RE News — October 2020

Lauren Strauss, DRE

My dear friends,

I am looking back on the time since last I wrote my column – last June! And wondering at how the world has changed.  I’ve been easing myself into the idea of a year of online programming with our children and youth.  I dove in headlong back in March, but I did not at that time think that I’d be planning all our programming this year in this way.

Reimagining your whole world is hard – and energizing.  In the RE program, it means thinking about how best to serve families with children in different age categories.  It means realizing that different people respond differently to online programming, and so some of our kids and youth will find it difficult to experience classes online while others will find it comforting.  It means being willing to change course when something isn’t working.  It means stepping outside my personal comfort zone to find new ways to do things.  Sometimes it ends up being fun.  Sometimes it’s just plain scary.

I’ve spent a bunch of time contemplating the lessons I’m learning from a study group I’m attending for religious educators about the book Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown. This remarkable work has helped me remain flexible in reshaping my plans when things have changed rapidly around me, and has also given me the hope that because the world is always in flux, because change is the only reliable constant, we can ride the change to shape the world we envision rather than allowing it to shape us.  Author and activist brown incorporates systems from nature and ideas from the science fiction works of Octavia Butler.  She emphasizes connections, trust, focusing on small/local action.  Her real-life efforts as leaders of several organizations has proven her theory more than once.  I’m still processing and understanding and discovering this work, but I find it very exciting and I believe that it has implications not only for religious education for children, but also for our larger faith.

And that is compounded with a recent workshop I attended led by Paula Cole Jones, a lifelong UU who attends the congregation of All Souls in Washington DC. Two years ago in Spokane, Washington, Paula gave the Fahs Lecture (the lecture sponsored by LREDA, my professional organization at the 2019 UUA General Assembly.  The work she discussed in the workshop as well as in the Fahs Lecture was “Building a Community of Communities.”  Paula Cole Jones explains that churches need to stop trying to function as a ‘family’ with familial hierarchical structure in favor of building a Community of Communities – with each community within our church and our association holding equal weight and value, rather than there being a ‘dominant culture’ in which certain groups stand in the center while others are marginalized.  It’s a culture shift for sure, but it is a hopeful one – one in which we can wholeheartedly welcome and support everyone in our faith. 

I’m learning to be like water – to flow around obstacles, to shape myself to the new normal, to find the tiny openings that can be opened further and to let myself bypass the places where the walls are high.  Water is both soft and powerful. I remind myself of the power of water daily – and so did adrienne maree brown in Emergent Strategy. The ability to stay flexible and resilient is what’s going to get me through this year – and you too, I hope.

Religious Education classes are happening at noon on Sunday on Zoom, with a small group meeting at 4pm on Tuesdays, and a Sex Ed group (not really OWL, but replacing the latter half of OWL until we can meet in person again) on Sundays at 5pm.  Please feel free to contact me if you need anything from our RE community in this time.

Much love,

RE News June 2020

Lauren Strauss, DRE

Dear all,

I want to take an opportunity to remind you all that this Sunday is our Flower Communion, and that if you have a chance you could send a picture of yourself and/or your family with a flower for a slideshow that will be part of our service, and also that you should remember to bring a flower or flowers to the service this week.  I also want to remind you that the First Parish Band has been preparing not one but two musical numbers, featuring about 10 First Parish members & friends, and artfully produced by Tom Ostfeld.  This is a Sunday not to be missed, and although we staff will be around this summer more than perhaps usual, it is our last staff-led service until September.  The Worship Committee has been hard at work organizing lay-led services for you for most of July and August.  Religious Education classes will continue this summer but may be at a different time.

Today I had a strange experience.  I sat here at my desk, writing my monthly newsletter column, while attending and fully participating in my professional organization’s annual meeting at the same time.  I was able to do this because the whole meeting was online.  For me this is a blessing more than not, because it is usually held in person at General Assembly, during the days before GA, called Professional Days.  I was planning to go to GA this year in person, since it would have been in Providence, RI, but going to Professional Days is often just a bunch of extra: extra nights in a hotel, extra time away from my family, extra money from professional or personal funds… and so though I can vote remotely, this is the very first time I have attended, and I most likely wouldn’t have been there in person. I’ll attend Professional Days next week and then attend GA remotely. It’s a blessing as well as a sadness: I was looking forward to in-person hugs, to meeting folks in real life who I’ve only known online, and to spending some time in Providence.

Attending our faith’s General Assembly is one of the ways I affirm my faith.  I know we don’t always have a strong showing at GA, but since the meeting is virtual and the cost is only $150, I would love to recommend that people try to attend.  It’s not too late to join in the fun.  And even if you can’t attend the full conference, I hope you’ll attend Sunday morning worship at 10:00am EST on June 28. GA Worship Services are available at the livestream page daily, along with all the general sessions, Thursday’s Service of the Living Tradition (I suspect we will get to honor a certain retired minister that day!) and the Synergy Bridging service on Friday night, where we bridge and honor youth and young adults.

If you choose to register, you can also attend the Sophia Lyon Fahs Lecture, which is put on by LREDA, my professional organization, which features two experts on Indigenous peoples “Reflecting on Teachings about Indigenous Peoples.”  I am currently seeking clarity about the date of this lecture – one organization has it scheduled for Thursday and the other for Friday. Other offerings include Saturday night’s Ware Lecture, featuring syndicated columnist and author Naomi Klein.

And for the first time, I’m serving as a delegate – I just received my credentials.  You all may remember that First Parish sponsored a bill two years ago allowing Credentialed Religious Educators who are members in good standing of LREDA and serving a congregation to serve as delegates without taking a vote away from the congregation, just as ministers do. I’m sure that attending general plenary sessions doesn’t sound totally fascinating, but actually, watching the governance work of our faith in action is kind of geekily satisfying.  I believe that so far only one congregation member is attending GA as a delegate.  I heartily encourage you to step up to that role if you have the time and energy contact the church office or Sue Twombly if you’re interested.  Our congregation deserves its voice in our denomination.

So, my dears, see you around the internet, and maybe as things go forward we will even get to see each other ‘in 3-D’ as a member of the RE Committee eloquently put it.  Thank you all for your kind words to me about the Youth Service – and don’t forget to tell the youth too, because they were the ones who actually did most of the work.  Especial thanks to Rowan for his masterful editing skills on our skit.  Thank goodness for those who were born in this digital environment!

All my love,

Lauren

RE News — May 14, 2020

Lauren Strauss
Director of Religious Education

Dear friends,

Today I am thinking about grief and loss, and how we face it, together and with our children.

This thrice-blasted, cursed virus has robbed us of so much: church and school and time together and time in the sun, graduations and rituals and hugs.

Very soon we will be dealing with more loss.  Summer travel plans will be canceled, if they haven’t been already.  I am already grieving not being able to go to General Assembly in person, and although it isn’t official yet, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be at Ferry Beach for RE week this summer for the first time in ten years.  In some ways I still have my fingers stuck in my ears, my eyes squeezed tight, and I’m shouting “LALALALALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” rather than look it in the face – but on another, deeper level, I’m starting the grieving process now, because that will help me recover from the loss more easily when it actually comes.  Though I suspect that, just as happened when we were told school was cancelled till the end of the year, even though I know it is coming, I will cry when it is official.

I’m not afraid to grieve this loss.  I don’t look forward to it, I don’t want to grieve it. I want to go to that sacred beach where I find my heart on the sands every summer. I want to sing the familiar songs and hug the people I only get to see once a year. I want to see the children and mark their growth, and celebrate bridging our Seniors and drum around the campfire.  Part of me feels if we don’t go this year, we may never go again.  My logical brain knows this isn’t true, but the unreasonable part of my spirit is afraid that this is the end of something forever.

I could shoulder on. I could pretend that the way to get through this is to be as normal as possible, and carry on doing what I can do every day to create normalcy and community in a world where we’re not allowed to be in the same place.

But that would be a mistake.  Right now, as we are rolling out of crisis mode and into dealing with a changed reality, it is time to stop and mourn my losses.  If I don’t, I can already sense that I’ll start to lose my joy in the good things, and my motivation to do the daily and weekly things that need doing.  Giving myself time to grieve will help me become more resilient and more able to adapt to upcoming changes. 

Children will need us now more than ever.  I suspect that many of us default to wanting to protect our kids from danger, unpleasantness, and death.  And to some extent, that’s right.  Kids don’t need us to fuel their fear or to hear information that is beyond their understanding at their developmental ages.  However, in this situation our kids are going to need to know some of what’s going on, and they are going to need to grieve their own losses. 

I’ve heard a few families mention that summer camp will be a big loss for some of our children and youth, and as I’ve already demonstrated, that resonates with me strongly.  For some, going to camp – whether it’s one of the youth camps at Ferry Beach or Star Island, or another camp – is intense and creates stronger friendship bonds and memories in a week or two than an entire school year or church year does at home.  Even children who don’t go to a beloved summer camp are going to start to realize that our summer activities will be greatly curtailed: no beach, perhaps; no parks; no picnics; no playing with friends.  It’s going to start feeling really long and hard, and we will have to give our kids a chance to grieve. 

If we don’t, they will anyway. Only, the grief will come out in unexpected and unhelpful ways. With younger children you may see an increase in tantrums; older kids may experience depression or anger.  These things happen in times of stress anyway, but if we leave our grief unacknowledged, it grows beyond our ability to bounce back.

We deal with grief and loss, not because they are pleasant, but because we wish to recover from them.  We want to grow our children’s resilience in the face of adversity, because resilient human beings are more likely to thrive.

In particular, I want to name the elephant in the room.  There’s more than a small chance that our congregation will experience the loss of a member or friend over the coming months.  None of us wants to frighten or sadden children with talk about death, but at the same time, death is a part of life.  Helping our children understand this in the abstract, by reading stories in which a character dies, or by talking about loved ones who died in the past, can help our children understand that death – and the sadness that comes with it – is natural and something we all experience in our lives. 

There are many resources for talking with children about death and grief.  Here is a list of a few.

From the UUA:
https://www.uua.org/sites/live-new.uua.org/files/documents/galginaitiscarol/familiesloss.pdf

A whole page of resources on parenting during the pandemic from the UUA:

https://www.uua.org/leadership/library/parenting-pandemic


A PDF guide can be downloaded from the following website that lists many resources and advice for helping kids cope with the pandemic.  Thanks to Roma Jerome for sharing it with me.
https://www.carneysandoe.com/blog-post/e-book-helping-kids-cope-with-coronavirus

The Religious Education Committee is committed to helping to fill the gaps for our children this spring and summer.  We’ll be talking about how we can continue our multigenerational worship times and RE gatherings and activities through the summer.  Please continue to let me know if you think of something we could be doing that we are not yet doing. 

I love all of you.  Thanks for sticking with this to the end. 

RE News — April 16, 2020

Lauren Strauss
Director of Religious Education

Dear friends,

It has been quite a month, hasn’t it? I’ve just finished my Annual Report – did you know that things happened before March in this church year? I was a little surprised to find I had more to talk about than quarantine! Outside, the inevitable signs of spring, from the asparagus spears starting to poke their little heads out of the earth, to the daffodils in full bloom across the street, remind me that despite everything, life and all the earth’s cycles continue.

I admit that while I am very much looking forward to in-person hugs and face-to-face, mask-free conversations, part of me finds the challenges of this quarantine invigorating.  I love the intimacy of our worship services – and I am surprised by this: I did not think I would find it as fulfilling to worship online as I do to worship in person. I like planning these services; I love to see the creative spirit that Charlyn and Guy have applied to our musical offerings; I find it really lovely to plan a service with Rev. Wendy for all ages every week, and be able to attend the full service.  I like finding and presenting stories that reflect and elaborate on each week’s message. People’s joys and sorrows move me.  I even enjoy trying to make the technology do the things I want it to do. 

And working with the children, youth, and parents via Zoom has been wonderful too.  On some days just one or two people have shown up for a group, and we have a lovely time getting to know each other and sharing stories.  I am in the midst of creating a tiny roleplaying game (RPG) for our children and youth to try out.  Clara helped me field test the first part today; I was planning on doing it on Thursdays but most of the older kids are doing schoolwork or classes during the week, so I’m seeing lots more people show up on Sundays than other days of the week.  This is great, by the way.  If my being there on Tuesday and Thursday for the kids, on Tuesday night for the parents, and on Wednesday afternoon for the youth is helpful to even one family, then it’s worth my time.  My goal is not to create more responsibilities and busyness for our families, but to meet their needs. 

In fact, if anyone would like me to host a group or individual chat at some other time, for you or your kids, please feel free to contact me at dre@fpwatertown.org and we can set something up.  

We’re in such strange times.  Things are changing rapidly, even daily.  In Framingham as of yesterday we must wear masks to enter any store, and over the recent weeks I’ve seen things go from everyone entering stores freely to waiting in line outside in order to enter, to directional aisles, and now masks.  We don’t know whether May 4 will see us slowly return to our daily lives or continued closures.  We don’t know when, or if, tragedy will strike our community, and I don’t know about you, but thinking about it too loudly makes me uncomfortable.  As things change, our children and youth are likely to experience times of acceptance and times of anguish.  Being small doesn’t mean you don’t grieve losses or feel anxiety over things that are beyond your control.  Sometimes it does mean you don’t have the words to talk about how you’re feeling.  I know even as a fairly articulate adult, I’ve been more weepy and crabby than usual, and I can’t always put my feelings into words.  We all need to be there for each other and for our kids.  We’re stronger in community, and our children sense that strength.

Please see below for planned RE meeting times.  I send out an email on Tuesdays with the Zoom link for these meetings, or you can contact me for information.

Love, and see you Sunday!

RE News, March 20, 2020

Lauren Strauss, DRE

Dear ones,

Wow, this has been a wild week, hasn’t it?  Last night in RE committee I reflected back and realized it had been only 7 days since the Parish Committee gathered, decided to cancel in-person services for a couple of weeks, and wondered if we were overreacting.

Since that time, we have all been committed to making sure that we stay connected.  We’ll have an online church service this coming Sunday followed by virtual social hour. I’ve been running RE times for the children and youth – we hosted four gatherings on Zoom last week as well as a parent group.  These groups will continue to meet until we can be physically together again!  And there are going to be special collaborative projects available each week as well.

One of these is multigenerational, will be ongoing, and deserves a special call-out.  The First Parish Friends (or Pals… I keep using both) pen pal project is open for business. I’ll continue matching people with pen pals as requests come in, but the first batch will go out today.  Please sign up by clicking this link.  You may also email me (dre@fpwatertown.org) or call me (774-286-9573) if you have difficulty signing up electronically for any reason. 

The rest of this week’s RE Schedule is as follows (and will go out as a separate mailing on Monday):

Sunday: Please attend worship! Don’t forget to bring a chalice to light at home. At 12:00pm we will gather for Children’s RE for ½ hour.  We will share joys and sorrows and talk about a way to live our faith this week.  For youth – I am going to send out an email today to discern what is the best time for us to gather this week. 

Monday: a day of self-care.  Please do something fun, just for you, on Monday, to recharge yourself for another week of at-home time.  Families, please plan your daily schedules so each family member has scheduled time to do a restorative activity of their choice.

Tuesday: RE gathering at 4:00pm.  I will tell a story just for fun, and we’ll do Joys & Sorrows. 

Wednesday: We will work on our Living Our Values project at home.  8:30pm: Parent Hangout.

Thursday: RE Gathering at 11:00am.  We will talk about Living our Values and we will have fun with a collaborative white board on Zoom.  We’ll also have Joys & Sorrows.

Friday & Saturday: No currently planned gatherings. 

All gatherings except the church service will take place in my Zoom “room”.  You can access them here:  https://zoom.us/j/7087627369 / Meeting ID: 708 762 7369.  If you need to call in or have difficulty, please give me a call or email me in advance.

Please continue to let me and Wendy and the rest of the staff know how we can be of service to you during this absurd, ridiculous, utterly unimaginable time.  We remain committed to keeping the church as a place of comfort and connection for everyone.  When we can’t be together in body, we’ll be together in spirit.

Much love,

Lauren

RE News, February 2020

Lauren Strauss, DRE

Dear friends,

I’m so excited to share all the wonderful things that have been happening among our children and families this month.  Make sure to click through to my blog to see pictures.  We have been having a blast in RE and in church and the pictures prove it.

I’d love to draw your attention to Family Night, coming up on February 28. We’ll be showing a movie, having potluck, and we’ll be inviting adult family members to come together to share their experiences as churchgoing families – both the highlights and the frustrations involved.  We hope people of all ages will join us.  The RE committee will provide pizza, drinks, and fruits & veggies, and you are encouraged to bring a dish to share.  The festivities will start at 5:30 and the movie will begin at 6.

Many of you may have noticed our Hymn of the Month by now – in February it has been “Morning Has Broken” and we have sung it not only in the sanctuary but also downstairs at our gathering circle, where we’ve introduced tiny song books with all the songs we have learned.  The song books are on binder rings, so we can add new songs as we learn them.

The Hymn of the Month at work! (photo credit: C. Dickinson)

Some of you may remember Pew Bear, who was here when I arrived nearly ten years ago but then mysteriously disappeared a couple of years later.  After a long search, a new Pew Bear has presented themself.  Last week we welcomed them in our gathering circle and made them a new name button (because the old Pew Bear’s button disappeared with Pew Bear!).  This Pew Bear uses they/them pronouns, so we added that to their button.  I put my pronouns on my button, too – have you? Adding your pronouns to your name tag – even if you think they are ‘obvious’ to others – welcomes Trans and Nonbinary people to add their pronouns without singling them out.  If everyone has their pronouns on their name tags, it becomes the norm, not just something you do if you’re different.  Some people don’t use pronouns at all – they prefer you just use their name.  Join me and Pew Bear in welcoming everyone to our congregation, won’t you?

Last week during our Makerspace, one friend made an airplane for Pew Bear, and two children and a youth created a marble track from paper towel rolls and other recycled materials that worked really well and kept them and some others amused for a long time.

In RE classes, our monthly theme of Identity and Belonging has led us on some very fun journeys.  Our Youth spent the month decorating their room – they have a brand-new rug and some super awesome LED lights that do all kinds of cool things.  You should check it out!

The Dinosaur Airplanes, our Preschool-Kindergarten class, has been learning about our Principles and about being Unitarian Universalists.  They are creating a display board that will someday feature not only the beautiful yarn chalice in the center but rainbow descriptions of each of the Seven Principles.  Right now, we have the First Principle on there (the inherent worth and dignity of every person) along with the chalice.

(Picture of Display Board)

Chalice Display made by our Dinosaur Airplanes class

The Justice Sowers and the Dragon Claws, our 1st-4th and 5th-7th grade classes, have been making wonderful things in class.  Susan Lind-Sinanian has come this month to teach Armenian embroidery to a group of these children and youth (along with a couple of adults who wanted to learn too!).

And the rest of the class has been building peg looms following the design of fiber artist Amy McKnight, who even sent us an Instagram message to tell us she was excited about our learning to make and weave on her looms.

Next month we’re looking forward to building drums and learning some drumming with John Buchanan. 

Watch this space for even more excitement!

RE News January 17, 2020

Dear friends,

It is lovely to hear many of you talking about Rev. Wendy’s sermon about focusing on a word as an intention-setting practice. You may recall that this has been a personal practice of mine for the last 6 years, and that I’ve had a habit of sharing my word with you in my column each year.

I came into 2020 with a desire to nurture my creative side, which seems

to be bursting with ideas and energy. And… well, this is no secret to anyone who’s seen my office… I’m not a big fan of cleaning and organizing. It always seems like such a chore. But the fact was, every time I thought about allowing my creative process to flow, it got stomped out almost immediately. I can’t start that writing project when my desk is so messy, I would think. It became clear very quickly that I needed a new way of looking at cleaning so that doing it would feel less onerous, leaving space clear for creativity.

I thought about words like “Declutter” and “Organize” and “Tidy” and “Clean,” but those words didn’t feel quite right.  I needed my cleaning to be reverent. I need my spaces to be sacred.  So I chose the word HALLOW.  In addition to the bonus Harry Potter reference, Hallow means creating sacred space rather than just ‘cleaning.’  For now it is choosing a space, moving the stuff off it, and re-setting it with objects that create the energy I need (+/- a cat or two, because who doesn’t need a cat between them and the keyboard, am I right?). Once the space is set up, I can maintain it by replacing everything carefully and reverently, and mindfully considering whether any new piece serves the purpose of the space. 

I love my word-of-the-year practice.  I write my word into my planner on monthly and weekly planning pages, and I get a bracelet made from MyIntent.org with my word stamped on it each year.  I also check in each month with the group of online friends with whom I started this practice 6 years ago. Having these reminders helps me reset and reframe when I need to do so.

Image: Lauren’s wrist with a bracelet. It is a rose gold washer with the word “HALLOW” stamped on it, and a navy blue macrame band.

The RE program has been following along with our church’s monthly themes.  Last weekend the Dinosaur Airplanes made their own spyglasses, and the older kids began envisioning a project that, in a couple of weeks, we’ll ask all of you to join in!  One of the Visions we hold is that when we all work together, we can make great and powerful things.

In the coming months we’ll be trying new strategies in the sanctuary to help include children and youth and encourage them to participate more deeply. You may have already noticed that on a few select Sundays we have moved the Children’s Worship Table up to the front of the sanctuary. While we will never ever (because of developmental psychology) expect babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and even younger elementary kids to sit perfectly still, moving them to the front lets them see what’s going on in the pulpit — lets them see the musicians, have line of sight with speakers, and for the older kids makes them aware that the minister and DRE are watching them! In addition, it gets them away from the extremely live acoustical spots in the back that project every sound at ten times the volume to the front of the sanctuary.

Another thing we’re going to try, starting this month, is a “Hymn of the Month” during the first hymn slot. Charlyn, Guy, and I have plotted this out for a variety of reasons. Children who can’t read can learn the hymn by rote, and the little ones love to sing when they know the song! Music is a magical order-maintaining device — ask any preschool teacher who knows to pull out “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” when a class gets restless. I once was in a children’s choir of 300 4th-6th graders, and there were three adults in the room — the conductor, the pianist, and one assistant (for a while in high school I was the assistant). All the conductor had to do was get the pianist to play one of the songs we all knew, and suddenly we were all singing. There was no other calling to order, no begging for our attention. The music started, we sang. It works in church too, when the children know the music.

And, I’m going to let Charlyn’s little secret out of the bag, because she also has an ulterior motive… she holds out hope that if adults have heard a song several times, they might put the book down a little and look up and sing with the room a bit more. That’s another magical transformation that happens when people who really know a song sing it together with spirit. It brings people together in a special and spiritual way that just doesn’t happen while we’ve all got our faces buried in the hymnal.

So, this month’s hymn is “When the Heart is in a Holy Place” (1008 in the teal hymnal) and we’ll be singing it downstairs as well as upstairs this month. 

See you around the sanctuary, my friends!

Lauren


Coming up in RE:

  • January: Vision & Possibility
  • Hymn: When the Heart is in a Holy Place
  • Story: The Spyglass by Paul Evans
  • Project: Yarn

  • February: Identity & Belonging
  • Project: Embroidery with Susan Lind-Sinanian

  • January 19: Maker Sunday. NO OWL
  • January 26: Teacher Breakfast, RE Classes (Yarn & other projects. OWL 4:30-6:30
  • February 2: RE Classes (Embroidery with Susan & other projects). OWL 4:30-6:30
  • February 9: RE Classes (Embroidery with Susan & other projects). OWL 4:30-6:30

RE News December 2019

Lauren wearing a green shirt and gold knit capelet.

Lauren Strauss, DRE

Dear ones,

The Pageant this past Sunday went beautifully, mainly thanks to all the many folks who volunteered to do things that needed doing (or cheerfully allowed themselves to be drafted!). As is my custom, I want to use my space here to acknowledge everyone who made Pageant Sunday go smoothly.

First, the cast of The Dreidel that Wouldn’t Spin:

Peddler: Kai

Shopkeeper: Elena

Parent of Spoiled Child: Rowan

Spoiled Child: Magdalena

Parent of Disrespectful Child: Marcos

Disrespectful Child: Akash

Parent of Poor Child: Ranjan

Poor Child: Joshua

Mother and Baby: Laima, Hattie

Townsfolk: Clara, Talia, Marshall

Prop Girl: Mila

Sheep: Lydia, Adrienne, Emerson

Dreidel sides: Clara, Talia, Magdalena, Laima, Mila

Narrator 1: Marcos

Narrator 2: Kostas

Narrator 3: Rowan

Narrator 4: Nea

Sword Master: Rowan

Sword Dancers: Kai, Kostas, Ranjan, Marcos, Haley

Chalice Lighter: Haley

Closing Reading: Rowan

In addition I’d like to acknowledge the following adults who made rehearsal and the production work:

Kate Hanson Plass (official baby wrangler). Emily Straley, Dia Warren and Suresh Annavarapu, Martha Pedersen, Mae Deluca, Amy Stepsis, Tom Ostfeld (for opening the attic so we could get costumes), Ross Dickson (especially for closing the hatch to the attic so we could safely use the conference room), Sheri Kennedy, Kat Cass.

The RE Committee helped before, during, and after in various capacities: Rachel Jones, chair. Roma Jerome, Lydia Vagts, Kyle Morton, Louise Harrison Lepera, Sarah McSweeney Chamberlain, Sachié Karmacharya.

And a special thanks to Charlyn for helping with song leading, and for helping to lead the Candle Lighting ritual; and to Guy, who made music happen despite a hand injury! and to Carole Berney, who showed up and played hymns when Guy injured his hand! And to Rev. Wendy, who acted as Worship Associate for the morning. And to our sexton, Frank Griggs, who very sweetly hauled all those boxes back to the attic without being asked.

During the pageant I’m often running in 3 different directions at any given time, and sometimes things get blurry. If you helped and I have left your name out of this, I appreciate you! I hope the pageant was as fun for everyone else as it was for me.

Happy December, happy all the holidays, may we all greet the return of the sun in good health and with loving hearts.

Love,

Lauren

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