20/20 Vision

future-visionSeveral years ago, our congregation got together in the important work of creating a vision statement – outlining what is the future of our ministry, where we want to “go”, and how we want to get there.  I remember this as a very energetic and collaborative process, which brought all sorts of folks together in the shared view that this community is important to us, and a recognition that we want to be purposeful in creating the next chapter of Channing’s story.

Here is the Vision Statement that came out of that process:

Our Vision Statement
Believing that the true expression of our religion is the way we live our lives – We, the members and friends of Channing Memorial Church, commit to use our diverse gifts in shared ministry as a catalyst for:

  • Creating a wellspring of caring and compassion within a vital and inspirational community of all ages that values individuals throughout their lives,
  • Spiritual growth and intellectual exchange,
  • The honest and responsible use of the democratic process,
  • Stewardship of our historic sacred spaces,
  • Peace, justice, and respect for all people and our planet,
  • Positive change within our community and the world.

Pretty neat, right?

And check this out- we then determined the top actions important to reaching this vision. And look at Number One:

1. We are committed to creating and sustaining a foundation for
our children which fosters their spiritual growth, guides their
search for truth and empowers them to work for justice.

That’s right, we agreed that the first item on our list was an intentional commitment to our children.

I have been attending several workshops lately on “Faith Formation 2020” which I have described in earlier posts. A new way of seeing the work of the church, blending online and face to face programming, seeing the growth of our spirituality throughout the whole week, not just on Sundays, and the work of faith development in people of all ages. It is exciting (if not a bit overwhelming!) and a necessary paradigm shift for our congregation in these changing times.

The “2020” referred to here is the year 2020, a date representing when we need to have changes in place to meet the needs of a new religious culture in America. When the original book “Faith Formation 2020”, by John Roberto was published in 2010, he outlined a plan of action for the next decade to engage people who need a different sort of model for church. The technology and cultural changes are happening even faster than we imagined, and it is vital that we as a congregation begin to make changes, create experiments, and build on our successes – keeping what is working well while renovating areas that need new energy.

In this experimenting and brainstorming we will not lose sight of our Vision, though. The plan created by our congregation is still our guiding force. The values we expressed in our vision statement are central to all that we do and what motivates us in our ministry. Let us move forward with these tenets in the forefront – let us not lose sight of our commitment expressed to “sustaining a foundation for our children which fosters their spiritual growth, guides their search for truth and empowers them to work for justice.” Our multigenerational ministry is precious and powerful. Children and youth are part of our worship, our learning, our social action, our stewardship, and our fun. Let all the work of our congregation reflect this vision.

Has our vision gotten a little fuzzy? What should we do to bring it back into focus?

I like what Liz James has to say here about the progressive and playful spirit of Unitarian Universalism. How can we adults embrace the play of faith formation? What can our children teach us about how we do church?

Stick Around For Joy

Joy To the World!

A favorite hymn of mine for this season. One that is tied into my memories of being with my family, making dozens of different cookies- all some variation of almonds and butter, or fanciful gingerbread shapes- and belting out all fives verses we knew in 3 part harmony. (Good thing Mom can sing tenor!)

repeat the sounding Joy

Joy overflows in music and tradition, in out connections with others, and in our time in nature. Joy is such a vital force in our lives – all year round. Carl Scovel remarked:

At the heart of all creation lies a good intent, a purposeful goodness, from which we come, by which we live our fullest, and to which we shall at last return. This is the supreme mystery of our lives. This goodness is ultimate-not fate, not freedom, not mystery, energy, order, nor finitude, but this good intent in creation is our source, our center, and our destiny. . . Our work on earth is to explore, enjoy, and share this goodness. Neither duty nor suffering nor progress nor conflict-not even survival-is the aim of life, but joy. Deep, abiding, uncompromised joy.

Joy is the core of our spiritual practice. Joy is our heart connecting to what we find sacred. A lack of Joy alerts us to when our lives are out of balance.

This week, we will make room for Joy in Chalice Circle. Please join us!

Why Bother With Multigens?

Some of the things we do at church are easy to understand. We have classes for children and youth to provide developmentally appropriate understanding of our faith. We have Small Groups to give folks an intimate way to explore ideas together- especially as our membership grows- so we can get to know each other on a deeper level. But some folks recently asked me why we have multigenerational worship? Why is multigenerational worship essential to Channing, to faith development, and to the future of Unitarian Universalism?

Let me back up- What is a Multigenerational service? That is a worship service where all ages are together in the service for the whole time. We used to call those “intergenerational”, but then realized that we have up to SIX generations in the room, so we better make the term more inclusive, since “intergenerational” suggests exchange between two generations only. Our Multigenerational Services (or “Multigens”) usually happen around big holidays (Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving) or times of special significance for our congregation (Ingathering, Flower Celebration, Celebration Sunday) occurring about once a month.

These services are planned with great consideration. Worship planners work together to find a balance of content that speaks to people young and older. Our goal is not to “dumb down” the service to a Second Grade level, but to make different parts of the service accessible to different types of understanding… some for adult, some for youth, so that no one is left out.

Multigens are important so everyone has the opportunity to worship together. How can we be in relationship if we do not spend time celebrating together? How can children and youth learn how we “do” church if they aren’t in the room?  How can Unitarian Universalism continue, if our children don’t experience what being an adult Unitarian Universalist looks like?

Lest you think that only the children benefit in this arrangement, think again. A multigen service explores different learning styles. Lots of adults enjoy using movement, song and story in worship. Multigen services tend to incorporate shorter elements into the hour, creating a dynamic flow. The traditional model of adult worship is one that has been successful for several generations, but times change, and the younger generations of adults as well as our children, are looking for a different structure.

All this is good for us to know and explains why we offer multigens. But folks- here’s the part that’s hard to hear: It really doesn’t matter if we have the best, most fulfilling multigen worship ever … if you don’t show up. I guess there are several kinds of people who are not coming to multigens:

  • Parents who are worried their kid will wiggle or be bored.

Be there. Yes- your kid might get bored. So what? We have kids do all manner of boring things- most of which are far less worthwhile than worship. Kids learn how to be in the service very quickly. There’s also the chance they will enjoy it! With our crazy lives it is hard to find an hour to share as a family. Don’t miss this one.

  • Older adults who are “done” with young children.

Really? This is a church, not a retirement village or a social club. Being with younger people enriches your life and makes you happier. Being exposed to new ways of approaching life’s big questions is why we are involved at Channing.  Be open to what you can learn from children.

  • People who think Mutigenerational is code for “Worship Lite”.

Show up anyway. Planners work hard to try to make multigenerational worship meaningful, not empty. The more we practice mutigen worship together and receive your feedback, the better we can meet the needs of everyone in the room. Boycotting multigens doesn’t help at all. Not attending is letting down your community.

OK- that’s my frank (perhaps frustrated by low attendance?) words about why you should come to our multigen services. Here’s some inspiring words as well from A Unitarian Universalist Minister In The South‘s blog:

Why Multigenerational Worship?

Because the more opportunities we have to relate to people who see the world from a different point of view the better we are at being able to function in a multi-cultural and pluralist society.

Because science has told us that the presence of children raises the chemicals in our adult bodies that produce the desire to nurture, to have compassion, and to have empathy for the other.

Because it is important for adults to have a glimpse at the future through our children in a worship setting.

Because the expressions of joy, of sorrow, of celebration, of grief, of transcendence are different in people of different ages and to see them expressed in multiple ways is expressing the fullness of our humanity.

Because our society has fractured the family into so many divided segments that to worship multi-generationally is a counter-culture act to reclaim what is being lost.

Because children help our seniors remain connected and vital.  There is nothing like witnessing a spontaneous hug from a child with an elderly person of 90 plus years and seeing the elder’s eyes light up.

Because children benefit from getting to know other adults who are not their parents by participating in the multi-generational choir and other worship activities.

Because children learn the importance of coming together as a worship community where all are valued for who they are.

Because children learn they are not just on display when they are in the full service like they could be when they are only allowed to be in part of the service and then ceremoniously ushered out.

The Traveling Chalice and Sanctuary Chalice

See you Sunday, folks!

“Oh, I Am Not Good At Getting Kids To …”

Half of the people we ask to teach express reticence about managing behavior in the class room. Even seasoned volunteer teachers can sometimes get leery about a particularly active group, bouncing around. (Now, I’m not saying which of our classes …)

Classroom management is a real part of teaching any age group, from pre-school to adult! There WILL be days where the children are talking non-stop.  There WILL be kids who disregard common acceptable behavior.  There WILL be lessons that go chugging off-track into the distance. AND we can work with these situations successfully.

I recently came across this list from the UUA website of tips for managing an Our Whole Lives class. Here are some highlights adapted for all classes:

How do I manage the classroom?

“My class is bouncing off the walls and acting out. They can’t focus or pay attention.  What should I do?”

Examine your assumptions about what it looks like for a person to “pay attention.”

Some people need to focus their attention on more than one thing in order to stay engaged. Make the ground rule that participants can do what they need to do to keep them engaged, as long as they are not distracting or disturbing other participants.

Respect participants’ dignity and their right to make their own decisions:

  • Make a class covenant in the beginning of the program, in which participants list what is acceptable behavior and what is not. When there are problems, ask if their behavior is consistent with the group covenant.
  • Allow participants to self-select a short break if they can’t focus. Let them leave the circle, go out into the hall, and do what they need to do to refocus. The other teacher can be available to make sure they’re not “refocusing” in destructive ways. If the group knows anyone has the option to take a break when needed, it feels less punitive if a teacher asks if an individual needs a break. Some participants may want to sit or lie on the floor outside the circle but within earshot.
  • Rather than scolding or criticizing behavior, use, “When you … I feel … because …” statements, so they know why the behavior is a problem. Saying, “[Name], I’m having a hard time hearing [Other Name] when you’re having a side conversation,” will likely have a better effect than, “Can we stop with the side conversations, please?”

Incorporate structures that allow participants some control over the flow of conversation:

  • Use a “talking object”—where only the participant holding the object may speak. Ideas for objects include a beanbag or plush stuffed toy.
  • Use a bell or chime, rather than shouting over them, to bring participants back to focus.

Give more focused attention:

  • Have a teacher who is not leading an activity sit next to or between two participants who are having a side conversation.
  • It’s hard for anyone, especially young people, to sit still for a long time. Make sure you have enough breaks built into each session. Make sure there’s space for active movement during a break. Add an occasional game.
  • Invite participants to help by doing readings, offering chalice lightings, or writing lists on newsprint during brainstorming sessions. Participants will be more engaged if they are a critical part of the session’s activities.

Attend to different learning styles and needs:

  • If you have a very physically active group, incorporate more physical activity into some of the sessions. For example, you could add movement to a values continuum by inviting participants to run across the whole continuum before settling in the place that reflects their values.
  • Enabling fiddling and doodling can channel fidgety energy and help participants pay attention. Have paper and pencils available for doodling, or have clay or beeswax for manipulating.

Don’t be afraid of teaching. Your RE teaching experience will be fantastic! Children and youth want structure and meaningful connection with each other. Our Sunday classes can provide that and more! Give me a shout to talk more about classroom management or any RE topic!

The children and youth of this congregation are amazing, bright and creative. We learn so much by being with them. Don’t miss out on sharing our faith journey together!

Making It Up As We Go Along?

Continuing our theme of Creativity, our Chalice Circle last week focused on creative storytelling. It was a simple lesson, but one with much laughter! Using improvisational storytelling, each person in the circle added a few lines to a spontaneous story, making it up as we went along. What began with a girl and her stamp collection, soon turned to exploding pickles and alligators and all sorts of wild elements with two endings.

The concepts I hoped the children took away from this were:

  • connection to their bubbling creativity
  • thinking about storytelling as connected to faith (these two classes are using Bible based curricula this year and learning about Jewish and Christian stories)
  • connection to each other
  • a feeling of safety, as our church is a place to experiment and stretch our ideas together

Did I tell the children that these were my goals? No.

Do I worry that they didn’t “get” the lesson I had in mind? No way!

The circle I was lucky to be a part of last week was totally embodying all these concepts and more! That is the beauty of our Religious Education program. The children, youth and adults are doing church with each interaction, each caring conversation, each ribbon glued, coin collected or bulb planted. Our groups are in constant relationship, interchanging ideas, information and personalities which gives practice for responding to the world as Unitarian Universalists.

SO even when is seems that over in RE, we are just laughing and being silly, there is a whole lot more going on. And it is good.

Creativity in Religious Education

This year, the theme for our Chalice Circle worship is Creativity. Each month, we will explore a new aspect of spirituality and the creative process.  Creativity in music, movement, prayer, art and service. I am inspired to weave together this theme I see in this year’s curricula, You the Creator, Super Heroes Bible People and Bibleodeon. While the theme of Creativity is explicit in You the Creator, the Bible curricula might at first seem less concerned with creativity.

As Unitarian Universalists, we understand the Hebrew and Christian Bibles as a creative response by people to the necessity of making meaning out of their lives. The people who passed down the oral traditions and later wrote the books of the Bible had different needs expressed in each book, some as historical record, others as teaching tools, and still others as poetry. Each trying to stir a response from the reader, furthering the reader’s process of faith. Like those ancient people, we are still making meaning in our lives. Each day begins anew the creative process of living.

In his Tapestry of Faith curricula, “Making Music Live”, musician Nick Page writes,

“We are all creative. Making a shopping list is a creative act. Conversation is a creative act. …  I see creativity from a spiritual perspective. In his epic poem, “No More Secondhand God,” Unitarian Universalist thinker Buckminster Fuller said, “God is a verb, not a noun.” …We normally think the word table describes a noun, but a table is actually made up of billions of whirling atoms in the act of being a table; from this perspective, table is a verb. This concept requires a paradigm shift. You go from seeing the earth as a planet with life on it (in other words, a noun) to seeing the earth as a living planet (a verb). The verb that is the universe is constantly evolving. The universe is creative. We take after our universe, but there’s more. The universe is also compassionate, what scientist Brian Swimme calls “the ultimate compassion.” The act of creativity, the act of making the world a more beautiful place, is a compassionate act. It is our gift to each other. “

If a traditional idea of RE is rote memorization or empty craft projects, please know that’s not what we are about in UU Religious Education. We want to help our children and youth strengthen their own creative powers. This is our gift. We seek to give them ideas, tools and space to experiment, risk and ask questions. We show and tell them what we know, then empower them to build on that base. We support creativity in Religious Education to help children and youth develop their own response human life. These amazing young people will grow up to be the creative thinking adults shaping our world!


Strong At The Broken Places

“The world breaks and afterward some are strong at the broken places.”

~Ernest Hemingway

This September marks the tenth anniversary of the airplane attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. on September 11th.  Rev. Nichols and I are planning a special multigenerational service for this anniversary which falls on our traditional Ingathering Sunday.  You may have read John’s announcement asking for reflections from the congregation on what we have learned and how the events of that day have changed you personally…if not, here it is:

“I’d like to ask you a question and shape our worship service on that Sunday with your answers.  How has what has happened in the last ten years altered the way you look at things?    You can confine your response to two or three paragraphs and send them as an email to me at minister@channingchurch.org.

Since this is an intergenerational service there will be children present and we hope everyone can keep that in mind.  We are not looking for abstract socio-political analyses but for your own thinking about whether or how your outlook on life has changed.  You can append your name or not. I will respect your wish for anonymity if you request it.

I welcome reflections from all ages: children, youth and adults. Each generation has a unique view of the impact of the past decade. Depending on the volume of response we may not have time to read what everyone has written, but all will help to shape the service. Thank you for thinking of this. Please consider LABOR DAY WEEKEND as the deadline.

We will conclude the service, as Channing Church has in the past, with a water ceremony. Please bring a vile of water from some place that was important to you this summer.”

It would be meaningful to have a variety of voices represented in the service, so please ask your youth or older child if they would like to participate and send Rev. Nichols the reflections.

"There's a crack in everything, that's how the Light gets in." ~ Leonard Cohen