Growing and Evolving: Ten Years of Religious Education Credentialing

Sara Cloe CREETen years ago on this very day, the Religious Education Credentialing Committee (RECC) conducted its first interviews and awarded credentialed status to three pioneering candidates in the Religious Education Credentialing Program (RECP)! Helen Bishop and Gaia Brown were credentialed at what is now called the Master Level, and Michelle Richards at the (now) Credentialed Level. (Michelle went on to receive Master Level status in 2013.)


Think about it – how many programs from a decade ago are still around today? The RECP’s staying power has depended on our ability to keep the program fresh, relevant, and useful. Over the years, it has adapted and evolved in order to meet the changing needs of professionals and congregations, to better assure the quality and consistency of the evaluation process, and to improve the experience of both the candidate and the Committee. This spring, the RECC will consider what’s changing in faith formation, in Unitarian Universalism, and in the professional world – and then reflect on how to respond to those changes through updates to program content, structure, and expectations.


As the program has grown, what hasn’t changed is its commitment to fostering excellence in professional religious education leadership. The Religious Education Credentialing Program was established, back in the early 00’s, in order to nurture the call to religious education as a profession, to provide a comprehensive path for professional development, and to articulate and uphold professional standards and guidelines. It remains true to these purposes.


The Religious Education Credentialing Program offers a rigorous, meaning-filled process by which religious educators deepen their knowledge, reflect on their own faith development, and demonstrate their skill across competency areas deemed critical for effective religious education leadership. Our Credentialed Religious Educators aren’t the only ones gaining from the program, however! Through the RECP, religious educators become stronger staff teammates and collegial partners in their own congregations, as well as educators and modelers for colleagues in other congregations – thus their program participation benefits many other professionals. And the profession, as a whole, has been elevated because of the program’s intentionality in identifying competencies and establishing standards.


Ultimately, what matters most? Not the religious educators. Not the profession of religious education. No, it’s about the children and adults who have stayed better connected to their congregations, and whose faith has been further formed, because of religious educators who attended to their own professional growth by pursuing RE Credentialing. Thus, it’s safe to say that the Religious Education Credentialing Program has enriched the lives of thousands of Unitarian Universalists. Has it touched yours?



Jan Gartner“Well-equipped professionals and healthy staff teams are essential to congregational vitality!” proclaims Jan Gartner, who began serving as UUA Professional Development Associate for Religious Education and Music Leaders in July 2011. Jan oversees the Religious Education Credentialing and Music Leadership Certification Programs, provides support for staff transitions, advocates for sound employment practices, and champions intentional continuing education both for individual professionals and for staff teams.

What Congregations Can Learn From The 12th Man

SeahawksYes, I’ve drunk the electric green and blue Kool-Aid.  I’ve gone belly up to Seahawks mania out here in the Pacific Northwest.  And while the pronoun is not my preferred, I am the Seahawk’s12th Man.  And while the metaphor is not perfect, I have come to understand that there is so much congregations can learn from the 12th Man.  I want a congregation full of number 12 jerseys standing in the pews. And if Skittles end up all over the sanctuary carpet, so be it.


First of all, Seattle didn’t make up the 12th ManThe concept originated at Texas A&M in 1922. Seattle readily recognize this and the Seahawks will end up paying a breathtaking amount of money to Texas A&M for the use of the title. We made the model ours by adding Seahawk quirk and noise.   We don’t have to be the clever ones to make everything up.  We are fine adapting the best of what works.  Congregations, take note about the adapting other ideas, but don’t get caught up in lawsuits over it.


In this metaphor I’m thinking of the 12th Man as the congregational members.  The board of directors and key volunteers are the players on the field.  The head coach is the minister. Specialized coaches are other key staff.  Work with me here.  It’s not perfect, but don’t get hung up on that or you’ll miss the lessons.


  • Our job as 12 is to cheer our team on and create a vibrant, buzzy culture where success can flourish.
  • We do not assume we know more about football than the players and coaches who have been practicing and preparing and have special training.
  • We do not jump to the conclusion that because our tax dollars and our ticket fees help play for the coaches and players salaries we should get to vote on the plays.
  • We do not email the players with suggestions on how to play. We are not Armchair Quarterbacks. That is not our job.  We cheer.  We make a joyful, booming noise.
  • We do not pout at the coach’s choice of plays and suggest to the other 12th Men around us that we could do a better job at coaching.
  • We do not run on the field.  Even if we tried out for the team and were not picked this round.
  • If our team is down and the strategies seem unclear from our view in the stands, we do not throw our water bottles on the field.  We do not boo.
  • We do not call our beloved #25 a “thug” because of impassioned outbursts that don’t hurt anybody. We know there is so much more to #25, and we stand by him.
  • Texas A&M’s 12th Man example taught us, we stand for the game, symbolically ready for coach to put us in. We stand ready to serve if called upon. And until that time comes, we cheer until we are hoarse and our face hurts from smiling.  We shout and whoop to make sure our coach and team knows we’re right behind them through thick and thin.


I want that culture in our congregations, too.  I don’t even like football, but I’ll wear the #12 and shout for my team, because in the Pacific NW it’s become less about a sport and more about a unified community.  We are all the 12th Man, whether you’re wearing a silk Seahawk tie or your earplugs are neon green or the number 12 is drawn in the mud on your truck.  The 12 is about coming together to cheer on something larger than us.  I want that for our faith tradition.


So please pay attention to the 12th Man this Sunday during the Super Bowl.  And don’t worry if the Seahawks don’t win the game.  We’ve already won.



Loudest crowd roar at a sports stadium Seahawks-13Rev. Tandi Rogers has enjoyed walking around around Tacoma feeling more connected through the common number 12. Come Sunday afternoon she will be covered in Seahawk bling and making a joyful noise.  On Monday she will be hoarse.  A special thank you to Susan Tusa, former president of Tahoma UU Congregation in Tacoma, WA who helped her write this piece.

Year In Review That Didn’t Happen

I messed up.  I had every intention of writing a Growth Office Year in Review.  It was going to have the Top Tens of various growth-related things, along with graphs and sparklers.  And then the Holiday Break came and I went head-long into a real vacation with no work commitments. I will not flog myself, as I’m still all chill from a well-rested vacation.  But I will start working on next years…


A little ambitious you might think, to start so early?  Actually not.  I suggest you do it, too.  Think about it… How would you measure success in the coming year?  What would that look like? And then how will you tell the story at the end of the year?


Here’s a beautiful example of a Year In Review done well.  The Sanctuaries in DC produced an exquisite end of the year brochure.  If you click on that last highlight, Google will take you through steps to download it.  Just know that it is an enormous file.  There are a couple pages I’d like to point out to you that I’d like to see in every End of the Year (Celebration) Report…


Sanctuaries Brochure 2013 cover


Sanctuaries Brochure 2013 MLK quote


The Sanctuaries 2013 story



The Sanctuaries 2013 Brochure testimony


The Sanctuaries 2013 Brochure mission


The Sanctuaries 2013 Brochure model


The Sanctuaries 2013 Brochure more testimony


The Sanctuaries 2013 Brochure numbers


The Sanctuaries 2013 Brochure in picts


The Sanctuaries 2013 Brochure even more testimony


The Sanctuaries 2013 Brochure forward


What stood out to you?  Is this a place you’d like to visit?  Stay and build community?

Note their use of visuals.  Conveying the good news and good work is not always best done with words, but in visuals.  What would you visuals be? What would your metaphors be?


Rev. Renee Ruchotzke‘s Adaptive Measurements blog post in Growing Vital Leaders outlines some great questions to discern what exactly to measure in a year to get an idea of “Are you doing what you intended to do?  Are you being who you intended to be?”


Rev. Erik Martinez Resly is the lead organizer of The Sanctuaries, DC and the mastermind of this brochure. Story telling through visuals is a clearly a ministerial gift of his.  And he’s generous in sharing them, so please do contact him for guidance:


The template he gives includes story, testimonies, mission, model, numbers, and moving forward. Go back and look at the Sanctuaries End of the Year Report again, only this time, try to imagine what your congregation’s report could be.  I am already planning for next year…



tk in snow on Common 0114

Rev. Tandi Rogers understands visuals and metaphors better than linear words. And she day dreams of having a Sanctuaries in her neighborhood.  For a treat watch one of The Sanctuaries videos.







Certification Brings Sexy Back

lipstick kissDo I have your attention?  I hope so.  I’m desperate to connect with you.

I was recently trying to reach out to congregations with less than 100 members for a possible cross-pollination learning experience. (By the way that represents 549 congregations, which is almost half of our entire Association.) I used the contact email listed in the database, which is given every year during certification time. I waited in giddy anticipation.

What happened made me reach for the tissues.  Over half of that half bounced back.  My heart deflated.  I spent an hour searching websites trying to find a contact that worked.  Many listed failing contact information on their websites.  Many websites listed no contact information at all.  How is this possible?

Please go check and see if this was your congregation.  Run, don’t walk, to the congregational search on the UUA website.  Is your information current?  If so, find some (fair trade, organic) chocolate and celebrate.

If not, find out who in your congregation is in charge of updating information and gently nudge and perhaps some chocolate as a reward. The online system for annual certification of membership for UUA congregations is now open. All congregations are required to log in to their online accounts and submit this report before the deadline on Mon., Feb. 3 at 5 p.m. Pacific Time. Congregations must submit their certified number of members and financial statistics from their recently-ended fiscal year, including total operating expenditures. Learn more and review the certification process online, or contact with questions.

Keeping your information updated is part of each congregation’s responsibility as a member in our Association.  Staying connected is a big part of our congregational polity — not “you can’t tell me what to do” or “bugger off.”  But rather radical interdependence and responsible communication.  We show our love by showing up.

Responsible associational interdependence is incredibly sexy.  Synonyms of sexy according the dictionary provocative, attractive, desirable, tempting.  Yes, do that.



tk in snow on Common 0114Rev. Tandi Rogers day dreams of Average Sunday Attendance numbers and makes colorful graphs of them for fun.





An Innovative Learning Circle of Your Own…

Innovative Learning Circle logo“What is the magic behind the Innovative Learning Circles?”  “How can I start one in my area?”  I get these questions more and more as word is getting out about the success of Innovative Learning Circles.


The purpose is to bring innovative leaders together to spark, inspire, and cross-pollinate each other.  Let’s be honest.  Being an innovator can be isolating and lonely.


Innovative Learning Circles is a cross between small group ministry, video conference, and case study. We meet monthly at a consistent time for an hour and a half by video (if you do not have a camera for your computer you will receive one in the mail.)  The regular agenda looks like this:

  • Chalice Lighting
  • Check-in
  • Shared Case Study
  • Reflection and/or feedback
  • Take-Away (What nugget of wisdom or observation are you taking away)

Each group has a question they explore. Some of the questions the Innovative Learning Circles I shepherd are exploring are:


  • How can leaders navigate challenges to plant Unitarian Universalist communities that meet the needs of the 21st century?
  • What experiments might be replicable in other Unitarian Universalist settings?
  • How can campus ministry programs reach beyond their identified UU group and make an impact? How can Campus Ministry impact area congregations?
  • How can leaders adaptively shift congregational systems to break open and make way for concepts in the Faith Formation 2020 (John Roberto) training?
  • How can small congregation focus on health and lower their walls for bigger impact in the world?
  • How can prison ministry programs reach beyond their identified UU group and make an impact? How can prison ministry impact area congregations?
  • How can leaders use worship to shift congregational systems to meet the needs of the 21st century?


So, if you were gathering your own circle, what question would you like to explore?  Who within your community or perhaps in the surrounding, larger community would you like to learn with?  This is a great opportunity to meet your counterparts or peers from other UU congregations in your cluster.


What kinds of challenges could you explore together?  This is the outline for the first meeting:

  • Chalice Lighting
  • Check-in
  • What you need from this group? This experience?
  • Sharing: What are challenges we deal with that other positions/leaders just couldn’t understand.  What do we wish the board/minister/UUA/<fill-in-the-bland> understood? What are challenges we might explore together?
  • Reflection and/or feedback
  • Take-Away (What nugget of wisdom or observation are you taking away)


Those questions about challenge are where the gold is.  Those will be where the “case studies” come from. Each participant takes turns giving a “case study,” which is a story or description about a challenge related to your ministry.  It’s almost always about an adaptive challenge – one that won’t go away. Some guiding questions:

  • What is the current situation? Where do I want the situation to be?
  • Who else is involved? What are our roles and responsibilities in this situation?  What part have I played?  Not played?
  • What is within my control? Outside of my control?
  • When things change a bit, what happens to the rest of the system?
  • What do I need to learn?
  • What do I need to let go of in order to embrace something new?
  • Who else needs to be involved to make possible adaptations stick?


The group listens with pastoral and wondering ears, not “fix it” ears.  It takes great vulnerability and trust to reveal a challenge one isn’t sure about.  And that is where the real learning happens.  It is an affirming process.


An Innovative Learning Circle lasts between 7-9 months.  There’s an opening circle, a case study session for each participant (between 5-7 people is recommended), and then a closing circle.


In the closing circle, the final session, we take time to capture the over-all, meta-learnings from our sharing. Were there patterns in each other’s stories? Is there feedback we need to give to our regional staff (or other resource people) about what we’ve learned?  Might a workshop or training come out of anything you’ve learned together? The final go-around is gratitude from each other. Hold up each person and allow circle members to tell then what they’ve learned and appreciated from their presence.


This model is still in beta.  I use a virtual model, because of geographic challenges, but a face-to-face format would be lovely.  What makes it an Innovative Learning Circle is the guiding question, the gathering of innovators, and the sharing of the challenge stories. Feel free to experiment! And let me know what works for you. I’d love to hear from you!


Tandi mouth 513 Tandi Rogers facilitates eight different, virtual Innovative Learning Circles during the third week of every month. At the end of every Innovative Learning Circle she bursts out of her office and says, “These may be the most important thing my office does for growth! Wow! That was amazing.”




Future of (Our) Faith

Future of Faith picCarey McDonald is one of those innovators and collaborators growing our faith beyond silos and traditional boundaries who I love to dream with. Whenever I’m in Boston we set aside a chunk of time to play into the following questions:

1. “If we were in charge …”  and then we excitedly spill out possibilities with no regard to our current authority or resources at our disposal. Note that the “what” of our charge shifts at our creative whim. Sometimes we’re in charge of the UUA. Sometimes we’re in charge of the world.

Sometimes the imagination playground is inspired by a book we’ve both read.  Last year Carey turned me on to American Grace by Robert Putnam, and that still makes appearances in our conversation.

2. “However, we aren’t in charge.  And we still can …” is the second, perhaps most important part of our exploration. We get real with what is our current authority and responsibility and “our work.”  Accessible resources magically sparkly with new and variant possibilities. Partners within and outside our system become apparent.  Strategies begin to take form.  We both come away feeling energized and inspired by our partnership.

I encourage you to seek out a partner to try these questions within the context of your leadership.  Don’t go to the most obvious partner in your system. But do find someone who is also passionate about growing our faith and is clear in the mission of your community.

Sometimes Carey and I try ideas out with each other that aren’t quite word-ripe, or we show each other pieces that we’re just putting the finishing touches on.  Future of Faith: Unitarian Universalism and the Millennial Generation is a presentation that is stunning and smart and right on. Carey’s been thinking about the Future of (Our) Faith for a long time.  This presentation brings it all together!  (Note: there is no sound and you move the presentation along with the arrows at the bottom.)

Please tell us what jumps out at you in the comments. What excites you? Gives you frown lines? And feel free to share the presentation.  I think this would be a great piece to show at a board meeting or staff retreat.


cmcdonald_headshotCarey McDonald is the mind behind Future of our Faith.  Carey joined the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries in the summer of 2011. He most recently worked as the staff director for a statewide advisory body, the Ohio School Funding Advisory Council, where he has focused on education reform, educational equity and “closing the achievement gap.” He has also worked as a budget analyst, policy advisor and legislative aide, and has considerable experience in political campaigns and organizing. Throughout his varied career, Carey has focused on creating a world more just through a community more loving, and is excited to bring that inclusive approach to the helm of the Youth and Young Adult Ministries Office.

Carey is a seventh-generation Unitarian Universalist who was active as a youth with Young Religious Unitarian Universalists (YRUU). He is formerly a member of the Ohio-Meadville District Youth/Adult Council, was active as a youth in Diverse & Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries (DRUUMM), and served three times as a delegate to General Assembly. Before moving to Boston, he was an active young adult in his congregation in Columbus, Ohio, as a member of the Young Adult Covenant Group and chair of the church’s Annual Budget Drive. He also has served in recent years as a lay member of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee. Carey has a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Economics from Pomona College in Claremont, CA. He lives in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston with his wife, Sarah.

Running (and Playing and Dancing) the Church

DREs rule pict bigIt all started with a Facebook message from my board president.  He thought I might find an article interesting.  Boy, did I. Written by Rev. Erik Wikstrom, the title alone was pretty provocative: “What If the Director of Religious Education Ran the Church?” He explained his purpose like this: “I’m hoping that others might stop for a minute…and say to themselves (and anyone who happens to be around them. Huh. I never thought about it like that. I wonder . . .”


I knew beyond a doubt that neither I nor my board president wanted me “in charge”, but the question led my mind into other areas, as the author intended.  How might the unique competencies of faith development professionals, given free reign and responsibility on Sunday morning, change how we do church?


I linked to the article on my Facebook wall, and the wondering conversation Wikstrom desired was off to an exciting start there. Many weighed in, and the ensuing conversation was inspiring: religious educators went into rapid-fire-dialectical/stream-of-consciousness mode about the Sunday experience of their dreams. I was asked to facilitate a graffiti wall at the LREDA Fall Conference–the annual gathering of the Religious Educator tribe– so the conversation could continue there. The “wall of appreciative inquiry” I installed there attracted many replies. The responses were fascinating:


What if DREs were in Charge


Trained as a sociologist, I tend to organize replies into broad categories that help me understand raw data better. I see a desire for more fun and creative process in responses like “increase glitter budget line” and “pipe cleaners and play-doh at board meetings”.  I see a desire for radical hospitality in responses that mention adults “taking joy” in children’s normal behavior, even during worship.  I see a prophetic vision of a church renewed and inspired, alive and responsive to its congregants, where dance and play and stories are no longer seen as appropriate pedagogical strategies for children only, but the birthright of humans across generations, a profound, dynamic way of doing and being that opens us up and kindles the divine spark we each carry within. I see a call for church as a sacred place to come together, to be strengthened and emboldened, a kind of spiritual medicine, vaccinating us with joy and compassion before sending us back out to our greater mission–the work we are called by our faith to do,  in a broken, beautiful world outside the church walls.


I think that what religious educators might know better than anyone  is that “religious education” means “to bind up and send out”–that church is a waystation where we are fortified and connected, made ready for our shared journey in the world, as a people of faith.


But as a DRE, I might be biased.  I wonder…what do you see in the replies?  How might they spur a conversation by those responsible for “doing church” where you are?  How might we be changed by our willingness to wonder, share ideas, and keep this conversation going?



JoyJoy Berry is a religious educator from the rural South who has somehow landed in a big suburban church outside Philadelphia. A proponent of Missional UUism, she has a passion for engaging, hands-on faith development in and outside the church, believing Forrest Church was right: ““(O)ur hands will not be clean until we get them dirty… until we roll up our sleeves and match our words with deeds.” Her personal faith practices include vermiculture, mandala-coloring during long meetings, baby-snuggling, and belly-laughing.

How to Yelp, Foursquare, Rate, and Be Mayor

Foursquare-and-YelpMy friends, today we are going to Yelp and Foursquare. I know, it sounds like a loud, folksy dance, doesn’t it?  These are two mobile app (with website) guides to cool things going on in communities. Through Yelp and Foursquare (and others, but I’m focusing on these two with a bonus at the end of this post) you can find places to eat, shop, get things fixed, play, and yes, worship.

Yelp is like a 21st century Yellow Pages. And it has reviews. You can become a fan of a place. You can “check-in” on Yelp. Yelp has an average of approximately 108 million monthly unique visitors. Yelpers have written over 42 million local reviews.

Foursquare let’s you publicly “check-in” to a place. And based on your personalized profile and social network preferences, it will give recommendations of places to go in your community.  Over 40 million people worldwide use Foursquare.  Over 4.5 billion check-ins every day. 1.5 billion businesses leverage Foursquare.

Ready to jump in ?

How to Yelp

Chances are, your congregation is already listed on Yelp.  If the information is wrong there is a link to claim the business and edit your profile. Yelp works on reviews, so it’s good to have members and friends of your congregation rate it (star system) and give reviews.

How to Foursquare

Again, you probably already have a listing. Whether it is correct or full and snazzy, is another thing. You may contact Foursquare to claim your listing.  You may add your website, hours of services (operation), social media links, and a description. The description is important.  Be honest and creative and catchy here. Do not use insider language or acronyms.  And once you claim your listing you may give updates (like you do on your Facebook page.)  Foursquare does offer a tutorial of how to engage seekers if you really want to get into it.

Being Mayor

On Foursquare you can be named Mayor if you’ve had the most check-ins at a place in the past 60s days.  Only one check-in per day counts. If you’re thinking “what on earth? why would anyone want to be Mayor?” There’s a whole body of literature on Gaming Culture. It’s a very real way to engage people.  I want to be Mayor! Don’t you want to be Mayor?

There’s also Badges, but I don’t understand them yet.  If you do, and your congregations uses them effectively, and you’d like to blog about them, please contact me.


This is a site that was started by Jim Henderson and Matt Casper who wrote Jim and Casper Go To Church: Frank Conversation about Faith, Churches, and Well-Meaning Christians. (It’s an interesting read.)  Here you can add churches, search for churches, and rate/ review churches. The ChurchRater site tends to be leaning in favor of fundamental-evangelicals. And you know what? Go there anyway!   Let’s lean it the other way and make people wonder what just happened in the religious world, shall we? Wouldn’t that be fun?

And there you have it folks. Some more tools for you to stretch out to seekers who are trying to find you. And people, they really, really are.  Welcome them with open arms when they walk in your doors.


As an aside: This blog post is a follow-up to an earlier rant.  As a public service, please be sure that your congregational information (include leaders and their contact data) is up to date with the Unitarian Universalist Association. Chances are, you’re not the one who does this. But someone in your congregation does.  Find out who it is, bring them chocolate, and make sure your congregation is up to date. It’s just good congregational-polity-hygiene 


Rev Tandi clappingTandi’s would like to change her professional goals to include “becoming the Mayor of some Unitarian Universalist establishment before the end of the year.”  And she really wants to earn a chalice badge. Does anyone have a chalice badge for her?






This Is Your Assignment…

yelp-395One should probably not blog when one’s pet peeves are barking and pulling on their leashes.  I just sent over a hundred emails to congregational leaders based on the contact information given to the UUA by the congregation at the time of certification, and guess what?  A huge portion of those emails bounced back to me with all sorts of excuses. “You are not subscribed to this email list.” “I no longer use this email address. Please redirect your email to <this one>.” “User is over quota.” “I have retired and am no longer at this email address.”


Really?  So I checked (I was watching the Emmys at the same time) and sure enough, most of those malfunctioning emails listed with the UUA are also listed on the corresponding congregational websites.  And no, I couldn’t stop there.  Yes, you guessed it.  I checked out their membership growth numbers.  I didn’t have to.  I knew already. These congregations are not growing.  How could they be?  People can’t get ahold of leaders. And as I poked around these websites, I found they are predominantly out of date, with places and times of worship services hidden or missing altogether.


Oh, my dogs are barking! And my heart is breaking. Our communities of faith save and transform lives and we’re hiding.  People are looking for us and we’re failing them.


Don’t make me glare at you. Please check the following:


  • Front page of your website: full name of your congregation, meeting address (with directions preferably) including city and state, phone (including area code), and the name and contact information of someone people can call with questions.
  • Google, Yahoo, Bing and other search engines. Do they have your information correct? What comes up when you search “Unitarian + Universalism + <your town>”?  Is that what you want to come up?
  • Does your Chamber of Commerce list you in their materials that list religious communities?  Area motels and hotels?  Your local ecumenical or interfaith group?
  • Does Yelp?  If your congregation is already listed, what are reviewers saying about you?  More and more people are reading Yelp reviews of religious communities to make their choices before they ever grace your doorway.


People are trying to find you. Please make it as easy as possible for them. And your Growth Specialist is trying to work with you.  Double check the information you send to the UUA to be sure it’s up to date.


Thank you.  <insert singing “When I breathe in… I breathe in peace… When I breathe out… I breathe out love…” here>



Tandi Feb 2012It really takes a lot to get Tandi in a rage. Obstacles to full access to Beloved Community is near the top of the list.  And able-bodied people parking in Handicap Parking Zones. And littering.  Don’t do those, please.

Inheriting the Farm

Harvest timeI come from five generations of farmers who settled on Lake Erie in northern Ohio. I am a product of their stories and ethos and extended family norms.  I learned Universalism from their example. We are all related, laterally and horizontally.  When I left for college my Grampa told me he was delighted in my choice of vocations (teacher) as there are three especially noble paths:  teaching, ministry, and farming.  Two out of three, Grampa.  I can see you smiling in the Cloud of Witnesses.


I have to admit, that I do feel some guilt having left the farm, which I love so much.  I feel I have somehow betrayed my beloved ancestors.  And at the same time, I know they are cheering me on, right there when I need them. Once I moved to the Pacific NW (in the 1990s) I got involved in the movement to save family farms in our region and to connect those farms to local restaurants.  My Grampa was pleased. It was my annual Christmas gift to him.


I spent most of last week in my family in the land of my origin.  My favorite Uncle just died.  I spent time on the farm cleaning and organizing with my cousin, which was really a method of creating space to talk and collectively grieve. It was good.


While sweeping out the barn, long void of animals, now full of abandoned equipment and a fishing boat, I meditated on what might come.  My brother and I moved across country in early adulthood.  My cousin stayed.  We are the only ones in our generation of this lineage. And I am the only one to have children.


My generation is stepping into leadership and decisions once held by my parents’ generation.  My own children, our ancestors’ progenies, may one day inherit this farm.  And by that, I don’t mean just the land. I also mean the stories, the ethos, and the extended family norms, as I did. These will guide them in their life choices and inheritance decisions.  I feel confident that I’ve handed these on properly and strongly.  But what about the practical and technical means of farm stewardship?  I am not currently prepared. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to prepare both myself and my children.


My aunt chose to turn the fertile piece of property handed down to her into a land trust, specifically a sanctuary for ducks.  Absolutely in line with the family values in which it was given. She was prepared to honor the gift in a way that respects both the ancestors and who she uniquely is in the world. I want that ability for my children.  I want that for all of us, whatever we are inheriting from our relations who went before.


In the face of unknowns, how are we preparing our children (of all ages) to inherit our family farms, our family inheritance?   Who owned the land before my people settled there? What is our relationship now? What could it be? What were the challenges and blessings of each generation that tilled the soil? How did they choose the produce and animals to grow? How did they make their living and build community? Who lives in the community now and what is needed for the common good? What will my children need to know of land use management, land trusts, conservancies, savvy reality business options, philanthropy, and investment?


And yes, the family farm is also a metaphor for congregations. I kept my children at arm’s (continent’s) length of their family farm and regret it.  I see many of our congregations keeping our older children and youth at arms length of the actual workings of our institutions, and I think that is a big mistake.  If we truly believe that the youth and young adults will inherit our faith, how are we using the precious time we have with them to create savvy religious and community leaders? What skills, stories, and experiences will they need to pick up where we left off and run? How are we integrating our youngers and leveraging mentors for cross learning and engagement? If you believe your congregation does a solid job in preparing our youth and young adults for their inheritance, please email me.  I’d like to highlight success stories here this year.



Rev Tandi clappingTandi believes that every congregation should offer full membership to youth who go through Coming of Age.  At the very least, explicitly and ceremoniously offer membership to bridging seniors with great enthusiasm and welcome.