At the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis, we had a problem: Not enough time together. This isn’t unique to us, many congregations struggle with this… Here are a few
symptoms of that problem:
- We have two Sunday services and Religious Exploration (R.E.) for 6th grade-12th grade only at the first service. Therefore, the majority of the R.E. families only attend at the first service, even for younger kids, and second service only has a few kids for an attempt at childcare.
- R.E. facilitators can’t go to church when they teach-- or if they do, they have to stay at church for three hours. Not feasible.
- 6th thru 12th grade youth don’t attend worship, or if they do it’s only for the occasional “multi-generational” worship.
- Coffee hour is crowded and it’s hard to navigate and really connect with people.
- Adult R.E. happens on weeknights if it happens at all and very few people attend--making that time, finding a babysitter, driving in the dark, are all barriers to attending.
The solution we came up with was MIDDLE HOUR.
In between the two Sunday services we would offer an hour of R.E. and Connection opportunities for all ages: Children, Youth, and
Adults. This means that for many people, including many children and youth, church is now two hours long instead of one. This is important for many reasons, and we have noticed some significant changes even in the short time we’ve been trying this experiment…
- Families with children can attend either service, because R.E. (Middle Hour) is in between-- We’re seeing more families starting to attend the second service.
- Children have childcare after the first 15 minutes of service so they havemore peer-time and know the kids in their group better (therefore it’s easier to make friends).
- Adult volunteer leaders of the childcare sessions are not the “usual RE volunteers” which expands our volunteer-base and encourages more adult participation with the children.
- Youth 6th-12th grade are attending worship with their families! They are also starting to volunteer as ushers, greeters, and sound booth techs.
- Adults have 4 options every Sunday for Adult RE including a “Going Deeper”session each week to dive deeper into the themes of the service, led by the Lay Minister, monthly 7-Principles discussions, twice-monthly Music as a Spiritual Practice with our music director, and a wide range of other options that change on a weekly basis. The enthusiasm around Middle Hour has led to an overabundance of wonderful offerings--whereas last year we struggled to get folks to sign up to lead Adult RE, this year we already have four offerings per Sunday scheduled through the entire year!
- Since we typically have about 50-60 adults attend Middle Hour Adult RE offerings, coffee hour has opened up, allowing thosefolks who just want to chat with each other more space to do so.
This didn’t happen overnight. It took a year of intentional meeting and communication with the Board, staff, and stakeholders including youth, parents, choir, and others. Lots of organized logistical planning took place.
We decided before undertaking this project to give it four months to let the “wrinkles” fall out before doing any formal evaluation. So far, informally, the response has been very positive. R.E. attendance and worship attendance has remained steady, there are a lot more youth in services, childcare volunteers and children seem engaged and happy, and people have remarked about the great Adult offerings, especially parents who can now have some adult connection time at church without worrying about their kids!
There are many things vying for our time and attention--It’s nice to have a little time carved out of our week to connect to our values and the people who share them.