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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Families, Finances, and Faith

Presented by Rev. Diane Teichert and Carol Boston, Worship Associate


Families, Finances, and Faith

A sermon preached by the Reverend Diane Teichert

Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church

November 10, 2013

 

I love what we read together a few moments ago, by Antoine de St.-Exupery, author of the classic tale The Little Prince, from his book Wisdom of the Sands published after his death.

“In a house which becomes a home,
one hands down and another takes up
the heritage of mind and heart,
laughter and tears, musings and deeds.”

A house of worship, like this lovely one in the woods, becomes a home away from home that conveys this same heritage across the generations and provides a setting for the ceremonies of our passage.


“Let us bring up our children. It is not
the place of some official to hand to them
their heritage.”

No, it is not the place of some official. But it is not the job of just the parents.  The job used to be shared with extended families, but most of us live too far from those to whom we are related by blood and marriage for that to work. So, as Worship Associate Carol Boston said in her Chalice Reflection today, belonging to this religious community supports family life, providing resources beyond that of the parents. Paint Branch UU Church is the proverbial village in which we help each other raise the children.

“We live, not by things, but by the meanings
of things. It is needful to transmit the passwords
from generation to generation.”

This is where elders and little ones form bonds over jigsaw puzzles. This is where middle school kids get to know adults who share their parents’ values while building a park bench, or as ours are doing this year – learning about other religions and visiting their nearby houses of worship. This is where elementary school children and adults who may not have children or whose kids may be grown learn from each other, through sharing stories sitting in a circle on the floor. Powerful learning and meaningful relationships happen here, within and across generations.

But, the challenge of doing church in our times is this: regular, weekly attendance in houses of worship – most, not just ours – is simply not that common among American families. So, while all these good things DO happen on Sunday mornings and at special community events, people aren’t necessarily here to partake! Irregular infrequent attendance gets in the way of deep bonds forming among people, within or across age groups. And it also gets in the way of deep faith formation. We will return to that theme in a moment.

Last April, our then Director of Religious Exploration, Erica Shadowsong, and I jointly preached a sermon called “Church in the Social Media Age.” This sermon today is a sequel to that one and might be called “Religious Exploration in the Social Media Age,” except that sounded to me more like a space probe than a sermon!

In that sermon last April, after talking quite a bit about the Internet, social media, and on-line resources, we said that to us the really important question for a real-time, bricks-and-mortar/wooden-deck in the woods kind of UU congregation like ours is: How can we transform our congregational culture so that it better reflects the things that make digital ministry so appealing and so effective?

What is it that people experience in on-line social networking? Erica said she values social media because through it new voices are heard and authorities are challenged. The relatively young Worship Associate that day, Celinda Marsh, said she values social media because it affords her glimpses into the joys and sorrows of friends and family, glimpses she would not otherwise have because of time or distance. And, even though I was still less than a year on Face Book, I said I value social media for the honest intimacy with which people share their most momentary and/or most momentous experiences.

And, then we asked, when those who grew up with computers and are adept with the latest in social media, arrive here on Sunday morning, do they find honestly intimate interactions here? Hearts and minds open to the joys and sorrows, momentary and momentous, of their lives? Do social media savvy visitors, or new staff, feel that their voices are truly heard and their ideas fully tried out, and do those who are in authority allow ourselves to be challenged by them to do things differently?

When social media savvy visitors take the chance of checking us out in person, I hope they do find those same desirable qualities… plus the spiritual, emotional and tactile benefits of eye-to-eye contact, visible facial expressions and body language, hand-shakes, and hugs!

Yes, we offer real, live, embodied relationships here. But there are certain changing realities about family life that keep people from attending regularly every Sunday, and when people are here, it’s only for a few hours.

What are those changing realities? You know. More young parents work outside the home, so their days off are spent shopping, doing chores and creating family-time that used to be handled by stay-at-home parents. More adults work on Sundays than thirty years ago when most retail and service establishments were closed. Finances play a role, too - more adults have multiple part-time jobs too, with lower relative income and the failure of the minimum wage to keep up. On the latter, stop by the Social Action Committee’s table in the Foyer if you’d like to support an increase or work on the issue of the widening wealth divide. And, of course, while there has always been golf on Sundays, kids sports compete with church more and more, too.

So, if for no other reason than the need for down-time, families may attend only once or twice a month. Therefore, another question for real-time, brick-and-mortar, wooden-deck-in-the-woods congregations like ours is:  how can digital ministry help transform the faith formation of today’s Unitarian Universalist families?

The professional organization for UU religious educators like ours, Dayna Edwards, is leading the way in realizing that if our Unitarian Universalist faith is going to be meaningful in people’s lives, it needs to be meaningful all week – not just on the few Sundays a month families attend. And if it’s going to be meaningful all week, it is the role of their church, their spiritual community, their congregation, to teach how to make Unitarian Universalism meaningful all week. And if we are going to do that, in these times, we need to employ the resources of the digital, social media age!

This is, surprisingly, something new. Up until now, most UU church staff have focused more on what happens on Sunday morning – in worship and in Religious Exploration for children and youth.

It used to be more common for families to live near extended family and to all attend the same house of worship, or if they moved, to stay within the same religious tradition. So, the religious values and rituals were passed along from one generation to the next alongside favorite recipes and shared hobbies. The role of the house of worship and its religious education program for children, youth and adults was only an augmentation or reinforcement of what the family taught.

These days, young parents checking out our church are likely to have not grown up in religious community or if they did it wasn’t Unitarian Universalism, so their extended family context doesn’t impart UU religious values or rituals and might even dislike them! And, as I’ve already said, few families will attend religiously every Sunday. So, if we at PBUUC don’t teach our folks how to infuse our faith tradition into our everyday lives, who will, and how will they come to embrace it enough to pass it down to the next generation?

As I look back on how my husband Don Milton and I raised our children, even though we went to our UU church nearly every single Sunday, we had only one home-based UU practice and we didn’t learn it at church. I’ve mentioned it here before.

I got the idea from my women friends who were mostly Jewish. They managed to have at least one family sit-down supper each week, because they observed the Sabbath. So I proposed a Friday Night Shabbat Supper and Don agreed he would get home from work in time for it, no matter what. We put a white tablecloth on the kitchen table, lit a candelabra his mother had given us, held hands and sang a song that we all knew because it was sung every Sunday in our congregation, and at some point in the meal, we went around the table and each person said something for which they were thankful from the week past. The menu was always agreeable to all and it was the only night of the week we definitely had dessert. The tradition lasted until the kids were well into their teenage years, when they could be heard to protest, “Why do we HAVE to be home for this? We’re not Jewish, Mom!”

I wish now that we had also had a daily UU chalice lighting before meals and a UU bedtime ritual in addition to reading a story and singing a lullaby. But, as parents, we needed some guidance, suggestions, support from the RE program to help us make those things happen. I’m glad that our UU church had a seasonal work party (for some strange reason, our kids loved to rake leaves there more than at home!). But, I wish it had also offered regular social justice or social service activities in which we all could have participated as a family, and more ways to extend our UU values into our everyday work, school and neighborhood lives.

Thankfully, UU religious educators today ARE developing new and creative ways for Unitarian Universalism to grow and thrive – despite the demands on family time – using the rise of social networks, the personalized Internet, and always-available mobile connectivity. The Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church Multi-Generational Playlist that Dayna told you about during Together Time is just one small example.

A recent paper is fueling this trend, from which the quotation at the top of our Order of Worship is taken. http://fullweekfaith.weebly.com/. Here is a sampling of its thought process:

“Why rethink RE? Our religious education ministries are significant cornerstones of congregational life. We have the blessing of high quality curricular resources available free and online through our UUA. We have gifted and creative Religious Educators and a veritable army of dedicated volunteer teachers staffing our Sunday mornings all across the continent.

At the same time, in most of our congregations, we have a model of religious education that focuses almost exclusively on the Sunday morning classroom experience. And we have families who are no longer coming to church every Sunday.

Many (perhaps most?) of our congregations have a traditional Sunday School model of RE that is based on the public education model, which itself arose from the social and economic context of the Industrial Age, although we spend the rest of our week firmly grounded in the digital/information age…

Anecdotally, we hear over and over from religious professionals that increasingly sporadic RE attendance creates a significant challenge to making sure all children receive the same lessons. We hear that the pressures on contemporary families make volunteer recruitment and teacher retention more and more difficult.

We know the world has changed much more drastically than our church programs have over the last half-century. So… I decided to step back and ask what if….

What if our ministries of Faith Formation did not center [so heavily] on Sunday mornings?

What if RE classes were more widely viewed as only a piece of our Faith Formation programs and ministry?

What if religious professionals believed that the product of their collaboration enabled the spiritual deepening and faith formation work of the whole congregation?

What if our congregations intentionally commissioned religious educators and ministers to spend as much time supporting and equipping our people to live faith-filled lives on all the other days of the week, as they currently spend shaping a single Sunday morning experience?”

These are the questions that framed Karen Bellavance-Grace’s thinking, and led her to dream a model of congregationally based faith formation ministry she calls Full Week Faith. It can be described, she says, “as a sort of mash-up of family ministry and first century mission-driven Church, with a faithful leveraging of technology and social media to magnify the breadth of our ministries.”

A Full Week Faith, Unitarian Universalism for seven days/week, taught and preached on Sundays, lived out all week in new ways.

The changes that this kind of thinking can lead to are in the making, in Unitarian Universalism more broadly, and here at PBUUC. If you find this intriguing, appalling, inspiring, galling, or absolutely on-target, please get involved. Attend the Friday night and/or Saturday afternoon workshop sessions this coming weekend.

It is called the RE Start-up Workshop because it is offered soon after a new Director of Religious Exploration comes on board in a congregation in our area, and is facilitated by our district staff, and we see it as an opportunity to step back from the weekly routine of planning for Sundays mornings, to tell our new DRE and any newcomers who attend about the history of programming for children and youth at PBUUC, and to consider together its 21st century future in this new world of ours. Please sign up in the Foyer today or phone, email, text or message me or Dayna to let us know you want to join us and the RE Committee for this important conversation.

As I’ve been saying this morning, when a Unitarian Universalist house of worship becomes a spiritual home, it hands down the heritage of mind and heart, laughter and tears, musings and deeds of our living faith tradition. It conveys this same heritage across the generations and provides a setting for the ceremonies of our passage. It supports families, and indeed all of us, in living - not by things - but by the meanings of things.

May it be so. Amen.

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Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church • 3215 Powder Mill Road • Adelphi, Maryland 20783-1097
301-937-3666 • Fax: 301-937-3667 • churchadmin@pbuuc.orgwebmaster@pbuuc.org

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