Religious Education Reflections

In October, I had the pleasure of attending a conference for Liberal Religious Educators.  I always find it positively overwhelming whenever I am able to collaborate with my associates.  I walked away with so much information this time, one might even say “information overload”.

New directions, trends and insights were presented, information that stretched the boundaries of my little “Tree Of Life” world.

There were insights on the use of digital media and web technology in service to professional development, continuing education, collegiality and spiritual growth.  In the spirit of that insight, the Religious Education Committee and I experimented with having our monthly meeting totally online.  With the help of a conference website, we were able to see and communicate with each other very effectively.  These kinds of meetings could never replace being together physically, but it is a nice solution and alternative to the difficulties of having to work around people’s busy lives and the inability to physically be somewhere outside of the home.

At the conference, we discussed faith formation and the use of technology in religious education.  At our church so far, we have begun to explore and implement technology by taking advantage of social media as a way of communicating with congregants.  In Religious Education, we are using curricula from the UUA that is helping the teachers to rely on computer screens as opposed to environmentally unfriendly paper.  In addition, there is an electronic “take home” section  enabling the teachers to communicate weekly sessions to the parents, which could provide an opportunity for family communication during the week.

There was a presenter who shared her insights on co-creating multicultural UU liturgy, centered around commonly shared themes of the changing seasons and our ties to ancestors and children.  As a result, a “Liturgical Calendar” was created which can be used to unify our faith formation with the world around us.

As if all that weren’t enough, there was another presentation on multigenerational faith formation.  This was the most innovative presentation to me because it totally deviated from church school and religious education as we have come to know it.  Tools were provided to think outside of the box so to speak, specifically it calls for thinking outside of the church.  They call it “Full Week Faith” and it attempts to restructure/replace church school on Sundays.  While I believe we are not yet positioned for such drastic changes, there were ideas which I will be discussing with the committee that might help to address our low Religious Education attendance.

Another idea this presenter revealed  was that according to author and theologian, Phyllis Tickle, this time is one of “Great Emergence”,  noting that every 500 years or so, the institutionalized Church undergoes radical transformation that remakes the faith.  The last time was when Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517.  We are approaching another such time.  Personally, I felt the possible truth to this, impacting the Catholics, when the ideas and actions of the new Pope were publicized.

Perhaps in congregations all over, people are feeling a shift, or at the very least, a need for a shift.  It became evident to me during this conference that Unitarian Universalists are going to be looking at ways to converge with technology and trends in such a way that we may be looking at a whole new way of “doing church”.  In the meantime, if we open our minds and increase our awareness to the new and energizing trends, we will be taking small steps and yet making faithful leaps toward the future.  I, for one remain hopeful for the infinite spiritual possibilities.

Sam Jones,
Director of Religious Education

Intern Insights: My Path to Ministry

You at Tree of Life have welcomed me into your beloved community with open and loving arms and I am so grateful to be here.

You may be wondering how it is that I came to be here and to be on this long and winding path to ministry. I did not start out on this path; actually, I started the path about eight years ago when I was offered a free college course as part of my job. I had a father who continually told me that I was just not smart enough for college and after a number of years, I believed him. When I was offered this free class, I took it never intending to pass. I did pass and passed with flying colors, so I took another one just to be sure and passed that one as well. From there I enrolled at McHenry County College where I did my first two years and started to gain confidence.

I have always had a love of religion of any type be it Christian, Jewish or “cults.” The different belief systems and how they intertwine has always fascinated me and so I entered American Public University seeking a bachelor’s degree in Religion. While working on that, I began looking forward to a new career.  I knew that I wanted to help people in some way and I was strongly looking to work with the families of Alzheimer’s patients to help them to understand what their loved ones were going through and how they could adjust their lives to accommodate the changes.

As I began to look for a Master’s program that would take me where I wanted to go I just couldn’t find the right school and the right program. Frustrated, I knelt down in prayer one night and when I woke up to continue the search all that would come up were seminaries. So far from what I was thinking, so “not me,” I thought.

I finished my bachelor’s degree in June and started classes at Meadville Lombard in September and never looked back. Although I was sure I was going to be a Community Minister with a focus on Social Justice that quickly changed when I had my first taste of parish ministry. So, here I am, spending time with you and learning so much from Rev. Sean. Next year will be the year that I will take all that I have learned and launch into a congregation of my own.

Ja Rickard, Intern Minister