Some things to consider as many congregations start getting their budget ready for the spring congregational meetings:
Who are the most vulnerable people in your church?
Who are the people who are the most impressionable?
Who are the people who need the most guidance in their search for truth and meaning?
Which group of people traditionally gets the least attention from the Minister?
Which group of people can expect to see their programs cut first when the budget isn’t what we hoped it would be?
The answer to most of those questions, in most Unitarian Universalist churches, is “children”, and that is a very sad reality in a faith where “spiritual growth” is stated as a thing every congregation will encourage in its members and where we think of Religious Educator as a career path and calling rather than (as it is in many Christian traditions), the entry level job for aspiring ministers.
Whether you call it Religious Education, Religious Exploration, Faith Development, Faith Formation, or you’ve got a unique name for the program, a UU church needs to have a committee for addressing the specific needs of its children, and your children deserve more than morality stories and macaroni art. And, honestly, your adults can probably benefit from some professional guidance in their programming as well. As I’ve written many times before, since that goal of “spiritual growth” does not come with a final goal or end point, faith development is not just for the kids in a Unitarian Universalist church.
Investing in faith formation and in a professional to lead the congregation in faith development is, to my mind, an essential investment for any congregation that can manage it. It is why, as I learned about UU history, theology, and polity, I realized that Religious Education was my calling, instead of Clergy. Yes, we need people trained to do pastoral care and who can deliver a moving sermon and who can address the deep questions when adults have a crisis of conscience or of identity, but we also very much need people who understand the stages of faith development and how to address someone where they are and who focus on programming that engages the membership and gets them to open up to one another. In a small congregation, a minister with the right skills and interests might be able to do all of that, but that is what a professional Director of Religious Education does all the time.
And when it comes to community building and support, I promise more of that happens in small groups than in even the best sermons.
So it is really frustrating to know that one of the first places most congregations look for cuts to the budget is in RE. I understand that the children aren’t the ones pledging to the church, but I know that they are the reason many of you came to your congregation in the first place. I understand that a lot of the labor is still done by volunteers; that’s because the DRE because the best DRE can only be in one place at a time and sometimes, that place is at home or in class. I now all the reasons that cuts to RE are easy to justify. They don’t really hold up, though, if we look at the promises we make to our members and to the world.
So, please really read your mission statement and vision. Can you really be the community that you aspire to be if you aren’t investing all that you can into faith formation and, especially, into quality programs for your children and youth? Don’t they deserve a professional who meets the needs that come with their changing bodies and minds? Don’t your adults deserve to have someone to help guide the hard conversations and encourage people in their discomfort. Isn’t there need for professional leadership in your own faith development.