By Emmalinda MacLean
Director, Religious Education
The RE committee is in the thick of our big push to recruit teachers and assistants for classes that begin September 18th, and it’s a tall order: we need two adults for every classroom, every Sunday, for each of our five classes: nursery, preschool, elementary, junior high, and high school. We are asking for volunteers to commit to just one Sunday a month—although signing up for two is greatly appreciated, and strengthens the sense of continuity and consistency for the children. But if you do the math, you can see that our RE program takes a considerable volunteer force!
But teaching or assisting is not some great martyr’s burden to shoulder. If you ask most people who have taught in the past, they’ll agree that most Sundays in the classroom are fun, easy to step into, and richly meaningful. By signing up, you’re taking on a valuable role in the church community; you’re part of the team that ensures our congregation “walks the walk” of welcoming and including everyone—specifically, those most vulnerable and in need of care, our children.
Many volunteers have told me what a valuable spiritual education their RE class was for them, too. I expect that this year will offer the most meaningful multi-generational explorations yet: our preschool and elementary groups will be using curriculum from “Soul Matters”, a church-wide program Emerson is launching under our new minister, Rev. Matthew. Read more about Soul Matters here http://www.emersonuuc.org/ministers-column-soul-matters/.
Soul Matters gives the whole congregation a theme to focus on for each month, and provides worship materials, Small Group Ministry discussions, and RE lesson plans that all connect to the month’s theme. Teachers in preschool and elementary will get to think even more deeply about these spiritual themes as they help children process their own understanding, and will be able to enrich the conversations of church adults with the questions, insights, and humor of the children in their classes.
Meanwhile, the middle school group is taking a tour of world religions with the Building Bridges curriculum, so if you find the study of other traditions fascinating, or you’d like to brush up your knowledge of the basic beliefs of your fellow humans, that class promises to be a richly rewarding experience. The high school youth, who will be meeting after the service this year, essentially design their own curriculum—adults advising this age group support and empower teens to make their own decisions about what they would like to put into, and get out of, their church experience.
If all of this sounds appealing, but you’re still wondering about the nuts-and-bolts of what volunteering actually requires, here are some more details:
- I ask teachers to arrive 15-20 minutes before service starts on the Sunday they teach, to check in with me about how the classroom is set up and what materials or supplies I’ve prepared.
- Volunteers can attend the first part of worship services, up through the story and the children’s affirmation; they leave when the children are sung out to RE classes.
- The exception to this is a nursery assistant, who may be needed in the nursery during the first part of service.
- Classes end shortly after service ends, usually about 45 minutes. If there doesn’t end up being time for every activity in the lesson, don’t worry! The important thing is that you made time to connect with the children who are present.
- During the week before your class, I’ll email you a link with the lesson plan, and any suggestions I have or options for you to choose from.
- I will usually get all your supplies together for you, I just want to hear back from you to know that you’ll be there, that you’ve read over the lesson, and that you’re comfortable with it!
- The teacher training for all volunteers will be Saturday, September 10th; there will be a two-hour time block for each age group’s teaching team, and lunch will be provided. This is valuable time to connect with your fellow teachers and covenant around how to present a consistent and familiar classroom experience!
- Teaching teams can trade dates with each other; the schedule is flexible, so if something comes up and you need to swap the Sunday you teach, we can work it out.
You may be thinking, that all sounds fine, if everything goes according to plan—but what about when it doesn’t? Children can be unpredictable, and that can be intimidating. You’re right. If this is the big fear holding you back from signing up, I ask you to think about our third UU principle: “We covenant to affirm and promote acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth within our congregations”.
I’m not talking about children’s spiritual growth here; I’m talking about yours. Are you willing to get a little uncomfortable in order to exercise your spiritual-acceptance-muscles? Being around children is a powerful reminder of (oftentimes difficult) process of learning and growth—and walking with these children on their journey can be a meaningful lesson for your own growth, too. I’m not asking anybody to give up a day in church to babysit, so that the rest of the adults can have the real religious experience. I’m urging you to imagine that your own religious experience could include play-dough and plastic dinosaurs, or active games and arts-and-crafts. You may be surprised by the depth and the joy to be found there.
Please visit the 2016-17 Religious Education Volunteer Sign-Ups page to learn more and add your name, or look for the clipboards in the pavilion after service. Thank you for supporting our vibrant community of all ages!