RE News, November 2019

Picture of Lauren wearing a brown shawl and green shirt. Her hair is up. She is smiling.

Lauren Strauss, DRE

In November as we talk about memory, I have many thoughts on how we remember the important things in our lives. Remembering is active — it is something we have to choose to do, and in so doing, we choose to remember certain things and people above others. We may choose the to hold on to the pleasant things that happened on that trip to Estes Park and to let go of the memory of the terrible hotel service. Unitarian Universalists make choices in our stories, songs, and in the shape of our worship services about what we want to remember and what we will let go, and at times it is worth it to look back at what we’ve lost and gained in making those choices.

Some of you may have noticed that last weekend I wasn’t at church. I first of all want to thank Lydia Vagts who stood in for me as DRE for the Day, and also the volunteers who taught and helped set up and clean up and be there with our children and youth in my absence. I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in a meaningful professional development experience.

I went to LREDA Fall Con – that’s the Liberal Religious Educators Association Fall Conference – in Baltimore, MD from last Thursday through Sunday. The theme of the weekend was “Theologies of Suffering and Wholeness,” which sounds heavier than it really was. The weekend included keynote presentations by Rev. Sofia Betancourt, assistant professor of theology at Starr King School for the Ministry; Dr. Elias Ortega-Aponte, the president of Meadville Lombard Theological School; and Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt, president of Starr King School for the Ministry (and the first woman of color to hold that role). All three of these UU theologians are bright lights in our faith, and spoke hopefully and energetically about how Unitarian Universalism can go even further to meet the spiritual needs of all those who turn to it in difficult times.

I’m still processing what I heard at Fall Con, and also some of what happened. LREDA and religious educators have been quick to respond to calls for change in our faith. For example, in discussing racism and white supremacy in Unitarian Universalism, LREDA has been among the organizations at the front of the pack trying to honor our colleagues of color and dig into how we can create a more just and equitable faith tradition. Yet we still make mistakes. Fall Con includes a set of Caucus Groups that meet daily to reflect on questions of equality. There were caucus groups for those who self-identify as white, those who self-identify as people of color, and a “third caucus” for whom neither of those groups felt right. We were asked to consider abstract questions about race and equity in our congregations and our organization. However, when we learned that some of the choices in the weekend’s programming had hurt people in marginalized groups, we sat with those and talked about how we could be better allies—or better yet, better accomplices. It was uncomfortable in a good way. I had personally noticed and wondered to myself about one of these choices – but my New England protestant good girl upbringing told me to trust in the powers that be and not make a fuss. Turns out, that’s the wrong answer, and I’m having to overcome 50 years of programming to learn to speak up – so that marginalized people don’t have to. Far too often, in order to make justice out of certain messes, the people who have been harmed have to speak up; otherwise no one seems to notice the mess. And by speaking up, people who are already vulnerable have to make themselves more vulnerable. I for one want to be part of the effort to develop trust and equality among all our people in deed as well as in word, and because of this, I am making a decision to remember the problems that arose this weekend as well as the happy parts.

I’m also choosing to hold onto the wisdom that Unitarian Universalism, especially in this troubled time, needs to find ways to connect us to our own souls. All of us have a place within us that longs to be nourished. Many people would turn to church to fill that longing: ritual, confession and repentance, the search for wholeness. I love our intellectual form of worship much of the time. It speaks to me as a lover of books and of history. However, when someone is suffering, when someone is in pain, telling them the uplifting story of Fannie Barrier Williams making her famous speeches to the World’s Parliament of Religions and the World’s Congress of Representative Women is not going to help them heal. When we feel guilty for having done wrong or caused pain, no amount of discussing the 6th Principle and its impact on the world will assuage our guilt or help us remediate our wrongdoing. In times of struggle, pain, suffering, guilt — Unitarian Universalism can sometimes fall a little short in helping us heal.

In his Friday keynote, Dr. Ortiz-Aponte suggested that we all need to work together to create a Unitarian Universalism that brings all the healing-home qualities of the kitchen table into our sanctuaries. Kitchen tables, metaphorically, can hold our rituals — saying grace over a meal, raising a glass to a departed loved one — and our most beloved conversations. When two people hunker down over a cup of coffee at the kitchen table, the comfort of that space can allow them to acknowledge their mistakes, talk over their troubles, and come to new understanding. Dr. Ortiz-Aponte also reminded us that as UUs, it is our conviction that the parent is a child’s primary religious educator, and so he also asked us to consider how to help bring our sanctuaries to our kitchen tables: supporting families in bringing meaningful rituals and conversations into the home, so that we may all not just live our UU values, but also nurture our UU spirits in the wild as well as on Sunday morning. I’m thinking through how to make this a reality, and I’d be glad of a chance to talk about it with anyone who has ideas or thoughts.

A dozen pages of notes, several hours of video to review, hours of meetings and presentations and workshops — I came home very full from Baltimore. What I’ve shared here is only a tiny piece of the experience I had at Fall Con; I hope to bring what I’ve learned to our families in the coming months.

In peace,

Lauren’s signature, first name only

Lauren

RE News October 2019

Lauren Strauss, CRE
Director of Religious Education

Dear ones,

How is it more than halfway through October? Perhaps it’s all this wind blowing time by quickly!

In our RE programs we’ve been telling stories, singing songs, and making! This month’s theme is “Letting Go,” and we are approaching that theme from a bunch of different angles.  We started out with Harold and the Purple Crayon, teaching us about letting go of expectations – being flexible and finding new ways when the way we thought things would go doesn’t work out.  As part of the practice of flexibility we’re creating with Duct Tape all month, with help from Nick Haddad.  We’ll also be talking about letting go of things – mostly through a conversation about recycling – and at the end of the month we’ll talk about letting go of people and animals when they leave us.

Some of our Duct Tape creations will be available for sale at the RE table at this month’s Art Show. 

In November, the theme will be Memory, and some of our children will be able to make memory pillows with the help of Missy Shay.   It is a wonderful thing to be able to invite members of our congregation who don’t usually get to visit with us into our classrooms to share their skills and expertise.  If you have an idea for a project or a material we might make with, and would like to come share it, please get in touch with me!  Our monthly themes through the end of the year are:

Memory, Hope, Vision & Possibility, Identity & Belonging, Generosity & Abundance, Liberation, Thresholds, and Blessing.

In addition to hoping folks will come share their creative spirit with us, I also have discovered that this year we have need of some extra people to help out in our preschool and nursery classes.  There will always be a teacher who knows the curriculum and lesson plan (though in the nursery the ‘lesson plan’ is mostly to play and have fun!) but in order to be safe we need two adults (or one adult and one youth teacher) in the classroom at all times.  If you would be willing to be on a list of teachers who would occasionally volunteer in our classrooms, please contact me! It really is a lot of fun and our kids love their teachers. 

Last but not least, this Friday is our Multigenerational Pretzel Night and I would love to see YOU there! We’ll be in our Social Hall baking and eating and playing games from 5:30-8:00pm, and we’re hoping that people will attend this event whether or not they have children.

In faith,

Lauren

RE News September 2019

Image of Lauren wearing a green shirt and brown knitted shawl.
Lauren Strauss, DRE

Dear friends,

Welcome back to church! I missed church life during the summer, even though I worked in my quiet office some of the time and attended several summer services.  There’s a magic on Sunday mornings that just doesn’t happen any other place or time and I’m glad to be back in it.

My summer was pretty quiet. I attended my nephew’s wedding in Maine and went to Ferry Beach RE week, and ended it with a quick trip up to New Hampshire/Vermont to celebrate my dear friend and colleague’s retirement from RE work.  But other than that I spent most of my days reading, writing, working on the church year, knitting, walking my dog, and playing Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. Go Ravenclaw! J

A Welcome Square Bear, a small stuffed animal teddy bear created by knitting a garter stitch square, and then sewing clever seams that give the appearance of arms, legs and ears.  This one has a brown head and feet and is wearing a green-and-pink shirt and brown pants, and an orange bow tie. Its face and belt are blue.
Welcome Square Bear

This past Sunday we welcomed our teachers with our annual fall Teacher Breakfast, where we collect paperwork and get everyone organized into teams.  Twenty-five teachers and RE Committee members attended – and many of their children, too.  And we started the church school year strong with 28 children and youth in RE classes. I want to thank RE Committee members Rachel Jones, Roma Jerome, Sachié Karmacharya, Louise Harrison Lepera, Sarah McSweeney Chamberlain, Kyle Morton, Elisabeth Strekalovsky, and Lydia Vagts for working to make the breakfast happen. 

Image of a wooden frame with a number of horizontal strings, onto which colorful index cards have been attached using small, colored clothes pins.
The Index Card Display by Will Twombly

I also want to thank a few people for making magic happen over the summer.  The Building & Grounds committee has been working hard to get our Youth Room back into working order.  Thanks to all of them, the room no longer smells funny, and has been painted and has a new indoor-outdoor carpet.  Beth and Izzy Tappan-deFrees donated a new futon mattress so we could discard the old, stinky one that was on the couch in there.  Izzy also refinished the table we’ve used as an altar piece… please don’t go look at it because it’s so beautiful now I’m worried someone will decide it needs to be someplace other than the youth room!

Will Twombly, in addition to building the beautiful frame on which we hung our index cards after our Water Service (on five days notice!!! We’re all so blessed to have such a Woodworking Wizard here!) also helped significantly with putting all the stuff back into the youth room so we’d have a stuff-free social hall.  Ross Dickson found us some shelves to use.  Missy and Bob Shay also helped put things back.  I’m extremely grateful to all the people who helped make our youth room ready for our youth!

We are still looking for a Youth Coordinator, which is a paid position, 12 hours/week, who helps with Sunday mornings, leads youth group along with our three volunteer advisors, and will help with our OWL programs this year.  If you know someone (age 25 or older who has no children currently in our Youth Group) who might like this opportunity, please ask them to contact me!

I look forward to seeing you all on Sunday, when our preschool-kindergarten class will be wandering our halls looking for treasure on a church scavenger hunt, and the middle grade kids will be knitting and doing woodwork.  We’ll all be building classroom covenants – our Expectations of one another in church school! And creating ways to welcome newcomers – our Invitation to all to join us in worship and fun!

See you all soon!

In faith,

Lauren's signature

Lauren

RE News June 2019

Lauren Strauss, Director of Religious Education

Dear friends,

I want to start with a quick note about David.  Many people have asked for an update, and I wanted to let everyone know how he’s doing.  The surgery was successful, and David has been healing well.  There is no longer any need for occupational therapy, and when we followed up with the neurosurgery team they were extremely pleased with the progress our child had made! He now has complete use of his right hand, and we are exploring weaning off anti-seizure medication.  We will have to monitor the other two cavernoma throughout his lifetime but for now, anyway, things are looking great.  We all appreciate the love you’ve shown my family these last few months.

And as the year draws to a close, I find myself reflecting back on a wonderful year and looking forward to some rest and recuperation before I dive into planning for September.

First, I would like to thank Rachel Jones, who has not only served as RE chair (and will do so again next year) but has also served this year as our Youth Coordinator.  She is an amazing person who gave selflessly to our youth and also helped explore the parameters of this position so that we can make it attractive to candidates in the future.  She is stepping down as Youth Coordinator, and if anyone around our parish is interested in taking on that role, please contact me for a job description.  It is a wonderful opportunity to get to know our youth and provide them a safe place for personal reflection, growth, and faith development.  And it’s fun!

Last, but not least, I want to say a heartfelt thanks to Mark and Andrea for their ministry.  Both of them provided the right amount of guidance to me when I was brand new to this work to set me on my path, as well as collegial relationship and friendship.  I had the privilege of working with all three of their children, and rest assured it is a distinct privilege to work with those fine young people! As I grew in confidence and experience, Mark has supported me and enabled me to find my feet.  I consider myself very lucky to have worked with both Andrea and Mark, who excel in the craft of ministry as well as being loving, caring, wonderful people.  I’m looking forward with excitement to the future of First Parish, and I have every confidence that this congregation is in excellent shape to move forward, but I’m personally going to miss Andrea and Mark very much.  They have made things easy for me and I have grown and thrived professionally and spiritually as a result, and I’ll always be grateful.

So, y’all, don’t forget your flowers on Sunday, and come ready to clap your hands with the band and eat all the yummy food at the picnic, and we’ll spend our last Sunday together in loving camaraderie before we break for the summer.  If you have a few minutes to spare Tuesday 6/18 from 7-9 I’d be happy to have help cleaning out our Youth Room! If not, I’ll see you all on September 8 for Ingathering, and maybe at Sunday services during the summer (at 9:30! Note the time change!). I’ll be around for the rest of June, off to Ferry Beach the first couple of weeks of July, and then I’ll return on August 1 to plot and plan and ready RE for September!

Much love,

RE News, May 17 2019

Picture of Lauren wearing a green shirt and brown shawl.
Lauren Strauss, DRE

Practicing Kindness

Dear ones,

This month in RE, our theme is Practicing Kindness, and we’re taking a look at the 6th Principle: the Goal of World Community with Peace, Liberty, and Justice for All.

It’s perhaps the Principle that gets the least airtime — we love to talk about our spiritual growth and the inherent worth and dignity of every person and the interdependent web, and personal kindness gets covered in the Second Principle, and we talk about the democratic process, but… number six kind of gets skipped over a lot.  But when our association set up its values, it actually named World Peace as one of the seven things we just can’t let go.  Not just peace, but peace and justice

I have to wonder whether we minimize the Sixth Principle because it is so huge.  I mean, world peace, right?  How do you even start? This is like saying “clean your room” to a toddler.  The room is huge and messy and “clean” is too big a verb.  You might help a toddler out by saying “Pick up all the blue toys and put them in this bin,” which is a manageable task.  So what are the World Peace toys?  What bin do we put them in? 

Our congregations are the bins, almost certainly.  At least, they’re the first set of bins: the ones we can take care of ourselves.  What metaphorical World Peace and Justice for All toys can we put in our congregational bin?  We start with saying that we welcome everyone.  We hang a rainbow flag (or perhaps we hang Daniel Quasar’s redesign of the rainbow flag which says we consciously welcome trans folk and people of color). We hang a Black Lives Matter banner for the world to see. We add gender-inclusive signage to our bathrooms.  We make sure our buildings are accessible to everyone – wide enough doors, elevators, hearing assistive devices, vision assistive devices.  We carefully label or eliminate food allergens and we provide plenty of hand sanitizer to protect those whose immune systems are compromised. 

But we don’t stop there.  Because once our facilities say they’re welcoming, we then have to actually welcome people.  The next step is making sure our hearts and our congregations are places where every single person feels safe and welcome as they are.  Not tolerated: welcomed intentionally and by design.  Not ‘as long as they conform to look like the majority:’ as they are.  This means changing the way we think; it means changing some of our customs.  It means we cannot assume that the way we do things will meet the needs of every person who walks through the door – and it means we need to do everything we can to anticipate what those needs will be.  It means we who are already inside must make ourselves uncomfortable in order to provide comfort to those who come seeking refuge.

As a religion, Unitarian Universalists have not done everything in our power to hold this in our sights.  If we had actively held up the Sixth Principle as the most important goal for our faith, we would not have a history of our religious professionals of color and our queer and trans professionals being shunted sideways and passed over, and we would have more people of color in our congregations because they would be at home here.  The practice of kindness – intentionally choosing actions that help our members and visitors feel safe and welcome – is the first step on a long, muddy, winding road.

This is something I commit myself to daily, and when I fall short (as I do frequently because I am human) I pick myself up and put myself back on the road.  I hope to see you all there.

RE News April 2019: Joy!

Dear ones,

As many of you already know, my child David has had a bit of a rough spring.  Difficulties using his right hand several weeks ago followed by what doctors think was a mild seizure right after the Talent Show on April 6 led us to Children’s Hospital, a diagnosis of Cavernous Malformations (which Tom, and Tom’s dad and brother, also have) and, because the cavernoma is both fairly close to the surface and causing him to not be able to use his right hand, we have scheduled surgery on April 22, this coming Monday.  He’ll spend one night on the neurological ICU ward where he went on April 6, and then, assuming all goes as planned, he’ll spend one or two more nights on the regular neurological ward.  Yesterday we went to Children’s for pre-op bloodwork and an MRI that will help the surgeon find the proper spot to remove.  There will be an MRI in the surgery room too that they can use if needed. We trust the surgeon; the hospital has been both efficient and friendly; all is going as well as it can be.  And this last couple of weeks has been super hard on all of us, as you can imagine.

So today David is off to Anime Boston with his friends, dressed as a character from a favorite video game.  He has to come home at night rather than spend the night with friends, at least partially because he has to take the anti-seizure medicine that’s keeping his brain from betraying him, and also because the doctor wants him to make sure he gets sleep and hydration and stays as healthy as possible to be ready for Monday.  But no one said, “Don’t go.”  It’s a little risky sending him off with a bunch of teenagers to a crowded convention dressed as a puppy, but the benefits of joy outweigh the risks of worry.

In my UU Wellspring[1] spiritual development group that I’ve been participating in this year, this week’s topic was “The Theology of Joy.”  We’d been talking about deep and more intense topics in earlier sessions, including a week on ‘the crises of life’ two weeks ago, so joy was a lovely change.  But as happens sometimes, talking about joy brought up some interesting observations about the topic.  We’ve heard a lot – recently from Mark! – about Marie Kondo and her tidying habits, and the catchphrase “spark joy” has come up a lot.  Hold this old sock in your hand.  Does it spark joy? No? throw it out!

But there are cultural things in our puritan American lives that make Kondo’s instruction lose meaning.  There’s the initial problem of translation – ‘spark joy’ both is and is not an accurate translation of what Kondo means when she says it, and I suspect you need to not only speak Japanese but live their culture to really get it.  After the book (which I read at the time!) came out, but before the Netflix series that brought Kondo into the forefront of America, one of my favorite shows, Gilmore Girls, did a reunion show ten years after the series closed.  One of the things that happened in the intervening ten years was the death of actor Edward Herrmann, who played Richard Gilmore – and so much of the show focused on grieving the loss of the iconic husband, father, and grandfather.  At one point in the series, Lorelai comes to her mother’s home to find Emily packing up all her belongings – all the things in a large, regal Hartford home that she has collected through the years – because she had read Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and Kondo said to hold each thing, and if it did not spark joy, you let it go.  So Emily had gone through her house holding every thing she owned, and none of it sparked joy.  Because Gilmore Girls is fast-paced and funny, it almost lets the poignant moment pass unappreciated.  Of course nothing sparks joy when you are grieving, when your life partner of 30 years has passed away and left you alone. 

But there’s another aspect, embedded even deeper in our culture and our lives: we have a problematic relationship with joy.  Dr. Brené Brown, whose work with shame and vulnerability have inspired me for some time, observes that joy is ‘the most terrifying emotion’ for many Americans.  To be truly joyful, at least as adults in our society, we have to leave ourselves vulnerable to fear and worry.  If we let ourselves appreciate the thing that makes us happy, we hold up in front of our faces the fact that we risk losing it.  Brown says the only way to cultivate joy is to cultivate gratitude at the very same time.  Instead of caving in to the fear that the thing we love is going to be taken from us – instead of rehearsing tragedy to protect us from harm – the only way to open ourselves to joy is to be actively grateful for these things.

Little kids are unabashedly joyful.  I noticed this, even from afar, on the day we “flipped church” on April 7.  Reports came in: “Oh, the kids are having so much fun!” “All the adults are helping the kids and so we barely need the teachers!” Somehow, though the day was not intended to be about just the children, much of the joy of creation and making and being silly got channeled through the children.  We’re okay with joy if we do it for our kids, but we’re self-conscious and embarrassed and fearful of it if it’s just for us.  But I mean, look at Martha.  She made an amazing fish and I really hope she had as much fun as she looks like she did!

I have a challenge for you all, if you’ve managed to read on this far.  On April 28, I’m going to invite you all to a moment of joy and silliness in church.  We will be telling a story using our Charles River Critters, and I hope that every one of us, children and adults, can bring their own vulnerability to the table, practice gratitude for being together, and participate joyfully and without reservation in our service.  Make a commitment to have fun that day in church, and explore whether being joyful is a spiritual practice for you.

Martha Pedersen stands in the social hall holding a fish made of cardboard and decorated with strands of sequins.  She looks joyful.
Doesn’t Martha look joyful!?

At the end of the Gilmore Girls reboot, Emily Gilmore sells her house full of memories and moves to Nantucket, where she begins working at the whaling museum telling beautifully dramatic stories of whaling adventures.

In a completely organic way, she did what Kondo suggested and let go of the things that kept her stuck in the past, and moved into a life full of love and joy and gratitude.  I’ll be practicing gratitude and joy too, as the days pass and I worry about my family.  I’m grateful to know all of you and to be held in such light by my church family, and to have work I cherish, and to have a loving and supportive family to walk with.

In peace and joy,


[1] UU Wellspring is available both online and in person.  I have found it extremely helpful and wonderful.  If you’re interested in participating or in cultivating a group here at church, contact me!

RE News, March 15 2019

Lauren Strauss, CRE
Director of Religious Education

Dear ones,

I do hope you’ve all celebrated Pi Day with some Pi(e)!  The RE Committee met last night and there was apple pie, and it was delicious.

This week I’m extremely excited for our next RE theme: the environment.  We’ll be considering our Seventh Principle, the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part, and we’ll be inviting everyone in the church to join with us in celebrating spring, and the wildlife of the Charles River.

Last spring Carole Berney shared some photos she took at a couple of different festivals in the Pacific Northwest, one celebrating animals and the other a “March of the Vegetables,” in which the human beings created costumes and floats and held a parade to spread the word about veggies and the earth.  We brought this idea to Mark, who gave us permission to try something a little different.

Carole and I will be sharing some of her slides and a preview of some of the creations we hope to inspire this Sunday during the multigenerational service.  We’ll have a few examples of creatures ready go, and I hope we spark your imagination, because on April 7, we’ll be inviting the entire church to come to Religious Education classes, where we’ll make a variety of creations to represent the creatures of the Charles River.  RE classes will include making costume hats, puppets, one medium-large float, and also, I hope, learning some music.  There will be a conversation with Mark for those inclined toward processing verbally. 

On April 28 we will present a multigenerational service called The Charles River Critter Crawl, which will feature creations that YOU made.  All ages will be welcome to participate in the telling of our tale.  Weather permitting, we’ll take our Critters for a Crawl around the outside of the church.  We’re going to keep it simple because we’ve never done anything like this before, but we’d like to show the outside world how much fun we have caring for the earth.

We’ll be reaching out to people around the parish for help with running workshops.  If we don’t reach out to you and you’d like to help, please feel free to contact me at dre@fpwatertown.org or come find me on Sunday morning. 

The Charles River Creature Crawl is not only a fun way to exercise your creative side, it’s also an opportunity for people of different ages to get to know one another and to work together in a different venue from the Sanctuary.  I hope our days of fun worship will be fulfilling for you! Art is one of the ways I connect to spirituality, personally, and forming relationships with the people of my church is another.  I look forward to seeing you all on these days when we can worship, make, and laugh together.

Much love,

RE News, February 2019

Lauren Strauss, DRE, picture from 2018 wearing green shirt and brown shawl.
Lauren Strauss, DRE

Dear friends,

I’ve been lying low this past week, trying to get over this cold.  This coming weekend is a Maker Sunday, which is always a fun day in RE, taking tools and materials and making whatever comes to mind.  Last time we met I wound up making a coffee cup cozy out of felt, which I’m still using on some of my thinner travel cups.

RE has been so very busy lately, drawing crowds of 25-30 children nearly every week, and many many of them in the nursery and preschool classes.  I’ve had a few people mention noise in the sanctuary while the children are still upstairs, and I ask patience and gentleness and welcoming.  Remember how much good it does our kids to be in the service for those moments — they learn our rituals, they participate in our community, they even learn the importance of stewardship for our church by being there for the collection.  Young children make noise, and as adults it’s our job to forgive them when we can, to help out their parents when possible, to kindly let newcomers know about the speaker and couch in the minister’s study when a baby or young child cannot contain themselves.  The growth of our program at the younger end is, on the whole, a joyful and unusual thing, when across both our denomination and all denominations, church school attendance is down overall.  It comes with challenges, but they’re really happy challenges to have. 

Last month we focused on animal rights and welfare in our church school classes.  Classes learned about animal habitats and taking care of animals; the Dragon Tails (our Harry Potter-inspired class) learned Bowtruckle husbandry (Bowtruckles are tree guardians that look like twigs and live in wand-wood trees like cedar, elm, birch, and holly); and the Sickth Dymension class (our Twilight Zone inspired class) discussed ethical eating). 

We then welcomed Ann Cox, a local elementary school teacher who has been involved in protesting the use of large animals such as elephants in carnivals and traveling shows for such purposes as animal rides.  Ann shared her experiences learning about elephants and read a story to the group, and then all the children and youth wrote letters to legislators to encourage them to support upcoming legislation that will outlaw elephant and other large animal shows of this nature in Massachusetts.  Many thanks to Will Twombly for introducing us to Ann.

Coming up we’ll be learning about education and literacy.  FPW member Holly Cachimuel, a middle school teacher in Watertown, approached me a bit over a year ago to ask if the church would participate in the Mother Tongue Book Project, with which she is engaged.  It is a project designed to make Creole reading materials available to children in Haiti, which simultaneously encourages Haitian children’s literacy and preserves the Creole language.  I specifically designed this month’s theme so we could participate in this program; Holly and the head of the project will be coming to visit us in RE and we will be creating our own books to send to children in Haiti.  We hope this is just the start of something wonderful.

I look forward to sharing our results with you all and to seeing you all around church!

Lauren (signature)

RE News January 18, 2019

Lauren Strauss, Director of Religious Education

Before anything else, I must spend some time thanking all the people who were involved in December’s Pageant, “A UU Christmas Carol.”  For a complete cast list, click here.  The RE Committee – Rachel Jones, Kelly Morton, Elisabeth Strekalovsky, Roma Jerome, Lydia Vagts, and Louise Harrison Lepera all contributed significantly to a wonderful day, and countless parents and other caregivers helped during both the rehearsal and pageant.  Rowan Hart and Duncan Lepera made the Sword Dance happen, even with several new dancers this year! And deep thanks to Katherine Calabro for her skilled photography (to view her pictures, you must be a member of the FPW Community Group on Facebook or email me for a link), and to Nick Woebcke, who subbed for Guy this year and joyfully added sound effects and other fun musical highlights.  Ross Dickson and Tom Ostfeld gave us enough microphones! and made our ghosts sound ghostly.  I have had people ask me to share my homily, and I have been slow to do so.  It is here, for those who are interested.

And as always, thanks to Mark and Charlyn for everything they do.

In our current month in RE, we’re exploring our Fourth Principle – the free and responsible search for truth and meaning – along with learning about caring for the animals of our planet.  As a whole group we’re learning about Henry Bergh, the Unitarian founder of the ASPCA.  In classes, children and youth are learning about various justice issues regarding animals, and what people’s responsibility is toward the creatures with whom we share our world.  Some groups are exploring Ethical Eating; others are learning about how humans can learn to care for animals in the ways that are best for the animals.  On February 3, we’ll welcome Ann Cox, a local elephant enthusiast who is busy trying to pass legislation to protect elephants in carnivals and zoos.  With Ann’s help, we’ll write letters to our legislators and also ask YOUR help in signing petitions to advance the legislation.

Speaking of things happening on February 3, on that day my friend CB Beal[1] from Justice and Peace Consulting will be coming to First Parish.  In the morning, CB will be our guest minister, preaching a little bit about Transgender and Queer inclusion and also giving an overview of their “Preemptive Radical Inclusion” philosophy.  After social hour at 12:30, CB will present a workshop designed to help First Parish let Preemptive Radical Inclusion wing us on our way to being the warm, welcoming, loving community we want to be.

And what, you may ask, is Preemptive Radical Inclusion? Excellent question! PRI’s soul is the idea that in order to be truly inclusive, we develop a culture in which we anticipate the needs of every possible human being who is in our hall – or who might walk in.  That’s the ‘radical’ bit – it’s not scary, it’s systemic.  We may learn things about eliminating microagressions from our culture, or about being ready to accept and welcome people with allergies or immune deficiencies, or about making sure that not only do everyone’s needs get heard when they’re among us and willing to advocate for themselves, but that we take all the information we know and try to anticipate what others will need before they’re even in the room.  I have participated in several PRI workshops and activities over the years, and each time I learn something new about myself as a person and as a UU.  So, please book your calendars from 12:30-3:30 on February 3 in the Sanctuary for PRI.  Childcare will be provided, and we will have lunch in between the service and the workshop.  I would love to see many of us show up to learn from CB.  In my mind, taking steps to strengthen our community now will result in a healthy transition as we march together toward Mark’s retirement.

On another topic, we’ll be holding a Teacher Appreciation & Training Breakfast on January 27 at 9:00am. If you’ve been teaching this year, please come and get spoiled with lovely food provided by your RE Committee – this is not a potluck, it is a THANK YOU for those who generously give to our RE program!  And, also on the topic of teachers, I find myself looking for one volunteer to teach either the 1st-3rd grade class OR in the Nursery for five sessions this year. Email me at dre@fpwatertown.org or flag me down during social hour (placing coffee or food in my hands is a good way to catch my attention!) if you’re interested.

If you’ve made it this far, you are awesome, and I thank you and I hope to see you in church on Sunday.

Yours in faith,

[1] CB is a non-binary person who prefers the pronouns ‘they/them.’

RE News, October 2017

This is the complete version of my column in the Arbella in October 2017.  I had many more thoughts on the subject of forgiveness than I am allowed space in our newsletter, so I invite you to read on!

My dear ones,

This past Sunday our K-2 class, the Flaming Unicorn Fox Owls, had a session entitled The Gift of Forgiveness, and I have been contemplating the lesson and its implications for our lives for the last couple of weeks.

The first thing we do every year in each church school class is write a covenant. We hang our shiny covenant – the embodiment of our highest ideals – on the wall and sign it, and then often… that’s it. We might remember to review it a few times, or maybe we turn to it if some egregious violation happens, but otherwise, that covenant hangs on the wall, looking pretty, looming its inevitably broken promises over our heads, because the thing we don’t talk about nearly enough is what to do when we break covenant.

Here’s the thing: we are going to break covenant with each other. It is inevitable, because we are imperfect humans. We will never be perfect in implementing our ideals, no matter how good our intentions. When we pretend to ourselves that we will always follow our covenants, we start to fear the consequences – the rains will come and the waters will rise! When we get in this mindset about our covenants together, though, we limit their ability to work for and with us.

Last summer I was privileged to witness a ritual in the Ferry Beach RE Week Youth Group. It was a wonderful model of how to re-enter covenant; so often our society doesn’t teach us what to do when we – individually or as a group – are wrong and need to make reparations and ask for forgiveness.

The Youth had been, in what started as good fun, teasing one of their members. It probably didn’t feel like good fun for him for very long, but the teasing kept on well beyond comfort. I don’t know whether he was upset and said something, or whether the adults in the group decided it was not okay, but that night, a trusted outsider was invited to lead a ritual. They did a reading, reviewed their covenant together, reviewed enough of what happened so that everyone who needed to know understood why they were there, and then the floor opened for youth to talk to their friend. No apology was demanded; rather, the leader asked them to focus on what they would do in the future – either to avoid a repeat or to make reparations with the target of the teasing. Many youth spoke, letting the boy know he was valued, sometimes apologizing. At the end, the leader reminded everyone that it was the boy’s prerogative to forgive, or not.

And the boy said nothing – but this wasn’t a bad thing. I think it opened up the option for his friends to check in with him privately, and I would be utterly shocked to learn that not one of them had. Of course there was some eye-rolling from our teenagers at this silly adult-enforced ritual. Duh, everyone knew the young man was fine. But they all really do care about him, and I’d be willing to bet a lot of money that this ritual made his best friends check in with him later. “Are you really okay?” “You know I didn’t mean it, right?” “I love you, man.”

The next night the same young man spoke for his best friend at our bridging ceremony, and he wept, and so did his friend, and so did every last one of us witnessing. Perhaps without the ritual all would have been the same… but I have no doubt that it allowed for any hard feelings to be put aside and for the renewal of and re-commitment to a lifelong friendship.

Our society teaches us to be defensive first when we are accused of wrongdoing. I see it daily on Social Media. John says something he thinks is funny. Jane says, “Hey, that’s racist.” Or sexist or demeaning to a group of people. Jane is angry because she has seen this same statement a hundred times and she didn’t expect it from John. And so she doesn’t temper her words and it sounds like the accusation it is.

The other day I saw such an exchange in which, before John could come back and say “You don’t know me, how dare you say I’m racist,” another friend popped in and affirmed Jane but using a different set of words. “I know you meant to be funny, John. But you should be aware that for certain people, saying what you said is really hurtful, and here’s why.”

And then back came John. “I didn’t think of my words in that light. I’m so sorry what I said could be interpreted that way. I’m deleting my comment and editing it to show that I was wrong.”

It was magic. It was people at their best. It was an invitation back into covenant. Because that’s the way we deal with it when the covenant breaks. We don’t yell, we don’t swear, we don’t wring our hands. We invite. “Our covenant says to seek the truth in love. I know you’re seeking truth, but the tone of voice you’re using isn’t in love right now, and it’s making it hard for me to hear. Can we get back into covenant together?” Sometimes it might take a calming down period. Our choices are to join together, or to hold anger and grudges for a very long time. Speaking words of reparation and forgiveness can help mend the path.

I’m so grateful to this curriculum for giving our little ones words to articulate this with now. Perhaps admitting they’re wrong and asking forgiveness won’t be as hard for them as it is for me.

I’m getting better, though. A couple of weeks ago I told a story in church and in it I reinforced the idea that binary gender is normative. I did this even though I do not believe it, even though I try very hard to be an ally and friend to my Trans* and gender-non-binary friends and acquaintances, and to the community. I was gently corrected during the water ceremony by the parent of a Trans child, in a way that was definitely calling in rather than calling out. And instead of shaking my fists and shouting that I am an ally, darn it! I sought her out later and thanked her for pointing out my error. I made our church less comfortable and less welcoming for people who are Transgender and gender-nonconforming, and I am going to try to be more aware of this in the future. I knew I had done it as the words came out of my mouth, but I didn’t know how to correct it gracefully in the moment. But I will think through my storytelling more completely in the future and try to be as inclusive as possible, and I will continue to work for equity in gender in our church and in society. I hope anyone I hurt can forgive me.

In peace,

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