19 February 2006

Religious Education and Youth Ministry Resources -- What's Happening Next and What's Available Now?

On another blog, the following observation was made about available resources for religious education and youth ministry:
I'm not sure the UUA has much to offer any UU congregation right now in these last two areas. RE materials? -- UUA hasn't really published anything of value in over a decade, aside from Our Whole Lives (which was developed in cooperation with the UCC). Youth ministry? -- lots of congregations, of all theological persuasions, have been finding little of value in district and denominational youth programming.
I would like to have more curriculum resources available (who wouldn't?), but I wonder if folks are really aware of the Unitarian Universalist resources we currently have today in our districts and in our denomination for religious education and youth ministry.

During the 90s, I suspect that much of the denominational work in religious education curriculum development was directed towards the Our Whole Lives (OWL) lifespan series. Other than OWL Grades 7-9 [which served as an update and replacement for the 70s era About Your Sexuality (AYS) program], there really wasn't a good "state of the art" lifespan sexuality education series for use in liberal religious settings. And OWL is something that our faith community should be proud about. We didn't just develop a good curriculum for use in our congregations. We developed something that many secular community sexuality educators consider to be the best curriculum currently available (based on comments from SIECUS and Planned Parenthood folks I've met and worked with).

You're probably saying "well ... sex education is great but we need other resources in our congregations" for lifespan religious education resources and youth ministry resources. A large part of this is the new Tapestry of Faith series (link requires Adobe Acrobat reader).
"Embodying a faith development focus for our congregations, Tapestry of Faith is a series of programs and resources for all ages that nurture Unitarian Universalist identity, spiritual growth, a transforming faith, and vital communities of justice and love."
This Tapestry of Faith will include:
  • age-appropriate programs for children, youth, and adults of all ages, including young adults
  • resources for parents to support them in their role as the primary religious educators of their children
  • resources for teachers to support them in their role as facilitators of faith development
  • resources for religious professionals to support them in their role as nurturers of communities of lifespan religious growth and learning.
The really cool thing about this is many of the Tapestry resources will be published online for free download and use by congregations and other UU communities. Folks using these downloaded resources will be encouraged to provide feedback for further revision. In other words, the UUA is using a "spiral development" model with this new curriculum project. Spiral development is often used in software engineering and other technology projects. Here's a summary of what spiral development is:
"Because software engineers all too often designed and built large software programs with little ongoing consultation from customers, the resulting programs did not meet the end-user requirements or were delayed by unforeseen obstacles. Boehm stressed a cyclical approach in which customers evaluated early results and in-house engineers identified potential trouble spots at an early stage."
Between 2006 and 2011, we will start receiving Tapestry of Faith resources as online resources available for every Unitarian Universalist congregation who wants them.

The other resources that are currently provided by the Lifespan Faith Development Staff Group (current name for what was formerly called the "Religious Education Department") may not be curriculum-related but there is value here for UU congregations in that they support congregational religious education. Here's what you can find on their web page today:

  • Resource Lists: Includes resources such as curricula, books, organizations, and websites for elected topics
  • Children, Families and Current Events: Links to resources
  • Families: Resources for spiritual development, education, social justice, and connection between congregation and home
  • Loan Library: Loans curricula and other lifespan religious education resources for a two-week period
  • Email Lists: E-mail discussion lists on a range of faith development topics
Teacher Development
  • Teacher Development Survey: Reports generated from the Teacher Development Survey of religious educators conducted by the UUA in the fall of 2004
  • Framing Teaching: Models of Teacher Development -- perspectives on how to frame teaching as spiritual development
  • Understanding Learners: Materials to better understand children, youth and adults as evolving and developing individuals. Includes resources on human development and paths of faith and spiritual growth
  • Sustaining Teachers: Practical resources developed in congregations that help sustain teaching
  • Supporting Teachers: Resources, including covenants and behavior guidelines, which strengthen communities and support teaching
  • Teaching as Social Justice Work: Resources on social justice and religious education -- "branches of the same tree" -- for and about teachers and learners
  • Enriching Teaching: Resources for and about families, faith and worship that can enrich the experience of teaching in faith
Regarding the comment about finding little value in district and denominational youth programming, I can only speak from my experience in the Southwest District and your experiences with youth ministry may be different in your district.

The SW District YRUU Rallies ("rallies" are what our district calls "cons") and SWUUSI Youth Camp don't meet the needs of every UU youth in our district.

I don't think it's realistic to expect that any district or denominational program will meet the needs of every Unitarian Universalist youth. But a very large percentage of our youth in the SW District find YRUU and SWUUSI Youth Camp to be a religious experience that is very hard to duplicate in their home congregations. And this includes youth in my own congregation and youth in my household.

The various UUA Youth Office-sponsored trainings that I've attended in my district (Youth Advisor Training, Leadership Development Conference, Spirituality Development Conference) have all been worthwhile for youth advisor work at local and district events. If I had to take one and only one advisor training workshop, I would choose the Leadership Development Conference as it provides the best mix of resources and materials for the new advisor.

Finally, some of the best youth advisor training that I've had happens during SW District YRUU events. Out-of-town events allow inexperienced advisors to learn from experienced advisors and see an effective model of youth-adult partnership.

Now, folks may have different experiences with youth ministry in their own districts. If you're finding that your district's youth ministry and programs are not meeting your needs, you may want to check out the "JAHNNY DEPP" program (Joining And Helpfully Networking Neighboring YACs District Exchange Program Packet -- if nothing else, it's an impressive attempt at constructing an acronym). JAHNNY DEPP allows youth and advisors to visit other districts and see how they do things and bring these ideas back to their home districts.

It seems to me that it's "fashionable" for a lot of UU bloggers to gripe about how the UUA basically "sucks" -- however, I think a lot of this criticism overlooks the good work being done by volunteers working on behalf of the UUA and their districts, district staff, and UUA staff.

17 February 2006

Unitarian Universalist Congregations and "Sundown Towns"

I've heard Unitarian Universalists comment on how little racial diversity we have in many Unitarian Universalist congregations. Two things I've recently read about this made me think about a potential connection between "sundown towns" and our current demographics.

Recently, Jess wrote the following words in a reply on Dan Harper's blog:
"Personally, I'd like to see us do more for our immediate neighbors than pontificate over why we don't have more persons of color in our pews in the rural Midwest."
And the Unitarian Universalist Association's Special Review Commission provided a lot of historical background in their report about the events impacting "the Unitarian Universalist community of color, especially youth," surrounding the 2005 General Assembly in Fort Worth, Texas. The following commentary is about the community where the host church for the Youth and Young Adult of Color Leadership Development Conference (LDC) that happened just before the 2005 GA:
"Adding to the tension of the LDC is the fact that the church is located in University Park in Dallas, originally a white-flight suburb now engulfed by the expanding city. The area is de facto segregated by class and there remains overt racism in the University Park Police Department. There are reports from the youth participants of harassment from law enforcement officers and residents in the area. Apparently the LDC leaders were not aware of the history of the area."
The reason that I'm seeing a potential connection between these quotes is from reading Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of Racism in America by James Loewen.

Sundown towns have been very common in the Midwest and other regions outside the traditional South. For example, Loewen's book documents that Illinois (his home state and the state that he researched the most) had 424 sundown towns with populations greater than 1000 in 1970. Loewen also found that 231 Indiana towns were sundown towns as well. Loewen also talks about the sundown town history of University Park, Texas (the Dallas suburb mentioned in the 2005 GA Report).

Perhaps we should ask ourselves what impact does locating in a current or former sundown town or white-flight suburb has on Unitarian Universalist congregational demographics. We may discover that many of our congregations have moved to communities and neighborhoods that are not welcoming to people of color and that may be responsible in part for the current level of "diversity" in many of our congregations.

Top Ten Dick Cheney Excuses

Thanks for the Late Show with David Letterman for this response to the Cheney's recent shooting of Harry Whittington:
10. "Heart palpitation caused trigger finger to spasm"

9. "Wanted to get the Iraq mess off the front page"

8. "Not enough Jim Beam"

7. "Trying to stop the spread of bird flu"

6. "I love to shoot people"

5. "Guy was making cracks about my lesbian daughter"

4. "I thought the guy was trying to go 'gay cowboy' on me"

3. "Excuse? I hit him, didn't I?"

2. "Until Democrats approve medicare reform, we have to make some tough choices for the elderly"

1. "Made a bet with Gretzky's wife"

Curriculum for "Engaging Our Theological Diversity"

This info comes from the Unitarian Universalist Association's "Adult-RE" email discussion list (Thanks to Rev. Sarah Gibb, Adult Program Director, for providing this info on the Adult-RE email list):
A complete curriculum designed for "Engaging Our Theological Diversity" has been posted to the Commission's website:


This curriculum was created by Connie Dunn, Director of Lifespan Religious Education, and Patty Davis of the Greenville UU Fellowship. They have been kind enough to make it available to the whole world! It is designed for use in a multi-session adult RE class. Please take a look.

Dr. James Casebolt
Chair, UUA Commission on Appraisal
The link for Connie's and Patty's curriculum is actually here (PDF file -- requires Adobe Acrobat). Thanks to Connie and Patty for providing this resource to the wider UU community.

The UUA Commission on Appraisal's report on Engaging Our Theological Diversity can be downloaded here for free (PDF file -- requires Adobe Acrobat). At this time, this report is not available from the UUA Bookstore in bound form.

Air Force softens rules on religious expression

The Stars and Stripes coverage provides a detailed look at this issue.

Speaking as a Unitarian Universalist who served in the Air Force for over 20 years, I don't think these new guidelines will protect non-Christian and non-religious airmen. As the article mentions, the problems in the past have been conservative and evangelical Christian coercion. It hasn't been a free expression of religion problem for military chaplains.

A brief excerpt is included below:
WASHINGTON - Air Force officials on Thursday released a second set of interim guidelines on religious expression after months of criticism from evangelical Christian leaders and members of Congress.

Those critics say the new changes don't go far enough, but civil libertarians say the document goes too far - shifting its focus from protecting airmen from religious persecution to protecting chaplains' rights.

The new interim rules - a one-page memo about a third the length of the first proposal, released in August - scale back specific instructions for commanders on ways to accommodate religious holidays, dietary needs and dress.

Also eliminated are specific warnings to chaplains to be sensitive to airmen of other faiths, in how they share their beliefs, and a reminder that their job includes care of airmen of all faiths.

But the new language is vague, and the Air Force would not provide authors of the guidelines for comment or clarification.

Instead, officials wrote a general warning not to chaplains but to "leaders at every level" to respect any faith or belief. New language affirming the rights of chaplains to "adhere to the tenets of their religious faiths" has also been added.

That line concerns Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, in particular because the guidelines were originally drafted in response to allegations of religious intimidation at the Air Force Academy.

"This new version acts like the problem was with how chaplains are treated," Lynn said. "The problem is having all airmen fully respect the diversity of religions in the Air Force."
Here are some of the Air Force's newly revised interim guidelines on the free exercise of religion:
  • We will remain officially neutral regarding religious beliefs, neither officially endorsing nor disapproving any faith belief or absence of belief. We will accommodate free exercise of religion and other personal beliefs, as well as freedom of expression, except as must be limited by compelling military necessity ...
  • We will respect the rights of chaplains to adhere to the tenets of their religious faiths and they will not be required to participate in religious activities, including public prayer, inconsistent with their faiths ...
  • In official circumstances or when superior/subordinate relationships are involved, superiors need to be sensitive to the potential that personal expressions may appear to be official, or have undue influence on their subordinates. Subject to these sensitivities, superiors enjoy the same free exercise rights as all other airmen ...
  • Public prayer should not imply government endorsement of religion and should not usually be a part of routine official business. Mutual respect and common sense should always be applied, including consideration of unusual circumstances and the needs of the command ...
  • Nothing in this guidance should be understood to limit the substance of voluntary discussions of religion, or the exercise of free speech, where it is reasonably clear that the discussions are personal, not official, and they can be reasonably free of the potential for, or appearance of, coercion ...
  • Nondenominational, inclusive prayer or a moment of silence may be appropriate for military ceremonies or events of special importance when its primary purpose is not the advancement of religious beliefs. Military chaplains are trained in these matters ...
Additional background info on this news story:
[Note: for those who like to track milestones, this is my 100th posting to my blog. Yippee!!]

11 February 2006

UU Blog Awards

The 2006 UU Blog Awards voting has just been completed. Congratuations to the winners and everyone else out there who cares enough about our faith to write about it.

The vote tallies are here and the winners are announced here.

Since I didn't nominate my own blog, thanks for the anonymous person who nominated me for the "Best UU Themed Blog" category. And thanks for the two persons who voted for my blog.

If I had voted in this contest and had voted for my own blog, I would have increased my vote total by 50%.

05 February 2006

Fixing Unitarian Universalism -- Implementation Tips, Part II

Instead of commenting on the relative merits of the various proposals on Chalicechick's blog about reforming the UUA, I'm going to look at how we would go about implementing the various suggestions. This is a hypothetical exercise to explore how one would make changes within Unitarian Universalism and the UUA.

These proposed reforms probably would not require amending the UUA bylaws:
Given the obstacles involved with implementing change through bylaws amendments, any reform that does not involve bylaws changes will be easier to implement. As I wrote in an earlier blog post, "Reform through bylaws amendments isn't for the faint-hearted."

I've only got a few additional implementation tips for just a few of the proposed reform suggestions:

"Meta-Tips" for Any Proposed Reform Idea -- Be prepared to answer the following questions:
  • "How does this proposed reform help Unitarian Universalist congregations?"
  • "Is this proposed reform coming from a member congregation of the UUA or is it coming from an individual?"
These questions relate to our polity and you need to be prepared to address them if you're looking at obtaining UUA Board or UUA District Board support.

A few years ago, I witnessed my district's board rejection of an Eastern European UU heritage trip proposal for UU youth in our district. The stated reason for rejecting this proposal and not providing any district sponsorship, endorsement, etc was that it was proposed to the district board by individuals and not congregational representatives.

So ... if our reformers pay attention to polity concerns and address them in promoting their proposed reforms, their work will be easier and they may find their work easier by gaining of institutional allies.

Found a UU Monastery -- Setting up a full-time UU monastery that would provide a place for Unitarian Universalists (and others) to spend months or years in a calmer lifestyle with time to explore this unique faith would be very hard to start up from scratch.

Scott Wells recently mentioned an article by Guy Kawasaki on the problems of startup ventures ("Bootstrapping a church" is Scott's article ... Guy's article is "Let the Good Times Roll").

I would recommend that we should look at starting small with realistic expenses and cash flow for this venture.

Rather than focusing on creating a "24 hour a day, 7 day a week, 365.25 day a year" full-time UU monastery, I would suggest looking at creating short-term monastery opportunities. Single day workshops, weekend workshops, week-long workshops, and multi-week workshops would be one way to gauge interest.

Instead of building a permanent monastery facility at first, look into using existing Unitarian Universalist congregations and camps first. This could be done in cooperation with the Council of Unitarian Universalist Camps and Conferences. An additional advantage of this could be trying out various locations of North America for temporary monastery events before finding a permanent monastery location. This will help prevent locating a UU monastery in a region that has little interest in UU monastic practice.

Build an Association of Free Faiths -- This is a good idea that has been tried repeatedly in the past. Here are some historical timelines showing our previous attempts to create a free faith association:
And here's our past experience with trying to implement this idea in Unitarianism and Universalism:
  • 1865: Resolution offered in the American Unitarian Association to establish a higher council consisting of denomination bodies and other members. Christians, Universalists, Methodists, and Congregationalists were approached. Nothing came of this effort.
  • 1867: The Free Religious Association was formed, with at least six different religious groups represented; about half were Unitarian ministers. Very few Universalists affiliated. This association apparently lasted about 25 years. Its chief product was a liberalizing influence, principally on Unitarianism.
  • In 1908 the National Federation of Religious Liberals was formed. Its membership included the Unitarians, Universalists, Religious Society of Friends, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis. The organization ceased its existence with the advent of the Free Church of America in the 1930s and was of minor significance in Unitarian-Universalist relations.
  • In 1923 the Universalists received overtures from the National Convention of Congregational Churches. Each body established a Committee on Comity and Unity. In 1927, the Universalist Committee met with an interested group of Unitarians with the thought of establishing a Congregational-Universalist-Unitarian structure, but the whole move was defeated by Universalists, who felt that the best course would be Universalist-Unitarian.
  • In 1931 a Joint Commission of the two churches was formed and began meeting, but this commission soon concluded that the time was not ripe for merger. Instead, in their May 1932 report, they recommended that an organization be formed that would include all liberal churches. This resulted in the formation of the Free Church of America, which was incorporated in Massachusetts in 1933. The Free Church movement did not attract as many liberal churches as hoped, and it held its last annual meeting in 1938.
Knowing why this reform has not worked in the past may give us some clues on what we should do differently if we try again in the future.

Develop a UU Yoga -- I'll admit that I'm not a yoga practicioner, but this idea would seem to complement the proposed UU monastery. It would make sense for the yoga reformers and the monastery reformers to look into cooperative ventures.

That is about all that I can say at this time. Good luck.

[Sunday evening, 5 February 2006 -- note: the spelling error that I didn't catch was corrected. Thanks, Scott, for mentioning this.]