My whole path to ministry really began in Room 104 at the First Unitarian Society of Chicago. It was there that I co-taught Neighboring Faiths to a bunch of 5th & 6th graders. From there, as you may have read in other places in my information, I went on to serve on my church’s Religious Education Committee and, if not directly, from there I went to take my first job as the Director of Religious Education for nearby Beverly Unitarian Universalist Church, also in Chicago.
I think because of my experience, I have an inherent interest in religious education and I see its value to the life of a congregation.
In my ten years in ministry I have worked with 4 religious educators, and I have tried to support them in the professionalization of their work. Somewhat unusually, though as I reflect on my past co-workers, I realize that three of them were male identified. I was responsible for the hiring of one of these four persons, the others were folks I inherited in the systems in which I worked.
There was a time in a smaller congregation that I served that our Religious Educator moved on in her ministerial formation and she became our Affiliated Community Minister. The picture to the left is Rev. Rina and I on Christmas Eve. Rather than replace her role, we went to a lead teacher model, which was fairly successful for three years until our merger with the larger congregation.
While I have a deep interest in Religious Education for all age groups, I also am mindful that this is often someone else’s primary role and my role is to support the work of that person. I am happily and readily available to teach a course, or guest teach a class (especially if I get a chance to do so with the younger folks).
Because I am the minister, and a bit of a history nerd, I’m often asked to teach about our history as a faith. I’m also asked to teach about theology, which of course makes perfect sense. I’m happy to teach both Adult and Youth RE on these topics.
Rev. Joe & Rev. Rina 2017
I have in two of the congregations I’ve served created a Wednesday Lunch Bunch, in which folks who are free during the day (retirement, flexible schedules or between positions) come together for lunch and a documentary. This serves as a religious education class in that it keeps the mind engaged, but it is also designed to provide a little sociability to folks who might otherwise be spending a lot of time alone. It tends to be popular with the retired set, but we do have others, and our conversation is always lively! When the group was meeting pre-CoVid, each brought their own lunches, though I can’t seem to get them to stop bringing cookies to share. The group also decides collectively what they’d like to learn about, so it really is group driven.
I’ve also created a program that I’ve called Twilight Zone and Theology, which has often met after church on Sundays. In this program, we watch a random episode of Twilight Zone and talk about the theological themes in that episode. Each meeting I will ask the gathered viewers “Where is the Unitarianism in this one?”
Reading to some of our kids at our congregation's family camping trip. (That book, Brave, was read about 50 times that weekend...)
Of course part of our Sunday services would always be intergenerational, because one of the things I feel very strongly about is that in order for us to teach our children about our faith and to teach them that we want them to continue to practice this faith their whole lives, we have to be able to demonstrate to them that they belong and are valued in service as well as in the classrooms.
It is one of my aims as a minister to help create lifelong Unitarian Universalists, and religious education and youth engagement is a very important component of this mission.