Growing Lifelong UUs

Full Circle: Fifteen Ways to Grow Lifelong UUs, written by well-known religious educator Katie Tweedie Erslev (Covey), is based on surveys and interviews with lifelong Unitarian Universalists. As part of our goal of being intentional about raising UU children, I thought I’d share the fifteen suggestions Katie made in her book. If you’d like to borrow the book, I can lend it to you.

  1. Embrace our UU identity. Be clear about who UUs are. Our common beliefs include our 8 UU principles, but we also have hidden assumptions that underlie our faith, such as: there is the possibility of good in the universe, the ultimate religious act is choosing what we believe, We make choices with intelligent love (reason, our senses, and our conscience), we mature religiously when in community.
  2. Recognize religious education as an important portal to institutional involvement. Teaching RE classes is where both new parents and life long UU teens and young adults have their first taste of being a UU leader. From RE teacher, they move to stewardship roles in all facets of the church.
  3. Share the value of attending regularly (at least three times a month). Lifelong UUs almost universally report that going to church every Sunday was a family expectation, a ritual that they may have fought at times but which helped them feel part of the church community.
  4. Ritualize holiday events and celebratory activities. Many lifelong UUs cite yearly holidays and celebrations at church among their favorite memories.
  5. Prepare all for the negative side of community. In any community there are divisions, controversies, and discomfort. If we prepare our children (and ourselves) for the inevitable conflicts of building community, we are better able to handle them when they come up.
  6. Provide background for teachers in everything we do. This honors our commitment to lifelong UUs who are becoming re-involved as adults, as well as supporting our new UUs who are often teaching about a faith they are just beginning to understand themselves.
  7. Provide parent resources. Lifelong UUs describe a family heritage that teaches UUism at home – so we need to support our parents in teaching the faith at home as well as at church.
  8. Offer opportunities for all ages to live out our UU values. Social justice drives our faith. Good church programming offers opportunities for everyone to learn and internalize this important motivator, as well as helping us remember that when we stand up for the right thing, we have the whole church and denomination standing with us.
  9. Offer engaging programs for kindergarten through sixth grade. Lifelong UUs report memories of nurturing teachers, engaging craft projects, singing in children’s choir, and challenging questions – a blend of skilled, caring teachers and programs that balance fun (which keeps children coming back) and teachable moments (which create mature religious individuals).
  10. Take every opportunity for ministers and lay leaders to mentor children and teens. “If we hope to make our young people’s faith a lifelong commitment, then we must make sure that our leaders have time to notice and appreciate our youth. Life long UUs spoke of the power of having one’s emerging talents recognized by a leader.”
  11. Sweep teens into immersion experiences. Conferences, camps, service trips and rallies– these are the events that create lifelong bonds. People of all ages need them, but teens are developmentally poised to get the most “lift” out of these buoyant experiences.
  12. Bolster and protect youth groups. Katie found that a positive youth experience in the congregation may be the most important facet to being a life long UU. Survey respondents overwhelmingly found their youth group experience positive. They also liked meaningful roles in the congregation such as participating in worship services, counting ballots, and teaching RE.
  13. Connect with our young adults. Programming for young adults is good to do (and needed). Many lifers did not participate in their congregation when they were in their 20’s but when they did walk in to a UU church, it felt like coming home.
  14. Sing together. Support great music programs and encourage them to reach out to all ages – children’s choirs, youth music groups, and instrumentals during Worship. Music connects often overly intellectual UUs with transcendent feelings.
  15. Celebrate founders, lifers, and heritage. Write the congregational history, keep the archives current, tell the founders’ story regularly, and put up the historical plaques. In short, CELEBRATE!

These suggestions for raising lifelong UUs require intention and commitment from everyone: Church leaders, staff, parents and all congregants. Some of these suggestions are things we are already doing. Others we are working toward achieving. Thanks in advance for your help.

Robin Pugh
Director of Lifespan Religious Education