I began my lay ministry with youth as an RE teacher for the 4th/5th grade class,using the Toolbox of Faith curricula from Tapestry of Faith. The following year, the DRE (now the Rev.) Sara LaWall asked me to join the team for the Coming of Age class, which I did for four years. We used the Rev. Sarah Gibb Millspaugh’s book as a base to help them develop a sense of UU history, including our roots in the history of Christianity and Judaism, leading to them writing their own credo statement and preparing a service for the congregation at the end of the year in June. In 2012 I volunteered as program staff for PSWD’s Junior High winter camp, after which the then-Director of Camping Ministries, Danielle Bell, asked me to serve as a chaplain the following summer, and I continued for the next two summers after that. This work was so important to me that I delayed my CPE unit as long as possible so that I could continue serving the district and its youth in this way.
It was my privilege to be the camp chaplain during one of the most intensive, formative experiences in the lives of our youth and the district staff. My job was to lead blessings before each meal, to help the youth design their own worship services every day — and during elementary camp, to also offer a vespers service each night — and to be on call for pastoral care to both campers and staff 24/7.
Here is what I feel like often gets forgotten in the push to grow RE and attract young families to our congregations — our youth are not creatures to be cordoned off like a zoo exhibit. They must be treated like the full members of the congregation that they are. In Essex Conversations, Rev. Dr. Roberta Nelson quotes Parker Palmer as saying that “the old empower the young with their experience and the young empower the old with new life, re-weaving the fabric of the human community as they touch and turn.” Those of us who reap the rewards of our youth should be doing everything in our power to support them. Ultimately, for me, my philosophy of religious education is best summed up by Rev. Gary E. Smith: “I believe Unitarian Universalist religious education is about mutual respect.”
Religious education should be cradle to grave, as each of us has new things to learn about what it means to be a UU at each stage of our life — even our senior citizens.