This year promises to be one of exploration and experimentation. As we venture out, the feel of one of my favorite Talking Heads songs, “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)” resonates with its upbeat rhythm. In its lyrics though, a bittersweet depth in the undercurrent of the nature of relationship pulls at my heart. It’s the risk we take in opening up to each other that leaves us feeling a little raw and uncertain. But in any meaningful relationship, that’s where the juice is. I think we’re all, in our own way, looking for depth and connection. Naming it is a way to bring it into being.
As Reverend Carol discussed in her article last week, we’re undergoing some changes in our worship structure on Sundays starting in September. Rev. Carol and I have been in conversation for months with various committees and the Board in preparation for this change, focusing our energies and resources on a multigenerational congregation and integrating the various committees in this purpose. In the face of this uncharted adventure, I find myself energized, inspired, and optimistic mixed with a tinge of rawness, uncertainty, and apprehension.
I have observed the Religious Education Program for a year now, and it is clear that we have many strengths and boundless creativity in our volunteer teachers. The program is strong, our attendance is consistent, and the dedication to the program is congregation-wide. The RE Program is deeply valued here at Westside.
Yet, we are running the program through a small, core team of volunteers. So we need to be smart and sensitive about how we use our time and people resources so that we are not creating a culture of obligation in our congregation. In our past RE structure, teachers were missing out on the Sunday service and coffee hour. In short, they were missing out on the personal fulfillment of being members of the congregation and enjoying casual Sundays being social.
This is among one of the greatest benefits I see in our new structure. We are now shifting the Sunday routine to include RE teachers, parents, and volunteers in our Sunday worship and our congregation’s conversations. In creating a culture where families experience the service together, we continue to foster an environment where all the generations can speak to worship topics and explore them further with each other and in the RE classrooms. Last year we coordinated our lessons with worship topics each week. This year we deepen this element of RE as the teachers, as well as the children and youth, will experience the topics first hand in the service.
This year’s RE Program will introduce what I’m calling a “Collage Curriculum.” Each of our teachers in the Elementary Classroom has a particular interest and expertise that will express itself on a rotation throughout the month. Each Sunday a different teacher will offer their talents: Beth Sandidge will teach “Heart Talk,” our Compassionate Communication curriculum for children, intermingled with artistic expression; Linda Chavez has a love of a project based classroom and will combine science experiments and UU principles; Lorie Allion is our Spirit Play guru who will delve into story-based learning with the children to further explore worship themes. Our Youth Classroom will move to a Youth Group model in which we will actively participate in our community and explore the many ways to enact UU principles in our world. The third Sundays will be potluck where the entire congregation can share time and a meal together after the service.
In addition, we will have something to offer our teachers and parents at Westside—weekly adult RE classes. There’s a term I hold dear from my volunteer management background: “The care and feeding of volunteers.” While teaching is a form of worship and is a fulfilling endeavor, it is also a job that requires preparation outside of class and a certain amount of mental and physical stamina to manage a classroom of individual personalities and temperaments. Also, most of our teachers are parents who work full time. They need to be cared for too. They need the support of our congregation and a community they can lean into and be recharged.
We’re all looking for a home, a community. We all have an ideal version of what that might look like and we often communicate that in our volunteer work at Westside and our committee discussions. As UUs we tend to analyze and employ argumentation techniques as an inroad to expression. I’d like to return to that Talking Heads song and direct our attention for a moment to these lyrics:
The less we say about it the better
Make it up as we go along
Feet on the ground, head in the sky
It’s okay, I know nothing’s wrong, nothing
I got plenty of time
You’ve got light in your eyes
And you’re standing here beside me
I love the passing of time
Never for money, always for love…
So while this worship structure concept might feel a little unhinged at the moment, it’s a time to offer each other deep trust in the process. We are truly creating it together as we go. It’s a rhythm we are breathing into life here at Westside. I’m truly looking forward to going through it with all of you, to make sense of the cognitive dissonance, to shape the chaos into creativity, to find the form in our exploration. Together.
RE registration will start on Aug. 21, the day of our Multigenerational Mind Meld Potluck, so look for our registration forms and this year’s RE Handbook in the lobby on Sundays from then through September 4.
New worship structure begins on September 4 with the Water Communion service. Following the service we will have the RE Kick-Off with our annual Water Play party during the RE class time starting around 12:15.