we adults could keep it out of your lives – you face so much already.  But instead, it’s in your face and in your schools.  Some of our youth told me that their high school had an incident last week in which swastikas were painted in an act of graffiti.  In addition to vandalism this is a hate crime – a criminal act directed at a specific group of people.  For families who are Jewish, this feels surreal and sickening.  I am so sorry you have to see this and encounter people who choose to spread messages of hate instead of love.  I’m writing to you because I don’t want that hate to infect you.

As Unitarian Universalists, we talk a lot about justice for all people.  We talk about how we are each responsible for creating a better world.  I wonder if we talk enough about love.  Love is powerful beyond measure. Love is an essential part of our faith, like hope, but we don’t always name it.  It can feel a little like old school hippies to sit around and talk about how much we love each other. I hope you know how much we love you.  I pray you know, because I know that in this time in our country the spray paint swastika sends a message not only to our Jewish youth, but youth of color, youth who are LGBTQ, youth who feel different in some way.  I know seeing that angered you, may have scared you, and may have left you feeling like you weren’t sure what to do, but you knew you had to do something.

golowgohighSo I quoted Michelle Obama above, to remind us to go high.  We can’t meet acts of hatred with hatred. We can’t allow the spirit of our effort to make sure all people are treated equally and with dignity to be dampened when bullies try to bring us down.  And to do this work for love and justice, we really need each other.  So keep coming on Sundays and to youth group.  Reach out to your religious professionals at your congregation. They really want to hear from you, especially if you are struggling with incidents of hatred appearing at your school.

Here’s what I think you should do if you encounter racism or acts of hatred in your school or social groups.  Take a deep breath. Remind yourself that there are others who know, as you do, that these acts are wrong. If someone is being harmed, seek help immediately.  Tell friends you don’t find jokes that make fun of certain groups of people funny.  Don’t forget to let yourself laugh and experience joy.  Being joyful can be an act of resistance too.Talk about how your religious values teach you that every person is important and has worth.  Talk openly with your parents about what you are experiencing and how it makes you feel.  Talk with the religious education teachers in your RE class, or your Director of RE, or the minister.  We will listen.

The other thing we can do is learn more about justice movements. Order a copy of Toward hearthandthe Other America by Chris Crass, get your youth group to host a book study with teens and adults together, using the discussion guide you will find here.  Towards the “Other America”: Anti-Racist Resources for White People Taking Action for Black Lives Matter is a call to action to end white silence and a manual on how to do it.

Organize a group to collect food for a local food pantry. Do some self-directed learning by going to the Teaching Tolerance website and looking at resources they create for teachers in classrooms. For those of you who watch or read news, make sure it’s a credible source. Your best bet is to stick with the New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, and BBC News.  Make sure you balance your news consumption with acts that get your body moving, make you laugh, and help you connect to others who inspire you.

Remember, things are hard right now but we will continue to do what we always do – work for justice, model what it means to live our UU faith, and love one another.

heartmuscle

Keep Loving

#resisthate
#whentheygolowwegohigh

Family Ministry: Casting a Vision @UUFH

This morning in worship I watched as children gathered around our candle lighting tables following our shared prayer.  I watched one child carefully select which candle to light, then blow out the taper and relight it before handing it to the next person in line.  I watched another child take a deep breath, close his eyes for a moment, then light the candle in front of him.  I watched their fingers fumble with the responsibility of holding that burning taper; a responsibility that teaches them both the seriousness of fire but also the seriousness of prayer and ritual.  I watched adults wait patiently as a family of four crowded the table taking a little longer than usual.  I watched all of this unfolding in the few minutes we take for this portion of prayer in our service and felt awed in the ways in which we come together in this sacred manner, working together to teach, and worship with, the little ones.

This is a small glimmer of family ministry.  Family Ministry is different than religious education, though RE is one part of family ministry it is not the whole of it.  Family Ministry is an approach to congregational life where we walk alongside one another in our faith journey, especially the journey with our children, youth, and parents.

The UUA defines family ministry as a partnering between the home and the congregation. They provide a series of questions for us to consider when shaping our ministries and guide us to have discussions to determine what our families need in order to nurture Unitarian Universalist faith in their homes.

Faith formation is a lifelong journey.  Our parents need classes, spiritual practice groups, and connection with their faith community as much as their children do.  Family Ministry shifts our focus from “educating children” to partnering with families to provide opportunities for education, faith development, growth, parenting support, multigenerational connections, and other ministries which deepen our UU faith identity and help us live into our mission and covenants with one another.

Family Ministry is not solely about children; rather it is about the whole congregation.  The family ministry approach invites members, friends, and newcomers into relationship.  It invites us to intentionality about our spiritual community and the future of our Faith.  Family Ministry, in my opinion, helps us live out our values of interconnectedness and our mission of mutual support and nurturance.

fm postcardOn Sunday, April 3rd from 12pm-1:30pm, Rev. Jude and I will be leading a visioning meeting about Family Ministry.  We invite everyone who has an interest in families at the Fellowship, the children and youth, or the future of our Faith to attend.  Together we will talk about what it means to pivot toward Family Ministry and we will cast a vision together of what this kind of approach needs to be for our Fellowship.

Go and Make Disciples

lent

 

When we hear the word disciple, certain images come into our head.  I dare say, with disappointment, those images are not of Jesus.  Rather, they are of those so aligned with a conservative political movement and phrases like “becoming soldiers for God” that we find ourselves wanting more distance from “discipleship”.  What does it mean if we stop, take a deep breath, and think about what Jesus wanted his disciples to go forth and do?

Jesus sought solitude then emerged from the wilderness and began his ministry. It was during this time he met those who would become his disciples and asked them to follow him.  To be a disciple means to follow a great teacher, to be a learner. The word discipline is rooted in discipleship.

Jesus commanded His followers—in what is commonly referred to as “The Great Commission”—to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20).

You may be thinking, “I’m a UNITARIAN Universalist!  I don’t believe in the trinity!” We UUs have a long history centering us on the idea that Jesus was a great teacher and leader, but no more divine than any one of us.  What if we concentrate on his message?  To love thy neighbor as thyself, to help the least among us, to care for one another?  If our world was filled with disciples who took these teachings to heart we would have less injustice, less hunger, less pain in the world.

LUKE 9:23-25

23 Then He said to them all, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. 25 What is a man benefited if he gains the whole world, yet loses or forfeits himself?

To be a disciple of Jesus means that we have given up our lives in order to follow Him wholeheartedly and unreservedly. It means that our lives are no longer our own—they are His.

Unitarian Universalists value autonomy over almost anything else.  We promote a free and responsible search for truth and meaning as one of our principles and beloved values.  We also value covenant.  We teach our children that we are without a shared creed, but are a covenantal faith – that the promises we make one another about how we will be in community together is the bedrock of our religious tradition.  This tells me the work to build the Beloved Community is perhaps more important than our autonomous needs.  We value the individual, but we also value the whole.

Jesus and His disciples spent a lot of time together (Acts 1:21-22). They ate together, walked together, rode in boats together. They even fought together (Luke 9:46-48). The 12 disciples were in one another’s lives, constantly and intentionally.

You could even say they were a chosen family, united by their commitment and covenant with one another to go forth and share the teachings of Jesus.

In religious education ministry I often ask myself, what are we trying to make disciples of?  So far, there’s been no good answer.  I’ve taken this question to religious education council meetings and teacher meetings to find us only agreeing on the word love, while recognizing that the single word doesn’t feel quite right.  We know we want to grow lifelong Unitarian Universalists.  We know we want our children to be leaders who exemplify our values.  We know we believe doing social justice work is part of the very fiber of who we are as Unitarian Universalists.

When watching the video found here, I found myself realizing the watch words they use are the guide.  Love. Liberate. Lead. Launch.

We teach love as our primary value.  It is evident in our first principle that every person has inherent worth and dignity, which is to say each person is important.  We exemplify that value through the various statements, social witness, and social action we do through the Standing on the Side of Love campaign.  We talk about building a Beloved Community.  We want to follow Love – to share the message of Love, to be a people of Love.

We teach liberation through social justice work and through identity work.  It is evident throughout our principles.  We know that explicit anti-racism and anti-oppression work should be part of religious education.  We know to do this work we have to help with identity building; religious identity, racial identity, ethnic identity, sexual orientation, gender identity, and so on.  We do this by modeling and explicitly sharing our acceptance of all who wish to be part of our community.  We model this by working for justice on the behalf of marginalized identities.

We teach leading by giving children and youth developmentally appropriate ways to step into leadership in the congregation, by requiring service projects of their design or discovery for their rites of passage programs, by sharing leadership with youth both in the youth group, but throughout the congregation. We help children and youth find ways to lead that fit their identity, knowing not everyone is an extrovert who is ready to stand in the pulpit on Sunday morning.  We also model what it means to lead from a UU perspective.  We show this in the way we conduct our business meetings in the congregation and the way we navigate difficult conversations.  We show it every time we lovingly call someone back into covenant with us.

We launch young adults formally through the bridging program, a rite of passage that helps young adults identify how they can rely on their faith while away at college, serving in the military, or working as an independent young adult for the first time.  We prepare them for entering another Unitarian Universalist community wherever they live.  We have walked beside them this entire time and through bridging, we state explicitly in worship that we will continue to do so in a new relationship with them, one that honors that they are an adult in our community.

We teach love, liberation, leadership, and launch UUs into the world as disciples – young people who will take the message of Unitarian Universalism into new communities with them and share that there is a place where all are welcome, a place where we stand firm for social justice for all people, a place where we grapple with our values and our covenants in lifelong pursuit of growth and education. They will live their lives with our shared UU values as the bedrock of their faith and their lives.

Edit:  When sharing this with my roommate he had this to say:  UUism is not a revealed religion. This has not been handed down to us. We continue to have our faith lived and revealed because we determine right from wrong for ourselves through discernment guided by our principles and we can learn from and respond to the here and now”.  This is pretty great considering he himself is not a UU.  The results of living with an UU religious educator, perhaps?

rainbow uu

@Fellowship

1

Words shared at the annual appreciation luncheon at UUFH on February 28, 2016.


“Faith development is all we do. Unitarian Universalism is all we teach. The congregation is the curriculum.”

Religious Education is one part of the family ministry we do here at UUFH.  The RE Council has focused this year on relationship building.  We’ve been working hard to connect our children, youth, and families to our themed ministry and providing resources to help ensure our parents have the tools they need to be their child’s primary religious educator.  The role of the faith community is to walk alongside one another, to share in the joys and sorrows of the community, to raise the children, and to remember to clean out the fridge.  We’re a family – whether you’ve been here for forty years or you just walked in the door today, our shared covenant, the promises we make about how to be together, compels us to walk alongside you and be in relationship in this way.

What we do in religious education is support families. We educate our children and youth in UU history, heritage, principles, and sources.  We promote faith development in grappling with our monthly themes, exploring what it means to live this UU faith, and writing our credo statements during Coming of Age.  We help families raise their children to be UUs – lifers, because we believe this faith has a healing message for a hurting world.  We help educate our children and youth about sexuality and provide parents support to talk about this normative part of human life in a way that promotes our values of respect, fact based learning, and communication.  We celebrate milestones, having rites of passage to dedicate our children, to acknowledge their transition into young adulthood, and to help them prepare for moving out into the world as a UU young adult beginning their lives word cloud youthseparate from their parents.

We do youth group and young adult ministry because we know that our teens need a relevant faith that gives them guidance to grapple with what life is throwing at them.  We worship together regularly because how else will our children and youth know how we UUs worship and more importantly, how else will they know that they are a member of this tribe – that all of us are in this together as a people of faith who want to see a more just world, and as people who all need a place to come to be held, nurtured, and sometimes challenged.

We know that religious education and faith development doesn’t end when adulthood begins.  We offer monthly journey groups to explore our themes, book discussions, spiritual practice programs, and many opportunities for community building.

Ours is a faith where revelation is not sealed, but is always unfolding.  We are learning together and we are teaching together.

Our biggest achievements this year were around youth ministry.  We created a weekly youth night for both middle and high school students.  This provides a touchstone for our teens midweek to come together for activities and discussions about our UU faith and to worship with one another.  We are also planning the first family retreat this Fellowship has had in many years.  This spring we will be holding visioning meetings with families and all of you who have an interest in family ministry here at the Fellowship.

Remember, everything we do is faith development, all we teach is Unitarian Universalism, the congregation is the curriculum.