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REflections from Wendy

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Wendy Weiss Southern,

Director of Religious Education

What an exciting time to become part of Westside’s Religious Education program! In my first few weeks as Director of Religious Education, I have been welcomed warmly by the congregation, the RE Committee and teachers, and the RE children and families. It is clear that this is a time of foundational work in this community. We are literally building from the ground up with the floor restoration this summer. I am eager to get to work with the RE Committee in re-visioning the RE classrooms and envisioning the RE program for the 2015/16 year.

My foundation began in Chicago, where I grew up loving the architecture of the skyline and the immensity of Lake Michigan. I loved living in a place of such diversity in culture, art, cuisine, and ethnic groups. In 1991, I left the city to finish my bachelor’s degree in Washington State. I returned to the Midwest a few years later for my Master’s studies in Secondary Education Language Arts in Northern Wisconsin. I moved again to the Pacific Northwest, this time Oregon, and taught composition courses at a community college there. I also worked as a volunteer manager at the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program. I moved to Knoxville in 2001. While raising our two young sons, I organized and taught in homeschooling cooperatives. I also volunteered in UU Religious Education committees and classrooms for several years. At the time, I felt that a potential career in Religious Education was an inspiring idea but wasn’t in a place to pursue it quite then.

I am so pleased that this inkling has taken root in this role for me at Westside at this time. The dedicated teams of RE Teachers and Committee Members (who are virtually one in the same) have held this program together through several transitions. They are a strong core group and their efforts have resulted in wonderful programs for the children and families of Westside. They certainly deserve our admiration and gratitude—please take a moment to thank them in person when you see them at church!

As the new DRE, I see my role as a facilitator in creating a vibrant RE program. My initial areas of focus revolve around supporting the program and strengthening its foundation. Increasing the number of volunteer teachers is a vital step for infusing the program with multigenerational energy and wisdom and expanding what it means to be in community here at Westside. Robust programs bloom from healthy congregations, where our gifts are shared freely throughout the activities of the church.

On my first Sunday as DRE I told the children, “I am looking forward to working with you, learning with you, and most importantly, playing with all of you.” Growing together in community is a joy we seek in life. We all want Westside to be a place where families bring their children to grow up in UU principles and explore and develop their own spiritual identities. Let’s work, learn, and play together to set into our foundation faith formation that engages our congregation as lifelong learners.

In spirit,


Watch for announcements detailing ways you can be involved in the RE Program. Please contact me if you would like to volunteer. We have many different opportunities to support the RE Program!

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