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

Angus MacLean Award, General Assembly 2014

General Assembly 2014 Event 434

This report is part of a longer event. Go to General Session VI for the complete video and order of business.


JIM KEY: Welcome Jessica York, Faith Development Director, for the presentation of Angus MacLean Award.


JESSICA YORK: Angus Hector MacLean is one of our Universalist ancestors, a religious educator, and a minister whose legacy is central to our identity still today. Religious education that is child-centered, religious education which insists on relevance to the life of the participants of all ages. MacLean espoused experiential hands-on, full-body-on learning that involves all of our senses and anticipates diversity in the ways we each learn and grow. If you've ever heard the phrase, "the method is the message", you know something about Angus MacLean.

MacLean served the St. Lawrence Theological School as professor of religious education and as dean. And in 1972, the school's Alumni Association and the UUA's Religious Education Department created the annual Angus MacLean award for excellence in religious education. And for 43 years, the award has honored someone who understands that religious education is crucial to sustaining our faith—someone who has lived in bold service to this call. This year I present the award to Rev. Dr. Nita Penfold.


JESSICA YORK: Angus MacLean asked us to recognize that how religion is taught is just as important as what is taught. Nita Penfold's work for our faith exemplifies this understanding. A multidisciplinary artist with degrees in divinity, the arts, and communication, and certifications in Montessori education and music, Nita is an educator whose many gifts help us understand and explore how faith development can and indeed must be nurtured among people of all ages and abilities. As one of its creators, Nita's name will forever be identified with the program she co-founded, Spirit Play.


JESSICA YORK: A Unitarian Universalist adaptation of Jerome Berryman's play, which is based in the Montessori philosophy that encourages independent thinking through wondering questions. Numerous religious educators have participated in the more than 100 Spirit Play trainings Nita has led. Spirit Play programs are happening in congregations all across the country. And parts of Spirit Play, including wondering questions, independent learning activities, and story baskets, have become woven into the DNA of many of our religious education programs.

To quote Angus MacLean, it has been said that liberal religion is a do-it-yourself kit. But there is a danger that we would make it a kit not only without blueprint, but without tools and materials. A religious educator, especially, is charged to find the tools and the materials and sometimes even to present possible blueprints to inspire and nurture the faith development of others. Nita Penfold has taken this charge to heart and gone well beyond to share resources across our faith.

Spirit Play is not the only tool Nita has given us with which to work. Nita, you bless us by being an educator, preschool teacher, Montessori teacher, drama teacher, writing instructor, Renaissance leader, Unitarian Universalist religious educator. Through your 21 years of service as Director of Religious Education at the Milton, Lexington, Melrose, Massachusetts congregations, and as a teacher of spirituality and art classes at Andover Newton Theological School, as a writing workshop leader at Star Island and Ferry Beach, as a teacher in community outreach programs in Massachusetts, and am author for the UUA's own Tapestry of Faith core curriculum, you have helped hundreds of educators incorporate the arts into curricula.

Nita, you bless us by being an artist, visual artist, award winning poet, singer. The light you shine on women's spirituality, the transcendent beauty of our everyday lives, and the serious work of play, reminds us of the ways that art both expresses and expands our human spirit. I do not believe the educator can be separated from the artist for as one member of the Melrose Congregation remarked, your ministry is integrated into all aspects of your life.

Nita, you are a generous, loving, yet forceful spirit who is not afraid to speak up in defense of gentler souls and who does not ever check her values or her intelligence at the door. More yet, you encourage others, children, youth, adults, elders, teachers, religious educators, artists, to play their spirits out into the world, creating love, celebrating life, growing in faith. Assembly, I give you the recipient of the 2014 Angus H. MacLean Award for Excellence in religious education, Rev. Dr. Nita Penfold.


NITA PENFOLD: As religious educators, most of us toil behind the scenes, doing the work we are called to do with little expectation of reward. The work itself has to be enough. So it is somewhat of a surprise to find people somewhere have been paying attention. I am overwhelmed and greatly honored by this award. Thank you to the UUA, my soul sisters, and my husband, Nick Page, for their support.


JIM KEY: Congratulations, Nita.

More Information