It 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:
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?
Joy 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.
Joy, I *love* how you turned this activity, which could potentially be seen as a divisive complaint session into productive and meaningful ways for us to move forward with joy and celebration in our hearts. I was totally uplifted!!
My office colleagues probably get tired of hearing it, but I like to talk ask “how can we jujitsu* this challenge into an opportunity/” By that I mean turning and re-orienting a thorny issue so that its own energy becomes an integral piece of what allows us to succeed, rather than being in conflict with that issue and giving our energy to it. Thank you for the kind words! And so glad you were uplifted.
*from wikipedia: “Jū” can be translated to mean “gentle, soft, supple, flexible, pliable, or yielding.” “Jutsu”
can be translated to mean “art” or “technique” and represents
manipulating the opponent’s force against himself rather than
confronting it with one’s own force.[1
Love this, too! Especially since I have Japanese heritage. 🙂
You make me think about how much of most Sunday services is “well-controlled” and how our once-upon-a-time more than an hour-long attention spans have been whittled shorter. An observable measure of change: the time(s) and number of people checking their gadgets during the service. (Used to be all you could is check your watch and yawn; now you can vote with your thumbs.)