One of the first things I tell our RE teachers during their annual teacher training in September is what the goal is in their classrooms on Sunday morning. New teachers are surprised when they hear me say that the number one goal in RE on Sunday is to allow each child to leave the class with positive “feelings” rather than some information memorized.
Yes, we will spend a lot of time this year talking about our seven principles, the Bible, world religions, and human sexuality in different RE classes. But at the same time, we will also ask our children to internalize what it feels like to accept another who is different than they are. We hope that children leave the classroom feeling as though they have been seen, heard, respected, and treated fairly. We help each child practice what it’s like to act in justice, in love, and with respect. We encourage questions and hope to provide engaging experiences.
Angus MacLean, one of the spiritual redwoods of UU religious education, taught that we act our way into being differently in the world – that people make meaning by interacting with each other, and wrapped inside that process, come to new levels of understanding and being.
On Sunday morning as our children hear stories, sing Spirit of Life, light the chalice, and do activities in the classroom, the RE teachers and I try to have them experience a feeling of wholeness and acceptance.
Rev. Lowell Brook describes the importance of felt experience in religious education below:
What Do our Children Need on Sunday Morning?
They need to light a candle, and have a quiet moment to enjoy its mystery.
They need to sing a song, to hear their own voice and other voices joined together, and to feel the feelings that are stirred by music.
They need to hear a story and have a chance to share their own, remembering that we are each different and also very alike.
They need to create something. Expressing themselves, whether using words or materials, helps to bind the different parts of ourselves and life together. That’s what religion is.
They need to be with an adult who is interested in the world and who feels the privilege and responsibility of their trust—one who is glad to be with them and regards them positively.
Into this safe and encouraging context, we may weave the content of our religious traditions. The history and common threads of our identity are important to be sure, but without this essential loving embrace the education will not be religious.