General Assembly: GA Presentations: Presenter views and opinions do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UUA.

Stirring the Oatmeal: Serving All Families

General Assembly 2007 Event 4009
Facilitated by members of the Family Matters Task Force: James Coomes, Dr. Tracey Hurd, Gail Forsyth-Vail, Esther Rosado, and Rev. Keith Kron and Rev. Sofia Betancourt.

Two years ago at the home of Esther Rosado, at the conclusion of one of the task force's meetings, Rev. Hope Johnson, another member of the task force, read the following closing words from the essay Stirring the Oatmeal, excerpted from the book We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love by Robert A. Johnson.

"Whether in our birth family or one of our own creation, we find a connection there that makes even ordinary occurrences meaningful.

"Many years ago, a wise friend gave me a name for human love. She called it 'stirring-the-oatmeal' love. She was right: Within this phrase, if we will humble ourselves enough to look, is the very essence of what human love is, and it shows us the principal differences between human love and romance.

"Stirring the oatmeal is a humble act—not exciting or thrilling. But it symbolizes a relatedness that brings love down to earth. It represents a willingness to share ordinary human life, to find meaning in the simple, unromantic tasks: earning a living, living within a budget, putting out the garbage, feeding the baby in the middle of the night. To 'stir the oatmeal' means to find the relatedness, the value, even the beauty, in simple and ordinary things, not to eternally demand a cosmic drama, an entertainment, or an extraordinary intensity to everything. Like the rice hulling of the Zen Monks, the spinning wheel of Gandhi, the tent making of Saint Paul, it represents the discovery of the sacred in the midst of the humble and ordinary."

Workshop participants were asked for their reactions to this reading. Some people associated oatmeal with comfort food while others thought of it as a breakfast of punishment. Some thought it was bland and uninteresting while others thought it flavorful. Other associated words and phrases were: cleansing, warm, nutritious, beneficial, "a return to childhood," and "prefer cream of wheat." One person suggested that the family provides the basic oatmeal while the church adds other ingredients like fruits, nuts, sugar, and cream to make it more interesting.

The Family Matters Task Force is the UU response to the Religious Right's Focus on the Family. UUs uphold all kinds of families, not just the traditional ones. What is a family? The Task Force did a survey several years ago and found that we indeed have many types of non-traditional families in our congregations: single-parent, interfaith, GLBT, multiracial, adoptive and much more.

Using the word OATMEAL, James Coomes has developed the following acronyms as a list of elements for planning church family events:

O—Objective. What is the objective of the event? For example, the objective of a church BBQ may simply be to create a sense of community.

A—Authentic. Be engaged in the activity. Be there. Be present. Participate whole-heartedly.

T—Time. Make time for the event. Show up. Be intentional about spending time with those who come.

M—Membership. Look around. Who do we include? Who are we excluding? Are there accessibility barriers? How can we do this better?

E—Expectation. What do we collectively expect from this event? What does our family expect from this event? Is it an event with a low (socializing) or a high (workshop) expectation?

A—Action. Events don't just happen. They need people to actually DO something. Otherwise, it's simply an idea.

L—Learning. What did we learn from this event? Take some time to reflect after the event.

Participants then spent several minutes in small groups of four to five people to share with one another programs that their congregations have offered or plan to offer in order to be inclusive of all families. Some of these programs were:

  • Intergenerational worship services
  • Small group ministries
  • Engaging youth to be ushers and to escort older folks to their seats
  • Family nights/Game nights/Movie nights
  • Potlucks/Picnics
  • YRUU RE project—interviewing church members to answer some theological question (for example, "Did man create God, or God created men?") then making a video to be presented at an intergenerational worship service
  • Secret Pals/Special Friends
  • Caroling at Christmas time
  • Cultural film festivals
  • Community projects
  • Creating Valentines in support of Marriage equality and sending them to Congress people

The Family Matters Task Force has many resources on their website to help congregations plan and carry out programs to foster building the beloved community that would be inclusive of all kinds of families. Its mission is to transform Unitarian Universalism into a community of families empowered through faith, celebration, support, education, advocacy, and service. Please visit their website for more information about their endeavors, programs, and resources in the service of ministry with Unitarian Universalist families.

Reported by Kok Heong McNaughton; edited by Pat Emery.