Friday, June 29, 2012

Forming Unitarian Universalist Identity

I have been reflecting a great deal on the importance of worship in our children's lives.  I wrote this article for the July Williamsburg Unitarian Universalists newsletter.  This summer we are embarking on a journey of All Ages Worship throughout July and August.  We are also trying a 6 sessions of a "second-hour" of faith development for all ages.   I know that without a regular presence in worship we will continue to lose our youth. I know that my own daughter learned early that she was not wanted and nor should she want to be in worship.  This does not bode well for her desiring to stay within our faith community when she is an adult.

Forming Unitarian Universalist Identity
WUU Newsletter July 2012

This summer WUU has embarked on a journey of all ages worshipping together each Sunday through July and August.  This is not an easy journey and the way is not clearly marked.  Yet it is through being in, participating in and experiencing worship that we all learn to be Unitarian Universalists.

Let’s think about this together for a moment; what is the most common shared experience in our faith community?  It is worship and for some that is the only experience they have in our faith community.  For most adults it is the primary way they learn to become a Unitarian Universalist.

We have heard the story over and over again, “I visited a UU congregation (meaning I attended worship) and I knew I was home.”  Maybe this is your story.  The primary way people connect with each other is during and after the worship service.  The experience is deepened by orientation, small group ministries, taking a class or participating in a social justice project.  Becoming a Unitarian Universalist is deepened even more when we choose to join in the work of our faith community – becoming a member of the Sunday Morning Team, joining the grounds committee, teaching a class, becoming a worship associate.

Yet it all begins with the worship experience.  If we are to provide an environment where our children and youth learn what it means to be Unitarian Universalist, then they need to be in worship.  It is in worship that they experience the most common shared experience of Unitarian Universalists.  They learn to sing, to share joys and sorrows, to listen.  They learn by watching what is going on and by the example of those around them.  In Children’s Chapel, even though I give them the option to speak their joys and sorrows, most place their stone in water silently – having watched and participated during worship in the sanctuary.

During my graduate studies I took a class on Religion and Popular Culture and we watched a video that documented the world of snake handling Pentecostals in Appalachia.  There services lasted more than an hour and children of all ages were present with their families. I was struck by how the children were included in the worship service and how they began to follow the example of the adults – copying their actions.  The children were being formed in the faith of their families, not by learning about it in a class but by participating in it with their parents. Isn’t our faith just as worthy of passing on to our children?

Ours is a covenantal, relational faith. We are bound together by the community we make together and the promises we make to each other.  We have found a place here, Unitarian Universalism is good news to us.  Don’t we want to share and pass on that good news to our children?  Don’t we want them to be formed in a faith community that cares for them, supports their search for truth and meaning – giving them tools for the journey?  All of us worshipping together is a way that we pass on the best of who we are to our children.  They learn to live in covenanted community by being a part of it.

I hope all of you will participate in this summer experience by welcoming our children. Invite a child to sit with you as a worship pal, a worship mentor and spiritual guide so that our children find faithful adults beyond their own parents.  By embracing this experience we just might find that we all gain more than we imagined and come away more spiritually fed.

I close with the words from Antoine de St.-Exupéry, from the reading “Generation to Generation”: “Let us build memories in our children, lest they drag our joyless lives, lest they allow treasures to be lost because they have not been given the keys.  We live, not by things, but by the meanings of things.  It is needful to transmit the passwords from generation to generation.”

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