A Letter from Our Interim Director of Faith Formation, Sara Sautter
As you know, I will be leaving you this summer after two years serving as your interim. By the time I leave, you will have hired a new, permanent religious educator with a new job description and portfolio that matches our learnings over the past two years.
What are those learnings? I’ll try to address most of them in the following paragraphs.
Faith Formation: An Act of Radical Welcome
During our Kick-Off Workshop facilitated by UUA staff member Annie Scott, families present told us they are hungry for the support our fellowship can provide them. We agreed to listen to what they need and commit to creating a family ministry that will respond to those needs.
Many families are no longer living in communities where their extended families are living. They are looking for a community of people who share their values where they will have support during the raising of their children. We created an Interim Faith Formation Task force in response. Read more here about the Interim Faith Formation Task Force.
Your permanent religious educator will need to build upon this learning, working across systems, committees and teams to enable the congregation to develop practices that move families from Guest to Member. And eventually to Leader.
Faith Formation in Worship: Learning to Shape Worth
Learning how to worship is a huge part of faith formation. I was surprised to see how well your children sat for up to 30 minutes in worship. The next step was helping them participate. And then gleaning meaning from the experience.
Faith formation in worship also requires learning by worship leaders, and adult congregants alongside the children. Do we want our faith to grow? Do we want transformative communities in the future that will serve our children and grandchildren? If so, we will need to be radically welcoming to children and their families. (See our Interim Task Force worship modeling all-community worship here).
Your permanent religious educator will need to work with worship leaders, musicians, choir directors and others to craft worship that feeds the needs of all participants, regardless of age. All-community worship is not worship that is “dumbed down” for youth. It is simply Good Worship. Filled with music, ritual, story and relationship.
Lifespan Faith Formation: Birth to Death
Our search for truth and meaning continues throughout our lives. Maturity and life experiences bring us clarity and often doubt. The meaningful search is best in the company of a faith community, those who share our values, understand and support our search.
In the past seven months we have offered seven classes, programs and self-paced opportunities for adults. We have reviewed and created stronger Covenant Groups. If we are lucky, adult faith formation will be transformative. And these transformations may be expressed through worship. See here worship that evolved from our adult class, “Humor, Hindsight and Hope.”
We have boldly experimented with new approaches to youth faith formation in the face of a global pandemic. Some new approaches have worked. For example: our play Black Lives Matter: A Talk Show by Kids, our Travelling Stuffys bringing anti-racism learning to preschoolers, our elementary anti-racism book boxes and our parents’ book boxes, The Gift of Faith.
And some have not. Our secondary youth participated in human sexuality classes online but did not find virtual youth group meaningful at all. Our Coming-of-Age program was cancelled.
Your permanent religious educator will need to bring creativity, experience and a willingness to learn and design new approaches that reach children and adults in a changing world. They will need to facilitate adults turning personal learnings into public ones (see our worship here.) As faith plays a smaller role in our culture, the permanent religious educator will need to creatively and responsively implement new approaches to hold up faith community as a foundation for a healthy and meaningful life.
Staffing for Growth: Faith into the Future
UUFD is growing. Your leadership had the choice of staffing for decline, maintenance or growth. They chose growth. In all things, change happens at the speed of trust. I urge you to trust your leadership.
The Interim Task Force met for a year, discussed our congregation’s mission, vision, and the resulting needs. The group was made up of families, elders, and current leaders. They recommended a full-time religious educator in order to fulfill those needs. See my mid-year report here.
I ask you, what is more important, our Sunday attendance number or how engaged the children are while developing a strong UU identity?
Your permanent religious educator will need to find The Sweet Spot, the place where our abilities match our vision. They will need to write, edit, staff for, and then redesign and re-implement programs (and then do it again…) that create a path for UU children to become UU adults. UU adults that carry our faith into the future.
Collaboration and Collegiality: A Systems Approach
Faith formation programming does not exist independently from of the rest of the fellowship’s programs. Our thematic ministry program is designed to keep our worship, adult faith formation and children’s faith formation connected and coordinated.
Membership does not exist independent of faith formation. Membership programs need to welcome all visitors. These programs will need input and collaboration with membership volunteers and staff.
Social Justice does not work independently of faith formation. Service Learning, teaching children how to serve others, is an important part of faith formation.
Your permanent religious educator will need to collaborate – daily, weekly, monthly – with staff, volunteers and leaders to bring faith formation into alignment with the congregation’s vision and mission. Faith formation needs to — must be — an extension of the evolving mission of the congregation.
Staffing as Social Justice: Living Our Values
As a faith community, we understand the role of social justice in staff compensation. We understand the importance of compensation that reflects the duties of our staff. Over the past two years you have wisely brought your religious educator, your minister and your administrator into UUA Fair Compensation standards.
Compensation is not the only form of justice in employment. In addition, wise leaders will consider the breadth of the staff member’s portfolio. As Unitarian Universalists we will not be exploitative. We will not hire staff with too few hours to adequately perform the duties we have outlined for them. See our updated Director of Faith Formation job description here.
Your leadership will need to hire an educator with adequate hours to accomplish their tasks. You will need to train them when needed, learn with them and support them in all things. We will not expect performance that requires more hours than what staff members are compensated for.
The Bottom Line
You have spent time in deep listening and learning over the past two years. You are changed. And so am I.
I am grateful for the past two years we have spent together, in community and in learning. Sometimes it has been difficult, but many times it has been filled with joy and mutual learning. I hope our work together leads to a stronger, inclusive community that attracts and supports congregational growth and the updated mission of your fellowship.
Best to All,