Youth Cons, and Why to Try One

Middle School CON Worship

What is a Con?  Cons, short for Conferences, are gatherings of Unitarian Universalist youth or young adults from many congregations, usually for a weekend of immersion worship, workshops, and crazy fun.  Cons are incredibly important in the faith development of so many of our youth, and are a deeply loved part of UU Religious Education culture.

Why should youth go to a Con?  The main reason I think they are important for our youth is for them to form connections to Unitarian Universalism that are larger than the local congregation.  We can tend to be very isolated in our little congregations, but how likely is it that our youth will stay put in the same community that they grew up in once they are adults?  In all likelihood they will move somewhere else, and if they are to continue in their UU faith they will need to join a new congregation.  That new congregation will be different – perhaps profoundly different – from the one they grew up in.

Cons are also different from the local experience, and the relationships formed at Cons can be bridges for our youth.  I’ve seen graduates of our youth programs who were headed off to another town for college find friends right away because they knew other youth through Cons who were also going to that college.  I’ve also seen that youth who went to a lot of Cons or other immersion Big UU experiences (GA, DA, leadership school, etc) are more likely to connect with the congregation in their new town when they move away from home.

Similarly, the Young Adult groups and Cons can be a vital place of support for young adults who have just moved off on their own and don’t have a support network yet, and can be an important bridge when the culture of their new congregation doesn’t seem very young.

This is why it is a priority for me to get youth to Cons whenever we can – this is why I spent my weekend chaperoning middle schoolers to a Con for the last three days.

But here’s a personal confession: I don’t enjoy Cons, myself.  As a bit of an introvert and a quiet/reflective type (and a morning person who is decidedly NOT a night owl) I can find them overwhelming and exhausting.  There are ways for introverts or morning people like me to adapt and cope (quiet cabins, there being an early and a late worship, etc), but there is an important distinction to be made.  Cons are not Retreats.  I LOVE retreats.  I love the quiet.  I love the slow and intentional pacing that emphasizes lots of time for introspection.   That is not what I experience at a Con.  Cons are great for extroverts and night owls and folks should know that when they are sending their youth.  Not that an introvert can’t have fun at a Con – they can – but the organizers and planners and the chaperones should be thinking about ways for those introverts to connect while still honoring their own need for quiet.

Just as worship will never meet everyone’s needs perfectly all the time, these immersion experiences won’t either.  That’s why we need a mix – a mix in our worship services and a mix in the immersion experiences we offer.  Cons and Retreats, assemblies and demonstrations, witnessing and pilgrimages – we need to offer all of that to our youth (and adults!).  And we need to try things out that aren’t necessarily our perfect cup of tea.  I attend the Cons and take youth to Cons, even though it is not always just right for me.  And I get something really good out of that, both as it stretches me and as I find unexpected moments of fun and connection or even of Grace.  Similarly, extroverts who love Cons should also try the quiet of a Retreat or the sometimes dull-seeming routine of a traditional worship service, because they will experience both growth and possibly surprising moments of enjoyment.

There really is a big world of UUism out there, and youth (and adults) should be experiencing as much of it as possible.

Why a Children’s Offering?

Why a Children's Offering?

This year my congregation will be doing things a little differently, and will introduce a Children’s Offering into the elementary age classroom every Sunday.  Previously we had done an offering, but only at the monthly Children’s Chapel.  Why the change?  The main reason is consistency, so that it’s not so hard to remember which Sunday of the month the children should bring cash with them.  The other reason is habit formation, since a regular habit will be more lasting than something you only did occasionally as a child.

But why do a Children’s Offering at all?  Why does money have to be part of what we do as a religious group?  Well, money is how we symbolically organize our material lives.  And, truly, our spiritual and religious lives are not completely separate from our material lives.  They are mutually related, with the material being needed to support the religious community and the values of the religious/spiritual having a lot to say about the material aspect of life.  Where and how you spend your money is a reflection of the life you want to live and the world you want to contribute toward creating.

Of course, there are many other ways to contribute materially toward the world vision of your faith: food drives, coat drives, care packages, sock drives, Toys for Tots, etc.  And of course you can also contribute your time rather than your money.

But ultimately, money is still the most versatile and flexible thing you can give.  Someone asked in class last week if the kids could bring cans of food instead of money on Sunday.  Of course they can!  We have a food bank collection bin here at church, and it would be lovely to contribute to that.  But food can only go to the local food bank.  With the money we collect, once a year at the Children’s Annual Meeting they will offer ideas for where they would like to send their Share the Plate and all will vote on it.  In past years they have sent money to Japanese Earthquake Recovery, to Save the Kakapo (an endangered New Zealand bird), and to the World Wildlife Fund.  We send 50% of what they raised, and the other 50% supports the church (which cannot exist without material contributions, either).  Money can go anywhere in the world, and help in many different ways.

The other reason I think a Children’s Offering is a good idea is that it helps children develop a healthy relationship toward and understanding of money.  It’s not news to anyone that Americans have trouble with money: more people in debt, more use of credit cards, less savings than before, and other trends all speak to trouble with money – and yet we don’t like to talk about it!  Money can be almost taboo to talk about, even though it affects our lives and the world around us.

There are many ideas out there for how to teach kids to manage money well.  One popular method is the Moon Jar, which has a three way division of money between Spend, Save, and Share.  My son got a free piggy bank from a bank that has four divisions: Spend, Save, Give, and Invest.  And of course, you could make a three jar system at home (I went over to Pinterest to look for ideas and was overwhelmed by all the cool things you could do!)  The main point, however, is to provide practice with the actual handling of money.

For adults to grapple with their relationship to money, there is a new Tapestry of Faith curriculum from the UUA: The Wi$dom Path.  I’m intrigued – you should check it out too if you’re interested.

And that is why we will do an offering each Sunday!  Kids in the elementary grades are invited to bring cash to drop in the basket, just like the adults get to do in their worship service.

September’s Theme: We Light This Chalice

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Each month this year the Religious Education program I work for will be organized around a different theme.  This month’s theme is “We Light This Chalice”.  We will be exploring the origin of the Flaming Chalice, how it came to be the symbol of Unitarian Universalism, what the symbol means to each of us, and how we identify ourselves as Unitarian Universalists.

It’s a bit of a goofy video, but I made this to show the kids the story of the Flaming Chalice.

The Story of the Flaming Chalice from Olympia Unitarian Universalist on Vimeo.

We’ll also be making chalices and establishing our classroom covenants this month.  It will be a good month!

Are We Ready? A New Church Year Begins

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Ready or not, here it comes.  “It” is of course, a new school year.  The kids in my life (even my own homeschooled kids) are all making transitions this week: new schools, new classes, new teachers, new schedules, and of course all the new stuff that they need to do all those new things.

The church year follows the school year, and so we are in a transition here as well.  My congregation is in a big transition at the moment, welcoming a new Interim Minister and going into a church year where we may do some things in new ways.  

And the Religious Education program is in a time of transition as we try a brand new experiment for our Elementary grades – a new program I am calling Labyrinth Learning.  What is Labyrinth Learning?  It is a mixed grade (1st-6th) program.  Labyrinth Learning has developed from the inspiration of the Way Cool Sunday School, Workshop Rotation, and Multiple Intelligences models of Unitarian Universalist Religious Education. It is a model that utilizes different learning styles so that children can self-select for what is best for their own learning, and generally emphasizes the experiential and relational nature of religious education and faith formation.  And it is something brand new that we are creating for ourselves – so this is bound to be a transition and a grand adventure!  

Other things will be new too: Coming of Age on Thursday evenings, a new rite-of-passage program for 6th grade, a 7 Principle program offered at our earlier worship service, and small group ministry model for high school youth group.

Are we ready?  Mostly.  The pencils are sharpened, the new bulletin board displays and posters are getting done, the volunteers are trained, the shopping list is in my purse, the registration packets are in the mail.  

The transition is both scary and exciting.  There is the unknown: how will it go?  Will I make new friends? Did I put too much on my plate/schedule or is this just right?  But there is also the satisfaction of newness: those spiffy classrooms waiting for the kids, those new backpacks, those empty binders waiting to be filled up.  I love those signs of the new year about to unfold.  I treasure that row of sharpened pencils and the potential they represent.  What we will make with them?  What will we learn?  What fun will we have?  

I cannot wait.