Cosmic Education

Here’s one of my favorite Symphony of Science videos!

Yesterday I attended the annual Spirit Play conference and got to see a presentation by Jennifer Morgan, the author of the Born with a Bang trilogy of books.  I love these books, and have used them as the spine for a week long Chalice Camp I’ve offered twice for my congregation.  Just meeting an author I admire is exciting enough, but Jennifer was also a very inspirational storyteller and advocate for cosmic education.

What is cosmic education, you ask?  It is an idea that Maria Montessori developed toward the end of her life, to give children the story that science is telling – the context that we exist as a part of an evolving universe.

How does cosmic education fit in with religious education in a Unitarian Universalist context?  Well, for one thing this story of an evolving universe is the story that science is telling us and science, reason, and humanism form one of our Six Sources of inspiration.  And it is an inspiring story, a story that reveals our interconnected relationships not just to all other humans, but to all life on our planet and ultimately to all that forms the universe.  This is a story that calls us to respect all of creation, to see ourselves within a larger context, and to see the big picture of time (which seems to be the foundation of ultimate optimism to me).

I got a great dose of inspiration yesterday, and I am so thrilled that I get to do this work with children!

Doing and Being Busy

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It’s that time of year in the life of a Director of Religious Education – it’s Planning Season.  Calendars, Curriculum, Teaching Teams, Registration Forms, and so much more!  It’s fun, and I certainly enjoy writing lesson plans and organizing calendars, but still, I can get overwhelmed.
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That’s why I have a little reminder on my desk.  We are not human doings; we are human beings.  Even as there is a lot to do, pause and take a breath and leave space to be.  

Credentialing!

While I was away on Sabbatical, I also finished the work for my religious educators credentialing, and after the final interview was awarded the status of Credentialed Religious Educator, Masters Level.  This has been a continuing education project that I have worked on for the last three + years, working with a mentor that I spoke with on the phone once a month during that time.  Because of my previous Masters in Teaching, I had a bit of a head start and was able to apply some of that work toward the credential.  For this credential I took two graduate level courses (UU History and Polity as an online course through Phillips Theological Seminary and Liberal Theology as a winter intensive through Meadville-Lombard Theological School) and attended five 15 + hour long professional trainings.  I read 71 books, and wrote up a professional portfolio that was 153 pages long and demonstrated my mastery of 16 areas of professional competency.  Finally, I wrote essays explaining my personal theology, pedagogy, and understanding of the meaning of faith as well as a self-assessment and plan for ongoing professional development after credentialing.  This was capped by the personal interview in Boston with the credentialing panel.  And I am now a credentialed religious educator!

This work has been of amazing value to me already, as I felt the depth of my knowledge, confidence, and abilities expand throughout my studies.  Yes, I would have matured as a religious educator over the last three years anyway, but the credentialing program gave me four things that helped me really grow:

 

1. A Road Map.  Just having the list of what competencies to study, the rubric of what competency would look like, and the resource list to study is a priceless gift in itself.  Any religious educator who is just starting out could just take that reading list and start going with it, and they would benefit immensely.

2.  A Mentor.  The mentor relationship meant I wasn’t doing this all alone, but had the accountability of needing to tell someone else each month what I had accomplished, the comfort of having someone else to ask for advice when I felt lost or overwhelmed, the cheerleader encouraging me to keep going when I felt discouraged, and the much-needed outside eye when I started just spinning my own wheels and going around in a circle.

3.  A Deadline.  It is a fact of human life that most of us find it far too easy to put off any and all tasks that don’t have a deadline associated with them.

4.  And finally, it gave me a Project to Talk About.  This meant I could present what I was doing to the congregation and place the time and the money that I spent on continuing education in a context for them.  The credentialing program lifts up the fact that what we do as religious educators is a profession, and that we do need to continue to grow as professionals and expand our skills and knowledge in addition to the day-to-day and week-to-week tasks of our jobs.

I am so glad that I pursued credentialing, and would encourage all who are engaged in this work to give it a real look.

 

 

What I Did on Sabbatical

During this last week of my 13 week Sabbatical, it’s time to wrap it up and get ready to return to the regular work of congregational life. The sabbatical was actually something that I got very stressed about as I was preparing for it and imagining how it would go, but now that I’m done I am so grateful for this time that you all gifted me with.

First, the reasons why I felt stress before the sabbatical are a big part of the personal and spiritual development that the sabbatical time gave me. Was I worried about leaving you all with coverage in my absence? Yes, but I also knew that Bonnie and the Family Ministry Team and the Teaching Teams would be fine. No, my real stress was that I was afraid I wouldn’t know what to do with myself during that much time. I was afraid that in the absence of a schedule and a list of things that Must Be Done By This Deadline, I wouldn’t even know who I was – because schedules and To Do Lists are anchors, and they are also distractions.

I had an idea that I would fill this time and “get a lot done”. I did get some good things done (my post on Credentialing will be up next week), but that was not the take-away from my sabbatical time. I actually ended up leaning in to the unscheduled time, and found that I could embrace being a Human Being instead of a Human Doing. This quote from the book The Dance by Oriah nicely captures the idea:

When we avoid the emptiness, when we fill the stillness with too much doing, we are trying to outrun our, sometimes unconscious, conviction that who we are will never be enough. The things we try to hang on to – our work, our relationships, our reputation and perspective – are the things we believe will make us worthy of life and love … If we can simply be with the fear that we are not enough, and with the vastness of what we do not know, we discover an emptiness that is not our failure but is the very source of the fullness of who and what we are.

Sabbaticals are interpreted in different ways, with probably a unique idea of how that time should be spent in the mind of each person who is blessed with the opportunity. But I think it is very telling that the word sabbatical has the same root as the word Sabbath. In his book, The Sabbath, Abraham Joshua Heschel describes the Sabbath practice as “building a palace in time”. It elevates to a conscious level the realization that we are temporally bound creatures, or that we exist in the flow of time. In fact, as one time management book that I read once pointed out, how you spend your time is how you spend your life. We say “the time got away from me”, but what if we said “my life got away from me”?

The great gift that I found through taking a Sabbatical was that I was reminded that this is the only time I will ever have to live this one life that I have been blessed with. I do not have to earn the gift of life, or prove myself worthy of it, before I am allowed to enjoy it. While the many things that I do are often worthy and wonderful, they cannot define me. The Sabbatical time let me go deep with this idea, struggle with it a bit, and ultimately find my spiritual development greater because of the time.

A Shout Out to LREDA

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At LREDA business meetings, we get creative with things like “Spin the Wheel of the Agenda”!

When I was a baby DRE, after only a few weeks of work, I attended my first LREDA (Liberal Religious Educators Association) meeting.  This is a monthly gathering of other fabulous and amazing people (mostly women but we can’t forget the awesome men who do this work too) who have listened, advised, studied, supported, shared, laughed and cried together through the years.  The individual people come and go, but the intent of the group remains the same:

We are here to support one another in this important work, which is so often done in isolation.  These are the people who understand what I do, because they do it too.  And at the larger (District, continental) level these are the people who volunteer their time to serve on Boards and Committees in order to make sure there are trainings and services to support us all in this work.

If you are a professional religious educator and you have not joined LREDA, what are you waiting for?  The dues are pretty reasonable, and the rewards are priceless.

Sabbaticals for Religious Educators

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I am slowing down, as I ease into a 13 week Sabbatical.  “Sabbatical” comes from the same root as “sabbath”, and it’s the same idea – every seven years you should rest, reflect, renew.

While I am away, my congregation is moving forward with the religious education program that I had helped them plan and prepare.  Other staff members are picking up more hours to cover the administration tasks, and the members of the Family Ministry Team are all taking on portfolios.  I handed my story books off to the Worship Arts Committee, so the celebrants can tell the story for all ages.

I’m only just into the second week of the sabbatical, but already I see these important reasons why congregations should offer this to their professional religious educator:

1.  It requires cross-training to prepare for it, and you will end up with a greater depth on the bench with folks ready to step up to bat if your religious educator ever becomes unavailable (illnesses and accidents do happen to even the best of us!)

2.  It is almost like a mini-interim year, because it is different enough that it confronts us with the question “why are we doing things this way?”  Is it because it’s the right way to do it, or is it because that’s just the way we’ve always done it?  Here is a chance to try doing things a different way, and maybe you’ll discover you like it.

For instance, I was always doing all the materials prep for classes during the week between each Sunday.  To prepare for the sabbatical, I did all the supply purchasing at once (epic shopping!), and then we had a work party to sort it all into pre-prepared lesson-packs with the dates they will be used written on them.  Although this was A Lot of work, it felt more efficient than spreading the work out over the whole session.  I plan to do this again in the future, even when I’m back to regular scheduling.

3.  Ideally, a religious educator (like a minister) is bringing inspiration, information, and general awesomeness to their role in the congregation.  After a while, though, you’ve heard all their stories, they’ve already told you their ideas, and then what?  Study, retreats, service trips, conferences, classes, personal spiritual practice, adventures, and sabbaticals are all tools for keeping your religious educator fresh and interesting.  Each experience will be brought back to the congregation in one form or another.

4.  Some projects are so big they can’t get done in the midst of the normal grind.  Whether it is writing a book, finishing up religious credentialing, creating a new curriculum or a resource website, it’s going to take time and focus.  Supporting your religious educator with the gift of that time can benefit the entire denomination (or world?) when those projects can be birthed.

5.  Religious Educators are also in a caring profession, and spend a great deal of energy thinking of and caring for others.  I’m already finding that a sabbatical forces me to spend more time thinking about myself than I am used to.  This is important work, to get to know myself better and to give the same gifts of healing and teaching to myself that I constantly offer to others.  Once again, the benefit to the congregation will be a stronger religious educator will walk back through the door.

And I thank my congregation for having the vision to see all of this as important!

Beauty Tips For DRE’s

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(My professional look on Sunday after I let some 2nd graders play with my hair after service. Sometimes it’s hard to maintain one’s dignity and work with children – but there should be a dignity inherent in the work whether it is with children or adults.)

With a hat tip to Beauty Tips For Ministers, here is my version for religious educators.  Embrace the whimsy every now and then.  We are still professionals, but professionals who work with children and are approachable and fun.

So here are my Top Ten Beauty Tips for DRE’s on Sunday:

1.  Remember you may get involved with a messy arts or crafts project.  Keep a change of clothes and a nice apron at church for those times, and avoid really expensive dry clean only clothing.

2.  But simultaneously remember that the adults need to see you as a professional. Dress a teensy bit nicer than the norm in your congregation.  In my congregation, I can where a chino skirt in the summer, but not during the church year, and never ever denim, and I end up aimed dressier than the congregants.  A dressy teacher outfit, here.  Some congregations though, you might need a suit to be dressed nicer than the crowd … judge your context.

3.  Limit yourself to one item of whimsy.  Wear the necklace a child made for you, but not the same day you let them put pipecleaners in your hair. 🙂

4.  Shoes – you are going to have to walk a lot, and stand a lot.  Can you in these shoes?  If not, but you simply must wear them because they are so fabulous, better bring along another pair for the clean up shift when everyone else has left and you are cleaning up the classrooms and your feet are killing you.

5.  Any chance you’ll sit on the floor in any classroom?  Can you do that in that skirt without wildly inappropriate flashing of leg?

6.  Any chance you ‘ll hold a baby?  Will your jewelry hold up to yanking?  Do you want the dangly earrings ripped out of your earlobes?

7.  OK – you’ve almost got an outfit picked out.  Now look at it and imagine what a teenager will think of this outfit?  If you get an intuitive cringe, back to the drawing board.

8.  Add a UU touch. You are modeling a UU Identity, and what does that look like?  Be classy about it (chalice necklace or pin, not slogan T shirt), and when folks ask where you got it encourage them to order one too.

9.  I like to consider the season and the liturgy, and try to match my colors accordingly.

10.  Now, lay it all out the night before, because you’ll be rolling out of bed way too early in the morning to decide then. 🙂

 

What a Religious Educator Does During the Week

I run a “Sunday School”, so many people have asked me “what do you do the rest of the week?”

Well, there is:
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1.  Educating yourself about ministry to children, youth, and families and lifespan faith development.  Much of this is education is done through reading and through things like “webinars” (workshops done online.)

2.  Committee meetings.  This week I had two committee meetings, sometimes there are more, sometimes less.  There are a lot of committees I need to coordinate with. 🙂

3.  Emails. So …. many …. emails.  Emails to volunteers to remind them.  Weekly announcement emails to all the families in my congregation letting them know what to expect on Sunday.  Emails after Sunday to all the families with the “Taking It Home” message of things to do at home during the week.  Responding to emails.  Emailing to check in on people I haven’t seen in awhile.  Emailing with other volunteer coordinators as I try to set up a youth service project.  Lots. Of. Emails.

4.  Cleaning/Sorting/Putting Things Away.  Just managing all the supplies and 6 classrooms that need tidying and sorting.

5.  Teaching Adult classes on Weekdays.  Right now I’m teaching a discussion class based on the book Faithiest.  It’s going very well – fun!
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6.  Planning and writing lesson plans.  Every week we have about 7 different classes happen, and all of them need to have plans and stories and so forth put together and sent off to their volunteers.  And then:

7.  Prepping supplies for lessons.  As I plan lessons I keep a giant spreadsheet called “Materials List 2013-2014” which is a giant grid with what supplies are needed for what class on what date, and then I order things, go shopping, make things, do photocopying, and generally prep all those supplies and have them ready.  Which requires:

8.  Budget oversight and administration.  It may not be glamorous stuff, but if you don’t file your receipts in chronological order with the bookkeeper, track attendance numbers, and keep up with all the many, many lists and directories and spreadsheets that are required to manage volunteers, staff, money, calendars, and resources, then you will have chaos and not a successful RE program.

9.  Prepping for Sunday presentations and worship services.  Memorizing stories to tell, mostly, but sometimes other preparations are necessary (pictures slideshows or videos, props, little cards or what not needed for the worship service).

10.  And more: (supervising childcare staff, responding to requests for pastoral care or just giving folks a listening ear, writing newsletters, articles, and blog posts, attending professional development meetings, meeting with the minister, coordinating and hosting social events for the congregation, training and supporting volunteers, etc.)

Somehow, I never seem to have much trouble filling at least my full 40 hours.  It’s almost amazing how much there really is to do.

What a Religious Educator Reads

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The Time of Your Life by Robert L. Randall has not received great reviews (2 stars on Amazon, 3 stars on Goodreads), so I almost skipped it even though it is one of the few books in the “Self-Care” section of the religious education credentialing resource list.  I ended up really glad that I didn’t skip it;  it’s not a Great book, but it has some good stuff in there that I really needed to hear.  Instead of focusing on techniques to try and be more “efficient”, Randall points out that often the problem is fragmentation within your sense of self, so that you are trying to please others and prove something rather than focusing on what is the most effective thing to do right now.  All management – of whatever kind – is built on self-management first.  This was something I needed to hear.
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Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience by Sharon Salzberg is a delightful book: part memoir of her own spiritual journey, part Buddhist teaching, and part a model of faith development that could be followed by a person of many different religious traditions.  Here, faith is separated from belief, and becomes something that I find much more compelling – what Tillich called our “alignment with our ultimate concern” and what Salzberg calls “an active, open state that makes us willing to explore”.
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Meeting Jesus Again For the First Time by Marcus Borg was also a delight for me to read.  I haven’t ever really “met” Jesus before, to be honest, so this was more like my first introduction to him.  And I like this Jesus – this “spirit-person” counter-cultural wisdom teacher is a pretty cool dude with some insights I find pretty profound.  I especially was moved by Borg’s comparison of a life lived by “conventional wisdom” to a life lived by the wisdom of compassion.  Compassion rather than judgment, grace rather than striving.  Sounds lovely.

Being Fed

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I was handed an apple this week, not by a child, but by a fellow religious educator at the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA) Fall Conference.  My colleague in this work did a lovely little worship element for the rest of us participating in a training before the main conference, presenting the background of why children gave apples to teachers (literally to feed them) and a nice story about an apple tree that wanted a star of its own, and reached and reached for one, only to discover that it was already full of stars – the center of each apple contains a star (if you didn’t know this, cut your apple in half along its equator and check it out).  And then she gave each and every one of us apples.

I have been fed this week.  So often, I am the one doing the feeding of others, both literally and metaphorically.  Although my congregation loves me and treats me very well, and although I am nourished by children’s smiles and hugs from elders, it is my role in this system to care for them: in body, mind, heart, and soul; to bring them inspiration; to call forth transformation; and then to clean up afterward.

And so what joy it is to be on the receiving end, and to sit and listen as another tells a story, to be lead in song, to be inspired, to be cared for, to feel transformed … and then to know that someone else is cleaning it all up afterward.  I have been literally and metaphorically fed.

Thank you so much, LREDA, the volunteers who stepped up to make this conference work, the speakers and musicians and organizers and teachers and tech folks and probably some invisible labor that went on behind the scenes and I couldn’t see.  It is a blessing indeed to be sent home fed, refueled for the labors, re-inspired for the work, and re-energized to give back to the world.