24 October 2004

Our Whole Lives and Unitarian Universalist Influences on Liberal Protestants

This post is in response to a discussion thread on Philocrites blog regarding Unitarian Universalist influence on liberal Protestant thought.

I'll disagree that Unitarian Universalism isn't in the vanguard of liberal religious thought today when it comes to one of the most important religious education topics we cover in our congregations. There's one area where we have led the way and blazed the trail for Protestant denominations.

Back in 1967, deryk calderwood was the LREDA (Liberal Religious Educators Association) Fall Conference theme speaker.

In 1968, deryk and a team of curriculum developers were later asked by the UUA to create a sexuality education curriculum for use in UU congregations in response to requests from parents in our congregations. They wanted resources to educate our youth on a potentially emotionally charged and delicate subject. They also wanted a curriculum that reflected UU values. In 1971, the UUA had a curriculum for early adolescents called About Your Sexuality or AYS. AYS was used for many years and revised three times before going out of print in 1997.

Some background history on UU involvement in sexuality education can be found here:

"Sex Education and Religious Liberty" by Rev. Dave Weissbard

and here:

Our Whole Lives Interfaith Roots

You're probably asking yourself .... "Steve, what does this have to do with liberal Protestant thought?"

Here's my answer:

In 1992, Gene Navias (UUA Religious Education Department) and Faith Johnson (United Church of Christ's United Church Board for Homeland Ministries) started discussions that led to the creation of Our Whole Lives and Sexuality and Our Faith. OWL and Sexuality and Our Faith are a lifespan curriculum series for grades K-1, 4-6, 7-9, 10-12, and adults that can be taught in UU, UCC, and secular community settings.

Since most UU adults were not raised as UU (and didn't have the opportunity to take AYS or OWL as adolescents), they now have an opportunity to participate in Adult OWL and discover how UU sexuality education engages the mind, body, and soul. It also respects us as complete persons with our sexuality as a major component of who we are.

From our initial ground-breaking work in late 60's and early 70's, we moved to partnership with the UCC in the early 90's. And in Summer 2004, this partnership has expanded to include the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Rev. Kaye Edwards (Disciples of Christ Director Of Family and Children's Ministries) was recently trained to be an Our Whole Lives K-1/4-6 trainer. I'm looking forward to seeing more interfaith cooperation in religious sexuality education in the future.

23 October 2004

Essay on Unitarian Universalist Youth Ministry, Young Adult Ministry, and Our Future As a Faith Community

This afternoon while web-surfing, I discovered an essay ("YRUU, UUYAN and the Future of Unitarian Universalism" by Jim Sechrest) that is worth checking out. Here's a few brief selections from James essay:

"Currently, there is still a young adult gap in our churches. Most of our high school graduates never return to the denomination as active participants. The young families that we do see joining our congregations are mostly new UUs. However, the desire of young adults to participate in Unitarian Universalism can be seen in the grass roots development of the Continental UU Young Adult Network in recent years. Many young adults have felt alienated from our denomination because of past intergenerational conflicts or because churches often lack stimulating (or familiar) worship services or other young adults. Most individuals who have been raised in our congregations have had little experience with our church worship services or the content of their sermons. The type of spirituality found in our youth groups (as well as the incredible amount of peer support found there) is not often nurtured by our denomination for individuals of college age (or for older young adults).

Amazingly, our denomination raises its own children in a religious environment that not only differs in the way our adults have been raised (mostly in other churches) but also in a different way than our adults practice Unitarian Universalism. Our children and youth are raised in an atmosphere that teaches appreciation of all of the religions of the world without any of the dissatisfaction that their parents express for their former denominations. As UU children grow up, they don't often develop the same uneasiness towards other denominations that their parents have. (It is not difficult for many young UUs to adapt to other religions to suit their marriages.) Our youth are spiritually inquisitive and interested in exploring spiritual matters which many of their parents dismiss. And, very little secular humanism is emphasized in the religious education of UU children or in youth worship circles, although it is a common viewpoint among the older generations of our denomination. Most interesting, much of the emphasis that has been placed on a rational perspective of religion throughout the history of our denomination is not often emphasized in youth and young adult worship circles or workshops. In a way, UUism is not made up of one "church" but two. There is an adult church (of mostly intellectual professionals) and another, closely related but distinctly different church, made up of their own children, youth and young adults. For the young adults, the adult church is not (currently) a substitute for the UU youth group that inspired them as youth. Many UU young adults simply don't feel much meaningful relevance in the adult church when they age out of the UU youth group. It has been this way for decades. Most of our young adults drift away from the church whether they become involved in another denomination or not. Perhaps this is to be expected in a denomination without the type of dogma found in other churches."

"It's appropriate that we find differences in worship styles and discussion topics between different age groups in our denomination. In all circles of our faith, however, we need to become more in touch with our use of reason in religion and our awareness of our spirituality during worship. To have reason without spiritual depth would be to accept a future for our denomination which is spiritually dead. To proceed without embracing the use of reason, we risk cultishness and, to some degree, dogmatism. The interconnectedness which we create in our sanctuaries (and our coffee hours) as professional adults needs to be interwoven with the interconnectedness created in the worship circles and discussions of our youth and young adults. We have much to give to one another and a deep responsibility to ourselves to extend ourselves to one another. We can strengthen our faith by becoming more united across generations. Let us consider the future of our denomination."

For many older adults, intergenerational learning is simply older adults imparting "superior" wisdom to youth and young adults. There's an ageist assumption to this attitude. As an older adult, I've learned so much from working with youth and young adults. I would hope that intergenerational learning in UU settings becomes more multi-directional and less uni-directional.