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

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Elementary Service Project

 

This year we are including a service project component in our elementary class. To choose a focus for that project, the kids had a chance to make proposals at the Children’s Annual Meeting, and then everyone voted on what they would like to do. The choice this year was to help shelter animals.

Unfortunately, children under 14 years old cannot volunteer at the shelter with the animals. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty this age group can do!

In our Sunday classes so far we have:

Next up: A Bake Sale and Supply Collection! Next Sunday the kids will be running a table in the hall during coffee hour, selling baked goods and collecting donations of animal supplies, all to benefit the local animal shelter.

And to cap it all off: I’ve arranged a class about cats and dogs and a tour provided by the animal shelter. This is on a Friday afternoon, for a limited number of participants, but those who wish to go will find out how dogs and cats communicate with us and tour the shelter.

This has been a great project!

Shared Ministry

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An adult volunteer working with the children on a Green Sanctuary project – an example of Shared Ministry!

The congregation I serve has been working on the concept of Shared Ministry and volunteering/lay leadership as a spiritual practice.  Essentially, the idea is that ministry is not something reserved for the professional and the ordained, but is something that we all can do – whenever we share our gifts with one another and the world we are engaged in ministry.

This is clearly true to me when I look at the wonderful volunteers who come in to make the religious education program possible – they are all ministering to our children and youth.  Through the time, skills, presence, and caring they give they are making a quality spiritual growth experience and a community of caring for our young people.  And how is this a spiritual practice for the volunteers themselves?  Through their volunteer work they get to know the kids, get to play games and sing songs and have fun with them, get challenged at times, and grow and deepen their own understanding of their faith.

But what about the young people themselves? Can they be part of the shared ministry of the congregation?  Yes!

We have organized Hospitality Teams for each age group, and each Sunday a different Hospitality Team takes a turn putting on the welcoming extras that make Sunday a nurturing experience for many: Greeting at the front door, bringing cookies for coffee hour, bringing a healthy snack for the classroom time, or bringing a parent to be a helper in a classroom.  To launch these teams, we put on Pancake Breakfasts and a member of the Shared Ministry Team came and talked to the kids about “why do we do stuff when we’re not getting paid for it?”

The kids thought of things they do not for pay but because they care and those things need to be done … and also because it’s fun to do them.  Volunteers have fun, or this system wouldn’t work.  And then they named their new team together and had a chance to sign up for a job.  I think this is going to be great this year, and I am so honored that my work means sharing ministry with people of all ages.

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.

Time for All Ages

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My congregation does the Time for All Ages a little bit differently – for one thing we don’t call it “Time for All Ages” instead just calling it “Story” – but I believe that we still expect it to be for ALL ages.  

Two Sundays ago I chose to lead the congregation in the “UU Hokey Pokey” (you put your open mind in, you take your open mind out, etc.) because the minister’s sermon title was “What if the Hokey Pokey Really Is What It’s All About?”.  I didn’t actually think much about it – just sure, this is a good fit, yes, that’s figured out, moving on now …

But afterwards many of the adults of the congregation commented on how much fun that had been.  For weeks now they have been mentioning the Hokey Pokey when they see me, and so many just seem delighted by it.

Honestly, I don’t think it meant that much to the kids even.  They get to do fun and silly things like that all the time after all.  This particular Time for All Ages was a chance for the adults to remember the joy of these childish amusements, perhaps for the kids to enjoy seeing their elders being silly, and for us all to just wave our arms around and laugh together.

Similarly, when I tell the story I don’t call the kids up front and set it apart as something more for them than for everyone else.  The story is for everyone, it is part of our worship that is meant for all ages to enjoy, and it should have something in it for everyone to appreciate.  This is how we have been doing our time for all ages, and it has been wonderful.  

Something for everybody; a time for all ages.

Seuss’s Birthday is March 2nd

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Our 1st-2nd graders spent September through January with Dr. Seuss this year.  Matching a wonderful Dr. Seuss story to each of our 7 Principles is not a difficult task, and the stories still delight students (and teachers!).

Our Dr. Seuss curriculum didn’t line up with celebrating his birthday, but we still finished with cupcakes and silly hats on the last day (can we ever go wrong finishing up with cupcakes and silly hats?)

So this weekend, if you are wondering what to do as a family, may I suggest:

Green Eggs and Ham –  try something you’ve never tried before

Facepaint a star on your cheek, or not – however we look, stars or no stars, we’re all worthy 

Do something good for nature – unless someone like you cares, things won’t get better

And Read your favorite Dr. Seuss together as a family!

 

Practicing Giving

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This month’s Childrens Chapel had a theme of “gifts”, asking the kids to think beyond the gifts they expect to receive for Christmas, reflect on what we mean when we say someone is “gifted”, and to realize that Everyone is a Gift, and Everyone Can Share Their Gifts.

I organized multiple ways for the kids to give to others: we baked cookies to serve during coffee hour, built gingerbread houses to decorate the church with, made holiday cards that I will mail to folks the Pastoral Care team lets me know could use a little extra cheer right now, and put together little gift bags for our homeless neighbors.  Those bags went home with all the kids, with my encouragement to keep them handy in the car and just give them to one of the folks asking for help on a street corner.
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We’ve done these projects before – they are simple and yet can actually do real good.  This is the sort of thing that I really love about my job.  I love helping kids learn to help.

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My message to families this last week:

Focus on Giving:

In this season kids can focus too much on what they want and the gift they will receive for the holidays.  Take some time to get them really involved in the other side: in the giving, the generosity, and the gratitude.

There are many ways to give, but here are 6 guidelines (from an article on Family Education):

1.  Get honest.  If you haven’t made giving a high priority in your family, talk about that.

2.  Talk about the two G’s: Giving and Gratitude.  Talk about how much you have, feel grateful for the gifts you have received, and that by giving to others it will just help you feel that much more appreciation for what you have.  They go hand in hand.

3.  Giving doesn’t have to mean charity work.  Baking cookies for the neighbors, putting out a birdfeeder, any little act of kindness is an act of giving.

4.  Let the kids decide how to give.  Maybe you think homelessness is the biggest issue at hand, but your kids may want to give to the zoo for the animals.  The most important thing here is that you are empowering them to give, so let them have some choice in it.

5. Be concrete.  While giving money is often the most practical thing to do, for young children they may not understand where that money goes.  Bring the kids as far as you can into the concrete and actual good their gift will do.  Collect food and bring it to the food bank with the kids, and see if you can volunteer to help stock the shelves.  Volunteer to drop off meals or gifts and bring the kids with you for the delivery.  Go visit the zoo or Wolf Haven or wherever the kids wanted to send their money.

6.  Give non-material gifts.  Talk about how time can be a gift – like when a parent or grandparent spends time doing something your child chooses.  Talk about how people themselves can be a gift – like when someone visits a lonely person and cheers them up just by being there.  There are probably lots of ways your child could do something with or for someone, and that would be a gift too.

Every child, every person, is a gift.  Help your child learn this and help them discover how to share their gifts with the world.

Blog Action Day

Oh dear, it’s Blog Action Day.  I had meant to write a lovely post about the theme this year – Human Rights – and how we address issues of human rights in the religious education program at our Unitarian Universalist congregation.  It was going to be an awesome post, in my head.

But now here I am, away from home at a conference, realizing that I should have worked on this before if I was going to accomplish that awesome post, and realizing I don’t have time now.  Argh.  I thought I might just blow the whole thing off, but I do want to post one thing.

 

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee is awesome (their tagline is “advancing human rights is the work of many hands”).  They don’t just do good work around the world, they also do a great job of creating opportunities for the children and youth in local congregations to learn more about the issues and to connect at a local or larger level.  They do fun and easy projects like the Guest at Your Table box, which has become an annual tradition in my (and many other) UU congregation(s).  And they have the new UU College of Social Justice, which I really hope to be able to take a trip with sometime soon.  It looks amazing.

So check them out!

 

Religious Education can be Messy

Last Sunday I got a bit flustered.  So much so that at one point the minister said I looked “beleaguered”.  Here’s a hint for you all: it’s not good when the minister says you look beleaguered on Sunday morning. 🙂

Why was I flustered?  Well, we were a bit messy on Sunday.  RE can be a messy affair at times.  And then there was going to be a Dinner.  A BIG dinner – and apparently volunteers had been lined up to take all the folding tables from the church building to the rental space where the dinner would be, and they wanted to grab those tables right after church.

Wonderful, sweet volunteers wanted to carry furniture out of the church and load it into their cars, and then go unload it and set it up with pretty table cloths and flowers and get ready to feed 200 people dinner.

And they were coming up against a problem – our kids had made a big mess on those tables.  A big, fun, amazing mess.

Between the Rock and the Hard Place I Was.  And for a little there, I lost my cool a bit.  Whew, here’s a lesson – sometimes it gets messy, and maybe I shouldn’t have planned three messy lessons all on the same day (and the same days a BIG dinner).  But, whatever, sometimes life just is like that. 🙂  Sometimes things all happen at once.  And sometimes the So Muchness of a big, intergenerational, dynamic, active religious community overwhelms me.

I got over my fluster pretty fast.  Embrace the messy bits.  They can be the fun parts, too.  They show the LIFE going on here.

What was our Messy Stuff?  Here it is:

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1st-2nd Graders doing an Egg Drop.  Fun!  Bubble wrap!  Eggs!  Smashing Eggs!  Eating Eggs Afterward!
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(Most of the eggs were hardboiled to reduce mess, but I also had some raw eggs there and some of those were thrown – hard.  Outside.)
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Meanwhile … the 3rd-4th Graders were making cinnamon heart ornaments, which involved gooey (but wonderful smelling) mess.  Not to eat!
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And the third mess was … the 5th-6th Graders were doing some art about Good and Bad with pastels … pastel dust everywhere!
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Wonderful, messy, goodness.

Building the World We Dream Of

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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.

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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.