30 Days of Love: Fortify the Movement

SSL 30 Days LogoSo many of us deeply desire to live on the side of love when it comes to social justice movements. Organizer (and Unitarian Universalist) Elandria Williams talks about the role of our faith in social movements as providing ‘spiritual and political fortification’.

But what does that really mean? How can we be a nurturing, humble and steady hand on the side of justice in the face of violence and backlash? We’re excited to bring you a sneak peak into 30 Days of Love 2017. Each week we will share tools and resources to help congregations reflect, learn and act around different sub themes of fortification. January 16, 2017 through February 14, 2017 – for 30 Days of Love 2017. From worship resources and weekly actions to opportunities to honor courageous love within our communities, stay tuned here and on our website for more information and resources.

  • Week One: Relationships and Movements
  • Week Two: Covenants and Movements
  • Week Three: Transformation and Movements
  • Week Four: Commitment and Sustenance

30 days of Love starts on January 16 and runs through February 14, 2017. Resources are available from the Standing on the Side of Love website. For details about the four week topics, visit the SSL website story.

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NOVA Cluster Shares Adult RE Programming

The Northern Virginia (NOVA) cluster religious educators have come up with a way to expand the religious education offerings for their adult members. They have created a website that lists Adult RE programming at each congregation that is open to members outside the host congregation. Cluster members now have one place where they can check out what opportunities are available.

NOVAsiteThe site, which is still in development, sorts the classes by source so folks can easily find what interests them. Eventually the plan is to include a calendar so individuals can check for classes chronologically. Other types of indexes may follow.

Ann Richards, Director of Lifespan Spiritual Growth and Religious Education at Mount Vernon Unitarian Church and the creator of the website, says the site has been in the works for over a year. She states, “In our geographic area, there are so many UU churches within driving distance and we should be taking advantage of that.” Having the Adult Religious Education Renaissance Module in the area last year also helped religious educators in the area think about the possibilities.

This site provides several opportunities. Professional religious educators can now see what is being offered in the cluster which helps with future planning. Religious educators who have a gap in their own programming can direct members to another site, or perhaps find a class that better fits their schedule.

The site does not list every religious education offering at every congregation in the cluster. Each church chooses which classes to include. Some programs might not be posted because they are experimental or they are specific to the home congregation, such as new member classes.

When asked what she hopes the site can provide, Ann responded, “I hope other clusters will do this as well. It just makes things so much easier.”

You can check out the site at http://uucergnovacluster.weebly.com/.

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A Faith Formation Rite of Passage for 4th and 5th Graders

firstlighteditedSince 2004, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Amherst, NY has been offering a special and highly successful program for 4th and 5th graders.  First Light recognizes a first step in the development of a child’s Unitarian Universalist Identity. Each child signs up with an adult mentor—usually a parent—and together they explore in depth each of the Seven Principles, honoring the fact that parents are their children’s primary religious educators. Each month, after completing a packet at home (with fun activities and thought-provoking questions for discussion) in collaboration with their mentor, including the creation of an art project illustrating the principle, the group of students meet with their facilitators to share and discuss further. Thus, they begin to build the foundation for their own UU identity.

P1030782The curriculum was originally developed by UU Amherst members Hella Jacob and Scott Harrigan by adapting and augmenting materials from the out-of-print The UU Kids Book authored by Barbara Marshman, Ann Fields Brotman-Marshfield (now both deceased) and Charlene Brotman. It is being shared under a Creative Commons License.  The class is team-taught by 2 adults, and they charge a small fee ($30) for materials.

The program concludes with special rite of passage ceremony during a Sunday morning service, and the graduates are encouraged to light the chalice in the main sanctuary, in recognition that they now appreciate understand its meaning.  Each child is also presented with a lasting token (a UU medallion or necklace). This program takes place at the age when many children in the Christian faith are making their first communions, so the children often wear fancy clothes to celebrate the occasion.

The congregation is happy to share this program with others. You can download the curriculum from this link, but please read the Creative Commons License first.


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Big Change for a Small Congregation

I have had the privilege of being the Director of Religious Education at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Amherst for 4 years now. As any veteran DRE knows, change is something that often needs to be approached delicately, and in small increments. For at least my first 2 years, consistency and a non-anxious presence were my main goals. With that said, I have been slowly moving toward a more cooperative and inclusive feel for our Religious education programming, and feeling the urge to pull the youth group in tighter while still allowing them the independence they so need at this age and stage of development.syg 2014

For the first time since I have been at the helm of the program I decided to implement a tapestry of faith curriculum for our Senior Youth group. In previous years, the youth would attend a retreat in the late summer and loosely establish their own curriculum for the year. This year the overlying theme for our religious education program is UU Identity, and so I chose for them the curriculum titled “A Place of Wholeness”. This seemed fitting as we are also running our Coming of Age program this year, and most of the youth are also attending that.

I expected some eye rolling and push back from the youth, as they were accustomed to a more unstructured class time. I was very pleasantly surprised to find they love it! They have enriching discussions, and some have even taken on the responsibility of co-leading workshops with their advisers. They still have their social time at occasional overnights.

I have every intention of continuing with a TOF youth curriculum next year. This experience has shown me that often the youth are more open and flexible than I might anticipate, and that balancing structure with freedom can be a key element in a successful youth group.


In Faith & Service,

Victoria Crago



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Multigenerational Social Justice

Each week this month we are featuring social justice stories from various congregations.

First Unitarian Rochester, New York

The relationship between First Unitarian’s Honduras Project Task Force, the Global Health Program of the University of Rochester Department of Family Medicine, and the people of San Jose, Honduras, has yielded many transformations in quality of life for our Honduran partners: new water systems, cook stoves, scholarships, health care brigades, and tutoring, among others.

One element of this ongoing relational life is a yearly educational exchange of a lesson and an activity that both do. This year, First Unitarian’s children and youth designed 5 parachutes (one for each school) with words in Spanish and English for colors and colorful ties around the edges. In addition, Youth Group put together individual parachute kits for each child to decorate with colors and words to play with, in an effort to help kids have fun and learn basic English which they will need if they advance beyond 6th grade. Honduran children sent a parachute for RE with their pictures and words on it! Youth Group also hosted a Souper Sunday and will host a bake sale in the spring to continue their commitment to one student’s advancement to high school which they have sponsored for many years.

Syracuse, New York

Family FUUN Night
Family FUUN Night

Every month First UU Syracuse and May Memorial host a Family UU Night (FUUN) where we do some sort of social justice or community service activity. These events are open to anyone of any age from either church or from the community. We started this in August and so far we have stuffed backpacks for a back to school event, made care kits and collected socks to hand out to homeless people in our community, picked over 100 pounds of apples to donate to the food pantry, hosted a guest at your table potluck to raise money for the UUSC and helped the Eastern Farm Workers fulfill the Christmas wishes of families they serve. These events regularly draw 20-40 people and are a great way for newcomers to come try us out and meet new people. And, our teens spent a day volunteering to fix bikes for our city’s annual Christmas bike give away.


Evin Carvill-Ziemer, Congregational Life Staff

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Innovation, Change and Me

Cover of the Summer UU World
Cover of the Summer UU World

The Summer 2014 issue of UU World recently arrived in my mailbox. And although I get a lot of news and commentary online, there is real comfort in leafing through color glossy pages. On the inside back cover I spot OMD youth leaders, and throughout see photos and names of familiar people and places. Yet while clutching this comfortable format, what I am reading about is change. Some is physical – the move of UUA headquarters from 25 Beacon to 24 Farnsworth; some is practical – enough interest to publish a digital edition of UU World; but most challenging was Teresa Cooley’s article on “Spiritual Innovators: Into the Beyond”. It should be required reading and the first item on the agenda of every UU congregation’s Board of Trustees meeting!

I will be the first to admit that it is a heck of a lot easier to preach flexibility, innovation and being open to change than to actually seek it out and feel “out of sorts” with new ways of being – especially in MY congregation! In the same UU World issue Peter Morales tells us that “Opportunities are always there”. You and I are challenged to discover those opportunities in the months ahead. After six years of service to the St. Lawrence District and three in Ohio Meadville, a staff reorganization has forced me to consider new options. Chris Neilson’s sudden medical leave has challenged remaining staff to imagine different ways of being in relationship. The losses are real. We feel it in our bones. Yet what a gift to be forced into the chaos where great dreams can begin and stars are born! Now is the time when all of us are being called to be co-creators in the new future. I remember the picture of a sailboat in my grandmother’s bathroom – we waste time and energy cursing the direction of the wind, when what we called to do is to adjust the sails. This summer and beyond, let us embrace the opportunities that changing winds bring us!

Karen LoBraccoKaren LoBracco
Until June 30, 2014, Lifespan Faith Development Consultant for the Ohio-Meadville and St. Lawrence Districts, UUA

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Young Adult Ministries Moving Forward

I often get questions from congregations who know there are UU young adults near them that they never see wondering what they’re doing wrong…and just as often I get questions from young adults wondering where they should go to get their UU fix!

Frisbee at ReUUnion
Frisbee at ReUUnion

While Ohio Meadville has had four or more cons for young adults (18-35) for years, run by the Ohio Meadville Young Adult Network, this was the first year we had an event for younger young adults (18-25). This was supported by district staff, but run by the younger young adults, who called it ReUUnion Con. They scheduled it for the same weekend as the youth bridging con and the young adults then attended dinner and bridging at the youth con to welcome their friends into young adulthood, which was exactly what both the bridging youth and younger young adults needed–to connect. Twelve young adults came for a relaxed weekend schedule and a chance to talk about what younger young adults need and want. From these connections they’re planning more informal events and we plan on making ReUUnion Con an annual event!

St. Lawrence has had an annual young adult con for younger young adults (18-30ish, concentrated among those under 25) hosted by the Binghamton church for several years. In the upcoming year, other churches are looking to get into the fun with Amherst and Rochester considering hosting events. With more young adult events, we are looking for young adult leaders and allies to be part of helping coordinate the schedule and publish some “best practices” to support congregations. (Contact me to get involved! [email protected])

Serving younger young adults well is a tricky thing. Older young adults more often have greater stability in their lives and leaders emerge able to attend committee meetings and plan events. ReUUnion con 2015 doesn’t have any volunteer leaders yet–it’s too hard for folks to plan that far ahead. But I’m not worried. I’ll hold the space and look for leaders next year. But, they are adults. Capable of making their own decisions. And they don’t need supervision!

Similarly, Binghamton has had great success with a few adult allies supporting the young adults. Doing leg work, getting stuff done when needed, including the young adults in the important decisions, but letting it be okay if they don’t have the time to do all the work themselves. It’s not that younger young adults are incapable, just that they’re busy, life changes really rapidly, and so it’s hard to make long term leadership commitments.

Supporting younger young adults within congregations can be tricky, too, for the same reasons. Frequently the program that worked last year doesn’t work this year. But it’s not really rocket science–just remember relationships matter more than programs. The young adults at ReUUnion Con had some pretty simple messages to share: they want to be seen as “coming home” when they come to church, even if it’s new to them (UUism is home); they’d like to be seen as more than just “muscle” who can move stuff, but competent leaders in their own right; and it means a great deal to them when they know churches care, whether that’s the church local to their college who “adopts” them or their home church who sends care packages.

If you’re looking for ways to better support the younger young adults at your church or campus, find a way to get them together and talk to them about their lives and listen for how your church can help. Maybe a monthly home cooked meal and opportunity for circle worship. Maybe an annual service the young adults lead. Maybe just a Facebook group where the church posts events the young adults might be interested in and they self-organize informal events. The key is to remember that even when we’re not seeing them on Sunday morning, they are still part of us and they still want us to care about them.

Evin Carvill-Ziemer

Ohio Meadville and St. Lawrence Program Coordinator

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Guilty As Charged?

Bumper sticker 7487A common question posed in religious education programs to older children and youth is “If being a Unitarian Universalist was against the law, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” In the Tapestry of Faith curriculum for 2nd-3rd graders Signs of Our Faith, the characteristics mentioned include seeking knowledge, worshiping together, fair group decisions, a sense of faith as a journey and witness for justice. It is not just one of these or other shared characteristics that marks us a Unitarian Universalist, just as it not just treasuring one or more of our 7 Principles or 6 Sources. Rather it is, in my mind at least, valuing all of them, with all the challenges and contradictions inherent in that adoption, that marks us as Unitarian Universalists.

Another angle to this question involves appropriate behavior when you proclaim to the world that you are a Unitarian Universalist. My automobile sports a UU bumper sticker. It’s mighty handy for picking out my car out in a parking lot, but what does it mean when I drive 37 in a 25mph school zone? Or speed up to get through the intersection before the light turns red?

I own and wear several pairs of chalice earrings, necklaces and pins. To be honest they are worn much more on Sundays and at UU gatherings than M-F. Am I afraid, lazy, or what? At a recent training for religious educators in Cleveland, OH the discussion turned to tattoos. One of the participants had a depiction of her vision of faith development. Another had a chalice clearly visible on her inner right wrist as she reached out to shake hands. Hard to ignore and sure to invoke conversation!

What about you? Would your deeds convict you of being a Unitarian Universalist?

In faithful conversation,
Karen LoBracco, Lifespan Faith Development Consultant
Ohio Meadville and St. Lawrence Districts, UUA

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Crossing the Border

It’s amazing to watch the effects of the contagion of cooperation that seems to be springing up. When I first was employed by the Ohio Meadville District (as Young Adult Coordinator) from 2006-2009 I saw faint symptoms–a combined leadership school, a monthly phone call between young adult staff and cooperation on a few brochures. But so many of our events were still constrained by our boundaries, artificially imposed as they are.

YRUU LogoOnce the idea of cooperation and crossing boundaries takes hold, though, it seems to just keep spreading! I just finished leading a youth and advisor training in Canton New York–way, way far north. It would not have been possible, financially, without participation from two Canadian congregations. It’s not the only place where youth and adults are crossing that border. Last summer, Ariel Hunt-Brondwin, Youth and Young Adult Ministry Development for the Canadian Unitarian Council, was a key part of making the Goldmine Youth Leadership School happen for the western part of CERG. Canadian youth participated and even served as staff on both Goldmines. Since then youth from St. Lawrence crossed in to Canada for a youth con in Toronto, Canadians came to the Peer Chaplain training and will be at the Buffalo Con next weekend.

It’s both a renewing of the historic connections across the St. Lawrence Seaway and a new willingness to cross borders of all kinds. We have had St. Lawrence youth at Ohio Meadville cons and Ohio Meadville youth at St. Lawrence Youth Adult Committee meetings. Young Adults are making the same invitations. It just makes sense–Cleveland is closer to Buffalo than Albany, Ottawa is practically next door to Canton.

Regionalization in some ways makes everything seem further away as the “center” of our region is further away than the center of our districts. But I’m seeing, at the same time, a willingness to turn and look across the borders behind us. And so paradoxically, we’re actually able to make more happen. We’d never have been able to have that training in Canton without the Canadians. And more, their presence was deeply enriching in sharing new suggestions and insights and building more relationships. And many of those residents of NY and Canada realized they were going to see each other again–next weekend, driving the other way around the lake.

If you want to consider going north–there are two great events coming up. The first is a Senior High Our Whole Lives weekend in Ottawa February 21-23rd. http://owlinottawa.blogspot.ca/. Second, there’s a Spirituality Development Con outside of Toronto February 28-March 2nd. “This training is for youth, youth advisors, Religious Educators, seminarians and ordained clergy, and adult allies who are interested in learning more about how to better integrate worship and spirituality into their own lives and into the youth ministry in their community.” http://cuc.ca/youth/youth-events/.

If you’d like to cross borders to the south, think about attending the multigenerational Spring Seminar at the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office April 4-6. (http://www.uua.org/international/events/seminar/index.shtml)

Evin Ziemer
OMD Program Coordinator, SLD Youth Coordinator

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January – A Good Time for “The Conversation”

It’s January, the month of New Year resolutions and new beginnings.  It’s also the month of leaving, with the highest death rate in the US (followed by February, December and March).  On December 30 I turned the radio on and caught Diane Rehm interviewing Katy Butler, author of Knocking on Heaven’s Door: The Path to a Better Death.  Katy wrote the book in response to the deaths, and the decisions made preceding the deaths of first her father then her mother.  Memories of my mother’s death just 2 years ago at age 90 quickly resurfaced.  I began to consider the kind of conversation I should be having with my husband’s 89 year old mother.

According to Butler, “I think we need to start these conversations years earlier than we are, and we need to regard them as emotional and spiritual conversations, not conversations just about, I don’t want to be plugged into machines, or I don’t want a pacemaker.”  Legal documents – living wills and durable power of attorney – important and helpful as they are, can never anticipate every situation nor provide specific direction to family members in times of conflicting priorities.  So many times I have seen and been part of a cycle of interaction focused on “What’s the matter?”   For someone in declining health there is so much to pay attention to that we often skip the conversation about “What matters?”  “What matters” is about the soul, not about flatness of an EEG line. 

As UUs we talk about the inherent worth and dignity of each person, and so I was drawn to the way The Conversation Project http://theconversationproject.org/  seems to support each of us, young and old, those near death’s door as well as those seemingly far away, in providing a structure for having conversations about our values and priorities.  Check it out, share it, and initiate “The Conversation” with your family and friends.

                                Karen LoBracco

                                Lifespan Faith Development Consultant, St. Lawrence and Ohio Meadville Districts

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