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 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.