This is the fourth blog in a series on the work of interim religious leaders and specifically, my work here at Follen in religious education. I continue to hope these blogs will be helpful to this congregation in looking toward the future, both in terms of planning and thinking about how it is that the congregation values its faith formation programs. Previously we’ve looked at Heritage (Coming to Terms with History), Mission (Developing a Unique Identity), and Leadership (as well as changes during the interim period).
This week’s focus is on Linkage – the ways in which we renew and deepen connections to our faith and denomination.
Among the interim tasks in this area are these:
- Raising awareness among Religious Education program leaders and the congregation about the importance of the Unitarian Universalist Association and your local UUA district and region.
- Renewing connections with available resources and services within the region, and the UUA, including Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA), Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA) and other RE and lifespan faith development resources.
Now it probably won’t surprise you to know that many (maybe even most) congregations think of themselves as being entities unto themselves. We want congregations to have a clear identity for themselves, and I bet most of us would say that you came to this congregation not so much because you were ‘looking for a Unitarian Universalist congregation’ as because you were looking for a congregation that embodied the values and connections that can be offered at Follen Church.
One of Follen’s strong points is its sense of community. It is no coincidence that this word is in Follen’s official name; it is what kept the congregation together during difficult times when the membership dwindled sharply and resources were few, and it is one of the most valued parts of this now-thriving church. People tend to come to faith communities for one of three reasons: they have moved to the area and want connection; they are experiencing a major life transition (marriage, divorce, widowhood, loss); they are seeking a community of ‘like-minded’ individuals to be with. Follen, with its focus on affinity groups, covenant groups, and community activities, offers these things in abundance. If you knit, if you are retired, if you have a special needs child or adult in your life – there are groups for you. Similarly if you want to honor your Jewish heritage, if you have a middle school child who might benefit from values-based sexuality education – it’s here! And if you are a person struggling with addiction issues, there are a number of 12-step meetings that are located here – so coming to Follen’s worship services, once you’ve come to a meeting for the Friends of Bill, might not seem like a quantum leap.
All this is to the good, and all of these activities, along with Operetta, two children’s choirs, and many other good things, feed life here at this “seven-day-a-week church.”
But what about connections to the larger UU movement and to the New England Region? What about the ways in which we articulate our UU faith? It is not unusual for people to understand Unitarian Universalism in terms of what we are not, rather than in terms of what or who we are. For the last eighteen months, Follen’s offered a “New UU” class one Sunday a month – a way to learn more about this congregation and about Unitarian Universalism. Food for Thought, previously mentioned, has offered some presentations on an aspect of faith. This spring, former UUA President John Buehrens will join us for an evening to explore UU history and Follen’s connection to that story of our faith.
The congregation has also been served well by the staff of the New England Region of the UUA and have felt the region’s support as we’ve had workshops on vision, goals, worked through leadership transitions, struggled with issues of congregational safety, and more. Your ministers and staff are all engaged in Unitarian Universalist professional organizations through our membership, participation in covenant or spiritual reflection groups, chapter meetings, and annual conferences: we who serve you, are nurtured and can serve you BETTER because we are part of the UU Ministers Association, the Liberal Religious Educators Association, the UU Musicians Network. What you give us through your financial support for our professional expenses, comes back in what we have learned and been sustained by.
In Religious Education we have increasingly focused on offering more programs from the UUA’s popular Tapestry of Faith series of curricula, and have also used programs developed by some of our faith’s most creative curriculum authors. This year, “Harry and UU”, with its exploration of Horcruxes that Dumbledore’s Army of fifth and sixth graders can muster, have enthusiastically explored the connection of faith in action and social change. Our seventh and eighth grade students have been coming to church to learn about how the Simpsons (cartoonist and UU Matt Groening’s colorful family) understand matters of faith – and attendance has been very strong!
Focusing on the best of UU curricula to deepen the faith exploration our children and youth receive at Follen pays big benefits. While the framing emphasis is on education around the values and principles of UUism, social justice and confronting white supremacy, and learning about world religions as we deepen our understanding of our own faith, the richness of the UU curricula provide an entry point into a deeper understanding of what Unitarian Universalism is for each of us. And engaging in full faith exploration, and full-week faith exploration as well (programs and opportunities abound!) means it’s likelier that, when we leave for college, or a new journey, or move to a new location, we’ll look for another UU congregation to connect to, or come back to Follen when we return home.
These are all pieces of the whole that, when sewn together, offer us a fabric of a deeper, more sustaining faith that we can build a bridge on. Let this journey continue!