This last school year seems to be divided between pre- and post-onset of the Coronavirus. In the last three months, we, as a culture and as individuals, have had to adapt, grow, be agile and resourceful, show up for each other, question safety, learn new things, try new things, do new things, change our habits and routines and our minds. These challenges have required spiritual resiliency and strong moral character. This is exactly what Religious Education is about.
Pre-Coronavirus, we were working towards these ends through Religious Education events, programs, and classes such as Harry Potter and UU, Coming of Age, and Our Whole Lives. Harry Potter and UU was so successful, we are planning to run it again this coming year. It seemed almost all the teachers, youth, and families had contributions to offer to the curriculum and classroom. The creation process reminded me of the Stone Soup story; “Oh, I think I’ve got a few witch hats at home” or “I’m pretty sure we have a couple of wands in the closet.” Somehow, almost magically, witch and wizard robes appeared, an Owlery (for all the owls) was formed, dozens of brooms were made, and all sorts of potions, costumes, tapestries, and even an ancestor portrait found their way to the Hogwarts classroom. It was my pure joy to get to be “Julius Dumbledore” this year. The class, Dumbledore’s Army, worked on fighting many Horcruxes including poverty, homelessness, violence, and environmental degradation.
Another beloved program we offered this year is Our Whole Lives (OWL). OWL is an honest, age-appropriate sexuality education program created by the UUA and the United Church of Christ. OWL supports human development and affirms the worth and dignity of all. OWL is a resource-intensive program to offer and requires extensive facilitator training. It is worth every effort, as it is in line with our overall mission and UU values and truly saves lives. We offered 10 weeks of Adult OWL and 10 weeks of 5th grade OWL in the fall, and we were running the year-long 8th grade OWL as well as the spring 1st grade OWL classes until campus closed in March. Unfortunately, these classes cannot be transferred online at this point because of privacy issues. We hope to offer the remaining four 8th grade OWL sessions at a later date, so those participants can complete the full curriculum. We’re also talking about offering a week-long 8th grade OWL camp during the summer of 2021, as we are unlikely to be able to offer it this coming year.
Beginning March 15, we shifted as much Religious Education programming online as we possibly could. It was an incredible feat of adaptability, generosity, flexibility, resourcefulness, and creativity. The R.E. teachers truly lived out our aspirations to have, “open minds, open hearts, open hands.” I created training to support connective, meaningful video calls, and the teachers helped each other develop new tools to carry on really good R.E. in an online setting. Thank you, amazing volunteers.
There is an oft-used expression among Religious Educators: "The congregation is the curriculum." This phrase means that the real, live things happening between members in a congregation supersede any pre-pared curriculum in Religious Education. For example, the moment of welcoming a new person into a class is more important than talking about the value of welcome theoretically. In the wake of the Coronavirus, we allowed the virus and its impacts to shape our curriculum. The pandemic became a central doorway to spiritual conversation and growth for our young people.