RE MATTERS: Bold Changes for Our Classroom Community

By Emmalinda MacLean

Director of Religious Education

At the beginning of February, we decided to change our Religious Education classes in a big way, and I like it. We went from five classrooms—nursery, preschool, elementary, junior high, and high school—down to just one, meaning that toddlers up through teenagers now gather in a large circle together every Sunday to light their chalice, and every week it’s been beautiful.


Just being a part of a large circle feels good. Many times over the past few years, we’ve held RE classes with only one or two children present, which can be wonderful, but almost anything is more fun when more people are there. As a faith community built on relationships instead of dogma, one of the greatest gifts we can give our children is the opportunity to build more relationships—and it’s been lovely to see that happening between children of different ages.

So for the past few weeks, our circle has included between 9-14 children and youth, ranging in age from 1 to 13; we sit on the carpet, light the chalice, and go around with a check-in question. The youngest children might not participate, but they’re still invited to join the circle (and given plenty of help and extra watching by our fabulous nursery caregiver, Sarah Siskin).


Then I’ll introduce the theme for the day, which is taken from our Soul Matters monthly ministry themes. February’s theme was “Identity”; March is “Risk.” We may read a picture book or show a video, or have a short discussion on the day’s topic. Participants can access and process these themes on whatever level is developmentally appropriate for them.


Next, we’ll introduce the activities available for everyone to choose from, and children can self-select the station that most interests them. Typically, we’ll have two or three choices: something artistic/creative and something physical/active, or something geared for older kids and something for younger kids. We’ve been offering one project at each table and one game on the carpet, with one or two adult volunteers to supervise each activity, and everyone seems to enjoy this freedom of choice and the flexibility it brings.


And I know parents can be desperate for this kind of flexibility too; I want our program to meet the needs of hardworking, over-scheduled, 21st-century families. The average Emerson family attends church about once a month, which can mean very little consistency from week to week in who is present; the Children’s Chapel allows greater familiarity and more contact with other children in their church community. It also has the added bonus of requiring fewer volunteers to run effectively, which eases pressure on busy parents, too.


Of course, I miss you all when you’re not here, and I enthusiastically encourage families to increase their Sundays-per-month attendance, but I understand the many demands for weekend time can make this difficult. That’s why Rev. Matthew and I are exploring resources available for at-home faith development and spiritual exploration; I’ll be sharing materials via my weekly parents’ email and the Emersonians Facebook group to support conversations and activities that enrich your family’s spiritual life outside of church, as well as the Sunday mornings when you’re here.


But I continue to believe, as I think many of you do, that community is the great gift of being a Unitarian Universalist—and at least for children, community happens in person. That’s why it’s been so uplifting to see the older children reaching out to include preschoolers, and to see younger children warming to the attentive listening of elementary-schoolers; real connections are happening. The work of welcoming and including those who are different from you is in full view in our RE classes now, and it sure looks fun.


Posters made by preschoolers through 8th graders in a wide-age-range activity now decorate the church fence that faces Jordan Ave.