The 1986 coming of age film, Stand By Me was directed by Rob Reiner and it opens with a middle-aged man looking back on his early life, remembering specifically being a 12 year old on a an adventure that included a confrontation with death.
He realizes that this was the day he lost his innocence and had his first taste of life. The film ends with the middle-aged man in the present, playing with his young children, and realizing that they, too, must have their own adventures.
In our Service of Dedication of Parents and Children we say, ‘we promise to stand by you and we will try to be a good influence on you and your children.’
We talk, in that service, about parenting, and what a challenge it is, and how important it is. Specifically we talk about paying attention to the ‘…values we have and values we’re adopting together…’
Just like paying attention to the food we eat, or paying attention to what we say, and how we say it. we need to pay attention to what we’re putting into our value system. Virginia Satir, in her book, People Making, summarized it nicely: “I am convinced that there are no genes to carry the feeling of worth. IT IS LEARNED. And the whole family is where it is learned…Feelings of worth can only flourish in an atmosphere where individual differences are appreciated, mistakes are tolerated, communication is open, and rules are flexible—the kind of atmosphere that is found in a nurturing family.”
Our Religious Education program is a co-op; the co-op model provides opportunities to help raise the children of our congregation.
The bottom line, or the sacred ingredient, is to help our children (and all the rest of us, by the way) to develop feelings of self-worth, and respect for the intrinsic worth of every person; to become a real person; to be authentic, as illustrated in the story of the Velveteen Rabbit which we talked about with the children earlier in the service.
We hope to create, and recreate, ‘an atmosphere where individual differences are appreciated, mistakes are tolerated, communication is open, and rules are flexible—the kind of atmosphere that is found in a nurturing family.’
Parents are expected, even ‘required,’ to be involved in some way, or in a variety of ways – others, without children in the program, are invited to be involved.
We have a staff that consists of a DRE (Director of Religious Education, Perry Montrose); a Youth Coordinator, Jamie Forbes, who served as DRE for eight years prior to creating the new role of working with youth to help them to be engaged with the world beyond the limited and limiting confines of their own families, or the confines of our congregation; Our Youth Group Advisor, Jason Kiska, who works specifically with the high school youth to provide a structure wherein they can meet with one another to be supportive and encouraging as they move through the long passage from youth to adult.
The R. E. Council includes volunteers: Jerusha Vogel; Laura Livigni; and Jackie LeMeur.
Much of the hand’s-on work is done by volunteers. The thing that makes it a co-op is that parents are expected to take part in the program in some way, and we’ll make a list of those ways at the end of this sermon.
First, let me ask a basic question: what was your religious education when you were growing up? Did you do First Communion? Religious education classes? Did you go through Bar or Bat Mitzvah? Confirmation?
It’s important that our children be informed about religion and have an opportunity to think about their own spiritual development. It’s also important that they do not feel like they are being indoctrinated – which is Channing’s point: “The great end in religious instruction is not to stamp our minds upon the young but to stir up their own.”
There’s not only one way to be a Unitarian Universalist. We want our children to realize that they will spend the rest of their lives with questions about religion and about this thing we call spirituality…that they will meet and possibly marry persons from faith systems that they should understand in order to respect them…you can’t respect what you don’t understand.
One of our most popular church school classes is called Our Neighboring Faiths, where 7th graders get to visit with a wide variety of faith communities: Jewish, Catholic, a variety of Protestant, Buddhist, Hindu, Native American.
I’ve just returned from what we call ‘the Boston trip’ with this year’s Coming of Age group. We go in order to have some sense of our heritage, our roots. The mantra on the trip is: “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I experience and I understand.”
That’s why we take our 8th grade Coming of Age class to Boston, Lexington and Concord…to dig into the roots of our Unitarian faith…to experience standing in the high pulpit of Arlington Street Church, home of William Ellery Channing, father of Unitarianism in America; and to enter King’s Chapel, the Episcopal-like Unitarian Church that was first in America to remove references to the Trinity, thus taking the first step toward institutionalizing Unitarianism, the idea that God is One, not three…that Jesus was fully human, that the essential teaching of Jesus was to create communities ‘where individual differences are appreciated, mistakes are tolerated, communication is open, and rules are flexible.’
After a bus trip to Boston we begin our adventure with a picnic lunch on Boston Public Gardens. After eating and hanging out a bit we walk to the statue of William Ellery Channing, father of Unitarianism in America, and I read some passages from his famous Baltimore sermon, where he was the spokesman for the liberal Congregational clergy who were in agreement about Unitarian principles. He spoke in that sermon about their disagreement with the Trinity, making God three persons and Jesus two, and about the need to pay close attention to the Bible, distinguishing myth from history and theology.
“The Bible is a book written by men (sic) for men and must be carefully interpreted…”
Members of the Coming of Age class take turns standing in Channing’s pulpit reading passages from his sermons, and climbing the bell tower, nine stories up, and ringing the bells, and viewing the largest collection of Tiffany stained in the world.
Then we walk up Beacon Hill to “25,” the national headquarters of the Unitarian Universalist Association to which over 1,000 congregations contribute and by whom we are served.
Across the street from the UUA we visit the Robert Gould Shaw memorial in honor of 25-year old Unitarian Shaw who led the 54th all-black regiment to battle in the Civil War.
The next stop is King’s Chapel, the first congregation in America to declare itself Unitarian in theology, removing all references to the Trinity. The young people get a chance to see our most traditionally Christian church, which is somewhat of a paradox since it was first to turn from the Trinitarian Christian faith.
Next we walk to the Holocaust Memorial with its six looming towers etched with the six million numbers representing the victims of Hitler’s attempt at genocide.
In groups of three to five, the group tours Quincy Market, having dinner on their own before meeting up again for our bus trip to the Espousal Catholic retreat center in Waltham, a 20-minute drive from Boston. At Espousal we have a chance to review the day and to do some Bible psychodrama, acting out the parables of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan: “I experience and I understand…”
The next morning is my favorite stop on our Boston trip is at the Follen Church in Lexington, named for Charles Follen who designed the building but never made it to the dedication – he had been doing an interim ministry in New York City and was on the ship U.S.S. Lexington crossing Long Island Sound when the ship caught fire and he went down with the ship, as did all but four passengers.
Emerson preached the dedication sermon at Follen Church. Emerson left his ministry at Second Unitarian Church in Boston two years before, and for a time he did pulpit supply at Follen for a couple of years while he got his new career of writing and lecturing going.
On our roots trip I stand at Emerson’s lectern and offer a flavor of Emerson’s philosophy and theology, including the following passages from his Divinity School Address and essays:
He said, “I must be myself. I cannot break myself for you. If you can love me for what I am, we shall be the happier. If you cannot, I will still seek to deserve that you should. I will not hide my tastes or aversions.”
He said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. Speak what you think today in hard words and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict everything you said today.
Notice – he didn’t say that ‘consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…’ he said ‘a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds adored by whom? By statesmen, and philosophers and divines, or ‘clergy.’
Emerson said, “For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure.”
“The intuition of the moral sentiment is an insight of the perfection of the laws of the soul. These laws execute themselves…thus; in the soul of man there is a justice whose retributions are instant and entire. He who does a good deed, is instantly ennobled. He who does a mean deed, is by the act itself contracted. He who puts of impurity thereby puts on purity. If a man is at heart just, then in so far is he God; the safety of God, the immortality of God, the majesty of God do enter into that man with justice. If a man dissemble, deceive, he deceives himself, and goes out of acquaintance with his own being.”
“The perception of this law of laws awakens n the mind a sentiment which we call the religious sentiment, and which makes our highest happiness.”
“Religion…is an intuition. It cannot be received at second hand.”
“That which shows God in me, fortifies me. That which shows God out of me, makes me a wart and a wen. There is no longer a necessary reason for my being.”
“It is the office of the true preacher to show us that God is, not was; that He speaketh, not spake.”
Because of his emphasis on self-reliance and individualism Emerson is often misunderstood. He fully recognized and appreciated the need for a balance between independence and inter-dependence.
The next stop on our Boston trip is the grave sites of Thoreau and Emerson in Concord, then we go to Walden Pond where we visit the replica of Thoreau’s cabin and walk around the pond to the original site where there’s a quote: “I went to the woods because I wish to live deliberately, to see if I can learn what life has to teach and not discover when I die that I have not lived. I want to drive life into a corner and reduce it to its lowest terms and if it proves to be mean then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it and publish its meanness to the world. And if it’s sublime to know it by experience and to be able to give a true account of it.”
That’s what we’re trying to encourage our children to do, not only to the Coming of Age class, but each of us, and all of us. We’re here in this congregation, this religious or spiritual community, because we’re acknowledging that we need one another and we’re trying to learn how to ‘stand by’ one another.
How can we improve what we do with our kids?
How can we improve what we do with our parents, to be supportive of parenting at every age…to encourage parents who are in a difficult stage of life? How can we be supportive of the over-scheduled young people, the over-scheduled parents who are doing the schlepping?
There’s a role for everyone…to contribute…to connect; to become real…a real part of the program and therefore part of this religious community.
RE Volunteer Opportunities include: working in the nursery with our little ones; teaching or assisting in pre-K, grades Kindergarten through sixth grade.
You can lead a project related to the theme for a particular five-week rotation, or assist once a month.
The winter rotation starting in January will focus on compassionate communication skills. The spring rotation beginning in March will study important UU figures. Again, you could lead one of the groups or assist twice a month.
The seventh grade class is ‘our neighboring faiths’ where you visit other religious groups: Synagogue, Catholic Church, various Protestant churches, Hindu and Buddhist Temples, Native American sweat lodge…Muslim group and possibly others. It requires several teachers and assistants.
This class also needs a Faith Community Coordinator who will specifically schedule the trips with the various places of worship.
Coming of Age Advisor – Help 8th-9th grade youth discover their evolving beliefs and create their personal credos, through meaningful discussions, exploration, and a heritage trip to Boston. You get to go on the trip if you want.
Our Whole Lives Advisor – Our Whole Lives (OWL) is the comprehensive sexuality education program developed by the Unitarian Universalist Association and United Church of Christ. We offer all levels of OWL:
1st Grade OWL – This is an eight-week curriculum offered once a year.
6th Grade OWL – This is an eight-week curriculum offered once a year.
8th Grade OWL – This is the keystone curriculum to the program and involves a year-long commitment each Sunday. The program focuses on providing accurate information on sexuality, relationships, and decision-making.
High School Youth Group Advisor – Assist with your presence on Sunday morning twice a month as the youth worship, discuss, and share.
Outside the classroom…Thanksgiving Service Helper – Assist with preparing and distributing the cornbread and cider for the service.
Passover Seder Helper – Assist in planning the Seder, getting supplies, making food beforehand, serving food, signing guests in, and cleaning up.
Haunted House Helper – Assist in planning and creating the children’s Halloween haunted house in the Chapel.
Social Event Helper – Assist in getting supplies, organizing, setting up, and cleaning up after family social events such as Bingo Night and the Holiday Event.
Parent Coffee Helper – Prepare coffee and a welcoming atmosphere for conversation at the couches downstairs after each service.
High School Chaperone – Be a positive role model as you join the youth during district conferences, social justice opportunities, church sleepovers, and social outings such as kayaking. Drivers are also needed.
Neighboring Faiths Drivers – Be a part of the great experience of visiting other faith communities, as the 7th graders experientially learn about world religions.
Social Justice Helper – Assist our social justice service projects with children of various ages.
Youth Outreach – Accompany high school youth on service/social justice trips and initiatives.
Intergenerational Project Helper – Assist with activities that create multi-generational connections, such as holiday cards & gifts for homebound congregants and the Special Friends pen pal program.
Children’s Worship Storyteller – Tell a story during the K-4th grade Children’s Chapel Service.
Children’s Worship Music Leader/Accompanist – Lead the children in a hymn or play the piano once a month during Children’s Chapel.
Administrative Assistant – Assist the Director of Religious Education with data entry, copying, organizing supplies, etc.
Sunday Morning Assistant – Assist the D.R.E. in getting the Chapel ready and supporting classroom teachers during R.E.
RE Leadership Circles – Our RE leadership is divided into seven areas, allowing volunteers to focus on a particular area of ministry. Each circle works with the Director of RE to envision the ministry and facilitate its programs. You may participate in one of these areas: curriculum, family outreach, social justice, special events, volunteer outreach, volunteer support, or worship. Join a circle that interests you.
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”