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

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