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 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.’