Another church year is ending and it seems to have flown by! With the expectation that the summer will also move at double speed, I’d like to give you a heads up on some important dates for the next church year so you can mark them on your calendars well in advance:
Parent/Volunteer Orientation: Saturday, August 13th from 10:00 – 11:30 AM, with child care provided. All parents/guardians, and those interested in potentially volunteering to help with the religious education program in some way next year, are invited (and strongly encouraged) to attend this short session. I will be covering the annual schedule, curriculum, and a few exciting changes we’ll be making in the coming year. If you know in advance you are unable to attend, please let me know so I am able to get the information to you in an alternate way.
Spiritual Practice Saturdays: Starting next year, I will be coordinating a time to come and explore a new spiritual practice at the church one Saturday each month from 10 – 11:30 AM. These sessions will be open to both adults and children in order to promote multigenerational relationships. Coloring, yoga, and walking a labyrinth are a few of the ideas I am already working on. If you have a favorite spiritual practice, or know someone who does who may be willing to share, please let me know! The first session is tentatively scheduled for October 15th, pending the confirmation of the date of Rev. Laura’s installation.
The RE Committee will not be meeting in June and July, but if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to contact myself, April A, or Marti R. In the coming year we are looking at only having in-person meetings when planning for an upcoming event is necessary instead of sticking with the more traditional monthly meeting format. We are also hoping to do as much of the discussion and planning for things via electronic methods as possible. If you are interested in being part of the team, please let me know. I’d be happy to talk about how we can make participating in planning for RE work for all of you who are already juggling a pretty full load!
I’d like to thank all of you once more who have lent a hand to making this another great year of religious education at MSUS. It was wonderful to have so many of you present at the Coming of Age service when volunteers were publicly recognized. If you were unable to attend the service on May 22nd, I will be keeping an eye out for you in order to get your thank you gift out to you. Have a great summer!
I am thrilled to report that Beacon Interfaith Housing’s Night on the Street was a fabulous experience! Allison C, Hailey & Steve S, one of Hailey’s friends from school, and I had beautiful weather for sleeping out. Everyone who attended seemed really open to stepping well outside their comfort zone in order to put themselves in the shoes of homeless youth. Hailey Shager was the top fundraiser for the year, bringing in around $1,100 of the $13,000 total raised. Way to go Hailey! Based on the age range of some of the attendees from other churches that I saw at the event, I would definitely like to consider taking some of our younger RE students next year.
Allison C and Hailey S will also be participating in a Coming of Age Sunday this month. On May 22nd, the girls will lead the service with Rev. Karen and share with the congregation their experiences and insights from participating in the program this year. In order to allow all of the youth to be present and hear the Coming of Age presentation, there will be no regular RE class that week.
May also brings with it our annual volunteer recognition and we have so many wonderful volunteers to recognize! I’d like to thank the following people who gave of their time and talents to support Sunday classes in RE during this church year: Anna H, Allison C, Hailey S, Isabella H, Zach R, Pat F, Chris G, Jenn B, Katie J, Tom T, Michele W, Doug R, Bob M, Carlotta S, Steve S, April A, Marie P, Debbie S, Lara N, Gary C, Kendra R, Crystal B, Jennifer R, Laures Y, Marti R, Lynne S, Jamie H, Connie M, Kathy B, Beth H, Chad S (COA), Amy L (COA), and Rev. Karen Gustafson (COA). Our program would also not have been nearly as successful without the efforts of the Land & Facilities committee and all those who have put sweat equity into making the RE office and classrooms so much more user friendly and organized. If you’d still like to come and have some fun with us upstairs before the church year ends, please let me know and I’ll be sure to help you find an opportunity.
Next year’s curriculum has been selected and will be a full year of Dr. Seuss! We’ll all be together in one room again, examining the works of Dr. Seuss as they relate to Unitarian Universalist principles. If you’d like to take a closer look at the curriculum, or have questions/comments, please stop by the RE office, catch me before or after service, or send me an email!
Happy Spring! With this new season, the end of the church year is beginning to creep into view, which leads me to thoughts of next year. While our new Harry & UU curriculum has been fun and educational (a rare combination!), it is causing me some anxiety in selecting next year’s curriculum because it will certainly be hard to top. At our most recent RE meeting, we discussed several options that might hold their own against Harry, and I will make a final decision in the next few weeks. At this time, the plan is to keep all of the children together in a “one room schoolhouse,” multigenerational setting as we’re all loving the in-depth discussion and cooperative learning that has regularly been taking place in our new, larger space.
As part of my continuing education plan, I will be attending Regional Assembly at the end of the month. I have registered for the following workshops as I felt they would be most helpful in my position: Adult Faith Development: Enhancing Spiritual Growth (led by Nancy Combs-Morgan and Rev. Philip Lund) and Resilient Youth (led by Jill Schwendeman and youth from the White Bear UU). I have also recently purchased several titles from the RE Credentialing booklist in order to expand my thinking about what RE can be and to learn from the work already done by others. I’d like to thank the Board, and entire congregation, for generously providing the funds necessary to support my learning and growth as DRE.
On March 19th, April Anderson, Marti R, and I attended the annual Teacher’s Café, which was held at Unity Unitarian this year. Our topic for the session was “Teaching As Spiritual Practice,” and was led by Dr. Mark Hicks, who is the Angus MacLean Professor of Religious Education at Meadville Lombard Theological School and Director of the Fahs Collaborative. We all came away from the event feeling like it was extremely beneficial to connect with so many others who also feel strongly about the value of RE, and were inspired to find ways to implement ideas from the discussion to improve our program at MSUS.
The annual Beacon Interfaith Housing Night on the Street will take place at Plymouth Congregational Church on April 15th & 16th. Allison C and Hailey S are both registered from our congregation, along with one of Hailey’s friends from school. Steve S and I will be chaperoning our students and I am looking forward to being a part of the experience for the first time!
I’d like to thank all those who were able to attend our RE workshop with Nancy Combs-Morgan on February 13th. Ten members of the congregation, along with Rev. Karen, took part in some great discussion about developing opportunities for those who teach to experience spiritual growth while also working with our youth and assisting them to develop their sense of what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist. It was very encouraging to hear feedback on what we’re currently doing well, and suggestions for ways to do even better in the future.
There will be another opportunity, on Saturday, March 19th, to join with other local Unitarian Universalist RE teachers, as well as parents and friends, in order to discuss teaching as a spiritual practice. Dr. Mark Hicks will be leading a workshop at Unity from 9 AM – 1:30 PM, with lunch and childcare provided. All interested persons in our congregation (hopefully this is the majority of you) have been invited to participate, but need to register by March 10th here: http://www.unityunitarian.org/teachers-cafe.html. More details are included on the flyer for the event, which has been included in this newsletter, posted on Facebook, and is in print around MSUS. If you’re interested in attending and would like to carpool, please let me know at email@example.com.
Also, of special note, my dream of having all ages together in one room on Sunday morning has finally become a reality due to the extensive planning and hard work of Ah-li Monahan and the Land & Facilities committee. The wall between the two classrooms has come down and it is WONDERFUL. We had our first class in the newly remodeled room on February 28th, and it was so nice to stay together throughout the entire class period. (Previously, the children either started in separate rooms and remained there, or started together and then separated for the activity.) Children and teachers alike appreciated the larger space and, if you have not been upstairs to see it for yourself, I would highly recommend you do so. Many, MANY thanks to everyone who had a hand in moving this project forward and in advance for your help with the work that remains. The Harry & UU curriculum continues to be a big hit with the kids and the focus of the issue the children are fighting this month is hunger. They will be working on organizing a food drive to benefit SACA, so please look for more information on that in the coming weeks.
The RE Office has also experienced a bit of redecorating to make it a more comfortable, inviting space. If you have any questions, concerns, or suggestions about RE, I would welcome a visit to talk about them. My standing office hours are from 9 am – 1 pm on Sunday mornings and by appointment the rest of the week. The office can also be used by small groups to hold meetings, so please feel free to request it when you’re contacting Beth to do your scheduling.
Acting Director of Religious Education
The first part of the new year has brought with it many exciting things for religious education at MSUS. We had our first RE Sunday of the year, which was based on Stacy Chboksy’s book, Who Owns the Sun?. Many thanks to Chad Snyder for adapting the story for the stage; Gary C, Michele W, and Lynne S for helping with practices; and April A for being prop manager on the day of the performance.
Our new curriculum, Harry & UU, was launched with much fanfare on January 24th. The kids were full of enthusiasm and very excited to start their time at Hogwarts by crafting their own wands and creating a class crest, which I look forward to sharing with all of you on the RE bulletin board in the social hall. The first social ill the kids will be taking a stand against in the initial series of lessons is illiteracy, so look for more information on the book drive that the kids will be doing as part of that. We are in dire need of professors to help share the magic in the upcoming classes in Potions, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Care of Magical Creatures, and Herbology in February and March, so please contact me via email, phone, or owl to secure your spot!
February also brings an amazing opportunity for the congregation to gather together for some brainstorming and discussion about what we’d like to see in the future of religious education at MSUS. Nancy Combs-Morgan, a congregational life consultant for the UUA with 18 years of regional/district and congregational experience in UU religious education and a Masters Level UU Religious Educator since 2015, will be here on Saturday, February 13th, from 10 AM to 3 PM, to lead us in exercises on clarifying our vision and mission for the RE program. She will also be providing resources for curriculum, reviewing what is available from the UUA, share new models for volunteer recruitment, and provide next steps we can take to create a multigenerational experience within the congregation. Everyone interested in the future of RE at MSUS should be sure to attend if at all possible. (Childcare will be provided if it can be secured, so watch for updates on that as they become available.) I look forward to doing this important work with all of you to create a thriving RE program for our entire congregation.
Yours In Service,
Dear members and friends,
After much discussion with parents, teachers, children, and Rev. Karen, I have decided to implement a new curriculum for all grades. Starting Sunday, January 24th, we will begin using a social action based curriculum called “Harry & UU.” As you may have guessed, this curriculum is based on J.K. Rowling’s very popular series of books. (It will not be an impediment to participation if you (or your child) have not read them.) It is my feeling that the Harry Potter series, and the activities in this curriculum, are an excellent reflection of Unitarian Universalism’s seven principles and also tie directly into our vision statement. From the curriculum:
“Most parents believe that it’s important to instill social responsibility in their children, but it can be difficult to find meaningful sources or projects for children in to become involved. In addition, many social action projects are not relevant to children and a lack of relation can lead to a lack of engagement. There are many reasons why it’s good for tween- age children to participate in social action projects:
- Most children have a natural desire to be fair and to right wrongs, and social action reinforces this desire.
- Involvement now is more likely to lead to involvement later; children will likely feel more motivation to take action in the future.
- Learning to work together to achieve a goal allows one to feel empowered.
- Taking action alleviates feelings of helplessness. Children learn that they can achieve results on their own.
- Working to better the community and the world leads to higher moral development and more defined citizenship skills.
The question then becomes how to empower children to become more motivated, passionate about, and engaged in social action. Children require activities and discussion that immerse them, engage them, and allow them to become passionate about what they are learning.
The Harry Potter series of books by J.K. Rowling are an excellent way to immerse children in the idea that one can work to make the world better. These books offer important moral and social values for children, guiding them toward making the right choices. Lessons provided include dealing with bullies, finding friends, and channeling disabilities to find empowerment.
Use of the books can offer the chance for students to ponder hard questions.
- What does power mean?
- How can someone make a choice that seems impossible?
- Is violence ever justified?
Readers can consider their experiences, values, and beliefs to find the answers. In this way, Harry Potter can provide spiritual and moral guidance as well as entertainment.
Harry Potter, like other pop culture, can also allow children to discuss important social issues with peers. Talking about sensitive issues with peers can be daunting, particularly if the child lives and goes to school in a conservative atmosphere and knows that his/ her viewpoint is not shared by a majority of his/ her peers. Referencing a Harry Potter book or movie can help children express their opinions to others.
This curriculum seeks to help participants learn that change is possible through multiple avenues, and can happen whether the problem is local or worldwide. Students will have the opportunity to make a difference in their community and the world in a meaningful way through hands-on projects that will also teach them social responsibility.”
During the remainder of the church year, the children will all work together as a brand new house at Hogwarts to stand against seven social action “horcruxes:”
- The Illiteracy Horcrux
- The Hunger Horcrux
- The Poverty Horcrux
- The Child Slavery Horcrux
- The Sickness Horcrux
- The Animal Cruelty Horcrux
- The Environmental Horcrux
It is my great hope that this change will increase student enthusiasm/attendance, volunteer participation, and introduce a wider variety of ways to incorporate the RE program into the life of the church community as a whole since, as the late Albus Dumbledore so wisely stated, "We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided."
In the next few weeks I will be providing more details on the class/lesson structure and plans to implement the changes. In the meantime, the need for willing professors to teach at Hogwarts is an immediate one so let me know if you are a willing witch or wizard. If you have any questions or concerns about this upcoming change, please contact me as soon as possible. I am always happy to connect with you and will do my best to keep everyone informed moving forward.
Yours In Service,
I would like to thank our November volunteers and Coming of Age classroom assistants for their time and efforts over the past month: April A, Jenn B, Allison C, Chris G, Jamie H, Katie J, Connie M, Marie Ps, Lynne S, Hailey S, Steve S, Chad S, Carlotta S, Michele W, and Laures Y. We could not have held things together without your concerted efforts during this tumultuous month.
Due to low attendance levels, the RE Committee decided at their last meeting to combine the Preschool/Kindergarten classroom with the 1st – 3rd grade room. This decision has, to a certain extent, mitigated our continued lack of teaching volunteers (though we are still in need of more) and guaranteed that teachers who planned a lesson would have students in their classroom to teach.
One of the projects the children did in RE this month was based on Rev. Karen’s reading of The Tenth Good Thing About Barney, written by Judith Viorst, during the November 1st service. Grades preschool to third worked together to create a list of good things about Christine Spiritwolf to be shared at her memorial service and I would like to share with you here what they came up with, as they quickly exceeded ten. It’s clear from their feedback that I have a lot to live up to!
- Fun lessons
- Good person
- Environmentally friendly
- Made memories with us
- Always smiling
- Good teacher
- Super nice
- Total optimist
- Encourages others