Preparing the Future: UU Fellowship of Ligonier Valley

By Sunshine Jeremiah Wolfe

Image of a group of people, one holding a dog in front of a tree.

Members of the congregation at a local CROP walk.

In an ever-changing world, our congregations need to be innovative with grounding in the needs of today and of the future. How do we remain relevant to the needs of changing times and changing generations? The UU Fellowship of Ligonier Valley has been asking themselves these very questions.

Like so many of our congregations, pre-pandemic there was a religious education program for children that faded. In recent years the Board discussed what this would mean for the congregation. “We came to the conclusion that if we don’t bring in younger families- then we lose our future,” says longtime member and lay leader Karlice Makuchan.

As a strong small congregation, they wanted to be realistic about their capacity and resources to offer something consistent and meaningful. They decided to start with religious education for children every other week. Karlice took training in Spirit Play- a Montessori based curriculum that invites children into wondering relationships with stories and spiritual concepts. The story is told through items on a blanket. Once the story has been shared, it is placed in a basket so that children may play with the story again in the future. After the story, children are invited into “work time” where they can retell the story of the day, review old stories, or play with other activities around the room.

Karlice notes, “a nice thing about Spirit Play is that you can accommodate a wide range of ages. We did a labyrinth, different ways of singing, yoga, and building blocks. All are activities that kids can engage with during the work time. One little kid keeps getting out the nativity story basket.”

sign of the Ligonier Congregation reads: Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Ligonier Valley

As the program has been forming, more families are choosing to participate and engage at the congregation. One parent has taken on telling the Story for All Ages in worship. One of the members of the congregation has been teaching the children a couple of hymns that they will sing with the congregation when they are ready. There is a small garden outside that they plan to have the children help tend and grow.

The emphasis is thinking of what is helpful and meaningful to children. Karlice points out that they don’t have it all figured out yet, “and that is ok.” Each thing they try leads to more learning about what will work and what is possible.

Water Communion at UUF Ligonier Valley. A table with a bowl of water, two pitchers, a vase with plants, a bowl with candles and a bowl of sand in front of rows of chairs.

More and more we are witnessing congregations trying innovative approaches to the challenges of religion and church in our time. As witnessed with Ligonier, some core questions arise:

  • What do we want the future of this religious community to be?
  • What resources and capacity do we have?
  • What are the needs of the community of people we are serving or wish to serve?
  • What helps everything we do become a learning opportunity?
  • What innovation do we need to embrace to help our religious community thrive?

About the Author

Sunshine Jeremiah Wolfe

Rev. Sunshine J. Wolfe is Congregational Field Staff for the Central East Region serving congregations in western Pennsylvania and across Ohio. Ghe hails originally from Indiana where ghe learned to sing, dance, and cause trouble- the social justice kind. Ghe is currently a member of TRUUsT...

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