When children, youth and families come to First Church, what do we want them to experience?
In 2018-19, I clearly recall listening to First Church members share their answers to this question at a series of RE workshops exploring options and opportunities for the future of religious education. Fortuitously, I was at those workshops while serving as the intern minister at UUCW. First Church said, we want children and youth to experience: a welcoming, loving, accepting community; the joy of being together in the sanctuary; authentic learning about minds, hearts and bodies; a place to bring their concerns about the world; and a faith community to join them in serving the greater good. The shared ideas about how this might happen were bold and imaginative. This answer made my heart swell with hope, and it made me want to be with you on this journey.
When I was hired as your Director, now Minister of Religious Education, I understood that this congregation was preparing to shift R.E. and was excited about future innovations that would better allow us to meet the needs of our families. Past programs were largely modeled after school structures, with classrooms divided by age and topic, led by trained teachers who bestowed knowledge by utilizing a lesson plan, dependent on regular volunteers and attendance. Throughout the history of progress in religious education, innovations have helped us incorporate more child and youth friendly practices. However, the frame has remained the same. Many of the structures that religious education has historically depended on are now outdated and do not reflect what we know to be true about: our families’ needs, schedules, and best practices for faith formation. If you would like to understand more about why the former R.E. model is outdated and not working, I invite you to read the article Death of a Sunday School by Kim Sweeney.
When the pandemic arrived, religious education was thrust into a new model, and innovations of necessity taught us how to stay connected. We returned in person with new tools and technologies, ones that expand our horizons in ways we did not imagine before our forced isolation.
Now it is time to revisit what we know, move forward, and try something new for religious education. In my role, I am responsible for guiding and shaping a new model of faith formation for our children, youth, and families in collaboration with our staff and Children’s Religious Education Team. Fortunately, we are not alone on this journey and many large UU churches have been creating new models, using a variety of options such as: multi-generational worship, makerspace, rotational workshops, and choice models. I am consulting with colleagues from these churches about their process to help inform us about how we should move forward. Our goal is to create a sustainable faith formation program, one that centers the needs of our children, youth, and families, utilizes our resources wisely and is formed around the unique experiences that First Church can offer.
We plan to launch a new model of religious education in the fall of 2023. If you have any questions, or would like to discuss R.E., please reach out to me by email or phone. If you would like to be a part of the leadership team working on this process, I invite you to join our Children’s Religious Education Team monthly meetings.
I am enthusiastic and optimistic about what the future will bring! I know together, we can reimagine what our faith can offer future generations.
Rev. Kimberlee Tomczak Carlson
Minister of Religious Education