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.

Looking Back, Looking Forward – It’s Our Turn to Have a Dream

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So we have tomorrow off school and work, for a holiday in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.  What will you do with that day?  Catch up on chores or sleep?  Go see a movie?

What is the point of the day?  I believe the point is in this quote above by MLK – What are you doing for others?  King had a dream, and he made things better for all Americans (and beyond) as he worked for his dream.  But while the arc of the universe may be bending toward justice, we are not there yet, and there are more dreams to be dreamed and more work to be done.  We cannot sit back and congratulate ourselves on how it’s all better now.  There is work to be done.

It’s not much, but one day of service is a start.  My family will be planting trees tomorrow.  Check your local UnitedWay websites, to find a family-friendly service project of your own.

And as a family, talk about the legacy and the calling.  The past, and the future. Do you have members of your family who were engaged with civil rights during the 1960′s? Interview them and ask what they remember from those days. Think about what civil rights look like today.  Talk about human rights, economic justice, equal access, and beloved community.  Ask yourself what you have done to effect change. Talk as a family about what you could do in the future to effect change.

In these ways we can honor the legacy, and truly celebrate this holiday.

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.

How to Communicate Now

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There is a lot of discussion about the need for Digital Ministry in UUism (or religion in general) right now, plus discussion of what sort of communication technologies will best reach younger people.

I hear from people my age or younger that email is antiquated, and that they want me to send them a text message or facebook them.

Then I hear from others (in the same age range) that they refuse to use facebook – don’t look for them there – why aren’t you on Twitter?  Or Tumblr?  Or Google Plus? (OK, those people are all nerds, but they still count! 😉

Those much older than me say they just miss the old fashioned courtesy of paper.  Why can’t we keep sending them things in the mail?  Why do we have to make them get on the computer and assault their eyes with flickering images when paper was so perfectly fine?

Other people quite candidly tell me that they are so overwhelmed by ALL forms of communication that they would prefer I not bother them with much – except what they really want to hear about.  Of course, since I can’t read their minds to know what they will care about, this is tricky.

What is a poor DRE to do?

I can’t pick the one best form of communication.  No matter what any group tells you, in my experience there is no such beast.  What it seems to me that I need to do is communicate with breadth AND depth, casting my net widely and yet also baiting it with content worth reading/watching/listening to.

I have little lists of people in my congregation, with marks next to their names for Text, Call, Email, Facebook, or Snail Mail.  I try to reach out to people in the method they prefer, even though that may mean that I have to take the same message and transmit it in all these multiple formats.

I am actively blogging and on facebook, and I write weekly and monthly emails to the families in my congregation.  I write a monthly report that I disseminate widely to the leadership of my congregation via email.  I send birthday  and thank you cards and calendars of upcoming events (hoping they will get stuck to fridges with a magnet) via snail mail.  I put up posters on the church walls and place colorful trifold brochures in strategic locations about the building.  I’m also experimenting with Twitter, Tumblr, Google Plus, Ning, and YouTube.

Which is the Best way to communicate?  Until everyone is willing to all line up and choose just one, all I can see is the Best Way to Communicate with X, and then the Best Way to Communicate with Y.  A challenge for those of us in this ministry business, indeed.

Kids in church with me

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Yesterday I led the intergenerational Earth Day service for my congregation.  It was a fun service, with samba dancers and children acting out a story about feeling connected to the web of life.  It came off, and was lovely.

And I found it exhausting.  My kids were in the service, and my husband would have been there to sit with them and “wrangle” them, but he had to leave town due to a family illness.  So they were sitting beside me, up front, with every wiggle, noisy aside comment, and standing up at the wrong time during the Joys and Concerns ritual on full display.

And here’s the truth: I serve this congregation, but my children do not.  They are part of it, just like any other kids, and yet they have their mom being the DRE.

Is it worse to be a PK or a DREK?  How can we balance being parents and professionals at the same time, on display to everyone?

Community Dinners

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Last night I was just back from vacation – I’d hardly had a chance to have a family meal at home with my own family.  But it was Community Night Dinner at church – and a themed one at that – and so I raced about getting ready to host it, threw together a pasta dish of my own to share, did some juggling to deal with family car and baseball practice schedules, and then was there setting up tables and chairs for the potluck.

It was wonderful – totally worth the bit of juggling I had to do this month.  About 25 people showed up, which is small for my congregation’s normal Community Night Dinner size, but still a great number for a social event.  The theme was “Use Your Noodle” and everyone was supposed to bring pasta, and there was a judge (one of our high school youth) who picked “winners” in four categories: Best Use of Gluten Free, Most Creative, Most Delicious, and Crowd Favorite.  There were people of all ages there, and babies getting passed around while older children played with friends.  The group seemed to be content to linger and chat, and in fact I finally felt like I was shooing them out the door so I could clean and lock-up and still get my kids home to bed sort of on time.  A great community event.

I truly find something spiritual and vital in the sharing of food, whether it is in my nuclear or extended family, or in the congregation or even the wider community.  Food is just an essential part of life, and it should not be forgotten when you are building community.

Here is something I shared in the church newsletter a few months back, that I would like to share again:

Eating in Community 

One of the many spiritual practices we have been discussing in my adult education class “Spirit in Practice” is Eating in Community.  This is what the curriculum says about it:

When people hear the word “communion,” they usually think of the Christian service of sharing bread and wine (or grape juice) in commemoration of Jesus’s last supper with his friends. Yet the first definition of the word in the American Heritage Dictionary is not in the least religious at all: “The act or an instance of sharing, as of thoughts or feelings.” The word “communion” comes from a Latin word meaning “mutual participation,” and it has the same root as such words as “common” and “community.” So a family eating dinner together—an act that for many families has become rare—can be seen as a kind of spiritual communion.

The sharing of ideas and feelings is an important part of community, but the sharing of food – breaking bread together – has a long history of importance in human relationships.  Eating is one of the activities that brings us closest to the world around us, emphasizes our nature as incarnated bodies, and is most necessary to the nourishment of all.  Sharing in that nourishment and that experience together bond us as humans (it probably bonds groups of animals as well, but I’m not qualified to speak to that).

Thus, it is so unfortunate that eating in community seems to be one of the casualties of our busy modern lives.  When people who live under the same roof are finding it hard to find the time to sit down and share a communal meal, how on Earth will we get a larger community together for a meal?  I think the time is there, if we just look for it.  The opportunities may not be.  I feel incredibly fortunate that my family has Sunday Dinner almost every week at my mother-in-law’s home, and it is a full extended family affair, gathered around a table that is set with flowers and candles and a long, leisurely meal.  However, I know this is a rare treasure these days, and not possible for many people.

But we are all fortunate to have opportunities to eat together with our **** community.  We have Dinners for Eight, the Annual Dinner, and our monthly Community Dinners.  So many opportunities for us to practice the communion of a dinner shared with others!  I was thrilled last night to share a Valentine’s Day Dinner with 73 other folks of all ages.  In March, we’ll have an opportunity to share a Pi Day Potluck, and then in April it will be “Use Your Noodle: Competitive Pasta Potluck”. (If you have a fun idea for a May dinner, let me or **************** know.)

Please join us, sharing a meal with our wonderful community.

Unitarianism and Children’s Literature

One of my first tasks upon my return to church after several busy weeks of trainings and classes was to get the overdue library books out of my church office and return them to the public library – and pick up more of course.  My role as a religious educator finds me telling stories in the worship services on Sunday – stories that frequently come from my extensive reading of children’s literature.  Angelina Ballerina, Mike Mulligan, Piglet, and Frog and Toad are just some of the favorites from my own childhood that have appeared in a story in church at some point.  Children’s books and stories also play important roles in the Religious Education classes and summer programs.

So I was very interested that one of the topics in the 2013 Minns Lecture series is “Unitarianism and Children’s Literature”.  You can read the full text here.   The Rev. Andrea Greenwood has done some very interesting historical research into how literature for children came to be separated from just “literature” in the first place, and, after an experience of being evicted from the Children’s section of the library because she is there alone as an adult (a safety concern for the kids, apparently), she warns about this isolation of the age groups:

But we should perhaps be more concerned about splitting people into categories than about openness.  The evidence shows that divided groups become rigid; that instead of flowing easily from one stage to the next, and perhaps moving back again, learning from each other and integrating memories in new ways, we splinter.

Now there is an argument for multigenerational community!