An Accessibility Audit

The theme this month is Courage, and in our religious education classes we are exploring many different kinds of courage. This last Sunday our example of courage was Christopher Reeve, a UU, a “Super Man”, and advocate for disability awareness and medical research.

The kids also had the chance to do an accessibility audit on our building. We borrowed a wheelchair from the hospitality team (it’s normally kept available in the coat closet if needed here at the congregation) and the kids used it to try and get around in the church building.

They noted how hard it was to open doors. They realized that the grass and the wood chips in the play area are not good for wheels. They found it hard to navigate through the crowded coffee hour crowd, and difficult with a narrow aisle in the worship sanctuary.

We’ll pass the notes from their audit on to congregational leadership, but even more importantly these kids all learned a little bit about empathy and that super heroes come in all different shapes, sizes, and abilities.

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The Light of Our Heritage

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When the children are invited to leave the worship service for a religious education class on Sunday mornings (if they wish, they are also welcome to stay in the worship service), I invite the children forward to carry a candle: “Carrying the light of our heritage into the classroom”.

It’s an interesting phrase, one which I inherit from what was in practice here before I became your Director of Religious Education. But what does it mean? Why this phrase, and not another?

In this context, the light is symbolizing a connection between, on the one hand, the tradition of Unitarian Universalism, the long history of those who have come before, and the congregation of elders and on the other hand our children and youth, and the future of this faith movement.

At a recent workshop for our Coming of Age program I started the youth off with some exploration of UU history and the history of this congregation, and then I asked “why does this matter to you? Why do we care about history?”

The answer from most of the youth was that it’s probably easier to decide where you want to go and what you believe if you know where you are coming from and what has come before you.

That is exactly why I think it’s important for our children to carry the light of our heritage into their classes – because in our classes we are exploring, learning, growing, and are even shaping the future of our own religious understandings and of Unitarian Universalism. But we are not creating all of this from nothing. There is a foundation that was built already, by all those who came before and asked questions and made meaning and formed community, and now here we stand on this foundation, carrying it forward into the future.

May we carry the light of our heritage, and by knowing what has come before, may we be ever more able to walk forward as part of a vital, living, tradition.

Connection to the Seasons

 

Unitarian Universalists don’t have the strong liturgical calendar that other traditions use to order their years. And, while I don’t want to anchor the whole religious experience of a year in the story of the life of Jesus, as other traditions do, I do have a bit of liturgical calendar envy.

It would be nice to have a steady and familiar rhythm to follow.

But wait – there is a rhythm already! It’s the rhythm of the seasons, which so many faith traditions, especially indigenous and earth-based traditions, have been inspired by. We can follow this natural rhythm as well, even though so many of us no longer live lives that are intimately connected to the outdoors or to agricultural cycles.

In the religious education program, this can look like it did this last Sunday, when we made fall wreaths and apple pomanders to welcome a new season after the equinox and to make our doorways welcoming to guests.

If you are interested in making connection to the seasons part of your family practice, I recommend the book The Rhythm of Family: Discovering a Sense of Wonder Through the Seasons by Amanda and Stephen Soule

 

 

High School Group Start-Up

 

Our High School group had a lovely kick-off to the new program year. Youth gathered to start creating a collaborative work of art on the group’s Chalice for the year, creating a covenant, and making some preliminary plans for the year.

Ideas for activities that the youth came up with:

  • Serving dinner at the community kitchen in town
  • going to the Painted Plate to paint pottery together
  • working on LGBT rights issues
  • working on climate change issues
  • going on a hike or doing trail work on a trail
  • volunteering with Native Plant Salvage or other habitat project
  • Laser Tag
  • beginning planning and fundraising for a group trip in 2 years

That’s just the start of our plans for the year! Let’s see how it actually takes form, but for sure it’s going to be fun!

Collaborative Planning Party

This evening we had a first for us, as these wonderful folks gathered to brainstorm and dig into ideas for how our monthly themes can become classroom stories and activities for the kids.

The idea for this came out of what I learned about white supremacy cultural characteristics at this year’s Unitarian Universalist General Assembly. I came home to the congregation inspired to try and be more collaborative, and invite more perspectives and voices to the table.

So here they are, the folks who chose to spend their time thinking about what we could do with these themes. I really appreciate everything they brought to the table. We came up with some wonderful ideas! I think we’re going to have a great time with these lessons.

Our themes will be:

  • September — Welcome
  • October — Courage
  • November — Healing
  • December — Hope

How Diverse Are Our Books?

This summer our program for children is Rainbow Readers, a celebration of reading and sharing books we love.

Last Sunday the intersection between that program and our planned White Supremacy Teach-In took us to the true story of Marley Dias and #1000blackgirlbooks. Taking our cue from Marley, we then set out to sort and determine how diverse our own OUUC children’s book collection is.

 

The sorting process meant kids looked through books, and debated what diversity they saw in the books. Is a book about an African American girl right for the Gender pile or the Black People pile? The system we were using was imperfect!

Nonetheless, we found some interesting results:

  • The biggest pile by far was of books that didn’t have people in them! Books that were either about nature or had animal characters or completely made up imaginary beings form the majority of our collection.
  • We have a lot of books about religion/s for kids. That’s probably not surprising.
  • While we do have many books showing diverse skin colors, we still have a very tall pile of books that only have white people in them. Asian and Latino people were the least represented in our collection.
  • We do not have anywhere near enough books that feature diversity in ability, sexual orientation, or gender.

 

I’ll be shopping/accepting donations with those results in mind as I add more books to the collection.

Home Resources

Want to bring more diversity into your home library and reading?

Children’s Social Justice Work: Homelessness

Last year we introduced a new focus for the very end of the church year in the elementary class: a service project. After exploring our UU tradition and other religions all year, we end with Acting on our Faith: Nature in April and Service in May.

The service project was proposed and voted upon at the Children’s Annual Meeting, and this year the kids chose to do a service project to help EGYHOP. This means we will be exploring the issue of homelessness this month, and taking actions to assist people experiencing homelessness.

At the congregation we will pack care packages that kids can deliver themselves, run a supply drive for items on EGYHOP’s wishlist, and hold a Bake Sale to raise $ that will all be donated to EGYHOP. You can follow along at home as well:

  1. Learn more about homelessness:

Some lovely recommendations of picture books about hunger, homelessness, and poverty here. There is also a good list of books about people without homes and animals without homes at The Institute for Humane Education.

2. Talk about how you can respond to homelessness as a family. The issue of how to respond to panhandlers is especially acute for children … it presents an immediate dilemma and opportunity to practice compassion and yet they see so many adults look the other way. You may have good reasons to choose not to give money to panhandlers, but talk to your kids about why you’ve chosen that action.

3. Get Involved in the effort to aid people experiencing homelessness and reduce the number of people who become homeless. Locally there are many ways to get involved:

SideWalk

Tiny House Justice

Interfaith Works Emergency Shelter

and of course, EGYHOP

There are many additional options if you want to tackle poverty or hunger or medical care … all related issues for people experiencing homelessness

Ministerial Transition and Children

Our congregation is going through an unexpected ministerial transition right now, throwing many of us into a state of uncertainty, sadness, and confusion.

For the most part, our children and youth are less affected. But that doesn’t mean they are not affected at all, or that we should not talk about this departure with our youngest members.

Children were invited to write a farewell card to the Reverend and his wife last Sunday, just as the adults in our congregation were. It is important to get to say goodbye and to express both appreciation and gratitude for a person and grief at their absence.

We also released and said goodbye to our butterflies that we have been raising here at the congregation. The butterfly remains, while a clichéd symbol, a powerful symbol of transformation and new possibilities. We watched our caterpillars grow, go into a chrysalis and seem almost dead, and then emerge completely transformed into butterflies. We enjoyed our butterflies for a week, then knew that it was time to let them go, and watch them fly away.

This is a metaphor for change that children can understand, as they will if you share the book Farfallina and Marcel by Holly Keller. Farfallina is a caterpillar and a great friend to Marcel, a duckling, but one day Farfallina is gone. When she returns, Marcel doesn’t recognize her, but they become friends again all the same … here we have a gentle story about friendship enduring transformation and change.

Another story about change, loss, grief and death for young children is Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley. Badger is a good friend to many, and when he dies peacefully one night, all his friends are sad. But when they gather to share their stories of Badger, they celebrate the gifts he left behind, and the precious ways he still lives on in their memories.

Neither of these books is a perfect match for what we are experiencing in the congregation right now, and we will not always find the perfect story for every possible occasion. But I believe that we need to explore stories like these with our children because they open a door of possibility for the children to tell their own stories … the story of how they are feeling, what they are wondering, what they have noticed and seen.

Share a story with your children, and then listen for their own. Don’t be afraid to wade out into deeper emotional waters … children have a depth of feeling and experience and just as much need to talk about it as adults do.

May we all find our way, through transition and transformation. Blessed Be.

 

The Story of Our Butterflies:

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Eggs were hatched into caterpillars who were gathered up and sent through the mail to our Director of Religious Education’s home (so they wouldn’t get too cold in case the church building was closed when they arrived). There were 33 caterpillars, all in one cup full of food. They were tiny!

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Each of those caterpillars needed to have its own space and its own food, much like we all need enough room and nurture in order to grow. We carefully moved them each into their own cup, with their own food.

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The caterpillars got larger and larger, while we checked on them every Sunday (and the DRE checked on them all week long), and then when they had eaten enough and were ready, they clung to the lid of the little home and formed a chrysalis. We took all the lids and put them into the butterfly net, so they would have more room when it was time to come out of those hard pods. We watched, and we waited, and we even began to worry because it was taking longer than we thought it would!

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And then the butterflies emerged! One by one they squirmed free of their chrysalides, unfolded their wings, and twitched and flapped them to get them dry and strong.

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We enjoyed watching our butterflies, and feeding them orange slices and sugar water.

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But butterflies can’t live in a net forever … they need to fly and find flowers and live their lives. So it was time to release our butterflies.

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One by one, they flew away. Goodbye butterflies!

Taking it Home: Sufism, Refugees, Confronting Islamophobia

Taking it Home:
 
1. With the “Muslim Ban” in the news right now, your kids have probably heard about it either from the media, from adults, or from other kids. Have you taken time to talk to them about it? What are their questions, thoughts, possibly fears?
2. Find some good books to help your kids understand the experience of being a refugee, or an immigrant.
3. Light a chalice as a family this week, with words inspired by the poet Rumi. Or sing together hymn #188, “Come, Come, Whoever You Are“.
4. Show your support of refugees and religious freedom, through the UUSC, the ACLU, or other organizations of your choice.
Try a Faith Adventure:
 
Sufism is a mystical tradition of Islam, in which practitioners seek to have a direct personal of experience of Allah as divine love.
How do you directly experience the divine/wonder-filled/transcendent/awesome? As Unitarian Universalists, we do not inherit certain practices, but can instead craft our own personally meaningful UU practice, as described in the curriculum Spirit in Practice. There are many possible practices: silent meditation, sacred dance, creating artconnecting to nature, and more!
This week, as a family, explore one or more spiritual practices. And then talk about it: how did it feel?, did it change how you experienced your day?, what was challenging?, would you want to continue with a practice?