A Unitarian Universalist Multigenerational Ministry Resource

“I’ll never do THAT like my parents did,” said maybe every kid on the planet at one time or another. We can be fairly critical, and I certainly was. When I became a mom, I knew immediately that in some ways I would raise my daughter the same way my parents had raised me. There were family values and traditions that I knew I wanted to pass along. But there were dozens of other things that I would do differently. At the age of 24, I clearly already knew everything. And I had taken every class on adolescent female psychology in college, and had read Reviving OpheliaIMG_0434 10 times, so duh, I knew how to raise my daughter the right way.

It required a lot of explaining. I had to explain to friends and family over and over again that I didn’t want to ascribe gender roles to my kids. The nursery was decked out with a John Lennon theme, every pink gift that was dripping with lace was promptly returned or donated, and we stocked up on overalls. My daughter received a play kitchen and a play tool bench at the same time. Where there were dolls, there were also trucks. For every tiara or tutu, there was also a Buzz Lightyear or Spiderman costume nearby.

The harder part was in talking about sex or sexuality. Since I was already going to be the best mom ever, I taught my kids the names for the parts of their bodies right from the start. There was immediate fear amongst family members. “What if we are in a store and she starts to yell VAGINA!” I had to point out, that it seemed improbable that she would randomly yell vagina, elbow, or shoulder blade for no apparent reason, and that as a toddler none of these words seemed loaded to her. If she was going for shock value at that age, she was more likely to yell poop or booger. But still. It was a step.

 

I gave myself a congratulatory pat on the back. I was doing so well. MY kids knew about penises and vaginas, and they were taught that these were not bad words. I answered questions as they came up, told them where babies came from when they asked at ages 4 and 5, and was as open as possible. As the years went by we talked openly about body changes, puberty, hormones, and periods as well as gender identity, gender expression, and sexual identity too. They had me as a resource, they each had books in their rooms, and they both went through Our Whole Lives at church. I was all over this. I was providing them with so much more than I ever received, and we were talking openly about things my parents NEVER would have talked to me about. When my parents handed me a book and a dictionary that was the extent of my sex education. I was so evolved. Obviously, I really was the best mom ever.

Until I was blindsided. I was talking to some friends when I saw something in my Facebook feed.

Me:     “GAH! I was just tagged in a post about masturbation!!! Make it go away!!!!  (the first line of which read: “Which brings me to my point – masturbation is really important. It’s really important for all women and it’s equally important for teenage girls.”)

Friend: “Is she just thinking of you as a parent of teen(ish) girls?

Me:      “I hope so….but even as a supporter of OWL…I am still a New Englander, and I will not be having a conversation about masturbation with my kids. I can’t do it.”

Friends: “You should have that conversation with your kids.”

“How incredibly challenging. And I agree that it’s important to find a way to talk to them, because awkward is better than ignorant, and no one should think that embarrassing and awkward are the same as shameful, which is what our culture, our YANKEE culture, teaches us, wrongly.”

“But still…important to get healthy messages from you because parents are their children’s primary sexuality educators.”

And I was mad. I was mad because they were right. They were right without hesitation. Why didn’t I already know that? Maybe I wasn’t actually the best mom ever.

The article was called The Most Important Thing Teen Girls Should Do But Don’t: Masturbate. I read it and cried. For all that I had done differently than my parents did, I still wasn’t there yet. I wasn’t talking openly about so many important things with my kids. It made me uncomfortable and I didn’t know how. There was no question in my mind that I wanted my kids to have this information (I even contemplated sending them the article), but I didn’t want to have to sit down and be the one to talk about it either. But if not me, then who?

I support comprehensive sexuality education for our children. I will show up at the meetings, drive them to every class, order every book, and do whatever it takes to ensure the program is available. But Our Whole Lives and health classes in school are only pieces of the puzzle. They cannot be the end all be all.

I may be more open with my kids than the generation before me was with theirs. But it’s still not good enough. I can’t find comfort in knowing that my kids will do a better job at it with their kids someday. They deserve better than that now. As my wise friends pointed out, parents are their children’s primary sexuality educators. I dare say most of us don’t know how to do that well. And we need help. I need help.

Our congregations have taken on the life saving ministry of providing sexuality education for our children and youth. We need to provide it for their parents and caregivers and mentors too. We need to support our parents and help them to be the adults our kids need. We need to help them find ways to have those awkward conversations because we know they matter. We know all too well, the stakes are high. I may not actually be the best mom ever, but my kids, all of our kids, need adults in their lives who are going to try.

If you need help, and don’t know where to begin, or if you want to practice having these conversation with other adults who are still figuring it out too, join me on Star Island this summer. My friend, colleague, and sexuality educator Cindy Beal will be facilitating a workshop called: Revolutionary Awkwardness. More than a book and a dictionary: Not your parent’s sex education.

 

 

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A number of years, ago, my children were dedicated in our home congregation in Milford, NH.  They were 5 and 6 years old, aware of what was going on, and full participants in the ceremony.  They had already spent a few years in the congregation, and felt at home there.  It was a beautiful service, the ritual of which felt important to me.

I trusted the words that came from our minister, Rev. Barbara McKusick Liscord, “For years to come, these children will be a part of our community of mutual caring, concern, responsibility and affection.  Wherever they are in the world, they will always be tucked in the heart of this community. Do you, this gathered congregation, dedicate yourselves to nourish their spiritual growth, to welcome and value them, to share with them what you know of life and to learn from them what they have to teach us?”

I heard the words, thought they were lovely, and trusted the members of the congregation would be kind to my children, smile at them, make small talk at coffee hour, and teach their Religious Education classes.  I heard those words, prayed they would hold lasting meaning, and assumed that at the least, this congregation would witness their growing up.

The congregation had words of their own for my children.

We welcome you.  We affirm our dedication to you, and we pledge to you our love and our care; and whatever may come to you, whether misfortune, affliction or sin, we promise never to close our hearts against you.”

I smiled.  I prayed.  I hugged my children and hoped for the best.

I’ve been reflecting on this ceremony in the recent days and weeks.  It’s been a tough year for our family.  My daughters are just entering the teen years, which are challenging in so many ways.  Add to that the divorce of their parents, and I knew we had a potential recipe for disaster.  There were days when they didn’t want to talk to either of us to process this transition.  We asked who the adults were in their life that they would be willing to speak to.  One by one, they listed the names of members of their home congregation.  Their minister, their OWL teachers, the woman who had taught their RE class when they were in Kindergarten, a member of the congregation they thought of us a second grandmother, a mystery Pal from a few years back.  In that moment, I knew they would be okay.

The beloved members of our Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Milford, NH had been there for my children since before that child dedication ceremony, and had lived up to the promises they had made that day.  This congregation took the time to get to know them.  They have shared with them, learned from and with them, and have shown them love and respect.  The congregation had done this in such a way that it was obvious to my children.  My kids feel a part of their spiritual community, and in their time of need, thought to turn there first for support.

Our rituals and ceremonies are important.  The ways in which we include and treat our children teach them what it means to be part of a larger community.  The way we model pastoral care for people of all ages shows them that it is okay to bring our full selves to our religious home.

I feel extremely grateful that I brought my kids to church regularly as they were growing up so that these lessons could be internalized, these multigenerational bonds could be formed, and this community could have the opportunity to get to know them and be present for them today.  I couldn’t be more proud of my kids, our congregation, or this faith.

Military Ministry

This isn’t a typical post for me.  I was recently asked to reflect on and answer the question:

“Why should UU congregations intentionally reach out to active military personnel, veterans, and their families?”

It took some time, some reflection, and a reminder of my commitment to practice being vulnerable in public, but here it is.

 

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I began my service in the US Army when I was 20 years old.  I was 3000 miles away from my family, friends and the only community I had ever known.  One of the first things you learn in Basic Training, in fact your best chance for surviving the training at all, is to do what you are told, keep your opinions to yourself, and definitely do not ask any questions or challenge authority.  I might not have liked it, but I certainly understood it, and I played my part in the overall system.

 

I was assigned to a unit with a relatively low number of women.  There were 4 of us, and maybe 10 other women in units nearby.  Our building was in the midst of an infantry battalion, made up entirely of men.  We worked in an environment where soldiers felt free to stare and make lewd, unprofessional comments.  We were forced to eat our meals in a place where eating a banana became dirty, and where a woman had been recently raped.  We lived in a place where soldiers would look through our windows with binoculars, where we had to shower behind unlocked doors, and where anyone could jimmy the lock on your room with a credit card or ID.  We served knowing that if we didn’t exceed all expectations, we were proving that women had no place in the military.  Sexual harassment was the unspeakable norm.  Silence was the expected course of action.

 

During my time serving in the military, I did not have control over many aspects of my life.  The Army told me what to eat, what to wear, where to live, and what my work was.  There was no room for interpretation.  When I was threatened with disciplinary action for having a rainbow bumper sticker on my car, there was little I could do.  My orders were cut and dry.  As a soldier, I executed my orders flawlessly and without public complaint.

 

But the military had no control over my faith.  The faith-based opportunities on base, or in the field, were minimal, and were not appealing to me.  I did not want to recite passages from the Bible.  I needed more than that.  I needed a place where I could ask big questions, and more importantly where it was safe for me to do so.

 

It took some effort on my part, but I found the local UU congregation, not too far from the military base where I was stationed.  The congregation was such a breathe of fresh air.  Here were a group of passionate people, living their lives faithfully, authentically, and asking those big questions with each other. I felt held and safe when sharing deep sorrows and profound joys.   It was the only hour of my week when I could be my true, and whole self.  It was the only place where I dared be vulnerable.  It was the only time anyone called me by my first name.

 

The congregation was life saving for me.  It was through my connection with the congregations that I reclaimed my identity, remembered who I was at my core, and was able to remain true to myself.f

 

The message was life changing for me.  I copied passages from the hymnal every Sunday so that I could reflect on those words throughout the week.  The intensity of my time spent in active duty, caused me more spiritual discernment than perhaps at any other time of my life.

 

UU congregations must reach out to military personnel and their families.  Our congregations may be the only place where they can safely be who they are, ask questions, mourn losses, and speak their truths.

 

I first publically identified as a veteran, years after leaving the military, and during a Veteran’s Day worship service at my home congregation.  I was immediately struck by one woman, who approached me after the service.  She was a well-known, long time member of the congregation.  Her high school aged son was intending to join the Marines.  She did not know what to do.  She did not feel like she could talk about it in her congregation.  As a peace loving people, she was sure they would not understand.  She did not understand why her son was making this choice, and was torn between her work for peace, and her support of her son’s choices.

 

Our UU congregations need to be supportive of our members, and their friends and family who choose to serve in the military.  This is our best chance at changing a culture, by inundating it with our people who bring tolerance, respect, value humanity, the environment, and work for peace and justice. Talking only to each other in the comfort of our sanctuaries does not challenge militarism, does not respect the dignity and humanity of those who choose to serve, it does not move us toward beloved community.  I left the military before being promoted to a position of leadership.  The UU leader I am today would be strong enough, and prepared to lead the charge for deep change.  My commitment to Unitarian Universalism, and all of the amazing and committed leaders I have learned from and worked with over the years are the ones who have prepared me well for this type of leadership.  We have a role to play in this, as people of faith, of welcoming congregations, and as Unitarian Universalists working to heal a fragile and broken world.

 

Crossing the Bridge

I’m bridging this week.  Well, kinda, but not really.  This week I become a “real adult” or an “old adult” or whatever else you call it after you have moved on from being a young adult.  This week I turn 36.  In most circles, turning 36 is not a momentous occasion.  It’s not as exciting as 18, not as stress-inducing as 40, and comes with no added benefits like at age 62 (or older).  I bet you would be hard pressed to find a birthday card explicitly celebrating this milestone.  Yet for me, it is, and is not a pretty big deal. Image

I came to Unitarian Universalism as a young, Young Adult.  I was 20 years old, fresh out of Basic Training in the US Army, 3000 miles away from home, and searching for a new spiritual community.  I had already left the trappings of a Catholic upbringing and was interested in learning more about Unitarian Universalism, introduced to me by way of a college course on World Religions (taught by a UU professor, incidentally).  I found my first UU congregation the best way I knew how: using the yellow pages of the telephone book.  I attended my first UU worship service on a Sunday morning in the late fall, was greeted warmly, while at the same time, was allowed my space to observe and take everything in.  I can honestly say that I immediately felt at home, and knew this was the place and faith for me.  It’s not an uncommon story.

 

 

I spent the better part of the next two years attending services at that congregation.  I mingled with elders during the monthly post-church lunch of soup and bread, and spoke with the young families who surrounded me during the service.  I felt held and safe when sharing deep sorrows and profound joys.  There was not a Young Adult group at the church, and I didn’t think anything of it.  I knew I was the youngest person in worship services, aside from the children who would soon after leave for the RE classes, but I really did not care.

 

By the age of 23, I had returned home, married, with a baby, and another on the way.  When I looked around on Sunday morning in our new congregation, no one looked like me.  Sure, there were young families, but it was a different version of young.  We had children when we were in our early 20s.  I was a decade or two younger than almost all of the other parents of young children.  Since my own mother was only 20 years older than me, the young parents in the congregation seemed closer in age to my own mom and dad than to me.  Any likely peers were nowhere to be found.  I was still technically a young adult, but felt less so since I was also a parent.  I have been traversing that dichotomous terrain for 13 years.

 

Sure, I’ve been a young adult by UUA guidelines and standards, but it’s hard to identify that way when you have two kids in middle school, are paying off student loan debt and trying to save for their schooling at the same time, and are happiest when you get a chance to go to bed by 9:00pm on a Saturday night and sleep in until 7:00am on Sunday.  I just don’t feel THAT young anymore.  I feel like I’ve been a “real adult” for a long time.

 

But in my work as UUA District staff, I visit a lot of congregations.  Even as I continue to age (I do have a birthday each year, and I do celebrate it for an entire month), I am often the youngest adult in the room.  How is this still happening?  I spoke to a lay leader recently who told me they had a number of young adults on their board.  When I asked what he meant by young adults, he replied, “Oh, under the age of 50.” 

 

Listen, I will be frank with you.  I take no offense at being called young, and am sure I will appreciate it more each year.  But if I walk into your congregation, and there is no one between my age and your high schoolers, we have a problem.  If there is no one between my age and your 50-year-old lay leader, we have a problem, and a 30 year age gap in members once I walk out the door.  We must offer diversity in Young Adult ministry if we are to remedy this.  The age span is wide, the needs are varied, and our young adults are flung far and wide.

 

I’ll bridge this week, in my own little way.  I won’t get the Young Adult ribbon on my name badge at GA later this month, but I’ll still be the youngest member of my Regional Staff team.  I’ll drop my daughter off at her first day of junior high in the fall, and will still be asked if I had her in high school.  I don’t expect my life will change all that much once I turn 36.  But I will continue to work to help create communities and support congregations ready and able to minister to people of all ages, in all stages, of life.

 

How Do You Spread Peace in the World?
Armed with a camera and an ice cream cone, two sisters (ages 10 and 11) hit the grounds of Ferry Beach to ask participants of the UU Fellowship and Fun Conference,” How do you spread peace in the world?” They were tasked with asking children, youth, and young adults. In the eyes of these girls, youth has no bounds.

 

 

 

In August, I spent a week with the good people at the UU Fellowship and Fun Conference at Ferry Beach in Saco, Maine.  They asked me to serve as their theme speaker for the week, the theme being, Pathways to Peace.  It was a fantastic week, one I’m sure I won’t forget.  Here are some of the notes and insights from our time together:

 

What comes to mind when you hear the word PEACE?

 

  • Calm
  • Relaxation
  • No war
  • Compassion
  • Village
  • Non violent communication
  • Togetherness
  • Quiet
  • Being loved
  • Justice
  • Inner serenity
  • A little baby
  • Ghandi
  • Sleep
  • Knitting
  • Playing the harp
  • Singing
  • Harmony
  • Kindness
  • Patience
  • Security
  • Still water
  • Protests
  • River
  • Living your passion
  • Nowy woods
  • Wise mind

 

What do you think comes to mind when children hear the word PEACE?

  • No war
  • Earring and stickers
  • saying, “Peace out”
  • middle ground
  • white doves
  • salutation
  • quiet
  • sleeping
  • family
  • safety
  • be nice
  • no fighting
  • sharing
  • safety
  • free from turmoil
  • the Golden rule
  • no bullying
  • equality
  • no fear
  • friendships
  • Native American Indians
  • Vacations
  • Fishing
  • Ice cream
  • Teddy bear
  • Nature
  • Ferry Beach

 

What comes to mind when someone older than you hears the word PEACE?

  • World War II
  • Truce
  • The 1960s
  • Absence of pain
  • RIP
  • armistice Day
  • Victory garden
  • Basic needs
  • Land of plenty
  • No conflict
  • hippies
  • Woodstock
  • End of the depression
  • Family together again
  • Hospice
  • Prosperity
  • Health
  • Healing
  • Understanding
  • Resolution
  • Death
  • Sadness
  • Solemnity
  • Mourning loss
  • Homecoming
  • Canada
  • Flag

 

“What I cannot bear to think of as lost forever in a war.”

 

Our children

Hope for future generations

The chance to sit quietly in a canoe on a peaceful lake watching an eagle’s nest

My grandsons

The life of the natural world

The death of a young soldier who died before his time; a life that had no time to live

My children, Community

Babies

Hope, innocence

Family and friends

Optimism for life

Family, Safety, Adequate food and shelter

Sustainability for today and tomorrow’s children

Serenity, Friendship

People, community, beautiful trees, birds, animals, music that is happy, the grand canyon, flowers, fields of joy, rivers, mountains, cities

Family and colleagues

No more needles, pain and destruction

Innocence, serenity, possibility

My precious Andrea, Becca, Gymm, Mom, Joyce, Dad, Paul

Flowers, babies, love, home

Beauty

My sons and my granddaughter

Blue skies and sunshine, birds singing in the trees, freedom

My daughter, an ocean to swim in, Ferry Beach

The life of any human being and all of their relatives

Clean clear rivers

Children, hope, beauty

How far humankinds possibility to evolve

My child

The lives of the people I love

My son in the US army

The future

Trees

My family, My children

Lives of children

Newborn baby’s smile

The freedom to connect with family, friends and loved ones

The global, cultural heritage and diversity

Nature, freedom, trust

The natural beauty of the earth (Gaia)

Friends and family, good music

Laughter, music, potential environmental health

 

It all.

 

 

 

 

Check out uuworld.org : ‘gathered here’ helps uus share experiences, hopes

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