Thursday, March 31, 2011

UU Faith Formation: Congregations into Seminaries


Unitarian Universalists are officially fans of life-long learning. From the very early days of both Universalism and Unitarianism, we’ve had an emphasis on faith development and spiritual growth. Like other practices, how well we live that is a work in progress and varies from place to place. Many of us would like to see more depth offered in our congregations, more spiritual formation past the initial introductory things you need to know to get by, stuff that that feeds people past the early teen years and takes us on a great journey. The short-hand phrase for that kind of congregational cultural offering as a standard way of existence is: turning our congregations into seminaries.

But wanting and doing are two very different things. The good news is that tools to make such education accessible and meaningful, even in smaller congregations, are now widely available. We just have to use them and share them with one another.

Our curricula presume no or limited additional preparation, training, or accountability. There’s a point in faith development when that is insufficient, and we need people who’ve done more work, are held to particular educational preparation standards and methods, and have experience in teaching in the risky and vulnerable places of faith formation.

But we can create a network of faith development professionals willing to offer distance education programs. I imagine a call out to the Unitarian Universalist professional religious leaders would result in people with the educational backgrounds we need. A covenant of practice and a way of mentoring educators as they grow in the experience of distance education would strengthen this. I encourage the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA) to take the lead on developing the covenant of distance education practice and mentoring educators.

We can continue and expand continuing education programs, via distance learning and in regions, for those who are and would be faith development leaders. We have some paths and accountability practices for folks called to professional leadership; we need to continue development of paths and accountability practices for those called to avocational leadership.

We more actively support the existing network of Unitarian Universalist Spiritual Directors. When engaged in the issues of faith formation, we come up against our own stuff. It really helps to identify that and work with a spiritual director, so we can be more centered and grounded and prepared to work with our students.

We can honor different teaching lineages within Unitarian Universalism as well as outside it. What these different lineages emphasize and how they teach are beautifully and wonderfully divergent. They speak to folks about the various paths of spiritual formation. One of the ways we can take the pressure off local congregations to be all things to all people is to make accessible as a whole the varieties of teaching lineages.

Invite folks to keep growing and changing, deepening and strengthening their faith. That’s the beginning, the path, and the goal. There isn’t going to be one way to do it, but many. Let’s support trying out using the new technologies to care for one another, to share the resources we have in a more equitable and responsible manner, and to grow bolding and courageously in faith.

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