Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

Spirt Play training day–great success
May 18, 2009, 3:12 pm
Filed under: Children and Youth, Family Ministry

Saturday from 9-5 the UU Society of Sacramento hosted a training by Nita Penfold, D.Min, the  author/coordinator of the Spirit Play religious education method for UU congregations.  Due to the expense of brining her from Massachusetts, I had promoted it to district religious educators and ended up with a long waiting list for the precious 15 spots.

We had 8 from this church, three each from two other Central Valley congregations and an MRE from the Bay Area.

Wow!  The training was good and the method appealing for many reasons.  What struck me the most was how deeply it moved the teachers and RE professionals.

We experienced a model classroom with Nita as Storyteller and Janet as Doorkeeper, and the rest of us as UU kids.  In spite of a few post-prandial nodding heads during a slide show, we left inspired and renewed at 5 PM.  I have earlier postings on the blog in which I pitch Spirit Play to our members and explain the approach.

The big work now is ramping up to offer this story-based program in the fall (likely for 1st-3rd graders and 4th-5th graders).  This involves dedicating a classroom and having enough shelves and cabinets for the individual story sets, and then making items for as many story sets as we’d like to start with.  Nita has given us hundreds of stories with notes about materials to make or buy for each story set (which is to be kept in a basket or nice box), but she encouraged us to ask all our members for suggestions, including those from congregational history:  “What story do you think that our kids should be sure to learn in their participation in RE?”

We will demonstrate, explain and promote the launching of Spirit Play to our parents, lay leaders, artists, artisans, inventors and various handy members so they (I mean you!) can help to get our story elements together.  Two DREs and I may see if our three churches can share the work of making the story sets ; it’s easier to make three copies of a few story sets than making every set ourselves.

We also seek to invite and train a few more Story Tellers as well as several of the special assistants known as Door Keepers.

Orientation sessions will be crucial for parents and children, as Spirit Play is not just another curriculum.  It is a different method altogether.  It includes special rituals as we create a sacred space and time in the classroom.

I expect this to be an inspiring and memorable RE ministry for our younger children as well as our volunteers.  Moreover, it promises to be  sustainable and broadly-supported program in our congregation.

Many thanks to those who gave of their time to attend and to my coach and colleague Michelle F. for having recommended this method of RE ministry to me and then welcoming two of our lay leaders on a Sunday visit to Oakland.

My Vote for UUA President
May 17, 2009, 7:24 pm
Filed under: UUA Presidential Campaigns

Sometimes during previous UUA presidential election campaigns I voted for a candidate who had the support of accomplished and revered colleagues who knew the person well and could articulate the candidate’s gifts and accomplishments to me.  Sometimes I put my support behind a candidate whom I had known up close over a stretch of time.  This time, I will be voting for the candidate who fits both of those descriptions, Laurel Hallman.

I think the UUA will be well served by either of the current candidates. I think we have been well served by the dialogue that Peter and Laurel have conducted with each other.  Moreover, they have  sparked important conversations among volunteer and professional leaders about our congregations and the future of our movement.  I am glad that Peter entered the race, but I am voting for Laurel.

Many months ago I heard that Laurel was being urged to run for UUA president and was considering it seriously.  I found this hard to believe, but was thrilled to hear it, so I emailed Laurel to tell her how I felt and give my own encouragement.   Since then, close colleagues and friends of mine–experienced, wise and brave ministers who have taught me so much about ministry–lined up to endorse her and join her campaign team.

Twenty-seven years ago (surely not that long ago!) in Bloomington, Indiana, a group of undergraduate friends and I walked into a church that we had just learned about.  This is how Laurel Hallman became not only the first Unitarian Universalist minister I’d ever heard but also the first female minister I’d ever heard.  We were gleeful and nearly incredulous at her choice of relevant, real-life sermon topics,  and touched by her accessible, intelligent and powerful preaching.  I recall with gratitude her friendliness and approachability.

We kept going to church there for the rest of my senior year of college.  My attraction to this faith and my discernment of a call to ministry began in those encounters with Laurel Hallman.  Of course, you can read stories from countless people inspired by Laurel in significant ways.  My story is not exceptional, but it matters to me because I found this faith at a crucial and scary time in my life.  Finding it has transformed my life.

During that same  year, a close friend was having intellectual and spiritual difficulties with his Roman Catholic faith. The rest of us raved about Laurel’s wisdom and intelligence, and we urged him to ask her for pastoral counseling.  She generously gave him some of her precious time and listening presence.  She didn’t convert him or otherwise help him leave his admittedly flawed church, because that did not turn out to be what he was seeking.  She helped him discern his longing, clarify his thinking, and reclaim his faith in ways that would sustain him and help him keep his integrity.  Last year I saw him for the first time in 23 years.  He’s a college professor with a longtime male partner and a 10 year old child.  He remains a committed Catholic and he won’t let any right-wing archbishop take his faith away from him.  He recalled for me how helpful Laurel had been to him as a young adult, and how smart and wise she was.   Laurel’s ministry to my Catholic friend exemplifies the generosity of our faith.

In 1991 as a lay person I attended a convocation of UUs for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns (now Interweave) at Laurel’s large church in Dallas.   By that year AIDS was killing off thousands of gay men among many other people on the margins of society.  We learned of Laurel’s leadership in the community and her guidance of the church’s pastoral and practical ministries to those suffering from the symptoms of AIDS and its stigma.

Laurel led the welcoming worship for us on Friday night and preached a sermon on Sunday in honor of our gathering.  She spoke of the need to live with one foot in each of two worlds:  the real world and the possible one, the world that we were yet to achieve.  Many of us were in tears.  I recall few of the sermon titles or messages I’ve heard over the years, but I remember that one.  I recall also that she began the service by introducing by name each one of her ministerial colleagues who was present for the conference.  Laurel’s gestures of welcome and her church’s leadership in its community exemplify the generosity of our faith.

All this took place long before I knew that Laurel had been a DRE at a large church in Minnesota, where she forged a new, spiritually rich children’s RE curriculum called Images for Our Lives. This was long before I saw her “Living by Heart” video, which introduced spiritual disciplines that could appeal to people for whom old religious terms or traditional practices were impediments.  It was before I learned that so many congregations are made ineffectual or even hurtful by a lack of transparency, an absence of mission, or a failure to practice covenantal relationships.  Laurel’s current and former parishioners (including key lay leaders where I serve) testify to the remarkable health, growth and effectiveness of the Dallas congregation during Laurel’s decades of collaborative and accountable stewardship there.

Laurel has long experience in policy-based governance, which the UUA Board is adopting as it strives to clarify leadership roles and empower the administration to pursue clear goals and achieve measurable outcomes.

She  has raised daunting amounts of money for expansions of her church’s physical plant and for expansions of its ministries within and beyond the congregation.  The burden and relentlessness of fundraising is a large but little acknowledged part of the UUA president’s job.  Laurel’s past challenges and successes have prepared her for this job.

Laurel has mentored seminary interns into skillful and confident ministers. She has been a leader in her city and interfaith community, especially in working for local economic justice.  She has led countless church members into discerning their own ministries as laypersons and living them out in the world.

I am happy to be voting for Laurel Hallman.  Her  leadership continues to encourage my faith in the possibilities for our congregations and the future of our movement.

Candidates Speak to the Pacific Central District–Part 2
May 17, 2009, 3:55 pm
Filed under: UUA Presidential Campaigns

(To recap from Part 1: Linda Laskowski, our brilliant PCD trustee to the UUA Board, and I saw the same UUA presidential candidate presentations at our recent District Assembly but we came away with different conclusions.) 

I enjoy Peter Morales’s energy and way with words, and I agree he
knows how to fire up a crowd of UUs, but as a district board member
here I had been expecting that both leaders would be giving a major
address, not a stump speech.

Peter made a lively campaign appearance in the morning. Though Laurel
Hallman did take audience questions in her post-dinner address, she
first gave a strong, thoughtful, research-based and visionary address
to us about a window of opportunity for the liberal church: the
Millenial Generation of young adults, born UUs and unchurched alike.

Demographically, they are the most multi-ethnic generation of adults
ever; they are more numerous than the Baby Boomers were. Spiritually,
Millenials are now in an open yet risky phase of life; they yearn for
depth, meaning and purpose; they want to make a difference in the
world. Furthermore, Laurel said, the Millenials (unlike the earlier
Generation Y) are NOT anti-institution. Thank God!

If we are to be relevant to the worlds around us, if we are to be true
to our spiritual legacy, if we are to walk the walk, it is more than a
calling that our congregations learn how to minister to Millenials–it
is a necessity, a demand. That’s what I took away from her heartfelt

Laurel did something better than stir us up: she challenged us to
start with ourselves. Laurel called on us to encourage young adults
to find their depth by seeking our own depth, to promote their growth
by attending to our own growth, to help them gain spiritual maturity
by becoming spiritually mature ourselves. In other words, we can’t
feed the spiritually hungry until we can be present to our own hunger
and until we can know what it means to be fed.

Who are the “ourselves” to whom Laurel makes these challenges? I
think she is addressing the current keepers of the flame and the
sitters on the franchise.

Yet I trust that she will not just exhort us to change, she will bring her gifts of wisdom, experience, tenacity and courage to guide and help congregations and congregation members
transform themselves and the communities beyond our church walls.

Candidates Speak to the Pacific Central District-Part 1
May 17, 2009, 2:51 pm
Filed under: UUA Presidential Campaigns

Our excellent and beloved PCD trustee to the UUA Board and I saw the same candidate presentations at District Assembly but came away with different conclusions.  

Trustee Linda Laskowski recalled that in “their first 100 days in office” Peter Morales said he would pursue his vision with urgency and Laurel Hallman said she would start with the staff.  Linda said Laurel’s intention is appropriate but it’s not what the crowds want to hear in a campaign.  Sure, and I would add that it may not be what we want to hear in a president’s address at General Assembly.  

Well, we’ve been fired up and urged on by excellent presidential orators for decades, but those convention-hall altar calls have not correlated with any growth in the UUA ‘s membership numbers.  

Remembering that the growth of our movement relies on the growth of local congregations, my urgent concern is for wisdom and leadership to help congregations achieve health, strength, depth, relevance and effectiveness in  our local communities.

With most organizations, your best assets are your people, the relationships among them, and the health of the system. I am heartened that as a leader Laurel wants to attend to the health and strength of her first and best resource.  

The UUA President heads a team of people who work for an organization with a religious purpose:  to serve congregations and extend the reach of our faith.  

There is deep dedication and talent among UUA staff at all levels.  We put incredible expectations on them; many of them work too much.  Soon, due to lost revenues, we’ll have fewer of them to do all that work.  Maybe it will fortify those who remain if they pause to ask:  Just what are we doing here?  Given how hard this work is, what’s in in for me?  

Whether in time of financial crisis or not, in individual church leaders might pause to ask ourselves and one another the same questions.

Religious Education is dead.

Religious Education is dead. 

Long live Religious Education! 

Family Minister’s newsletter column June 2008

The academic model of Religious Education has outlived its relevance, usefulness and popularity.

 Long gone are the days when families had lives slow and simple enough to make it to church every single Sunday and when volunteers had the time to be in RE without interruption.  Long gone are the days when an RE teacher’s job was to pour information into eager minds and a kid’s job was to sit still and act interested.

For any age group, I think, RE is no longer a way to transmit facts about comparative religion, history, science or social action.  It must now be about transforming lives—all our lives. 

RE happens when we build relationships across generations in a committed spiritual community.  Of course, we do mention facts, recount history, learn about diverse religious practices.  But today the heart of RE is in the quality of the time that leaders and learners share together. 

RE happens when we ask questions and wonder at life, reflect on our experiences, affirm our convictions and celebrate small miracles (though no miracle is ever small).

Need some examples?  Our Community Garden offers endless essons about life, death, creation, nature, inter-dependence, and cooperation—for starters. The new Spirit Play model for RE centers on our love of stories—our favorite ones and those we turn into favorites by hearing them again and again or by acting them out. 

A visit to a synagogue, mosque, or Catholic mass helps us experience in our bodies the religious diversity which we say UUs affirm.  A field trip to a UU church in another city or country makes real for us the wide embrace of our tradition and the common bond of UU values.  Sitting in meditation as a group for just five minutes or singing songs by heart can help us learn what it really means to be one in spirit.  Playing games can keep us together in mirth and stretch us with new challenges. 

Serving in a soup kitchen invites reflection on the misfortunes and inequities of human life.  It can teach the difference between the one-way street of charity and the two-way street of compassionate connection.  Trying out a new skill with the help of an accomplished artist can help us express bold ideas, emotions, and inspirations.

Of course, this kind of RE may not mean less planning by a leader or less commitment to attendance by a learner.  Being in authentic relationships does take preparation and  presence.  I see you doing this for one another all year long. 

Thank you so much.





PS—Your ideas and help for our all-ages ministries are welcome.  How about a party in your back yard or around your pool?

Family Friendly Dinners May to July—Change to Citrus Heights?


I’ve had requests that we try a Family Friendly Restaurant Dinner at the Fresh Choice in Citrus Heights, to enable some of many distant members to attend without driving so far.  We who live closer to UUSS would have to drive a bit this time!  I’m up for it, how about you?  Please drop me a note if you have strong feelings either way.  If I book a weekday dinner in May, I’ll put it in my weekly email and Blue Sheet Announcements.  

I am open to other ideas for summer dinners, especially places with outdoor seating, but Fresh Choice is accessible for little kids, serves wholesome foods, and gives us 15% back!

Charity Begins at Home!
May 13, 2009, 10:58 am
Filed under: Children and Youth, Family Ministry

Charity Begins at Home!

But It Doesn’t End There

Family Minister’s newsletter column for February 2009

            In the 1960s and 70s, Mom and I attended a moderate Protestant

congregation.  Dad came along a few times a year.  Every Sunday Mom would

write a check to the church for $20.  I was struck by her voluntarily parting with hard-

earned money.  She explained that’s how the church was able to do its work,

pay the pastor, organist and secretary.  Wow! 

            The Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker (at our UU seminary in Berkeley) has said that she learned to tithe growing up in a Methodist family; the kids in the family would set aside 10% of their allowance for the church.  She continues that practice and encourages all UUs to do so. 

            As a seminary president, she speaks with many people to ask them to make large gifts and bequests for UU ministerial education. 

            Generous people with wealth tell her that they learned to give, to love giving,

from their families and  congregations.

Giving is a link to their ancestors and a way for them to shape the future.   

            It seems clear that charity begins at home—but it doesn’t end there! 

It connects us to all of humanity.  Giving brings a sense of wellbeing. 

            If you have kids, I invite you to show them how you help the world

financially.  For starters, consider the upcoming pledge drive as a teaching

opportunity.  You could explain that a pledge is a financial promise and even

show them a pledge card. You could show them your checkbook, noting

that money goes to pay bills and for vacations, entertainment, etc. 

            AND THEN you could say you give some of it away, tell them why, and tell them how it makes you feel to give money away.  Let me know how it goes. 




PS— Yes, this month is a great opportunity to engage in this learning and giving practice, as UUSS launches our Stewardship Drive to support the programs, people, outreach and other ministries of the congregation, to promote the warmth of community and the fire of commitment.  It is the time when members and friends make their financial pledge to UUSS for the upcoming fiscal year, which will start July 1.