Surprise! How one parent’s quest for his children’s religious education transformed his own spiritual journey

by Dave Anderson

My journey at UUCWC began almost 4 years ago because of two simple words that in their togetherness were infinite with possibilities: Who’s God? My son asked this of me as he neared his 4th birthday, when I replied to one of his many, many, many, many questions with “Only God knows.” His reply back to me stopped me in my tracks. Immediately I recalled visions of aspirational conversations (yet with firmly- held conviction…) between my husband and myself about how we would not repeat ‘the mistakes of our parents’ and force religious doctrine on our then unborn children. Having no plan and no clue, we would ‘teach them about the religions of the world’ and ‘shape them into beings of promise.’ And now four years into his life, while my son did not know Hell as a construct or threat of punishment, he also, I realized, had no clue about the concept of a higher being or any sense of a spiritual life. Our personal misgivings for the organized religions we had been exposed to overrode any sense of aspiration, and the result was a toddler now challenging me in a totally different way.

As I lamented this failure to a friend and reflected on my original parenting plan, she immediately said to me, “Sounds like you are looking for Unitarian Universalist experience.” I had never heard of the UU faith, but the few bullet points she gave me were enough to intrigue me to look further. That evening with my trusted friend Google, I learned about UUism and the church here at UUCWC. Critically for me, I also learned about the children’s Religious Education (RE) program. I attended service for the first time on a cold January Sunday in 2012, with a mental construct that I would check out the church and the RE program, make sure in general ‘you all’ weren’t crazy, and then largely have my kids attend RE while I sat in the car. This was organized religion after all, of which I wanted little part, and a free hour in the car to read a book sounded like a quasi-religious experience at that point in my life.

Today, I look at my experience with the church and that plan seems so foolish. I recall the adult religious education classes I have been fortunate to take, the new friendships that I have developed through UUCWC, my new journey as a wet-behind-the-ears Worship Associate; none of those journeys being about my children’s spiritual life, but rather my own. I was not in touch with a need within myself that the open minds, helping hands and warm hearts of UUCWC unlocked and helped to fill. But I realize in that reflection that I likely would not have gotten here at all had it not been for my children and my desire to do better by them. Had the program here been flat or unorganized, had the curriculum been unclear or people been unapproachable, then we likely would not have stayed. There was no plan B, so I am not certain what that other journey would have looked like, and I am grateful for the not knowing.

This experience reminds me of the importance of the work that our RE teams endeavor on, in particular as I meet potential new members who have children. As rich as their time in sanctuary might be, I find it hard to think it would be easy for them to remain in the absence of a satisfying program for their children. Visitors come here for all different reasons, and while a smile and handshake at the door are a fantastic first impression, I am so glad to think we can offer more beyond that. For some, like me, quality and enriching children’s RE was my gateway to a new personally fulfilling experience, one that will connect me to the church well beyond my children’s attendance in classes. Armed with this experience, I greet each new face I see at church and wonder how RE might touch their life.

Dave Anderson is a member of the Religious Education Committee for Children and Youth. He is also a Worship Associate.

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