Main Content
A look at four different models of Religious Education in UU Congregations
New Paradigms for Religious Education in the 21st Century from LREDA
Faith Development

This was presented at the Liberal Religious Educators Association  (LREDA) fall conference in October 2004.  Four models were highlighted: “Way Cool Sunday School”, Workshop Rotation, Spirit Play and Small Group Ministry Model.

  1. “Way Cool Sunday School” is a model first used by the Rev. Greg Stewart in the Cleveland, Chicago and then Pasadena congregations. Spending a year on each principle, the goal was to articulate who we are and what we believe through direct experience. “Way Cool” uses the main ideas of liberation theology: praxis—as in doing, and reflection—connecting what we’ve done to our faith. In this model, the first Sunday is multiage worship around the theme, the second and third Sundays are “curriculum” Sundays, and the fourth Sunday is a multiage service project in partnership with the local community (fifth Sundays are arts/music days). “Way Cool” has been described as “engaging together to put hands and feet to our principles”. While the ultimate goal is social transformation, the “by products” for many congregations have been: significant growth, becoming more multicultural, having greater economic diversity as well as increased theological diversity, and personal transformation. Congregations have experienced more and more adults coming into Religious Education (RE), with much more interaction among all areas of the congregation. Read more about this model in the essay titles “Long Live Sunday School! Sunday School is Dead” found in The Essex Conversations.
  2. “Spirit Play” is a Montessori based Unitarian Universalist (UU) religious education program based on the work of Jerome Berryman, who developed the Christian education model called “Godly Play”. Berryman is an Episcopal priest who studied the Montessori Method and its religious implications with Sofia Cavalletti (Catechesis of the Good Shepherd) in Italy in 1971. Since then, he developed the Godly Play approach to Christian religious education with an emphasis on the function of religious language, parable, sacred story, and liturgical action in the moral and spiritual development of children. Nita Penfold, D. Min, Rev. Ralph Roberts, and Beverly Leute Bruce have re-interpreted this for UU religious education. See also Spirit Play, Godly Play, and the books Godly Play and Teaching Godly Play by Jerome Berryman.
  3. The “Small Group Ministry” model was begun in North Andover when in 2001, the Religious Education Committee decided to abandon the “Sunday School” model. In the words of religious educator Gail Forsyth-Vail, “Although it [the Sunday School model] had once served the parish well, it was no longer adequate to meet the needs of families, of children, and of the adults in the congregation. The [RE] Committee chose to offer Sunday morning worship and small group ministry as the means by which the parish would nurture and support faith development of children and of the adults who work with children.” The publication Adapting Small Group Ministry for Children’s Religious Education by Forsyth-Vail includes a description of the process involved in deciding to move to a new model, educating the congregation about the move, and implementing the decision. It also includes “nuts and bolts” about the North Parish program that may be useful to other congregations. Additionally, information about what was learned in the first year and improved in the second is included as well as thirty-one Sunday morning session plans that can be used and/or adapted. Adults in this model become facilitators and learners instead of “conveyors of facts.” The model also includes an emphasis on relationships, building a “spiritual tool kit,” and pastoral care. They begin with a half hour worship every Sunday and then proceed to intentionally mixed age groupings for a check-in, reflection piece, a segment about “carrying our faith into the world,” and ending with appreciations and closing. See also the essay “Teacher as Spirit Guide” by Bobbie Nelson in The Essex Conversations; there are many Small Group Ministry resources available at Small Group Ministry.
  4. Built around multiple intelligence theory, the Workshop Rotation (WR) model has been in use in Christian denominations for many years (see Rotation) and has more recently been adapted in both large and small UU congregations. WR was developed in the early 90’s by Nell McQueen as a model adaptable to all sizes and all budgets. WR “slows down” the learning process, giving children more time and different ways to process their learning, by focusing on one story per month with enriched learning environments. “Guides” are recruited to help make the “people connections” and workshop leaders are recruited based on their gifts and expertise.

    See a list of UU congregations using WR.

Essex Conversations:
Visions for Lifespan Religious Education

Essex Conversations Coordinating Committee
From Skinner House Books
Now available as an eBook in the Amazon Kindle Store.

For more information contact

Like, Share, Print, or Bookmark