First Unitarian's Approach To Religious Education
The First Unitarian Church of San José is a religious community that embraces all ages in a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. It begins on Sunday mornings when children, youth and adults all gather together for worship (which means to consider those things which have worth in our lives). For the first 30 minutes of the service we all come together as one community to affirm our connection with each other in song, poetry and story. Each week ,children are invited to come down and sit on the labyrinth at the center of our domed sanctuary to hear a story on the service's theme. After the morning's offering, children and youth go to a one-hour class exploring lessons from the world's religions, ethical living and spiritual practice. Each Sunday, classes are offered from nursery through high school.
A UU Philosophy of Religious Education
Unitarian Universalist Religious Education philosophy arises from our historical belief that each person is a unique embodiment of the divine and that no one faith, including Unitarian Universalism, has the completely revealed truth. Religion is an evolving and dynamic process that is a lifelong journey. And so we draw forth meaning to create our lives from many sources, including wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life. We intentionally create relationships with people of faith because they can teach us something about what it means to be a person who lives each day according to one's highest principles and values. For example, our fifth-grade class visits the Islamic Center, San José Buddhist Church Betsuin , Temple Emanu-El, a Hindu temple, Antioch Baptist Church and the Quaker San José Friends among others. Our Unitarian Universalist faith not only studies the world's religions but encourages each individual to develop spiritual practices that arise from those traditions. So among us there are Unitarian Universalists who practice Buddhism, attend Jewish High Holy Days or find meaning in Earth-centered traditions.
Rites of Passage
Unitarian Universalists believe that we were given the precious gift of life and with that gift comes the responsibility to give back to a world-in-need. Our rite-of-passage program for youth in eighth through 10th grades, Coming of Age, helps our young women and men embrace their power to make a difference in their lives and communities.
In all times and cultures the elders have passed on their life lessons to the next generation. Unitarian Universalism recognizes this important life transition by introducing youth to the words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love. Each youth with the help of an adult mentor crafts a yearlong learning/service program that leads them to understand what it means to live a compassionate life. For example, youth participate in a street retreat with the Faithful Fools in San Francisco's Tenderloin area to confront firsthand the realities of the poor and homeless.
Youth Backpack Trips
Another one of the important sources that Unitarian Universalists draw from is the spiritual teaching of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature. Since 1996 the church has led summer wilderness trips in the Sierras for youth. Youth leave behind the trappings of their electronic homes, put a pack on their backs, and get to know themselves and their trail companions in the fullness of nature's glory. The trips are part nature education, part community building, and part vision quest. Youth come out of the woods forever changed and deeply bonded with each other. Our large and strong youth program begins with a week in the woods which then lays the foundation through the high school years.
A Congregation for All Ages
Maria Harris, a prominent religious educator, has written that "A church does not have a religious education program. It is the religious education program!" It is as important how we are with each other as it is what we teach. Our first Unitarian Universalist Principle charges us to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of all persons. At the First Unitarian Church of San José we strive to integrate all our members, including children and youth, fully into the life of our community.
You are welcome to visit our classes and programs and to freely explore whether Unitarian Universalism would be a good fit for you and your family. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to further discuss Unitarian Universalism and our approach to religious education.
Yours in Peace,
Rev. Geoff Rimositis