Kari Kopnick wrote two excellent blog posts on the Care and Feeding of Your Professional Religious Educator (part 1 and part 2). I am grateful to Kari for her humor, wise words and for speaking up for all of us who do the hard and often unappreciated work of professional religious education. Unfortunately I think Unitarian Universalism in particular has resisted treating religious educators with the respect, pay and professionalism they deserve. We have gotten better but we still have a long way to go before we are truly valuing those people who answer the call to serve as professional religious educators.
I say Unitarian Universalism in particular because one thing most professional religious educators have in common, whether we are ministers, lay people, credentialed, un-credentialed, full time, part time, lifespan or not, all of us in some way are responsible for faith development programs for our children and youth. Since most Unitarian Universalists are people who have come into our faith as adults, there is ambivalence about what is to be done with the children. We are unclear about whether or not we (as a faith) want to raise life-long Unitarian Universalists. I think one way this ambivalence plays itself out is the ways we treat religious educators - or those that would be charged with the task of creating programs that would hopefully give children, youth and families the tools to raise life-long Unitarian Universalists. I have seen that as a movement, with leadership from LREDA and the UUA, we have become clearer that our task is to raise life-long Unitarian Universalists. The clearer we articulate that and do not apologize for it, then we will go a long way to recognize and value the role of the professional religious educator.
The other reason that professional religious educators are not given all the professional respect, pay and benefits that are appropriate to their positions is rooted in problems not limited to Unitarian Universalism or religion. First we are in the business of education, a historically undervalued and underpaid vocation. Secondly, just like most secular educators, we are mostly women and women are still underpaid and undervalued.
I feel like my work, my ministry is some of the most important work we do in religious community. Our programs are charged with helping with the faith development of our youngest and most vulnerable members (yes I know we don't count our children as members but that topic is for another post). We are not just babysitters, we are not charged with just keeping the children busy while the adults do the important work. And yes, I believe that I am charged, that is a part of my vocation, to share the good news of Unitarian Universalism with our children and youth so that they will want to be Unitarian Universalists as adults.
So thank you Kari and all my colleagues who share this work with me. I am grateful for your work and that I get to serve in such high company.