is a life-long engagement with spiritual formation.
By spiritual formation, I mean growing a soul.
It’s that simple – and that difficult!
A young mother sidled up to me, with her eight year old standing next to her. She was laughing as she said: ” When she was younger, I used to drag her to Sunday School; now, she drags me out of bed to get to church on time!” That’s the kind of Sunday School and Religious Education program I hope that every Unitarian Universalist Church can boast; one that is so vital and so important to children that they beg their parents to take them to church.
The goal and hope of religious education is to cultivate and sustain in children and youth a love of and appreciation for a spiritual life; to create a foundation for a personal theology; and to inspire in them a confidence in their ability to be stewards of their own spiritual development. Religious Education should ground children and youth in an awareness of and appreciation for Unitarian Universalist history and theology; the insights and wisdom from the world’s religious traditions with a solid foundation in understanding the Jewish and Christian story.
Religious Education for Children. Although most congregations have a Director of Religious Education or an equivalent, the Senior Minister should also be a part of the Lifespan Faith Development program of children, youth and of course, adults. The Senior Minister has a unique role in children’s lives and in their families’ lives. For the last eight years, I’ve participated in a program called “Chalice Lighters,” which involved about six to eight children, in or around third to fourth grade, meeting with me to engage with the history of the chalice, to practice lighting the chalice and to have some one-on-one time with their minister. It’s been both a joy for me to work with the children as they’ve gotten to know me as “their minister.” In addition, creating multigenerational services has kept me in touch with the children of the congregation as I’ve watched them grow and mature. I’m including two examples of a multigenerational orders of service here. (Multigen-1) (Multigen-2)
Religious Education for Coming of Age. I’ve also felt it important to connect with the Coming of Age Classes as they begin to write their credos. Helping them to formulate and articulate their theology is not only a meaningful way to build that relationship, but I learn a lot from being with them as well!
Religious Education for Youth. I’ve heard it said (and have said it myself) that our youth are our future. I realize however, that by saying that, it dismisses the fact that our youth are here NOW and are our present as well as our future. Youth bring a vitality, a fresh eye, a necessary corrective, and an insistence on honesty to our congregation. A robust and thriving youth program is a good indicator of a healthy congregation. Staying connected with the youth through special events or opportunities to talk with the senior minister are invaluable ways of both grounding youth in their congregational life and, hopefully, inspiring them to remain as Unitarian Universalists throughout the rest of their lives.
Religious Education for Adults is better named Spiritual Formation, because it is less about what you know or what you learn, but how you deepen in your own spiritual life through spiritual practice. It is the role of the liberal religious church community to provide opportunities to grow in mind, body, heart and spirit. In the last congregation I served, I developed a comprehensive curriculum for adults, called “PUURL: Practicing a Unitarian Universalist Religious Life.” I structured all the offerings for adults under four quadrants: Mind, Body, Heart and Spirit, with the hope that people who were interested in deepening their spiritual life would take courses in all four quadrants, accompanied by spiritual guidance and direction.
As a minister, my job is both to lead a spiritual life myself and serve as an example (albeit a human and imperfect one). I provide resources, guidance and opportunities for personal and small group reflection, contemplation and spiritual practice, all with the intent “to grow a soul.” (Emerson)