Running (and Playing and Dancing) the Church

By Joy Berry

DREs rule pict big

It all started with a Facebook message from my board president. He thought I might find an article interesting. Boy, did I. Written by Rev. Erik Wikstrom, the title alone was pretty provocative: “What If the Director of Religious Education Ran the Church?” He explained his purpose like this: “I’m hoping that others might stop for a minute…and say to themselves (and anyone who happens to be around them. Huh. I never thought about it like that. I wonder . . ."

I knew beyond a doubt that neither I nor my board president wanted me “in charge”, but the question led my mind into other areas, as the author intended. How might the unique competencies of faith development professionals, given free reign and responsibility on Sunday morning, change how we do church?

I linked to the article on my Facebook wall, and the wondering conversation Wikstrom desired was off to an exciting start there. Many weighed in, and the ensuing conversation was inspiring: religious educators went into rapid-fire-dialectical/stream-of-consciousness mode about the Sunday experience of their dreams. I was asked to facilitate a graffiti wall at the LREDA Fall Conference--the annual gathering of the Religious Educator tribe-- so the conversation could continue there. The “wall of appreciative inquiry” I installed there attracted many replies. The responses were fascinating:

Trained as a sociologist, I tend to organize replies into broad categories that help me understand raw data better. I see a desire for more fun and creative process in responses like "increase glitter budget line" and "pipe cleaners and play-doh at board meetings". I see a desire for radical hospitality in responses that mention adults "taking joy" in children's normal behavior, even during worship. I see a prophetic vision of a church renewed and inspired, alive and responsive to its congregants, where dance and play and stories are no longer seen as appropriate pedagogical strategies for children only, but the birthright of humans across generations, a profound, dynamic way of doing and being that opens us up and kindles the divine spark we each carry within. I see a call for church as a sacred place to come together, to be strengthened and emboldened, a kind of spiritual medicine, vaccinating us with joy and compassion before sending us back out to our greater mission--the work we are called by our faith to do, in a broken, beautiful world outside the church walls.

I think that what religious educators might know better than anyone is that “religious education” means “to bind up and send out”--that church is a waystation where we are fortified and connected, made ready for our shared journey in the world, as a people of faith.

But as a DRE, I might be biased. I wonder...what do you see in the replies? How might they spur a conversation by those responsible for “doing church” where you are? How might we be changed by our willingness to wonder, share ideas, and keep this conversation going?

What if DREs were in Charge

About the Author

Joy Berry

Joy Berry is the Children and Families Faith Development Specialist in UUA's LFE office. She previously served congregations in three states and as the interim director of The Fahs Collaborative at Meadville Lombard, where her focus was innovative practices in faith formation.

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