As we look to the coming year, there are some new ideas on the horizon. They are in the early stages, haven’t even made it to the Christian Education Standing Leadership Group. They’re more dreams not yet formed than real plans.
But it’s good share where we are… to get all of us thinking– there’s a richness when others step forward to be part of our planning. This announcement is just to stir the pot a little!
Adult Forum: Nancy and Michael have been thinking about trying some different topics and interactions and ways of scheduling the Adult Forum. Trying to think about how we can change the dynamics a bit: less of a “lecture/audience” format and more participative, going deeper with one another and our lives and experiences and reflections.
Last year, there was a good group of regulars each week. Enough folks that Michael commented, “It’s clearly a consistent and important Christian education offering for Old First.” But we also recognize that some people have stopped coming. And it has not really attracted new people, particularly our young adults.
Since growing in our faith is one of “the products” that church offers, and since worship alone isn’t the only means, we’d like to diversify our Christian education offerings, and have them attract and involve more people. Look for further announcements about the new schedule and the new offerings.
Off-site Christian education offerings: Wanda came to Michael with a bit of learning from the town where her family lives: the teacher who runs the GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, Straight Educational Network) group at the high school reports that almost half their time together is taken up with people talking about religion. That surprised Wanda, and she wondered if Michael thought the same might be for other folks thinking about sexual identity. Michael responded that since most of the anti-affirmation of L, G, B, T folks is organized by religious groups, he wouldn’t be surprised if even the non-religious feel burdened by the disapproval and shame these groups suggest comes from religion.
That got Wanda and Michael excited and talking about a couple of ideas:
What if we organized an educational offering off-site for people dealing with the weight of religious disapproval of who they are? What if it were not at church, but in an office-building on a week night after work? The short-term education offering could simply present the diversity of religious positions on homosexuality and explain where they come from in the various traditions. But it could also offer people struggling safe space to share their stories. That experience of “not being alone,” but being able to talk about your experience might be a helpful catharsis.
That got Wanda and Michael talking about other off-site possibilities? What if we came up a few educational offerings a year, to be held, deliberately away from church, in more neutral space and time? …Outreach way into the community beyond those people who come or would come to something at church! We quickly came up with some engaging ideas. This conversation reminded Michael of his hopes coming to Old First– that we could have meetings and fellowship and educational offerings off-site, where we would more likely reach people for whom church doesn’t seem to promise much. Church these days can be like a strange, foreign ghetto in the midst of the modern world. It’s our job to break down the walls and build the bridges.
OWL curriculum: Wanda and Michael also wondered if it might not be time to offer the UCC’s “Our Whole Lives” curriculum as part of our Christian Education at Old First. Our Whole Lives is a series of sexuality education programs for six age groups: grades K-1, grades 4-6, grades 7-9, grades 10-12, Young Adults and Adults. The resources are written by professional sexuality educators and provide accurate information for parents, teachers and pastors to be used in the affirming and supportive setting of our churches. And this was before Michael’s sermon on 07.29!
L,G,B,T Youth Support Group: Finally, Wanda and Michael also wondered if there might not be a need to organize a L,G,B,T youth program that reached out well beyond our immediate faith community. Michael has a colleague at Cresskill (NJ) Congregational UCC whose created a Rainbow Cafe. In partnership between the congregation and PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), they sponsor Bergen County’s only Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Youth Support group. The Rainbow Cafe provides a safe space to question, socialize, grow, and be affirmed in one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Old First seems like the kind of safe space that could create a welcoming and supportive group for young people who otherwise might not have many places to go.
All this is only in the early stages of thinking. It’s got to get more input. It won’t all get done. Or done fast. But as we begin to think about taking these things to the Christian Education Standing Leadership Group, maybe others want to be part of the conversation…