A Gratitude Workshop for Families

Here is a workshop we presented a few years ago, which may have some kernels of wisdom or practice for the holiday this week:

Family Gratitude Workshop


Gathering (10 Minutes)

Hymn: “We Gather Together”, or a reflection on what that means.


A Simple Gratitude Ritual

You’ll need a basket or bowl, and then place a variety of objects within it that might symbolize different sources of abundance and gratitude for your family. Examples: a pencil could symbolize gratitude for an education, a nail could symbolize gratitude for shelter, a leaf could symbolize gratitude for nature. A quick walk around the house should generate many such small objects.

A basket is passed around the circle, and each person chooses one object from within.  Then, while holding that object, think of something that you are grateful for.  Once the basket is empty, it will be passed around again.  Each person places their object back into the basket, saying what they are grateful for.  The final person takes the full basket and says “Our basket is full, “our cup runeth over”, thank you for these gifts we share.”

(This could easily be done at home, around a dinner table.  A small bowl could be used in place of the basket, for a smaller gathering.  Objects can be stones, fruits or nuts, seashells, or anything else that feels meaningful to you.  Something that actually feels good in the hands, giving this a tactile experience for the children, is better.)


Gratitude Trees 

Make a gratitude tree in one of many ways:

Adults/older children and youth Reflect and Discuss

Questions for Reflection.  Take a few minutes and think or write about these questions, then get into pairs or groups of three and discuss (for these, it doesn’t really matter if you talk with your own life partner or another, but later it would be good to switch it up).

Think back to your own childhood.  Watch the time.  Reflect for 5 minutes.

  1. What made you happy?
  2. What energized you?
  3. What barrier did you overcome?
  4. What changed you?
  5. What triggered your creativity?
  6. What deepened your spirituality?
  7. What kindness did you experience?
  8. What did others do for you?
  9. What inspired you?
  10. What made you feel good?
  11. What difficulty taught you an important lesson?


Discuss your childhood memories with a partner or in a group of three.  Watch the time – share for 10 minutes.


Now, read the following sermon excerpt: (5 Minutes)

Parenting As Spiritual Discipline

A Sermon by the Rev. Wayne B. Arnason and Ahmie Yeung, Worship Associate
for the West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church, Rocky River Ohio
April 10, 2005

Sermon Part 1: Wayne

In her book, The Heart of a Family, Meg Cox tells a story about the Siegel family of Alexandria, VA. They “had started to eat dinner one night when two year old Rebecca, sitting in her high chair, suddenly got very quiet. Tears rolled down her cheeks, while her confused parents and older sister frantically tried to figure out what was wrong. She didn’t seem sick or in pain. The food on her plate was something she liked. What could be missing? What had they done differently? Suddenly, it came to them. They had forgotten to sing grace.”

So they held hands and sang the grace their family used. As they began to sing it, Rebecca’s crying had escalated into loud sobs, but then subsided quickly as she heard the familiar tune that began their meals. She calmed down and ate her dinner. The family never forgot grace again.

When Ahmie Yeung and I began talking about this sermon idea, we found that the theme raised enough questions for us to fill three sermons: “How do we pass on our beliefs to our children? Do UU parents really want our children to choose what they believe for themselves? What about those of us in our church whose family heritage includes more than one religious path and finally; “How does parenting change us, the parents, as spiritual beings?” We won’t cover all these questions today but you will get at least two themes for the price of one. First, “How does parenting invite and instruct us in the virtues and practices of a formal religious life, especially a Unitarian Universalist religious life, regardless of our personal theology?” and second “What are the personal spiritual lessons of parenting?” It’s been great to talk with Ahmie about these questions from two ends of the parenting spectrum – she as the mother of brand new child and me as the father of a child about to graduate from college.

The story from Meg Cox illustrates well how both of these dimensions of parenting as a spiritual discipline can manifest themselves. Parents who implement a regular grace at meals with their families may do so for many reasons, some of them very personal to the spirituality of the parents. But one of the reasons will often be to create a ritual of moral and spiritual instruction for children. The message grace conveys is that we should be grateful for our food, and the many hands and the larger context of living that has made it possible for us to be able to eat it. Well and good! Little Rebecca wasn’t old enough to understand the moral lesson of grace, however. At age two, she just enjoyed how it felt. It was part of the family ritual whenever they sat down to eat, and so when they didn’t sing the grace, she noticed! And she cried! What did her parents learn from this?

  • That love of ritual is something that is deeply ingrained in us, and a natural way for our youngest human beings to make sense of a confusing world in which there is so much to learn.
  • That there are some events and moments in family life where everyone needs to be included, and if they aren’t they will likely let you know.
  • That the pain and distance created when an important ritual is missed can be assuaged by reconciliation and renewal of the ritual.



With a different partner than you discussed before, discuss these questions: (10 minutes)

  1. How is parenting a “Spiritual Discipline” for you?
  2. What lessons do you learn from parenting? What challenges you the most?
  3. What gifts do you receive from your children?
  4. What practices or “rituals” do you have in your family? What values are reflected in your rituals?


Family Gratitude Trees (10 minutes)

The kids have been making trees (which they’ll take home with them), now we reform into family groups and cut out leaf shapes from paper, write what we are grateful for on each leaf, and tie them on the trees.  One leaf for each thing that someone in your family is grateful for.

(This ritual could be done regularly, or just around the Thanksgiving season.  If you don’t have a wire tree like we just made here, you could use a real tree and tie ribbons to it, make one out of twigs, or make a large paper tree and post it on a wall of your home, and tape/glue paper leaves on to that poster for each of the things you are grateful for.  If you google “Gratitude Trees” and choose “Images” you will find many inspiring pictures.)


Closing Words

May We Look With Gratitude Upon This Day




Family Conversation Game

Family Conversation About Prophetic People Game


Materials needed: print out of board and cards, dice, and player tokens (coins or push pins or anything that fits).


  1. Print out the “board” and the “cards”, and cut the cards apart
  2. Place the cards face down, and mix them up
  3. Place the player tokens at the start position on the board. Youngest goes first, rolls the dice, and moves that many spaces – arrows count as spaces too.
  4. After each move, the player picks a card, turns it over and reads it (or has help reading it) and then chooses one family member to ask that question of. After they have answered, it is now Their Turn.
  5. Play continues until someone gets to the end of the board, or until you run out of cards or interest.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why? If you could have dinner with any five people from history and hear them tell their stories, who would you choose and why?
Who has inspired you? What did they do to inspire you? What were you inspired to do? Has anyone ever told you a “hard truth”? A hard truth means something that was hard to hear, but also true and necessary. How did it feel to hear a hard truth?
Who is your favorite superhero and why? Why do you think we like superheroes so much? Who is your favorite historic hero and why? Do you think our historic heroes have to be perfect to be heroes?
What is your question – you can ask your family member any question you want. What truth do you see that you would like to tell others about? What is your message to the world?
How would you change the world? If you could change anything, what would you change? When you think about the future, what do you hope for? What scares you?
What living real person is your role model? What kind of person do they show you how to be? What qualities do you most admire in the other members of your family? Can the people closest to you show you how to be?

PDF of Board: prophetic people family conversation game

Family Chapel


The title of a program called “Religious Education” may imply that the primary activity is educational and classroom instruction-based, and that the task is to learn about religion. This is only partially true; while we do learn about religion our primary task is doing religion. We are here to form community, practice being human together, do justice, grow our spirits, sing, worship, and practice.

With this in mind, this year I am introducing a new offering in the form of Family Chapel. Family Chapel will meet once a month (typically the first Sunday of each month) and will be an alternative worship service for families to attend together (although no child will be turned away if they come without their parents – if a parent wishes to attend the adult worship service this is an option for you). Family Chapel will be the whole hour, with:

  • Singing and learning simple hymns that can be sung at home
  • Worshipping together and learning about how and why we do the things in worship that we do
  • spiritual practices such as simple meditations
  • worship stations and opportunities families can use to prompt discussions, try new things, and create something to take home with them


This will be a different kind of worship (kid-friendly, hands on) but it will still be a worship, filling the spirits and grounding us for the week ahead. Our first Family Chapel will be on September 16th. Join us at 11:00 in Classroom 4!

Youth Group Plans for 2018-2019

Middle School group 2018

Last Saturday we had a wonderful Middle School Group party at a local park. The Middle School grades have a lot to look forward to this year, with Neighboring Faiths/Building Bridges as their Sunday program, Our Whole Lives for 7th-8th grade on Wednesday evenings, a holiday play being organized by a group of 7th graders, and Middle School CON the last weekend of September. All the important dates are here:

Middle School 2018-2019

And what about High School youth? We have great plans for this group as well!

High School 2018.2019

Chalice Camp Was Great!



We’ve just completed our annual week long day camp, called “Chalice Camp”. It’s for 5 to 10 year old kids, and it was a great week of fun, games, making new friends, learning new songs, exploring nature, caring for the earth, and promoting peace and kindness.


Thank you to all the kids, staff, and volunteers for making it so much fun!

Our Green Sanctuary


On our Earth Day Sunday, we took the kids on a tour of the congregation and pointed out the many ways we are a Green Sanctuary.

The Green Sanctuary Program from the UUA provides a structure and tools to congregations who want to raise their awareness and take action for the environment and climate change. OUUC earned its Green Sanctuary accreditation several years ago, and continues to show a high commitment to being a Green Sanctuary.

Stops on our tour with the kids:

  1. The Green Sanctuary Accreditation letter, posted outside the Minister’s Office
  2. The Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary sign (posted on the fence around our dumpsters, but that’s not the wildlife habitat … the habitat is right behind the dumpsters in the wild woods portion of our property).
  3. At the front of the building, you can see the solar panels on the roof. Anyone interested in the energy report can access it from the church website.
  4. Inside again, we noted the big banner in the Commons proclaiming 2018 the Year of Environmental Justice at OUUC.
  5. A stop in the kitchen to note the recycling and compost sorting station sparked good conversation about trash and home recycling habits.
  6. In the Work Room we noted an old poster about global warming that we’ve had up for decades …. showing the long term commitment to this issue this community has had.
  7. Back in the hallway outside their classroom, the kids checked out the Green Sanctuary Committee’s bulletin board, showing many of the ways this community and this congregation show their care for the Earth.

Next time you are at OUUC, look for some of these signs of our Green Sanctuary yourself!

The 2018 Children’s Annual Meeting


Each year, we hold a “Children’s Annual Meeting”. It is the children’s main opportunity to practice congregational polity, just as the adult voting members of our congregation do when they attend a congregational meeting.

In the children’s meeting (held during class time), the children self-select into three committees:

  • The Open Minds Committee
  • The Helping Hands Committee
  • The Loving Hearts Committee

The names of the committees refer to our chalice lighting words that we say each week:

We light this chalice

to celebrate Unitarian Universalism

This is a church of open minds

this is a church of helping hands

this is a church of loving hearts.

Together we care for the Earth

and work for friendship and peace in our world.


The Committees work to make nominations of summer curriculum or programs for the kids, of causes we could donate 50% of the Children’s Offering to and advance our values in the larger world, and of a May Service Project. There were wonderful and thoughtful presentations this year as the children nominated various causes and ideas: helping animals through The American Kennel Club or the Zoo, doing a service project to make Get Well Cards for people in the hospital, and more.

All of the kids had a chance to present and try to tell others why their nominee was worthy. Then everyone voted on each decision, and we came to these results:

  1. Our summer RE program will be Maker Space. We did this two years ago, and it was really fun. Each week a different guest speaker from the congregation came to class to share about their Makers process (what they make, why they enjoy making that, how they first learned, etc.) And for the rest of the class time, the kids have access to tools and supplies to engage in their own making work.
  2. Our Share the Offering for the children’s offering will be to UNICEF, and/or another cause that benefits the people of Puerto Rico recovering from Hurricane Maria. (This current year the Share the Offering recipient was World Wildlife Fund, and the children donated $340 over the year so WWF will be receiving $170. I’m super proud of the children’s’ generosity.)
  3. Our May Service project will be to help the environment. The kids’ ideas included helping Nature Nurtures Farm feed their animals and “plant things”. We’ll be shaping that project up, so stay tuned!


It was lovely to hear the kids thoughtfully engaging with the questions and issues of the meeting. This is democracy and faith in action.

Talking About Death


This month our Middle School group is exploring the subject of Death as part of the Lodestone curriculum we’ve been using this year.

I have found, in my time as a religious educator, that this topic is terribly under-discussed in our society and in our families, even though we will certainly all have to encounter some aspect of death at some point in our lives.

When the subject is taboo, an important aspect of a religious community is to be a container for conversations and a testing ground for ideas about that subject. Here, we are a place for asking difficult questions and arriving at our own answers to them.


The group visited our columbarium as part of their program last Sunday. The columbarium is fairly new, so we only have the cremated remains of eight individuals co-mingled here. The design allows for the slow release of the remains below, as the material self rejoins the soil. When our columbarium and memorial garden were first designed, they were placed right next to our Nursery, so there is a good view of the columbarium right out of the nursery window.

How perfect is that? Our youngest, newest lives and our remembrance of lives past forming bookends, reminders of the cycle of life.

We will continue to have space and time for talking about death in Middle School sessions for the rest of  this month and into early April. This is also a great topic to discuss at home as a family:

What have you heard about what happens after you die?

What have you heard about what Unitarian Universalists believe about what happens after death?

What gives you comfort when you think about what happens after death?

Mystery Pals Starting Soon


Sometimes I hear from congregants that they don’t see the kids, or don’t think we have any kids here. Many wish to feel themselves part of a vibrant, vital, growing community, but when they look around they don’t see people of all ages.

Part of this is true. We do have many more older folks in our congregation than kids, and the congregation is aging. This is a demographic reality for organized religion in this country.

But in other ways this is more of a perception issue than a reality. We do have a healthy number of children in this congregation, but we don’t always have easy ways to bridge the gaps between the adult experience of OUUC and the children’s experience of OUUC.

One way to build these connections is Mystery Pals! (If you are longtime at OUUC, you might remember this program from the past as being called “Secret Buddies”)

Mystery Pals is a 5-week pen-pal program in which a youngest-congregant gets secretly matched with an older congregant (either a youth or adult) and then for several weeks they leave little notes, puzzles, surprises, or small gifts for each other in their assigned mailbox. The idea is to tuck it in secretly when no one is watching.

After five weeks, we will have a special “Glass Slipper Sunday” party. The elder of the Pals will leave a shoe by their number, and then the kids will take the shoe to the party to find their pal.

But what if you can’t come every week? That’s OK! You can email your note to the DRE and she will tuck it into your mailbox for you.

Folks can sign up now by paper form at OUUC! It’s going to be fun!