A few months ago, Beth Ogilvie asked me to write up a short summary of how our religious exploration program for children and families incorporates issues of welcoming diversity and difference in our community. My response was: “well, that’s kinda of most of what our RE program does!” Beth was pulling together a report for The Welcoming Congregations Program of the national Unitarian Universalist Association. It’s a volunteer program for congregations that want to take intentional steps to become more welcoming and inclusive of people with marginalized sexual orientations and gender identities.
I know it is often difficult to define what being a Unitarian Universalist means. The gift of working with younger children is that they MAKE you figure it out really quickly. You have to be able to communicate in concrete and specific ways what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist. And the most concrete way I can communicate what UUism means is this: difference is good. And truly embracing and welcoming diversity and difference is also hard, hard work. That is why there are so few communities, religious or otherwise, that one can truly call multicultural. Our different stories, the pain and joy we carry with us– well, that can make it difficult to understand one another.
Our children started out this church year making multiple name tags for themselves, because within each of us is a lot of difference. Sometimes we are happy, sad, angry, confused, or bored. And in our church community, we welcome all these parts of us. Not only do we welcome all the different feelings, but we also welcome all of our different experiences and stories. We welcome all kinds of families in all kinds of configurations and work to make sure we are not unintentionally excluding some people. Most of our lesson plans expose and normalize our differences and try to help our children lessen anxiety about differences. Of course, children are generally way better at this than we adults are– they are still so flexible and open. Wow, the RE director has a wife? That surprised some of our children but not for very long. Yes we are different, but come on, what really matters is who is going to be “it” in a game of tag; who gets stuck with the ‘hot potato’ when the song ends; and how much does it tickle when ants crawl over your hand.
It has been a full and rich church year, full of difference, joy, sadness, and fun. My ten month contract with the church comes to a close on June 15th. I will miss you all over the summer and look forward to rejoining you when I resume my family ministry work with the church on August 15th.
Blessings on your summer,