What makes a fire burn? Mark Hicks, Angus MacLean Professor of Religious Education at Meadville Lombard Theological School, reminds us that it is the spaces between the logs. If you pile the wood too densely, it will not burn.
For most religious educators, autumn is a dense time. There is much to do to keep programs and projects moving along. At the same time, we must always take the long view, for it is our charge to respond to the effects of dramatic social and technological change on families and communities. These logs can get packed pretty tightly. For many of us, the spark sputters and the fire burns very low.
This year’s Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA) fall conference was all about creating spaces, opening participants to the wisdom within and around them and to the creative energy that is unleashed when we make space for collaboration to happen. It was about reigniting the flame inside each of us and making room for the creative spirit to move between and among us. And did it ever! We made art, played, laughed and ate. We shared our dreams for religious education, our congregations, our professional growth, and our Unitarian Universalist faith.
Worship touched us with life-giving, heart-stirring stories and fabulous music. How could we not be lifted up by reminders of the ways our work as religious educators saves the world one person at a time? By the heartfelt blessing of a youth who grew up in one of our programs? How could we not be joyful singing Katy Perry’s lyrics, “Baby, you’re a firework…?” Meg Riley told us that what worked to turn back the anti-marriage equality amendment in Minnesota is exactly what UU religious educators do every day: changing hearts and minds one compassionate conversation at a time. Natalie Fenimore reminded us to focus on the heart of our tradition—love, compassion, and responsibility—and not get distracted by all of the noise.
The Fahs Collaborative program invited us to look at things from new perspectives to find new ways our faith development work can meet the needs of our people. Three Fahs Fellows shared their explorations of technology as a tool and vehicle for faith development; effective and authentic cross-cultural engagement in our congregations; and “full-week faith.” And we all had a chance to become part of the Fahs Collaborative, asking provocative questions, sharing possibilities and dreams, giving one another courage to experiment with new ideas for engaging our people while still retaining our core Unitarian Universalist traditions and values.
We who were blessed with the opportunity to attend LREDA Fall Conference return now to our densely packed lives a little richer, a little stronger, and a little more courageous. What makes our fires burn brightly? The space between the logs. I, for one, am grateful for the spaces provided by the LREDA Fall Conference.
If you are a religious educator who is not yet a member of LREDA, invite your congregation to support you to join this important professional organization and the conversations it fosters in your regional chapter and online. You can also be part of creative exploration of UU 21st century faith development through this Call and Response blog site and the Fahs Collaborative at Meadville Lombard Theological School.