During the discussion about staff re-visioning at April’s Board meeting, I was asked: If I knew 100% that I would be supported, and some of my time was freed up by volunteers taking on my regular, administrative duties, what would I do? What programs would I create? I don’t even think I allowed the question to be finished before I started rattling off my wish list: caregiver groups—caregivers of preschoolers, caregivers of teens, caregivers for the sandwich generation; one-on-one RE volunteers for our special-needs students; a comprehensive lifespan religious education (LRE) program; forums before or after service; film screenings; guest speakers; classes that take place at varying times, lengths, and formats; and service projects—lots and lots of all ages, hands-on service projects. I could go on and on.
This is a list I have been cultivating since I started, and like many to-do lists, it only seems to get longer. Please don’t misunderstand: I love our current programming and the volunteers and committees that make it all possible. I will never be able to express the depths of my gratitude for those who show up and give so we can have Welcome Home Wednesday sessions, RE classes on Sundays, and Family Fuun Nights. However, in my heart of hearts I know we are not at our best.
LRE aims to grow children, youth, and adults who Know they are lovable and worthy, able to flourish in their potential, and use their gifts in the service of life; Value the importance of asking questions and their own search for truth and meaning; Affirm that they are part of a Unitarian Universalist religious heritage and community of faith that has value and provides resources for living; Accept that they are responsible for the stewardship and creative transformation of their community of faith; Realize that they are moral agents, capable of making a difference in the world, socially, environmentally, and politically; Recognize the need for community, families, and interpersonal connections; Appreciate the value of spiritual practice as a means of deepening faith and integrating beliefs and values with everyday life; Understand the need and tools for cultivating diverse and welcoming communities; and Experience hope, joy, mystery, and healing and personal transformation in the midst of life’s challenges.
These are worthy and beautiful goals. What has always struck me, though, is the fairly passive nature of the bolded words—accept, appreciate, understand. It leaves me wondering, in our changing world, is a passive LRE program what our community needs or wants? I think the answer is no, and I think most of you would agree. To create that imagined world proposed at the Board meeting, I would want to add Engagement, Collaboration, and Leadership in our and the larger community; Support for living out their values; and Empowerment and Encouragement to act as agents of change for more peace, justice and love in the world. The wonderful part of being Unitarian Universalists is that world does not have to be make-believe. The new facilities are a bright, shining example that if this congregation dreams it, it can be done. Maybe not overnight, and not without the time, talent, and treasure of the community, but it can be done.
In full disclosure, when the conversations about staff restructuring first started, it was hard not to take it as a commentary on the LRE program for the last two years and the job I had done. However, I soon realized that it was not a critique of what LRE is now, but rather an exploration of who we want to be and what we need to do to accomplish that. I have been impressed and excited by the bold ideas and structures being explored. At a time when it would be much easier for leadership just to keep status quo in LRE, the hard work is being done to take advantage of the opportunity created by staff openings to really evaluate what we want and what we would need to make it happen. And I cannot imagine the LRE program described in my to-do list happening without this critical first step of answering the question: Now that we have the new building, who do we want to be?
Again, in full disclosure, I am sad, and maybe a little envious, that I will not be at the helm of the LRE program when this dream is brought to fruition. However, I am grateful to the Board and other members of leadership for taking on this important work, and I truly believe that the LRE program, and the congregation as a whole, will be better for doing so.
Yours in faith,