Religious Needs of Young People

Summed up in one line:

"Young people have a deep interest in religious matters"

“Young people have a deep interest in religious matters” from Young People in the Liberal Church by Stephen Fritchman

True. Young people (or any age people) DO have interest in “religious matters”. They may not have interest in Sunday School, or unnecessary meetings, or  sitting and listening without getting to participate.

SO if it’s as plain as this picture suggests, why are we having conferences, books, and summits devoted to figuring out the sharp decline in church involvement? There’s a difference between religious matters and static religion.

Religious matters are the ideas and values that connect us and help us understand our lives. The questions and life events that we can only understand when we explore them in community.

Perhaps we can shift the conversation away from discovering the perfect structures or program to entice people back to church? Maybe our conversation can be more about our common concerns and what binds us together.

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?

Happy Things and Lots of Exclamation Points!!!!!!

Yeah, I, too, have noticed that the communications from people in my line of work often contain a humorous number of exclamation points, smiley faces, and generally excited messages. We are a people passionate about our work- enthusiastic about the truly beautiful opportunities for connection and grace in our programs. Sometimes, it can get a bit out of hand, so today I offer a slightly different tone. Yes, I still want to communicate the amazing, transformative energy of our program, but maybe with more question marks.

muddy-road

Living a faith-full life is challenging. Navigating the decisions of every day amid distractions and disappointments is hard work. Paradoxically, developing our hearts and minds calls us to stay open. Whether we are adults, youth, or children, the complicated business of getting through a day with an intact soul takes all the energy we’ve got. Can our church be not merely a place of refuge, but one of recharge, re-forming, and respect?

Our Unitarian Universalism wants to connect us with the power of Love. Our Unitarian Universalism wants us to build Beloved Community. Connecting with the power takes energy. Building anything stable takes solid materials and tools. What happens when we do not possess these resources? How can we make sure everyone has access to the healing, creative force that our church community can give?

All our congregations are experiencing declines in attendance and membership. Why are we losing ground? Why are the numbers dwindling? Partly it is the culture that surrounds us. Perhaps you have been following the series on NPR about the growth of the “nones” – the people without religious affiliation.  Could it be that we are focused on only one type of growth- numbers? What about developing other kinds of growth in the faith formation of the folks who are already in the pews (or even our members who are staying home on Sunday!)

This big hot mess we are living is you, me, them, and even those folks over there. All of us. When our conversations see the whole crowd and considers each voice as important, then I know our intentions have become reality.

When the experience of the child is considered wisdom for the Board table, then I know that our Principles are more than words.

When the door is held open for the parent, not for a tip, but to give respite from a world of fear and pain, then I see our compassion.

When we learn how to trust from Youth and give them cause to respect us, then I know we understand the chicken and the egg.

How might we imagine a better way? How might we support our people, even if it means we have to make changes? Can we honestly face the reality that changes need to happen, and be ready for something good to be just over the horizon?

This is the part where it helps to have faith. While I don’t know where we are headed or how we will get there, I do believe that the power of Love expands beyond our wildest imaginings. I know that when we tune into the frequency of connection, of caring, of creativity, then it is a tremendous force for life. And I know I don’t want to miss it happening. Woyaya. We are going.

Failing Is The Best Thing I Ever Did

I am no spring chicken.  I have (I hope I have!) a lot more good years ahead of me, but there is no hiding from the many, many moons that have gone into making me who I am.  And why would I want to hide from them, anyway?

Each year that goes by represents the combination of people, sunrises, thoughts, and mistakes that make up my life, and these experiences are all so important to me. Yes, even the mistakes- especially the mistakes!!

stagesA friend of mine recently reminded me that a baby falls thousands of times before learning to walk.  All the really great and scary things we learn to do require “falling” or failing before we get to mastery. Not failing would mean we are not learning. And so it is with Religious Education.

I have been working on some new projects with the RE Committee. We are kind of on fire (in a quiet sort of way.) Our Committee will have a special longer meeting this Saturday to explore the ways we can experiment and learn to bring new energy to our program. Ways to serve our families using new tools. Some of these little projects will be great successes. Others will bomb…big time. All will provide us with information and will be tools for learning. My colleagues call this process “Experilearning.”

path+to+success

And I like that idea. That we are not born knowing everything we will ever need to know. That challenges arise to make us try new things, use our brains and hearts, stretch and grow. These are opportunities to reach out to others for help and inspiration. This is exciting spiritual work!

We are using the guidance of leaders like John Roberto, whose training on Faith Formation Rev. Deacon, Barbara Coppola, and Barbara Russell Willett and I attended last month. His work on adapting religious education is both groundbreaking and a natural next step to the ministry of our church.  He sees faith formation as part of a network (an interdependent web?) serving many ages and stages of people across their life span as they cross milestones, using the new tools available to us in addition to traditional methods. (Check out his website!) He calls this model of doing Religious Education “Faith Formation Networks”.

Lifelong faith

Faith Formation Networks are already in place at Channing, we just can expand them in so many exciting ways. Faith formation is broader than children and youth RE. This is the work of the whole congregation, as we want ALL ages to grow as part of their connection to Channing. Let’s start talking, let’s start generating ideas together, let’s make some big mistakes together…

Experilearn with me!

 

Being Okay With the Mystery

Sometimes the answers are really clear: What happens if I stay up too late? (Answer: I will be tired the next day.) Sometimes the answers are more vague: What is your favorite kind of ice cream? (Hmmm…depends on the day, if I had to pick one- probably peppermint stick.) And sometimes there just really isn’t any answer: What happens to us when we die?

This would be one of the Great Mysteries. We Unitarian Universalists have many Great Mysteries. It comes from being people who are evolving in our beliefs, searching for truth.

It is the last question that I have been pondering a lot lately, and I am not alone. None of us knows for sure what happens when we die. Does any part of us- the essence of us- keep going on? Is there a heaven? Is there reincarnation? Is there nothing at all? Will our loved ones remember us?

It can be very confusing and tiring to hold all these questions. To know that we do not have definitive answers. To be certain only that there will always be Great Mysteries. I guess it is part of being part of a thinking and progressive religion. Today, I had the realization that I have a better response to these Mysteries when I have taken care of myself, when I feed my spirit, when I keep my “batteries charged”.

Fourth Principle

Fourth Principle

Being okay with the Mystery  begins when I stay connected to my spiritual practices, practice deep conversation with my friends, and drink enough coffee. I am not kidding. I’m not prescribing that this is the recipe for everyone’s spirit, but I am asking all of us to figure out what are the practices that help YOU feel balanced and healthy, stable and grounded, so that you are more resilient when the Mysteries raise their big question mark selves and DO them regularly. (Because Mysteries usually show up at inconvenient times!)

Seems like the major reason we keep a regular connection together. Whether you practice through Sunday worship, classes, small groups, reading, yoga, coffee house singing, meditation, journaling, etc., the what doesn’t really matter. The act of practicing is the key. The regular development of your faith is what makes us ready for the Mystery – whenever it arrives.

What a blessing that we have a community of like minded people who embrace our evolving faith. We can talk together about our searching, our new ideas, and our fragile thoughts. We can find friends of all ages to share their experiences and ideas. We know that muddling through our own questions is more fruitful and powerful than being given someone else’s answers all tied up in a neat package.

As for the Mystery I am currently pondering- What is left of us after we die? I am no closer to any answers, but that’s okay. I am very grateful for my UU faith, my friends, and a nice cup of coffee- all which keep me company while I ponder. I’ll leave you with a clip from the BBC TV show “Rev.” which helps me think about all sorts of Mysteries- while he is describing one idea of heaven, I like the idea of relationship, of memory and connection among all of us that is strong in the story.