A Unitarian Universalist Multigenerational Ministry Resource

Archive for the ‘Multigenerational Ministry’ Category

“I’ll never do THAT like my parents did”

“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.




The Power of Our Child Dedication Some Years Later


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.

Passing the Baton

How might we get serious about leadership develpment of our younger and upcoming generations?  It is not uncommon for our congregational leaders to be comprised of members of our eldest generations.  Certainly they have experience, wisdom, and in many cases, the possibility of more free time as their child rearing responsibilities have ended. 

“When the Baby Boomers retire, some fear they will leave a leadership vacuum in their wake. Boomers have not been good about passing on their leadership knowledge, and Xers have not been good about accepting Boomers as mentors, Gilburg writes.”

How can our congregations prepare for a successful handoff? 



Wow. What a truly inspiring multigenerational adventure.

From UU World:

“Plenty of congregations make videos. Some feature congregants explaining what drew them to Unitarian Universalism. Others feature heartfelt invitations to visit. Still others are videos of individual services and service projects.

First Unitarian Church of Rochester, N.Y., has produced its share of those kinds of videos over the years. But when staff members began planning last spring for Homecoming Weekend in September they wanted something more. They wanted something that expressed First Unitarian’s values. And was fun. And enthusiastic.

They got it. First Unitarian’s four-minute “Coming Home” video not only captivated the congregation, but it captured the UU universe. It’s been posted numerous times on Facebook, passed around on email and Twitter, and can be seen on dozens of websites of other congregations.

“Coming Home” is a combination rap and music video featuring members of the congregation telling—or rather singing—about why they attend First Unitarian. The video, created largely by First Unitarian’s Worship Creative Arts team, expresses the congregation’s creativity and enthusiasm and highlights the congregation’s support of social justice issues, including environmentalism, marriage equality, and peace advocacy.”

Read more from UU World: http://www.uuworld.org/news/articles/188334.shtml?utm_source=f

5 Free Ways to Welcome Children into the Multigenerational Congregation

1.  Offer children a name tag to wear.  All friends and members should be able to greet each other by name.  Children who are greeted by name by the older youth and adults of their congregation are more likely to feel seen and known.  They are just as much a part of the fabric of the congregation’s life as any adult.



2.  When children are in the service, whether it be once a month, during the first 10 minutes of every service, or on Multigenerational Worship days, sing the songs that they have heard and know.  Repetition is important.  Not all of our children are able to follow along in the hymnal.  Referring to our “UU Greatest Hits” will enable them to participate in singing with the congregation.  (See Come Sing a Song With Me: A Songbook for All Ages by Melodie Feather, for some examples)


  3.  Involve children in the sharing of Joys and Sorrows each week.  This is an excellent way for them to hear more about the people in their congregation, witness compassionate listening, and understand the trials and tribulations of life.  It also affords them the opportunity to know that their joys and sorrows or concerns are equally as important as yours.



4.  Read through your congregation’s newsletter.  Is there anything pertaining to children?  Are upcoming events open to them beyond receiving childcare?  Is there a space for their words, thoughts, reflections to be captured?  Ask yourself, “How might we be able to include our children in this publication?”


    5.  Are any of the educational or enrichment workshops you are offering open and welcoming to participation from folks under the age of 18?  Would a parent or child know that by reading your description?

“Mom? Is Unitarian Universalism a real religion?”

This morning started out like any other morning.  My 10-year-old was making her own breakfast, while my nine-year old was deep in thought over a plate of pancakes.  I was taking a moment to sip my coffee.  There is no telling what the topic of conversation will be over breakfast.  It typically depends on whatever was deep in the subconscious of one of my daughters’ minds during the night.

Wait for it…

“Mom?  Is Unitarian Universalism a real religion?” asked my 9-year-old. 

Hmmm.  Didn’t see that one coming. 

“Yes.  It’s a real religion.  Why do you ask?” I replied and took a few another sip (or 5) of coffee.

“Well, when I had a sleepover with *Lexi* this summer, her mom asked me if Unitarian Universalism was a real religion or just something weird since she had never heard of it.  She wanted to know if it was Christian.”

Instead of launching into our principles and sources at 6:30 am, I reiterated that we do have a real religion, and that many UUs are Christian, and you don’t need to be either Catholic or Jewish to have a “real religion.”

She took a few more bites (which may or may not have given me time to refill my cup of coffee).

“But Mom?  I feel bad for my friends who go to [name of conservative Christian]  Church.  They bring coloring books into the service because it is SOOOOO boring.  They don’t even know what’s going on because it’s SOOOOO boring.  If they went to a UU Church, they wouldn’t have to color because it’s so much fun, and you can understand what’s going on.”

Her sister agreed with her and thought that everyone should know about Unitarian Universalism because we don’t see all of the other religions as bad or weird.  I was once again struck by how isolating being a UU kid can be.

And within seconds we were on to another subject.

On my drive to the office, I started to replay our conversation in my mind.  Being raised in another faith (and bringing my own books to Church on Sunday morning), I could appreciate my daughter’s observation about attending mass in another Church and her own Sunday morning Worship experiences at our UU congregation.  Here she was, in her own way, articulating one of the great benefits of being part of an intentionally multigenerational congregation.  Our home congregation really strives to be inclusive and aware of its multiage audience on Sunday mornings.  For this reason, Sunday morning Worship belongs to my daughter as much as it does to me, or the grandparent sitting next to us, or the teenagers in the front, and everyone else in between.  She feels that the message is for her, not above her.  She feels called to sing along with the hymns as they are familiar to her.  She feels valued and invited to be there. 

Her experience highlights Multigenerational Ministry at its best.

Generation WE

Generation WE: The Movement Begins… from Generation We on Vimeo.

Earlier this week, I met with an old friend I had not seen in some years. She is a Baby-Boomer with children ages 17-22. I am a Gen Xer with 9 and 10-year-old children. I mention this because I think it played a role in our ensuing debate.

My friend shared her sorrow and fear for what she was sure would happen to our country and our planet in the coming decades. Our economy would not rebound, citizens would become less informed and engaged, and there was virtually no hope for recovery.

I listened to her prophecy, and was immediately saddened. I wondered if others were also feeling such despair. I tend to be slightly more optimistic, but not naive. I do clearly understand the challenges we face, but I look to the future with so much hope. Perhaps it is because my children are younger, more informed than any generation before them due to our relationship with technology, and prone to activism. I wondered if my hope was because of my faith in my own children, or in an entire generation.

Eric Greenberg talks about the power up this Millennial generation, a generation which he calls, Generation We.

A Powerful Generation with a Different Worldview

The worldview of the Millennial generation is shaped by two overriding dynamics that set this generation apart from those that have come before them. The first is a commitment to the common good over individual gain, an ethos that reaches across traditional divisions such as race, ideology, and partisanship. The Millennials are not a “Generation Me” but rather a “Generation We.” They are strongly progressive, socially tolerant, environmentally conscious, peace-loving, and poised to lead the biggest leftward shift in recent American history. They volunteer in record numbers and declare themselves ready to sacrifice their self-interest for the greater good. They do not fit neatly into any classic ideological category and are clearly eager to establish a new paradigm.

The second dynamic that fundamentally shapes the Millennials’ worldview is a comprehensive rejection of the country’s current leadership and dominant institutions. Whether it is Congress and the federal government, major corporations, or organized religion, these young Americans believe the large institutions that dominate so much of our modern society have comprehensively failed, placing narrow self-interests ahead of the welfare of the country as a whole. http://www.gen-we.com/

So I ask, what are we, as Unitarian Universalists, doing to help nurture the potential of this generation, and how do we support them best?