Programming is the term I use to describe a wide range of structured, non-educational opportunities offered within a congregation.
Education includes the usual religious education for children, youth, and adults, as well as diverse other educational opportunities that help individuals to learn more about themselves and their lives together as a congregation. For the most part, congregations rely on local implementation of "off-the-shelf" program materials purchased from the UUA. Consistent with my philosophical belief that religious education should serve the needs of the learner, a major component of my religious education ministry has been the design of models and the writing of text for curricula, workshops, and other programs to serve the special needs of individual congregations.
Within my model of a religious community and its four elements of content (worship, study, work, and play), programming is the mode through which the work and play aspects are often fulfilled.
Examples of programming that I have created or directed for congregations across my ministry are:
- weekly intergenerational potluck dinners as a mainly unstructured opportunity for members of all ages to gather for food, fellowship, and fun. Because we meet so often around the "business" of the congregation, it is especially nice to have a regular opportunity to be purely social together.
- celebrations on the equinoxes and solstices of the year: events that combine food, ceremony, dance, and music to usher in our seasons
- weekend all-congregation retreats, involving a mix of structured and unstructured activities including food, fun, and worship
- an annual "Go-fly-a-kite" Sunday, the Sunday after Easter, when the whole congregation gathers after worship for kite-flying fun and contests
- many different types of dramatic presentations, from elaborate annual cabarets to simpler, one-act play-reading evenings
- programs of adult activities that include such non-intellectual offerings as yoga, noncompetitive games, many types of art, and sports
- holiday crafts workshops, to make gifts and decorations both for the congregation and for the individual member
- annual "garage-sale" or auction - not just a money-maker for the congregation but also a great time of work and play together
- camp night, a re-creation of an evening at a UU camp providing the "feel" of camp with information about UU camping possibilities in the area
- outings, from simple hikes to museum visits
- shared Saturday maintenance of the congregation's facilities: we all feel good when we have worked together on our religious "home"
Congregations that are successful offer their members and their larger communities a wide spectrum of programming, usually not tied to fund-raising, through which newcomers and established members alike can have opportunities to become acquainted on a more personalized basis.
My ministry has always contained an emphasis on education for adults, youth, and children. I describe this aspect of my ministry as having components of project design, curriculum development, adult education and workshops, and resources and publications.
One of the most creative aspects of the education element of my ministry has been the design of models to meet specific needs in specific situations.
In Williamsburg, we developed Super Saturdays as coordinated bi-monthly educational events that operate like a mini-district meeting. Worship, a theme speaker, shared lunch, and several workshop options were combined into a single Saturday for participation by all ages. Themes such as Change, and Loss, and Caring have been used with appropriate workshops included. Such opportunities allowed people to interact with some intensity without making a commitment to several weeks of evening classes. This was especially welcomed by newcomers not ready to make long term commitment.
In Providence, the religious education program faced a crisis of size: there were too many children for the space available. The design I created allowed the individual classrooms to be used for two sessions on a Sunday morning, doubling their capacity. We divided the church school into an upper and lower division. The lower division began their program in their classroom for an hour of class time, followed by a chapel service, and ending with a multiple-option art/music experience using some of our larger, open spaces. The upper division began with the art options, followed by a chapel service, and then the class time. This schedule allowed the art leaders a half-hour for preparation and cleanup between sessions. Class leaders, depending on which session they chose, were also able to attend either the adult worship service or the coffee hour and discussion.
Another model I created was in response to concerns I heard when I arrived on Long Island. I found a number of parents in the smaller societies expressing the same concern for their children: "They feel so alone, so isolated." The obvious solution would have been to make those societies grow until there were more young people in each society. That solution being improbable, an alternative model was to bring those isolated young people together. To implement that model, I designed the Sophia Fahs RE Camp, a week-long camp experience for our UU youth. The design included certain distinct elements: a camp experience close to home, campers from second to twelfth grade, adult counselors and program leaders, significant time spent on religious education and worship, and intentional community building. Since 1981, the first year of camp, when we began with six adult staff members and 42 campers from six of our societies, our numbers have swelled to 25 adult staff members with more than 100 campers from all 12 of our Long Island societies. For our young people and our staff, the connections made at camp have formed the basis of continuing friendships and a sense of belonging to a larger UU family.
When several LIAC societies requested help with the recognition of their teens, I designed an area Coming-of-Age program which brings together young teens for three program weekends and a trip to Boston. These youth also complete a number of learning projects in consultation with adult sponsors, whom they choose from their local societies. A service of recognition completes the process. The program annually involves an average of 18 young people from seven or more of our societies. This program has received attention from beyond Long Island, and its design has been replicated in several other areas of the country.
In each of these cases, I saw my role to be the creation of an appropriate alternative model for the delivery of services.
While the UUA supplies many excellent curricula for use by our societies, special needs caused by parental concerns, size of program, age distribution, or curriculum history sometimes require additional resources. In response to such needs, I have designed and written several curricula.
• One example of such a curriculum is the set of detailed lesson plans I created for use with Sophia Fahs's From Long Ago and Many Lands. These classic tales contain most of the significant myths, legends, and stories known in our culture. This excellent book had often been relegated to the back shelf because there was no teacher's guide. My lesson plans have allowed many societies to rediscover this wonderful curriculum.
• The special situation of summer camp has annually required new curricula. Over the years I have created curricula on such topics as "Undoing ...isms", "The Interdependent Web", "Scriptures of the World", and "Social Action". Many of these curricula have been used by other camps and conferences.
• The most complete curriculum I have created is Religious Inquiry, a full 40-week set of lesson plans for four grade groupings from Kindergarten through high school. This curriculum was created at the request of one of our societies that wanted a coordinated program for all their young people. Religious Inquiry engages all the children, in age-appropriate ways, in a consideration of the same question on the same Sunday. The curriculum has been adapted for use by smaller societies, and since its first version in 1986, it has been in use by at least one society or another ever since.
Adult Education & Workshops
Workshops, sometimes as single events and sometimes as a series of events, are topic oriented educational opportunities.
I have had extensive experience in leading prepackaged programs such as "Parents As Resident Theologians" and "Building Your Own Theology" and I have also created a number of specialized workshops.
The Southwest District commissioned me to design and lead a workshop similar to a Renaissance Module on "Developmental Theories and Religious Education". I have led two workshops on "Contemporary Issues in Ethics", and one on mixed marriages. In two different models I have presented parenting workshops: one with a special emphasis on UU parenting, and one with a more general emphasis.
Recent Adult Education series I have created and led include:
- Understanding the Middle East: information to help in understanding the current situation in the Middle East, drawn from historic religious scripture and contemporary events.
- Spiritual Biography: exploration of individual spiritual journeys in terms of the places, people, ideas, and questions of our lives.
- UU 201: deeper exploration of Unitarian Universalism than found in the usual New UU course: in-depth consideration of history, theology, polity, and faith development.
- World Religions: exploring several traditions, in terms of their practices, beliefs, writings, and foods.
- Spiritual Journalling: a participatory workshop that explores spirituality through the media of music, silence, meditation, and writing.
Resources & Publications
Over the years I have created a number of educational resources and publications:
- As a resource for households (families and individuals), I created A Season of Celebration, an annual guide to the December holidays. Advent, Hanukkah, the Winter Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Year are all experienced in daily, simple, shared activities.
- Some of the materials developed by me for the UUA's Small RE Program project that were not included in Starting From Scratch have been compiled into a resource called Getting Started, a guide to calendar and program planning for smaller RE programs.
Other items already mentioned above have been published for use:
- Religious Inquiry, a 40-week curriculum on key religious questions, available in lesson plans for four age groupings, K - 12;
- Season of Celebration, a household guide to celebrating the December holidays; and lesson plans for From Long Ago and Many Lands, a complete guide to using the Sophia Fahs book.
Other works of mine that have been published:
- Into These Times, choral anthem, with music by Adolphus Hailstork, 2001
- Educational materials for the UU Service Committee's Guest At Your Table campaign (1988, 1989)
- co-author of the Training Manual for trainers of leaders of the About Your Sexuality course, published by the UUA
- chapter on Sexuality in Life Issues For Teenagers, a curriculum published by the UUA
a sermon, "There Are Those Too Gentle To Live Among Wolves", published by the UUA
- An article, "The Child As Pilgrim - Children And Spirituality", was commissioned by Five Owls, a library journal.