Why I am a Professional Unitarian Universalist Religious Educator.

“The great end in religious instruction is not …to impose religion upon them in the form of arbitrary rules, but to awaken the conscience, the moral discernment.”
~ William Ellery Channing, from Singing the Living Tradition, reading 652

The 3rd Principle of the UUA affirms the importance of “encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.” As such, Faith Development is a duty of the congregation and Religious Education is a service that we must offer in various forms to reach as many people as possible. We are called to growth with no stated end-point, and so faith development should be seen as a life-long process that we never truly complete.

The goal of religious education in a Unitarian Universalist setting is not conformity but conscience; not creed, but critical thinking. It is, in short, to make better citizens of our members; to help them be people who work and fight for a more Just, Compassionate, and Equitable world.

To do this, we must treat Religious Education programming as a service, offered freely and where we expect participation. It should be held for the benefit of all who show up, regardless of their number, because the goal is engagement and not attendance. Having a deep impact on even one person is meaningful.

I don’t actually think of myself as a Religious Educator; to me that term sounds entirely too academic. While I am certainly capable of giving lectures and aiding in reports, it is not really my job to teach people how to act out or recognize religion.

I think of myself as a Faith Development Facilitator; my job is to help people connect to what is meaningful and help them find hope so that they can go out and do their bit of good in the wider world and to give them the tools to support one another when they come back to the church bruised and weary from doing their best in a world that often fights back against liberal reforms. My job is to help people find inspiration to live up to the aspirational Principles of the UUA and help build Beloved Community.

I know that some congregations can rely on dedicated volunteers to do all this work, and I hope that their time is considered as a real gift to the congregation. They are doing a real job in choosing curricula and training volunteers and keeping records. In even medium-sized congregations, this is a full-time investment of labor and skill. And they often have to turn to professionals who have created the tools that make their volunteer work fruitful.

I love this work, and I want nothing more than to be able to keep doing it while also paying my rent and keeping my kids happy and healthy. It’s a big ask of our congregations to invest in their church so that it can make programs like this possible AND compensate the professionals who are doing the work. I am lucky in that I have my own work offset somewhat by the beautiful community that has built up around the I Am UU page and the crowdfunding that you all provide. Many of my colleagues struggle more than I do to balance their calling with their needs.

If we want Religious Education to live up to its great ends, we need to give it the means. We have to do better at investing in the programs and the professionals who make them possible. We have to do it because it matters that we build programs that are more than sermons and coffee. We have to actively challenge ourselves in a lifelong pursuit if we are going to be the people Unitarian Universalism asks us to be.

To do this, we must treat Religious Education programming as a service, offered freely and where we expect participation; everyone should be part of some RE program every couple of years, whether they bolster or revise their deeply held convictions. It should be held for the benefit of all who show up, regardless of their number, because the goal is engagement and not attendance. Attendance numbers alone cannot measure the real value of RE programming. Having a deep impact on even one person is meaningful.

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