Religious Education 2019-20 Annual Report
This last school year seems to be divided between pre- and post-onset of the Coronavirus. In the last three months, we, as a culture and as individuals, have had to adapt, grow, be agile and resourceful, show up for each other, question safety, learn new things, try new things, do new things, change our habits and routines and our minds. These challenges have required spiritual resiliency and strong moral character. This is exactly what Religious Education is about.
Pre-Coronavirus, we were working towards these ends through Religious Education events, programs, and classes such as Harry Potter and UU, Coming of Age, and Our Whole Lives. Harry Potter and UU was so successful, we are planning to run it again this coming year. It seemed almost all the teachers, youth, and families had contributions to offer to the curriculum and classroom. The creation process reminded me of the Stone Soup story; “Oh, I think I’ve got a few witch hats at home” or “I’m pretty sure we have a couple of wands in the closet.” Somehow, almost magically, witch and wizard robes appeared, an Owlery (for all the owls) was formed, dozens of brooms were made, and all sorts of potions, costumes, tapestries, and even an ancestor portrait found their way to the Hogwarts classroom. It was my pure joy to get to be “Julius Dumbledore” this year. The class, Dumbledore’s Army, worked on fighting many Horcruxes including poverty, homelessness, violence, and environmental degradation.
Another beloved program we offered this year is Our Whole Lives (OWL). OWL is an honest, age-appropriate sexuality education program created by the UUA and the United Church of Christ. OWL supports human development and affirms the worth and dignity of all. OWL is a resource-intensive program to offer and requires extensive facilitator training. It is worth every effort, as it is in line with our overall mission and UU values and truly saves lives. We offered 10 weeks of Adult OWL and 10 weeks of 5th grade OWL in the fall, and we were running the year-long 8th grade OWL as well as the spring 1st grade OWL classes until campus closed in March. Unfortunately, these classes cannot be transferred online at this point because of privacy issues. We hope to offer the remaining four 8th grade OWL sessions at a later date, so those participants can complete the full curriculum. We’re also talking about offering a week-long 8th grade OWL camp during the summer of 2021, as we are unlikely to be able to offer it this coming year.
Beginning March 15, we shifted as much Religious Education programming online as we possibly could. It was an incredible feat of adaptability, generosity, flexibility, resourcefulness, and creativity. The R.E. teachers truly lived out our aspirations to have, “open minds, open hearts, open hands.” I created training to support connective, meaningful video calls, and the teachers helped each other develop new tools to carry on really good R.E. in an online setting. Thank you, amazing volunteers.
There is an oft-used expression among Religious Educators: "The congregation is the curriculum." This phrase means that the real, live things happening between members in a congregation supersede any pre-pared curriculum in Religious Education. For example, the moment of welcoming a new person into a class is more important than talking about the value of welcome theoretically. In the wake of the Coronavirus, we allowed the virus and its impacts to shape our curriculum. The pandemic became a central doorway to spiritual conversation and growth for our young people.
In March, we began processing the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual impact of the Coronavirus on us as individuals and on us as a society. For our littlest ones, this meant we spent time on Joys and Concerns or “Feeling Stones”, practiced emotional awareness and intelligence, focused on friendships, and talked about what makes a community. They had tea parties with stuffed animals, and one teacher wrote and illustrated beautiful online video stories featuring some of our own 3 and 4-year-olds. The Sunshine Kids Choir came to stand in for K-1st grade R.E., and the 2-3rd used a Chalice Circle format to connect and discuss social distancing, homeschooling, and family and friend life in a pandemic. The 4-5th grade witches and wizards began fighting the Horcrux of sickness, and their Hogwarts professors made an impressive, interactive website for their classes to support online connection and learning. The middle school class made cards for ERUUF members quarantining alone, and they had many discussions around adolescent challenges and silver linings of this physically, and somewhat socially, distant time.
Our Youth Ministry Coordinator, Braxton Simmons, supported our Coming of Age and Middle and High School Youth Groups in shifting to online programming as well. High School Youth Group had a virtual lock-in and made pancakes together online, and the Coming of Age youth have continued meeting online and connecting with their mentors. We plan to reschedule the Coming of Age worship service for a later date, as this is a much-beloved service for the congregation and an important ritual in the sequence of Religious Education for the participants.
This summer in R.E., we will be focusing our attention on racial equity and inclusion. We are in a moment of social and structural shift, as our country and culture responds to the police murder of George Floyd, as well as many other victims of color. Many ERUUFians have been participating in the protests, in community organizing to defund the police, and in the Triangle Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) chapter. It is important we bring our UU values and practices to these community organizing efforts, and it is important we bring these justice efforts to our UU community, including Religious Education classes. This marriage of justice work and spiritual grounding creates powerful and sustainable change. In R.E., we are in the process of acquiring a longer racial justice curriculum for our high school youth, and in the meantime, we have responded with agility to current events. Our own skillful advisors have been facilitating discussion groups on individual and systemic racism for our older youth.
We all- families, volunteers, staff, members- come together because we are willing to put our energy towards Unitarian Universalist values and dreams. Together we are making a gentle, warm, steady impact on the world, directing our future towards love and light. We expect next year R.E. will be full of surprises and change as it has been this spring, but whatever R.E. looks like this fall, we will continue to adapt and carry on the important work that is R.E. Please reach out to me if you’d like to come and join us in Religious Education this next year.
Over the last five years here at ERUUF, it has been my true joy to serve as Director of Religious Education. It is the greatest privilege of my professional life to devote myself and this community towards the growth of our spirits and towards strong moral character. I am honored to work with you who share like dreams for our children, our world, our future. I feel a sense of hope and faith that the work we’ve been doing in R.E. for years now is exactly the preparation we’ve needed to navigate our individual and collective soul’s challenges in these turbulent times today.
Yours in Faith,
Julia Tyler, Director of Religious Education