Consider several factors as you integrate Our Whole Lives (OWL) into your religious education (RE) program: seasonal schedules, timing, space use, and hospitality to newcomers.
Offering Our Whole Lives to children and youth involves fitting the program into the congregation’s religious education calendar.
The eight sessions of Our Whole Lives for Kindergarten-1st Grade or Our Whole Lives for Grades 4-6 can be scheduled in a mid-year break in a year-long program, or between semesters in a semester model. Your district or regional staff may be able to put you in touch with congregations that have successfully incorporated Our Whole Lives children’s programs with a similar structure to yours.
Scheduling the 25 sessions of Our Whole Lives for Grades 7-9 can be a challenge (26 sessions, if you use the Pornography workshop published in Sexuality and Our Faith).Workshops can be offered weekly for a full year or can be grouped into longer sessions, overnights, or retreats. By clustering workshops, some congregations offer the grades 7-9 program in as few as 12 meetings. Many congregations consider the yearlong OWL program a cornerstone of their religious education program for young adolescents. Be intentional about scheduling, recognizing that adolescents need time to engage with content, process it and reflect on it before putting it into practice. Racing through the curriculum and clustering too many workshops into a small period of time are two scheduling methods that decrease learning potential,
The high school and adult levels of Our Whole Lives are the easiest to schedule, as their fourteen workshops offer more flexibility—the workshops can be broken down into shorter, stand-alone activities and discussions. After a parent orientation, the Grades 10-12 program can be integrated into youth group or classroom settings throughout the year, or grouped into weekend retreats. Similarly, an adult or young adult program could be run as a weekly adult religious education course offering for fourteen weeks, individual activities could be offered in small group meetings, or workshops could be grouped and offered at retreats.
Some congregations offer Our Whole Lives for children or youth on Sunday mornings. Other congregations offer Our Whole Lives on a Sunday afternoon, as an evening class, or as part of a retreat. Timing can affect participation, and each time slot has its advantages and disadvantages. Determine which timing works best for your congregation’s facilitators, parents, and participants.
Most congregations schedule Our Whole Lives in their religious education classrooms, their youth group meeting places, or nearby retreat centers. Appropriate meeting spaces for Our Whole Lives afford privacy for participants so that their personal sharing won’t be overheard.
Hospitality to Newcomers
When Our Whole Lives is offered to children and youth on Sunday mornings during the Sunday service, alternative activities need to be available for those who are not participating in OWL, whether they are newcomers or members’ children. Unlike other religious education offerings, the Our Whole Lives program is not available to visitors because participants' parents or guardians must first attend an orientation and sign permission slips. Many congregations close Our Whole Lives enrollment after the first few workshops because the group has already created a trusting, safe setting in which to explore sensitive topics.