A Guide to Faith Development in a Time of Physical Distancing

A man and a girl in a yard covered with cherry blossoms

At a time of physical distancing, when in-person ministry and religious education are on hold, UU leaders have new challenges and new opportunities to bring transformative faith development experiences and vital, supportive connection to families large and small. Explore practical and spiritual resources here.


Resources for parents and caregivers.

Supportive Youth and Emerging Young Adult Ministry

[“Youth” refers to high school age and “Emerging Adult” to 18-22 year olds. I use these terms loosely because these developmental life stages are based in maturity and experience, not necessarily age]

Here’s some details and examples of how to practice supportive YaEA Ministry in 2020/2021. Supportive YaEA Ministry means it’s focused on sustaining and maintaining connection and responding to needs as they arise (read more about this).

Cell phone with red paper heart around it

Use social media. But go where YaEAs are. Don’t assume they’re seeing your posts on Facebook (they’re not).

  • Sam Wilson, Director of Youth Ministries at the Winchester Unitarian Society, uses Instagram to remind his youth group of upcoming events but he says members have also commented how good it is to see his posts, even when they can’t make it to the meeting; like gentle reminders that they have a place and a people who care about them.
  • Kari Gottfried, Communications Ministry Specialist at First UU of Ann Arbor and college student in Massachusetts, has a TikTok, @unitarianuniversalist, dedicated to connecting to UUs and the UU curious on the platform. She’s reaching young people (as well as older adults like me) just being herself and talking about UUism.

Check-in with them.

  • Using group chats is one way to keep up with Youth or EA groups. But depending on the familiarity and culture of the group, conversation might not flow freely in these spaces. Rotating fun, funny and reflective check-in questions can be a good way to invite engagement, especially if members come up with them.
  • Pay attention to where there is enthusiasm and let the group lead. For instance I have a group of youth who really got into growing things this year - we regularly have a proud plant parent check-in. Whatever you do, don’t squelch a conversation because it doesn’t seem to have a point (to you) or you don’t understand it. Remember, as an (older) adult in YaEA spaces - it’s not about you.
  • Specific or individual check-ins can be very important, especially to people who don’t feel seen in the larger group or are more shy about sharing. In group chat, tag someone and ask how that history test went or request pictures of their cute dog, etc. If you're sending messages to minors outside of the larger group it’s best to either copy another adult (a co-advisor, minister, parent, etc) or follow your congregation’s safety policy in regards to communicating pastorally with youth.
Envelope with red paper heart in it

Don’t underestimate snail mail and other physical gifts. I don’t think receiving postcards and greeting cards through the post ever gets old! It’s like getting gifts of mini art AND a reminder that someone thinks enough about you to pick up a pen and peel a stamp.

  • My colleague in the Central East Region, Sunshine Wolfe, has a sticker ministry that they’ve moved to snail mail since they can’t spread their love of stickers at in-person events. You can buy inexpensive stickers at the dollar store, purchase from artists on Etsy or Instagram or buy stickers with a message whose proceeds help your favorite cause.

Model self-care. Older adults working and volunteering with young people are constantly modeling, from the way we answer the check-in question of how we spent our weekend to how we deal with a conflict in the group to how we react to the news. That doesn’t mean we have to be perfect or that we can’t be genuine. But it does mean that we can intentionally model positive ways to deal with stress, anxiety, depression, overwhelm, conflict, etc.

  • Share spiritual and self care practices (I tend to believe they are one in the same) and help them see how things they are already doing in their lives fill these needs. When asked, many young people will tell you they don’t have any spiritual or self-care practices. But the difference between a practice and just doing something that helps you relax, reflect or feel good is awareness and intention. For example, talking about how you feel more focused and optimistic when you do something as simple as straightening your work area, can help them connect how cluttered vs uncluttered space makes them feel and develop their own habits around this.
  • Practice your passion. This can be as simple as what you share in a check in, or a photo you add to the group text. Like at in person events, you might find youth wanting to learn about it or discovering there are youth who already share your hobby. Because we naturally gravitate towards people who are being and enjoying themselves, it’s easy to be an inspiration just doing what you love.

Reconsider anything that might feel like school. High Schoolers have never really been excited about doing “school work” at church. But when learning was in their youth room, with friends and snacks and adults who were not their teachers, it felt less like school. Now it’s all blending together. Whatever you do, don’t pile more unwanted work on them in the name of “faith development”. This year, right now, just learning to live, witness, and experience joy when there is so much sorrow and uncertainty, and dream up a future that they actually want to live in, is faith development enough. This might be the year to put aside your curriculum map and focus on deepening relationships, processing current events and just enjoying being together.

Let them lead. Or not. But always try to follow. This one is tricky right now. Capacity for traditional leadership among young people seems to change day by day and opportunity by opportunity. With school starting, and not in ways they are used to navigating, some high school and college students are struggling with leadership commitments more than they normally do in the fall. And some are finding themselves with more free-time but less emotional capacity to take on projects. And yet, so many of our UU YaEA programs are based on the empowerment model that requires a high level of YaEA direction to succeed. If you are trying to run a program like that this year my advice is to have real-talk conversations with them about interest and time. Do not make them feel like the program can’t go on without them. And be emotionally ready to support them in letting things go. Then follow their passions. They might not formally lead you, but I promise if you pay attention, listen carefully and are willing to embrace the motto “Never a failure, always a lesson” they will show you what they need. Even if it’s just to be a non-anxious witness to their becoming.

Supportive Ministry with Young People

[“Youth” refers to high school age and “Emerging Adult” to 18-22 year olds. I use these terms loosely because these developmental life stages are based in maturity and experience, not necessarily age]

Laptop on a desk with a sign that says You Got This

This year is hard on everyone, in universal ways, but also in ways specific to age, identity, and life stage.

With youth and emerging young adults we’re seeing stress, anxiety, depression, self harm and suicide ideation related to the pandemic and results of quarantine and isolation; additional stresses of academic challenges, domestic violence, economic and environmental uncertainty; and the impacts of police brutality, civil unrest and loss of loved ones and icons.

And many of us also wonder about the long-term effects of online and social distanced school; loss of extra-curriculars, sports and social outlets; and an increase in screen time with less varied human interaction. How do we help young people in 2020/2021? More importantly, as more seasoned adults, how do we help young people while also acknowledging that our own energy and reserves are being depleted by the very same things that are impacting them? Sometimes more so?

I’m going to suggest something that might seem counter-intuitive. I think we need to back off.

I believe that we need to shift our focus from active to supportive, or responsive, ministry with young people right now. What I mean by active ministry is programs and events that rely on active participation and attendance. Success and impact of these programs are based on attendance, witnessed engagement and participant feedback. Examples are large youth group programs, OWL (Our Whole Lives sexual education program), service and heritage trips, cluster/regional/national youth and young adult conferences, faith development curriculums, creative fundraising events . . . you get the picture. These are the most visible and most celebrated signs of YaEA engagement in congregations. Often they are the things that attract new people or encourage more participation. They are the programs that young people look forward to finally being old enough to join - like their siblings and friends before them. And when older adults look back on their time as YaEAs, they are often the powerful memories that come to mind first.

But for most congregations, a lot of “active” YaEA ministry is off limits this year. We’re reduced to trying to make Zoom compatible with vibrant, immersive experiences and pastoral spaces. We’re frantically planning social distanced events before the weather stops cooperating. We’re making hard decisions to cancel or completely re-vision age-old traditions. We’re desperately trying to figure out how we can hold onto what we know (or believe) works, while watching our participation numbers dwindle. It’s exhausting when it works but exhausting AND disheartening when it doesn’t.

There has always been another side to YaEA ministry though. One that doesn’t take as much energy - or rather a different kind of energy. And chances are, when life-long UU adults look more closely at their time as YaEAs, past the more visible programs, they know that this side was just as important to their formation.

Supportive YaEA ministry does not require participation or attendance or even learning. In fact, it does not require anything - it invites, reminds, and shows compassion and love regardless of how people do or do not show up. Supportive YaEA ministry knows it’s value based on faith, relationship and the occasional grateful text message received years later. This is the “behind the scenes” footage, the scaffolding that holds the artists - integral but not polished or attractive.

Sometimes ministry is just about reminding people that you are here for them when they need you.

Here are some ideas for practicing supportive YaEA ministry (more details)

Black person sitting in a chair, reading cell phone while eating a plate of spaghetti

Use social media - Using platforms they are already on means less energy they have to exert to see your message.

Check-ins - Group and personal check-ins such as through group texts build relationships and familiarity so they know where and who to go if they are in crisis or need.

Don’t underestimate snail mail - In a very virtual world, tangible things like post cards or stickers in the mail convey that you are thinking of them and value them.

Model self-care - Young people need to see how others are dealing with anxiety, stress, overwhelm, etc. Just sharing your own coping or spiritual practices could be the best “lesson” you can give.

Reconsider anything that might feel like school - Don’t add more work or “assignments” onto them without enthusiastic consent!

Let them lead. Or not. But always try to follow- Take your cues from them and recognize you might need to hold more of the structure this year.

I’m not saying we need to throw out all active YaEA ministry this church year! I’ve heard from several congregations who are seeing an increase in attendance at virtual gatherings and who are planning really dynamic activities for their YaEAs based on participant feedback. If your congregation has volunteer resources to carry out these kinds of programs, that’s wonderful.

What I’m hoping this article does is give hope and validation to those who have had to cut back their YaEA activities due to low interest and lack of volunteers; who are seeing fewer and fewer youth faces on their Zoom calls despite hours of preparation; who are feeling like they aren’t reaching enough of their YaEAs and just don’t know what to try next. It’s okay.

First, remember that the in-person meetings and events we think of as a staple of active YaEA ministry weren’t reaching everyone either. Online activities are going to appeal to a different, yet overlapping group. I’ve found that some young people with sensory issues and social anxiety, love doing things on-line and having control of their environments; while young people who were completely dedicated to a certain in-person community, have lost their enthusiasm when it moved online. So maybe you are reaching different people. And maybe the ones who aren’t into active online events can still be reached through more supportive means.

Second, don’t get hung-up on numbers. The value you give to YaEA ministry should never have been measured by attendance or membership or pledging family units. Your value is in the life you live and the lives you touch. This summer I led a congregation youth group with an average of 3 attendees at each meeting and on more than one occasion it was just one (and two adult advisors). And even when just the one showed up, we didn’t cancel if they wanted to stay and talk. Because we recognized that might have been one of the few times that week that youth got to talk to someone outside of their family. This is the weird-kind-of times we’re living in. And yet, depth vs breadth should always have been our priority.

And finally, as hopeless as it seems at moments, remember this pandemic and the restraints on in-person activities will not last forever. I wish I could say the same about systemic racism and climate change. We have our battles ahead. Let’s use this time to build the relational framework and support network that will sustain ourselves and the young people in our lives for the future.

May this year be a study, for all of us, on recognizing what we have the power and capacity to impact. Even when that impact is small. Even when that impact is so subtle there is no way to measure. Even when that impact won’t be evident for years.

Resources

Keeping Our Children and Youth Safe in Online Programs

drawing of grid of 12 faces on a web meeting

One way UU congregations live our values is through our Safe Congregations committees and policies to create a safer and more welcoming community for all. Visit the Safe Congregations pages for complete information.

Below are some particular areas to pay attention to during online programming for the safety of children and youth.

Children and Youth-Specific Spaces

As with in-person programming, it’s important to clearly distinguish between spaces designated for children and/or youth, space for parents/guardians together with their children, adult-specific space, or multigenerational space.

Registration

We recommend treating online and in-person programming the same: each child or youth's parent or caregiver must participate in an orientation process and must sign a permission form.

Parent/Guardian Supervision

Parents and guardians need to understand that it is impossible to fully and effectively supervise across the internet and therefore parents and guardians must understand they are responsible for the health and well-being of their child while their child participates in any online space. This includes taking responsibility for their child’s appropriate behavior, appearance, and what is visible on the camera.

Adult Supervision

The UUA continues to recommend two unrelated adults, approved by your Safe Congregations’ policy (including a background check), for all RE and Youth spaces. It is wise to have a third adult available if one of the adults has a technical difficulty. An additional option is to ask a parent to be present until both adult facilitators are present. Otherwise the space should be closed and the group postponed.

This includes recommending two adults for each breakout room when programs use breakout rooms.

Adult volunteers should sign a code of ethics that includes agreements on:

Youth Safety

The UUA has Youth Safety Guidelines for UUA programs offered to congregations as potentially useful as they consider their safety policies. There is a new section about online programming which includes an analysis of social media and platforms and will continue to be updated.

Multigenerational Spaces

Participation in a multigenerational space is supported by a covenantal understanding of appropriate behavior in multigenerational settings and appropriate Safe Congregations policies.

Many congregations have had conversations about navigating in-person multigenerational spaces. We are in a new multigenerational space creating new covenantal expectations. So, expect new tensions and issues to arise and see these as creative community building opportunities.

Parent/Guardian Supervision

Be sure to fully inform parents and guardians that, like coffee hour at church, they are responsible for supervising their children’s participation in multigenerational space.

Contact Between Adults and Minors

The UUA recommends that congregations adopt a policy requiring adults to avoid one-on-one electronic interaction with minors who are not their children. Instead, adult volunteers and religious professionals should include the child or youth’s parent, another volunteer, or another religious professional on any direct communications.

Photo/video Covenant and Permissions

Pictures/video of minors should never be shared with anyone other than parents/guardians outside of covenantal space without appropriate written parental permission.

For streamed worship, if parents/guardians are having their video turned on at home and the children are visible, this is their choice and you do not need a signed photo permissions form for the streamed service.

However, be cautious of posting public video such as on your website with the children or youth visible without a signed permission form. Consider editing the video to remove the images of anyone under 18.

To protect the privacy and safety of those under age 18, avoid sharing full names, even if parents or guardians give permission to do so. For example, some congregations display children’s art and credit the artist by first name only.

Limited Access Agreements and Behavioral Covenants

In online programming, congregations should require members and friends with Limited Access Agreements and Behavioral Covenants to continue to follow these agreements.

Limited Access Agreements: These agreements are created by Safe Congregations committees and/or religious professionals to allow people who may pose a threat to safety, such as people with a conviction of a sex crime or who are registered sex offenders, to participate in some of a congregation’s religious life in a way that protects those who may be vulnerable in the congregation.

Limited Access Agreements may need updating for online programming. These are suggestions which may or may not apply to the particulars of your situation. Contact your regional staff for assistance.

  • Revisit and clearly define which programs the person may attend and what behavior is expected of them.

  • If the agreement includes accompaniment, revisit what that looks like online. It could look like texting the volunteer accompanying them when they arrive and leave.

  • Clearly prohibit contact with minors through any electronic means.

  • In cases of sex offenders against children, inform parents/guardians which programs the person attends.

  • Turn off private messaging on the platform in multigenerational spaces.

Behavioral Covenants: These agreements are created by Safe Congregations committees with individuals with disruptive behavior, whose behavior, such as bullying or harassing, are harmful to others.

Like Limited Access Agreements, Behavioral Covenants may need adapting as well.

Appropriate Attire and Participation

Appropriate participation includes all ages appearing in clothing appropriate for the public. Nudity should not be allowed. Set the expectation that individuals of all ages and genders will wear clothing that covers their genitals; in addition, the nipples of older children and adults should be covered. However, this should not be an excuse to police or body shame anyone, especially teens, for clothing which others find revealing.

A particular concern with appropriate attire by minors includes the possibility of another participant taking a screenshot on their computer and generating an image that could be seen by authorities as child pornography. In this instance, the person capturing the image and the parents/guardians may be at risk of investigation.

Live sessions should have a co-host without facilitation responsibility able to turn off microphones and cameras of any participant as well as remove any participant whose behavior and/or appearance is deliberately offensive.

Internet Safety Family Ministry

a Black parent sits in front of a laptop with his two children

As a religious educator, a minister, or a lay leader, here’s some vital family ministry you can support in simple short ways.

Nearly all of our families have children and teens spending more time online than they did a year ago–including in our programs. Mostly, this is serving a vital role in keeping our children and teens connected to the people they care about.

And your UUA staff have fielded questions related to UU children and teens involved in bullying, experiencing some “weird” or “uncomfortable” adult interactions, and parents surprised by their young child finding sexually explicit material on youtube.

Like sexuality education, talking about internet safety is faith formation. The goal isn’t to swaddle our children and teens to protect them. The goal is to give them the tools they need to navigate the world. For each family the timeline of how much freedom to give is going to be a little different. Here are some simple ways to support your families:

Be Explicit About Safety for Your Programs

The families in your program including the children and youth should know the safety standards you’re holding your adult volunteers to. They should know that the adults from their congregation shouldn’t message them privately one to one and that this is modeling what the congregation believes is safe adult behavior.

Support Adults in Conversations With Their Children

Remind them: One of the ways a faith community can be helpful is in reminding and supporting parents and guardians in having conversations with children and teens. Our post for all ages and focusing on teens give many conversations parents and caregivers should have with their children and teens. You are welcome to take a section at a time and include it in your emails to families.

Host some conversations: If the parents and caregivers in your congregation are gathering in small groups or want to gather in small groups the Parents as Sexuality Educators small group ministry curriculum is one we recommend using right now! The sessions on pornography and social media use may be particularly relevant.

Resources

Online RE Safety Webinar

This workshop was given by Evin Carvill Ziemer on September 19, 2020 focusing on safety guidelines and protocols as congregations prepare to launch religious education programming in an online environment.

Topics covered in this presentation include building covenants, securing parental permissions, hosting safe spaces and special information focusing youth and social media.

This workshop is designed for RE volunteers, staff, mentors, and anyone involved in children's and youth programming. 
Special note: The overall guidance on creating safety, especially a culture of safety, will continue to be helpful to congregations. However, the technical guidance specific platform guidance will continue to evolve.

Up to Date Guidance

UUA Resources

Tech Tips

  • SignNow is an inexpensive program for online legal signatures by uploading a template and then sending an invite for a signature.
  • Zapier allows linkage between online programs. Can be used to link a registration form to a SignNow permission form.
  • textfree.us is a program you can use for a text only number that you can give multiple people a log in to and also have texts to it emailed to you. This could be used as a joint tech help line on Sunday morning, for youth to request pastoral care, etc.

Other Resources Mentioned by Participants

Activity Suggestions from Participants

Recommend adults review the specific activities before doing them with your group.

Don't Do Our Whole Lives Online

five brown owls standing in a field

Melanie Davis, Our Whole Lives Program Manager for the Unitarian Universalist Association, strongly recommends that OWL programming be postponed until it can be done in person. She advises,

You can keep your participants engaged through online check-ins, social gatherings, games, or even group home study time, but please do not offer OWL online. It wasn't created for or tested for efficacy online. Its in-person interactions and experiential learning cannot be replicated on an online platform. More importantly, potential for harm exists online.

If a participant is triggered, facilitators may not notice and may not be able to offer effective support. Lack of privacy is a grave concern, as friends, parents, and siblings may be in the room, off or on camera. For youth and teen programs, parental permission is required, and that agreement can be broken if friends and siblings listen/view OWL workshops online.

In addition, the UUA and our United Church of Christ publishing partner must be responsible stewards of material we've been granted permission to use in print but not online. If you have questions about this, please contact owl@uua.org.

We Only Have a Few Our Whole Lives Workshops to Go. Should We Continue?

Nothing in Our Whole Lives is so timely that it is worth putting lives at risk. Once health officials give the all-clear, you can double up on your sessions or offer workshops for Grades 7-9 or 10-12 in 3-4 workshop weekend retreats until your program calendar is caught up.

What Are Our Options?

The UUA and UCC have published some suggestions for adapting the Our Whole Lives for Grades 7-9 material to create a program that consists of fewer, shorter participant gatherings. Similar recommendations are in development for the Grades 4-6 curriculum. Note that any program you adapt will not be a comprehensive, in-person Our Whole Lives program, so you cannot use the Our Whole Lives name or OWL acronym. Visit the Our Whole Lives Facilitator Resources page for the latest information, including free webinars and a host of lifespan resources for at-home sexuality education.

Some congregations are using the Parents and Caregivers as Sexuality Educators Small Group Ministry program online during this lull in in-person programming. This 12-session curriculum can be downloaded at no cost and can easily be adapted for online use.

Resources

Using UUA Publications for Online Religious Education and Small Group Ministry

photo of skinner house books

Do you have publications or other materials from the UUA or Skinner House books that you want to use for online faith development such as religious education or small group ministry? Here are some guidelines:

Our Whole Lives and Sexuality and Our Faith

Melanie Davis, Our Whole Lives Program Manager for the Unitarian Universalist Association, strongly recommends that OWL programming be postponed until it can be done in person. She advises,

You can keep your participants engaged through online check-ins, social gatherings, games, or even group home study time, but please do not offer OWL online. It wasn't created for or tested for efficacy online. Its in-person interactions and experiential learning cannot be replicated on an online platform. More importantly, potential for harm exists online.

If a participant is triggered, facilitators may not notice and may not be able to offer effective support. Lack of privacy is a grave concern, as friends, parents, and siblings may be in the room, off or on camera. For youth and teen programs, parental permission is required, and that agreement can be broken if friends and siblings listen/view OWL workshops online.

In addition, the UUA and our United Church of Christ publishing partner must be responsible stewards of material we've been granted permission to use in print but not online. If you have questions about this, please contact owl@uua.org .

OWL facilitators and congregational leadership may ask, “We only have a few Our Whole Lives workshops to go. Should we continue?” Melanie responds,

Nothing in Our Whole Lives is so timely that it is worth putting lives at risk. Once health officials give the all-clear, you can double up on your sessions or offer workshops for Grades 7-9 or 10-12 in 3-4 workshop weekend retreats until your program calendar is caught up.

Other UUA print publications, including Skinner House Books

All resources identified in UUA publications as meant for each participant in the group to have their own copy (e.g. handouts, leader resources, facilitator resources, homework instructions, exercises, etc.) can be scanned and emailed, screen shared, posted in a private social media group, or otherwise distributed electronically for the purpose of virtual gathering without express permission from the UUA. Please include the copyright notice found on the copyright page at the beginning of the book. If you have questions, please email publications@uua.org .

Tapestry of Faith

The UUA’s Tapestry of Faith online curricula and resources have always been free to download and adapt for use outside the traditional, in-person religious education setting. Congregations and families have blanket permission to share stories, activities, and readings from Tapestry of Faith to facilitate online gathering for religious education. When you share, please acknowledge the UUA's Tapestry of Faith as your source; acknowledge the copyright owner of specific material; and acknowledge any adaptations (edits) to published material that you have made.

Family Ministry

DRE Panel sharing what has been effective in their congregations to engage families during these virtual times, presenting a sampling of activities for all ages. Presenters include: Jules Jaramillo, Ryan Hurd, Leia Durland-Jones, Stacey Stone, Kathy Smith, Kirsten Hunter, Meredith Plummer

Panel: What's Working With Families?

Simple Online Faith Formation

toddler with computer

Toddler looks at a laptop

This is not a time for a complex faith formation program. Our children and youth need to connect, to be cared for, to care for others, and to make meaning together of this time. While these suggestions include many things that work on online zoom calls, you can connect with the children and youth in your congregation even if zoom isn't going to work for you.

Suggestions for Online Gatherings

  • Go simple. Let go of previous lesson plans. Focus on connecting

  • Take advantage of what you can do online you can’t do in person such as check in paired with show and tell or having children see each other’s houses.

  • Have children make art on a theme to share. They can do it ahead of time and show live or make space online for them to post pictures. The White Plains NY congregation’s first project was making chalices!

  • Do not shy away from expressions of sadness or grief. These are not normal times and it is okay to have these feelings. Give children and youth space to be sad or angry during check-ins or as part of Joys and Concerns. Avoid “everything will be fine” platitudes.

  • Pay particular attention to ritual. As we stay away from our churches, we will miss the rituals that are embedded in our time together. So, create simple rituals as part of your online gathering. Light a chalice. Do joys and sorrows. Note other natural rituals emerging and repeat them.

  • Spend time talking about home faith rituals. A chalice lighting time to begin or end the day can be grounding for everyone. An evening time ritual at dinner or bedtime might include lighting the chalice and sharing joys and sorrows of the day. Have families share what they do or are thinking about starting to do! Many children love a chance to share

Other Suggestions

  • As the time stretches on, mail a care package to families with some activities. Go for activities that are fun, includes material they may not already have at home, engaging, steer away from those that feel like school as children may have relatively boring packets of work from school.

  • Please do not do OWL online. It’s not designed for that.

Ways to Connect Through the Week​

  • Check in with parents - they’ll be able to tell you if what you’re doing is working well and what their kids’ needs are.

  • Prioritize pastoral care of parents. They’re stuck with their children most of the time and if they retain sanity, humor, gratitude, and groundedness it will help the children immensely.

  • Recorded stories lets the children of the church see your face.

  • Help children connect with other adults in the congregation. Children also need to feel like they’re doing something to help. They can call, write, send art.

  • Help older children connect with younger ones. They can even connect via video chat through the week. Younger children appreciate older children being goofy, telling jokes, reading to them, listening to them!

  • Send parents short selections of ways to connect to UUism including videos from other UU congregations

  • Soul Matters has an archive of activities for families. Curate something simple that meets the emotional and spiritual needs emerging.

  • Full Week Faith is one way to structure week long connection. Tap into simple, easy messaging apps like GroupMe or Remind, invite your families to sign up, and then share a daily dinner blessing, prayer, meditation, story, activity, or online worship. Your families can then come together and build their spirituality and deeply connect to Unitarian Universalism, whenever it makes sense for them. This webinar and PowerPoint can be utilized to support you.

Tips for Using Zoom With Children​

  • Tim Atkins says: “Don’t try to exactly replicate what you already do. It won’t work. Think of it like this - when you’re learning a foreign language an important moment is when you start to “think” in that language instead of translating. That goes the same for online - translating will work ok but you need to get to the point of “thinking” and designing it from the beginning for online.”

  • If the children know what the questions might be ahead of time, they’ll be more ready to participate. This is something parents can help them do

  • Older children can engage in a zoom video on their own. Younger children may need a parent helping them.

  • Zoom can do break out rooms. You can have a volunteer facilitate each room. They can be multiage or you can do a little sorting. (Practice this ahead of time)

What About Content?​

You really do not need to find “new” topics to engage with. Faith formation is about engaging with life. And life is offering our young people a lot right now. Follow them through their emotional process and you’ll find a lot to engage with:

Keep Online Connections Safe​

Unrelated adults and minors should never message one on one without a parent or religious professional copied on the message. If you set up a Facebook group to connect multigenerationally parents can help organize their children’s activities and will be aware of what their children are doing. Video calls and online are similar--parents are responsible for supervising their children just like at coffee hour. Video calls and games should happen at a place like the kitchen table rather than alone in a room. Finally, create a covenant that material shared in the online group won’t be shared. Especially pictures and videos of minors.

Multigenerational Ministry in an Age of Physical Distancing

Large open book embedded in a pastoral scene with tree, chair and sunset
Evin Carvill-Ziemer holding a door open wearing a robe and stole

Rev. Evin Carvill-Ziemer

As a parent of young children, the idea of staying home with my kids for two weeks makes me think: severe cabin fever.

Selfishly, I began wondering how our congregations can help. I mean, really, there would be days a five minute Facetime call with my six year old so someone else can hear all about her fish tank and how much she loves her fish would help save my sanity.

And then as the CDC advised older people and those with health risks to start staying home now, I began thinking of people I love who will face weeks of little in person social contact. I texted one of them. He wrote at one point: “This isn’t just quarantine ourselves for two weeks like we are sick. This is quarantine ourselves forever until this goes away?” Right, or until there’s a vaccine.

Already religious professionals are talking about how to do worship online and small group ministry online and even helping folks learn how to use Zoom.

But I’m going a step further—how can the generations in our congregations help each other, connect, play, feel less isolated? Even if our school isn’t cancelled, we’ll be spending a lot more time at home. And both my children understand being bored—and would want to help other people we know and love not be bored. They love doing drawings or recording videos for people. So, if my kids will probably spend more time than I want in front of a screen, what if that was a way they were connecting with the adults they know from our church? And a way for those adults to spend a little time playing instead of engrossed in adult worries?

Below is a list of ideas brainstormed with religious educators online. My suggestion is to create a Facebook group specifically for multigenerational connection so this isn’t a new volunteer or staff job, but something the community can self organize. And then share this post there!

Internet safety for minors is a real concern. Here are some guidelines to following Safe Congregations policies in this setting: unrelated adults and minors should never message one on one without a parent or religious professional copied on the message. Having communication in a Facebook group makes this much easier and the parents can help organize their children’s activities and will be aware of what their children are doing. Video calls and online are similar--parents are responsible for supervising their children just like at coffee hour. Video calls and games should happen at a place like the kitchen table rather than alone in a room. Finally, create a covenant that material shared in the online group won’t be shared. Especially pictures and videos of minors.

Brainstorm—not all of these ideas will work for every congregation, but hopefully they’ll get your own creativity started!

  • Not-so-secret Friends: Pair families with folks stuck at home and encourage them to find ways to interact, play, and stay in touch.
  • Story time. Maybe a chapter a day during “rest” if children are home from school? Or bedtime with the DRE? Do you have any adults stuck at home who love to read? They can even find books through their local library on Overdrive. You could do this as Facebook live on your Facebook page or through zoom or just recording a video and uploading it to your private group. Check copyright info first here.
  • Play some games! Have someone organize an all ages online Dungeon and Dragons game. Or invite each other to your favorite games you already play. (Parents can share information on which are safer). Try board games arena. You can even check out some board gamesyou probably haven’t seen before.
  • Get together on zoom video chat to play. Have a pajama party or costume show. Play a game like Pictionary that can be played without pieces.
  • Pick a theme for the day and share art and pictures taken on that theme.
  • Have older kids call younger ones on video chat
  • Start a homework tutor thread. Surely there’s a grown up in the congregation who understands your child’s homework! Maybe even one who is bored. This could be especially helpful if schools are closed and middle and high school students are expected to do school work.
  • Pair new readers with a reading buddy! First the new reader reads and then their buddy takes a turn.
  • Many children love to perform. So do adults! So--All ages talent/no talent show! Take videos and share in a thread.
  • Have members listen to children do their instrument practicing. Many children love an audience.
  • Create collaborative online art, this article from Smithsonian Magazine talks about a drawing. Flockdraw.com and anondraw.com make it possible!
  • Do you have folks who know books? Maybe they could help people of all ages pick books through their local library (overdrive.com).
  • Do some science! Weareteachers.com has options. Especially if a member of the congregation can explain the science to the kids or do the experiment together over video.
  • Real world pen pals. Pair shut-ins who enjoy real mail with children who like to draw or write. They can exchange drawings, notes, even a collaborative story one sentence at a time. Honestly, my children are going to create mountains of art. I’m happy to share.
  • Phone calls! Create a list of people who would enjoy phone calls from younger members of the congregation. Many children love to sing (or sing along to) their favorite song. Or recite a poem. Or just ask “how are you doing?”
  • Want a big challenge? Try a virtual choir! This YouTube Video, How Do You Create a Virtual Choir can help.

Technology to know about:

  • One to one video calls: Apple’s Facetime, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangout, and Skype are all free!
  • In addition to Zoom for larger groups, Google Hangouts is a good option and the premium version is currently free

We need to take care of each other and our communities physically. Let’s stay in touch even from a distance. Help keep parents sane and break up the monotony of being isolated for everyone. And not just connect about serious things, but also just to have fun. Connection, fun, community—things all ages love about their congregations.