Whose Turn Is It to Light the Chalice?



This time of year for religious educators can get very detail oriented.  All the big picture planning was done in the spring, all the procrastinating I mean “getting ready” was done in the summer, and now it’s all about registration forms, and class lists, and materials lists, and master calendars, and volunteer schedules, and name tags, and so on.

Here’s a prime example of the sort of detail-oriented stuff on my desk right now.  These pots full of tongue depressors are how we keep track of kids getting to participate in classroom rituals such as lighting the chalice.  Every registered child has their name on a stick, and every stick as a red end and a purple end.  All the sticks start with the same color up, and as a child gets a turn, their stick gets flipped over.  This way the teachers can tell from week to week who hasn’t had a turn yet.

And so this week I was writing names on tongue depressors. 🙂

It’s all in the details, sometimes.

Curriculum Review: Create a Country



Create a Country, by John Shepard, (see UUCards website to order) is billed as a “Religious Education Simulation” for Middle School classes.  And it truly is not a complete curriculum – it is an outline with two lessons to get you started, and then you are supposed to be following the groups lead and will have to adapt as you go along based on what choices they make.

I have used it three times now: once with a middle school group just for four weeks, once with a class of 4th-6th graders for 3 months, and then most recently I adapted it to be our Mixed-Age summer program. I highly recommend getting the book How to Build Your Own Country as an accompanying resource to Create a Country.

It is really the total opposite of the direction most of our curricula, such as the whole Tapestry of Faith series, is going … instead of too much instructional text, this program gives you hardly any at all.  For that reason, it is not advisable as a program for a weak teaching team.  Whoever teaches this program will need to be comfortable improvising (and you will need to be able to trust them to improvise).

It also is best when there will be some consistency of kids attending each week, as the entire concept is to build on what you’ve done before with each subsequent session.  Walking in cold to later sessions without any of the background has been hard on visitors and intermittent attendees (I did somewhat solve that by videotaping classes and showing summary movies at the beginning of each class this summer).

And so I will say that this curricula/”simulation” is not going to be for everyone.  I know when I first ordered it and it arrived in the mail I was dismayed with how little I had actually received.  It’s a slim folder.  And yet I have been pleased with the results each time I’ve used it.  Yes, it took a lot of extra work on my part as we went along, but it’s really important stuff – the real application of democratic participation – a guiding principle for us Unitarian Universalists – so I think it’s worth it.

Water Communion



Many Unitarian Universalist congregations mark the late summer/early fall with a Water Communion service, which invites everyone to bring water from their summer (travels/journeys/adventures) and pour their water together into a communal bowl.  The symbolism is easy: every drop is important, our individual life streams flow into the life of one community, water is in a constant dance around the world and connects us all, water is the essence of life and without it we would not exist.

I really like the Water Communion, but I also recognize that it is not without its difficulties.  A good argument for how it can be classist was written here.  The congregation I serve has (partly) overcome the travelogue by calling people up as though they are coming (symbolically) from one of the four directions or the center.  The music director sings a little “Spirit of the East” call, the celebrant describes the characteristics of that direction (East is the direction of new beginnings , etc.), and anyone who feels they are coming from that direction comes forward and takes their turn pouring their water in and saying a little bit about it.  This encourages folks to mark other things besides world travel: the last water I took from the tap of my home before I sold it to another family, the water from the bottom of my fishing boat, etc.

There is still an element of travelogue, which can be very classist (and it can be long and boring when people ramble, one after another.)  And there is also a note of assumption that we have been “gone” all summer – when in fact our summer services remain well-attended and we even stay at two services per Sunday all through the summer now – but the ritual is from a time when people didn’t come to church in the summer.


And yet, despite those difficulties, I still like the water communion. (Perhaps because it’s one of the only worship services I get to attend all year?)


Like a drop of water, joining a stream and flowing to the ocean, we come together to join our lives in community.

Building the World We Dream Of



This last Sunday I had the challenge of leading the worship service, which I had requested at the end of the summer so I could share with the adults of the congregation what the children had done in religious education classes all summer.

I made videos in all the summer classes, and edited a 6 minute movie of the kids talking to show in the worship service.  Using new technology in worship makes me nervous, but it mostly worked out well.  Whew!

And then I had an interactive component, with everyone asked to write a dream they have for the world on an index card, and the kids collecting and taking the cards out to the social hall.  There they organized the cards onto these display boards, which everyone could check out during coffee hour.

While they were outside being active I delivered the sermon, reflecting on what we had done this summer, what I noticed and learned from the experience, why we did this program, what I noticed the kids getting from it, and the take-away message for the larger community.



I was a nervous wreck, frankly.  This is only the 3rd time that I have delivered a sermon, and leading worship has not been a regular part of my role here.  In the end, it wasn’t a home run exactly, but I think it was good.

Stretching yourself is a good thing to do.