Beloved Members and Friends of Westside,
As you read in the message earlier this week from the Board of Trustees, Rev. Cynthia Westby and Cheryl Brown have resigned their positions in our Religious Exploration program. We are grateful for the leadership and service each has offered to the congregation over their many years here, working through sometimes difficult situations as they cared for our children and youth. As they move into other pursuits, we wish for both Cynthia and Cheryl the very best.
I know that for myself, as I’m sure it is for many of you, this is something of a shock, and may well invite a lot of anxiety or concern for the programs this congregation offers for its children and youth. Faith formation or religious exploration for children may be what initially drew you to being involved in Westside, whether seeking a community of shared values for your own children, or simply appreciating the congregation’s commitment to future generations.
This need and this priority, for genuine, engaging spiritual community for our children and families within the congregation, has not changed. We remain committed to supporting members of every age at Westside, and particularly supporting the faith formation of our young people.
And, amidst pandemic and other challenges of this moment, the path forward is not yet clear. We may feel compelled to move quickly, but there are uncertainties and opportunities to consider, and we have learned so often that we need space and trust to be able to explore more deeply.
Research in decision making tells us that when we enter situations with two options, “should we do this OR this?” we end up with worse results than if we had begun with more options, “should we do this OR this OR this OR this…” Generating more options requires hearing more voices, gathering more input, from parents of children certainly, but also from the whole congregation, because religious exploration is something we are all deeply invested in. We’ll be creating those opportunities, with the help of some outside resources, over the coming months.
We also need to know what’s happening now for children and families who are currently engaged and participating. Here is the current plan:
- For the rest of October and into November, I’ll be coordinating guests coming in to lead programs on Zoom for families with children who are currently participating on Sunday mornings. These guests will be religious education leaders from other UU congregations with whom I am connected, sharing some of the activities that have worked well for them during these pandemic times. Following my conversations with parents, and depending on the path of vaccinations, interest in outdoor programming, etc., this use of guest leaders on Zoom may continue through December.
- For the next four weeks I’ll be reaching out to all of our parents/caregivers with children and asking some questions about what would be most helpful right now. Taking this information and consulting with the Board and the Religious Exploration Council, we’ll develop a plan for getting us to the new calendar year, as well as a plan for the remainder of this church year.
- This plan will likely not include seeking a new, permanent DRE before the spring. We want to make sure that we are giving adequate space to be generative and creative in terms of the bigger conversation about what we want our religious exploration program to be, and then how to resource it to achieve those goals. It should be clear what we are seeking and what we require before we begin the search process.
- I’ll be working with Annie Scott, former President of the Liberal Religious Educators Association and current Congregational Consultant on RE for the Pacific Western Region of the UUA, to design a process for congregational consultation and planning around religious exploration that engages the whole congregation in discernment and visioning.
- I’ll also be working with the RE Council to form deeper bonds of connection and trust, to encourage reflection about the role and purpose of the committee, and to invite more folks into leadership, and abundantly recognizing the extraordinary contributions of time and talent that so many of our RE leaders have been sharing for a very long time. Nurturing the spiritual needs of our children and youth requires that our adult leaders also feel supported, valued and inspired, and I hope you’ll join me in that work.
Friends, as is so often the case, the words of Rev. Wayne Arnason offer reassurance in this time. “Take courage friends. The way is often hard, the path is never clear, and the stakes are very high. Take courage. For deep down, there is another truth: you are not alone.”
You are not alone, we are not alone, our children and parents, our leaders, are not alone. This community has the ability and capacity to change the lives of so many within and beyond our walls, to offer more love, more compassion, more joy. May it be so.