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"Imagine what it would be like to be a child in your church," asked presenters Gail Forsyth-Vail and Dr. Tracey L. Hurd, as they opened their workshop, What Children Need to Grow Faith. Leading the group through a short guided meditation, they asked participants to think of a child they knew and follow them through their Sunday morning experience. They asked the group to take note of the important moments of connection as well as the missed opportunities for those moments. The responses elicited from the group, centered on the theme of belonging. Younger children felt safe, slightly older children felt like a part of a larger group, and youth, particularly teenaged boys, were seen as a positive, contributing population.
Hurd told a story from her own congregational life illustrating relational aspects of faith development. After an intentional and intensive re-creation of the Religious Education program content and program space at her church, leaders began polling the children who were attending. "Why do you come to Religious Education?" the children were asked. The responses, contrary to the questioners" expectation, did not refer to the welcoming and exciting Religious Education program, but to coffee hour. Across all ages of children and youth, most of them named coffee hour as a positive reason for being at church, reinforcing many of the points raised by participants during thisworkshop.
The workshop leaders introduced another exercise, an examination of three general areas in which faith grows and deepens. They described these areas as 1) vertical and horizontal connections, 2) action and reflection, and 3) formal and informal religious education. Forsyth-Vail used stories from her own experiences as a Religious Educator to illustrate various layers of connection which can inform the spiritual and religious development of children. A believer in the use of story, she described the value of building a community narrative of repeated stories and the potential of those stories to comfort, touch and transform.
Forsyth-Vail encouraged those present to remember that our best religious education "isn"t just the doing," but that reflection is essential as well. She detailed an example, blending a social justice relief trip to the Gulf Coast with pre-event reflection and processing. The average time that a child spends in a religious education program, if they are able to be there every Sunday, is only thirty hours a year. Using that statistic, the workshop presenters made a case for perceiving that religious education occurs in times outside formal Religious Education programs.
Hurd described the four strands of faith development which have been woven into the Unitarian Universalist Tapestry of Faith program. The four strands, 1) Unitarian Universalist identity development, 2) faith development, 3) ethical development, and 4) spiritual development, are the foundation of positive and transforming experiences which our children can integrate into their own religious and spiritual lives.
In closing the presenters invited participants to look for these strands through out the lives of children in our congregations, and to explicitly name experiences of faith.
About the Presenters:
Gail Forsyth-Vail is the recipient of this year"s Angus Mclean Award for excellence in Religious Education, currently serving Religious Educator at the North Parish in North Andover, Massachusetts, and author of the upcoming book (August 2007) Stories in Faith, Exploring our UU Principles and Sources Through Wisdom Tales.
Dr. Tracey L. Hurd recently served as Children and Families Programs Director for the Unitarian Universalist Association, and is the author of Nurturing Children and Youth: A Developmental Guidebook, available from the UUA Bookstore.
Reported by Rebecca Kelly-Morgan; edited by Pat Emery.
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Last updated on Thursday, September 8, 2011.
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