Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

How Can “Religious Education” Be Religious When We Are Not Talking about “Religion”? –> this is Part 2 of 2

We chose ArtWorks last summer for several reasons.

1)  Art is a great way for kids of different school grades to work together, and for people of all generations of life to relate with one another, in contrast to discussions and lectures. This is how we build connections.

2) We try to develop multicultural awareness and competency here, for the sake of richness as well as our own relevant engagement in a diverse community.  Music and other arts are an obvious way to appreciate a variety of cultural traditions, outlooks, and ways of being.

3)  Many of our church families have erratic attendance patterns in the summer.  This interferes with the continuity of a typical, content-laden lesson we might offer over a few weeks.  (Of course, we still have continuity challenges in the other seasons, given family demands, school and sports activities, and joint-custody families.  Summer is even harder.)   ArtWorks lessons are relatively self-contained, so if you weren’t here last month you didn’t miss any information needed to get something out of a lesson this week.  Yet by starting with a gathering circle, introducing ourselves and

4)  What’s less appealing that being the only 10-year old in a classroom?  With reduced attendance in summer, having a hands-on lesson accessible to multiple ages is a way to have a critical mass in the classroom, and lively energy.  Based on these summer experiences, we now plan some all-community RE Sundays.  For example, on quarterly Community Garden Sunday in RE, various ages work together preparing, planting, and harvesting–and especially wandering and wondering– in the UURTH SONG garden at church, with the leadership of our garden coordinators.   (Next one is September 5.)  Two other times a year we have service projects, such as RE clean-up Sundays, at which we learn about the importance of giving back and of taking care of our shared community.

5)  Many of our adult members are busy in other aspects of church life, so they aren’t free to teach an ongoing course in RE.   A brief summer shift is more accessible to them.  For garden coordinators, For artists, the class preparation is familiar to them, since it relates to their own art and not to an ongoing lesson.  Many of our artists aren’t oriented to traditional “classroom” ways of engaging with religious topics, but they are inherently good at the spirituality of the creative process.  Indeed, through ArtWorks our children get to experience themselves as Creator.  They experience the Spirit of creativity inside themselves, and see the fruits of that Spirit in the results of their work.

6)  As religious liberals we do not see a strict boundary between what is secular and what is spiritual.   This is most obvious in our variety of musical choices.  Some music that is not labeled sacred touches the deepest places in many of us:  classical, folk, rock, new age,  show tunes.  Not ALL musical pieces in those genres, but I bet you can think of one song in each one of them that is inspiring or nourishing or comforting or healing for you.   This applies to all the arts, I think.   How about you?

7)  Art can be a source of personal challenge, experimentation, accomplishment, and a sense of competence and growing confidence.  With the encouragement of our artist/teachers and the help of their peers or older youth, our children learn about giving and receiving help, asking for assistance, and showing encouragement to one another.  And what do the teachers get out of this?  I asked one of our artists how his recent Origami teaching session had gone.  “Oh, I saw a few smiles.  That’s all that I work for!”

We offered ArtWorks again this summer because it was such a success last summer.  Teacher/artists, kid/artists, and parents of artists expressed joy and gratitude.  This year we are adding an art reception August 22.

Our UU forbear, the Rev. Sophia Lyon Fahs (1876-1978), was an innovator of experience-based Religious Education. That’s what we do with ArtWorks, to be sure, but it’s what the whole life of the congregation is about.  Experience-based religious learning and spiritual growth. In line with her, a leading Christian religious educator, John Westerhoff, says that “faith is caught, not taught.”

The way that children learn about religious values and tradition is through experience as a full participants in their religious community.  What aspects of community life can you think of?  When you think of one, think about what a person (child or adult) might learn about their church, themselves, or life by participating.

Attending worship is one way we do this, whether it’s for a whole service (which happens 9 Sundays a year) or for the first 15 minutes of a regular, before the children, youth and volunteer leaders depart for their RE.   Social or fellowship activities (like dinners, parties, or a weekend all-church camp), service projects, public-witness demonstrations, parades and Martin Luther King Day marches, prayer vigils, talent shows, concerts, and memorial services.

What do you think of this?  What have I left out?  What ideas does this generate?  Your comments to this blog are very welcome.  Meanwhile, I think I hear the theme to Cheers playing in my head!


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