November 2015 RE News

Hello, my dears!

It feels like October has just flown by. My family is gearing up to greet trick-or-treaters next week; Tom and I celebrated our 20th anniversary in mid-October; and the leaves are turning spectacular colors outside my window.

I have spent much of October working on the RE pages of the church’s website. I’m so excited by the conversations I’ve had with members of our Communications Ad Hoc Committee, as they begin the journey of exploring how to reflect our church community’s needs in our communications with each other. There’s still a lot to be done on the RE pages, but I hope people will meander over and take a look. Each class currently has a page including an updated class schedule, a synopsis of the upcoming lesson, and summaries of the sessions we’ve already explored. I’m busy figuring out how to include pictures in a meaningful way; for some reason adding images seems to be my steepest WordPress learning curve.

In addition, I’m developing (and should release this week) a brand-new site for our Junior and Senior Youth. This includes blog posts by our Moderately Beige Sardines, who have been attending occasional services and writing up their observations; a page for our Coming of Age class (where they can find their homework! along with information about upcoming and past meetings), and both the Junior and Senior youth groups. The site can be found at, and it will be linked to our website in such a way that it feels like part of our own website. I chose Weebly to host this site because it is much easier to add images and place things flexibly. The Youth calendar and all other information about youth meetings and plans will be posted there.

I have my own RE blog, where I publish these columns, other thoughts I have during the month, and the stories and homilies I have written for church. You can access it through the main RE page on our website or visit it directly at

It’s important to me that our members and friends be able to find information about our RE program easily and readily. I tweet as FPWatertown DRE (@DREWatertown) and I am “Lauren Watertowndre Strauss” on Facebook; I post links to church school news and upcoming events there, and both Religious Education and our Senior Youth have their own groups on Facebook. If you see me in one of these places, follow or friend me, and ask to join the groups if you want to get updates on RE programs.

Children’s Religious Education at First Parish is a delightfully fun place to be. We hope you’ll come join us on Sunday mornings and beyond!

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RE News October 2015

RE News October 2015

This year our RE Committee has decided to introduce an overarching theme to our children’s and youth ministry. Our theme is community, and we are hoping it guides us in many ways throughout the church year.

Our church school classes are a bridge to community. This year each class created a covenant, as they always do! and they all chose new names for their groups. Each year the names have become more creative and reflective of the group members. This year we have the Nursery, up through age 3; the next oldest group, ages 4-7, has chosen to be known as the Flying Fish! Our next group, grades 3-6, is now called the Flaming Hedgehogs. The oldest church school class, grades 7-9, has dubbed itself the Moderately Beige Sardines.

The power of names as tools for community building hit me this week as three members of the Flaming Hedgehogs brought in hedgehog pictures and toys to share with their class. I will share the hedgehogs and class covenants on our website. When we empower our kids to choose their own identity, the bonds they form with each other deepen. The Flaming Hedgehogs, for example, got out their ballot box from last year and voted. They exercised our fifth principle, the use of the democratic process, and created a communal identity that binds them together. Their adult leaders took a supporting role in the process. It is one of the things that makes covenants more powerful than rules – we create them together, rather than having them imposed upon us.

The Moderately Beige Sardines are approaching a threshold. The oldest members of that class are in high school and I’m pretty sure every last one of them is taller than I am now. This year they will be spending a few Sundays in the sanctuary, listening to the service with assignments. They’ll be live-Tweeting the service (one designated Tweeter per service, using the RE account!) and sharing their responses in blog posts following the service. I’ve asked them to sit in pairs for now rather than as a group to minimize chatter. I am looking forward to hearing their reactions. I really can’t say often enough how insightful and thoughtful I find our children and youth. If you haven’t sat down for a deep conversation with our kids, you really are missing something. Next Sunday, October 4, the Moderately Beige Sardines will be attending Jolie’s service; watch for them in the sanctuary and look for their responses later in the week.

Yours in community and fellowship!

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RE News, September 2015

Originally published in the September 2015 Arbella

I am so excited to be able to welcome you all back this coming Sunday for our Water Ceremony, where the blessed waters of our travels or our homes or drops of rain from a summer shower or stream water from a refreshing summer hike at a nearby state park will mingle together and remind us all that we are together, a community, one strong body. I have missed you during my travels and during my lazy days at home, during the hailstorms and during the humid heat that confines me to the air-conditioned kitchen. I am glad to be back.

Many exciting things are on the plate for Religious Education this year. Our joint OWL program with Waltham for our 8th and 9th graders is ready to roll on October 3, with a parent information session on September 27 at 6:30pm. It has been a literal year in planning but I’m so grateful to our facilitators—two from Waltham will join Beth Tappan-deFrees, Aaron Dushku, and Sarah McSweeney from Watertown—for their flexibility and love in making this happen. I hope we’re laying a foundation for a continued program that will serve both congregations well for a long time.

We are dotting our I’s and crossing our T’s on our Coming of Age program. It’s now just a matter of confirming a few mentors, and we’ll be hosting our opening overnight in late September. The response to a call for mentors was amazing; I’m moved by the response. I should be confirming with mentors by the end of this week.

In church school news, I’m delighted to announce we’re welcoming back Rachel Westbrook-Fritts as our classroom teacher for the Blazes class (who will be 3rd-6th grade this year). Rachel had planned to move back closer to her family, but to my delight she obtained a nanny position in the Boston area which better meets her needs, and so she has agreed to return to us as a classroom teacher, though her hours and duties make it impossible to continue as Youth advisor.

Registration for church school has been a little slow, and that information is vital both because for safety and to best meet kids’ needs, we need updated information on the children and youth (lots changes in a year!) and also because we depend on parents to teach in our classrooms in order to make sure our kids are well cared for. If you received an email from me last week reminding you to register, please click this link and register your family for church school. The more teachers we have, the less any one teacher needs to teach.

I look forward to seeing you all this Sunday!

In faith,


RE News, April 2015

Hello, my friends!

I have had several reminders, this past week or so, of how wonderful it is to have good friends. Over the years, I have intentionally surrounded myself with strong, loving people who hold each other up rather than cutting each other down. I have many in my support network, but how wonderful to find myself entering a whole community of them at First Parish. I’d like to take a moment and mention two who have been walking parallel paths with me this last couple of years: Charlyn Bethell, who just completed her Music Director credential, and Tracy Johnson, who will meet with the Ministerial Fellowshipping Committee in just a few days. Through the last months and years as I’ve pursued my Religious Education credential, it has been wonderful to know that two such good friends have been walking along with me. My own RE Credentialing Adventure comes to closure on April 28, when I meet with the RE Credentialing Committee, the last of the three of us to cross the finish line. Keep me in your thoughts, and wish my compatriots well, too!

I want to gently remind people that if your child becomes noisy or restless during the service we offer a couch in the church office where a beautifully functioning speaker conveys all the words spoken into a microphone during a church service. This is true for adults, too. Excess talking or coming and going during the service is distracting. We value everyone’s presence in our services, but please remember this alternative space is available.

And lastly I’d like to also gently remind folks who might be having a difficult time hearing during the service that we have a couple of lovely FM transmitter devices that often sit, sadly unused, on the table outside the sanctuary. They, too, transmit all the information from the microphone directly to your ear! If you are consistently finding that you’re having difficulty hearing because of background noise in the sanctuary, these devices may be for you.

April in RE is quite exciting. On April 5 we will celebrate Easter with our traditional Easter Egg hunt and flower potting activities! On April 10-12, the Senior Youth are headed to Ferry Beach for their retreat, and two new OWL teachers will go for training! April 19 will be another wonderful multigenerational service in honor of Earth Day (and I cannot tell you how much fun it has been planning these, this year, with Mark and Tracy!), and on April 26 Tracy Johnson will present a special children’s worship service downstairs for all our children and youth.


RE News, February 2014

Dear friends,

Is everyone ready for the Groundhog coming this month?  Or, if you’re following traditional Celtic traditions, perhaps Brigid will face a stormy day on Imbolc, and therefore won’t have enough firewood for six more weeks of Polar Vortex and spring will come early?

In the meantime, we’ve got lots of things going on to make your February a little brighter.

The Senior Youth Group have just completed their service trip to CityReach in Boston; as anyone who was in church this past Sunday heard, it was a very fun experience—even if it tired our youth out!  Some thanks are due for making this trip possible:

To Matt and Katherine Calabro, who gamely chaperoned.  I never checked to find out if you were able to blow up the air mattress for Katherine… but it was a feat of cold and sleeplessness much appreciated by all the parents and kids.   Our third Youth Advisor Heidi Bedrossian was unable to attend due to her Saturday work schedule, but she was there throughout all the planning and helped with last weekend’s epic sorting party.

ImageSpeaking of the Sorting Party, Jill Shaw and Barbara Farrell get my undying thanks for helping spread the word and providing the bins for the collection of a Youth Room-full of clothes, bags, and other materials.  Michael Collins, Mark Harris, and Andrea Greenwood receive equal thanks for driving to CityReach with the youth and transporting and unloading all this stuff!


And it really couldn’t have happened without Mark making the phone calls to CityReach to arrange the Youth Group’s adventure, and—not to save the best for last or anything, but—Eileen Ryan worked tirelessly to ensure that this trip happened.  It was among the many ideas she brainstormed for the SYG to choose from when considering a service trip; she planned and implemented (with the help of the COA kids) the Equal Exchange fundraiser (which, along with her brilliant Leaf Raking idea last fall, has raised over $900 for the COA class to go to Ferry Beach, and anything left over will go toward paying for the CityReach trip), and she spent time and energy working with the youth and advisors to make sure this trip was successful from start to finish.

Elsewhere in RE:

February 2nd marks the start of the second semester for most of our classes.  On January 26 we held a Teacher Appreciation Breakfast to honor the outgoing teachers who have made the past semester beautifully successful, and to welcome the new set of teachers who start teaching next week!  I can’t say this enough: our church school program is a fun, thoughtful, and exciting place to be for our kids on a Sunday morning.  I know this because of the happy faces and the regular attendance!  But without the people—both the parents (whom we conscript) and the generous other adult volunteers and Youth classroom assistants—who come to the classrooms on Sunday mornings and provide a familiar face and minds that think, hearts that love, and hands that help for our kids ages 1-13, the church school would have a very different atmosphere on Sunday mornings.