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A "One-Room School House Approach" at Community Church
The Rev. Wendy von Zirpolo is the minister for the Unitarian Universalist Church of Marblehead, in Massachusetts. She traveled to New Orleans to mark the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina with UUs in the area. Below she describes the commitment of the Community Church UU of New Orleans to preserving and nurturing its religious education program.
As members of Community Church of New Orleans prepare to begin the new church year, they do so without their own church, without half of their membership, and without a formal religious education program. What is abundantly clear, however, is that they do so with vision, hope and care. Despite losing most of the congregation's young families, when the doors of their temporary church open on September 10th at the Chapel of the Holy Comforter, their youngest congregants, an eight year-old girl and a two year-old boy, will be greeted by committed volunteers and a minister who believes that every member of the congregation, regardless of age, deserves the best Sunday experience possible. "We need religious education, even if it's for a very small group," said Rev. Jim VanderWeele, who is hopeful that the RE program will grow along with the rebuilding of the Lakeview community.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Community Church lost half of its members, mostly young families who relocated and have yet to return. In a strategizing session with UUA Moderator Gini Courter and Rev. Wendy von Zirpolo, members of the church board and RE volunteers envisioned a program that would address the current needs of the church's young people and also prepare the church for growth. "What we really need is a one-room school house approach that can meet a wide range of needs," said Suzy Mague. Plans were formulated to provide Community Church with such a program using components of UUA Curricula, activity boxes focused on Unitarian Universalist identity, and materials designed to help create sacred space in their temporary home.
Whether or not new young families find their way to Community Church, VanderWeele is quick to point out that the need for a worshipful and meaningful experience for the congregation's youngest members cannot wait. "They are as important as any other member." VanderWeele is hopeful, however, that growth will come, particularly as the congregation rebuilds their church building, increases their outreach and develops relationships with the vibrant New Orleans music community.
The Reverend Wendy von Zirpolo
New Orleans, Louisiana
August 28, 2006