Call and Response: Journeys in UU Lifespan Faith Development

Our Whole Lives Visits the National Sex Ed Conference

Last fall, I shopped for owl-print clothing online. I waded through countless options until landing on a grey dress with a big white owl at the hem; a dress made of fabric of covered with bright blue owls, and pink pajamas printed with brown owls. Meanwhile, Amy Johnson, MSW, the United Church of Christ (UCC) OWL Program Coordinator, bought PJ’s to match mine, as well as a black dress adorned with appliques of patchwork branches and owls.

We picked out these items to help people at the December 2015 National Sex Ed Conference in New Brunswick, NJ, identify us easily to discuss Our Whole Lives Sexuality Education, the curriculum jointly published by the UUA and UCC and fondly nicknamed OWL. We wore our dresses to host an OWL Special Interest Group (SIG) the opening night of the conference. We wore the PJ’s to the “Bedtime Stories” event featuring milk, cookies, and children’s author Robie H. Harris reading from her books, two of which are used with children’s Our Whole Lives curricula. I wore the gray dress when we co-presented a workshop titled, “Five Ways to be a Faith-Sensitive Sexuality Educator.”

Our Whole Lives Sexuality Education is a comprehensive curriculum used not only in UU and UCC congregations, but also in community-serving organizations, private and charter schools, public schools, private homes, and other settings and faith communities. Our Whole Lives is secular and promotes the values of Self Worth, Sexual Health, Responsibility, Justice and Inclusivity. Curricula are available for grades K-1, 4-6, 7-9, 10-12, Young Adult, and Adult. When used in UU and UCC congregations, Our Whole Lives it is supplemented by Sexuality and Our Faith: A Companion to Our Whole Lives Sexuality Education, which puts the educational content into the context of each faith tradition’s values.

Over the years, increasing numbers of congregations have used Our Whole Lives as a form of outreach, inviting members of their larger communities to participate in the program. As a result of our interest in helping congregations create welcoming spaces for non-members, Amy and I developed a workshop for the 2016 UUA General Assembly titled, “Faith-Sensitive OWL Programming for Community Outreach.” Our workshop for the National Sex Ed Conference was a modified version of the workshop we will offer in Columbus this June.

We were pleased that close to 50 people attended our workshop, even though it started at 8:30 am the morning after several late-night events. Attendees came from settings ranging from faith communities to public schools. During the workshop they learned how to work with sexuality education curricula, including OWL, in ways that acknowledge learners’ diverse religious and faith perspectives. We presented simple techniques that reduce the likelihood participants will either opt out or tune out of valuable information because their own perspectives are not recognized. By the end of the workshop, participants had learned how the difference between understanding and agreeing affects the learning process; they could demonstrate the difference between a fact, a belief, and a value; and they could identify five ways to acknowledge different perspectives without distracting from a curriculum’s core values.

The 2015 conference was the first at which we hosted an OWL Special Interest Group (SIG), which attracted about 30 people who used the opportunity to ask us questions about implementation, best practices, upcoming plans, and the use of the curriculum in settings other than congregations.

In addition to activities shared with Amy, I co-presented a three-hour pre-conference seminar with Robin Goldberg-Glen, PhD, MSW, with whom I am co-president of the Sexuality and Aging Consortium at Widener University. Our program introduced many issues that will be addressed in the Our Whole Lives Sexuality Education for Older Adults curriculum, which is currently in development.

This was the third time the Our Whole Lives team has presented at the National Sex Ed Conference. We are thrilled that the Our Whole Lives program has a place at this prestigious conference. And, we are excited each year to see so many of our facilitators and trainers proudly sporting OWL ribbons attached to their name badges.

I don’t know when I might wear my owl-themed clothing again, but I do anticipate that Amy and I will continue to present programs that increase understanding about the Our Whole Lives curriculum and, in the process, support its current users and introduce this wonderful sexuality education resource to potential users.

Next Steps!

  • Visit Our Whole Lives Sexuality Education ­webpages to learn more about the curriculum.
  • Going to General Assembly? Attend our workshop, “Faith-Sensitive OWL Programming for Community Outreach” to learn how to make your program as inclusive as possible.
  • Attend the National Sex Education Conference, if you are an Our Whole Lives facilitator or trainer, a health or sexuality education teacher, a health researcher, or someone curious about state-of-the-art sexuality education. The conference is hosted each December by the Center for Sex Ed, which is the national education division of Planned Parenthood of Central and Greater Northern New Jersey. The 2015 conference attracted 770 attendees from across the US and about two dozen other countries.
  • Read about Religious Diversity in America, as explained by Randall Balmer, Professor of American Religious History, Barnard College, Columbia University.
  • Explore religious diversity by reading a Pew Research Center article on Global Religious Diversity

About the Blogger

Melanie Davis is the Our Whole Lives Program Associate in the Faith Development Office of the Unitarian Universalist Association.


Amy Johnson and Melanie Davis in their OWL finery.

OWL-print PJs
Melanie Davis

Melanie Davis