A Past and Future Look at Religious Education

Eugene B. Navias

Berry Street Essay, 1983


Delivered at the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly

Vancouver, B.C., Canada

June 11, 1983


            My title, PARISH MINISTRY AND PEDAGOGY, comes from three sources:

1.  My search through previous Berry Street essays for evidence of how our ministers have considered their role as teacher, rabbi, educator. (That research led to the incidental notes in the appendix.)

2.  My impressions of where our history has brought us.

3.  My sense of a larger vision of education for liberal religion today, a vision which calls us to consider not only the increased need for the Ministry of Religious Education, the professional Director of Religious Education and the skilled/trained paraprofessional or lay DRE, but also for reconsideration of the role of parish minister as educator, indeed the reconsideration of the roles of all who may contribute to our educational enterprise.

            I have three hopes:

            I hope to foster increased thoughtfulness about the centrality of education in the life of our societies, a centrality which accompanies that of worship, and likewise is to result in action.

            Secondly, I hope to support each reader in finding ways to work interdependently and productively for the service of the religious growth and learning of the people in our societies. Now, in addressing Parish Ministers, I am not saying that Parish Ministers are to be the sole or necessarily the prime pedagogues. Rather, I am saying that we are all pedagogues, teachers in some way who need to be in vital collaboration with each other and to know how we interface.

            Third, I hope to call attention to some of the opportunities and resources for fostering education for liberal religion.

            Let me say at the start that there is great variety in our societies and in your situations. All I say will not be equally applicable to all of you. I will focus my attention on Parish Ministry partly out of interest in the tradition of the Berry Street Conference, but more importantly because in some ways Parish Ministry has been the most neglected of the forces that can serve new visions for education in our liberal religious household.           Parish Ministry and the art of teaching. Parish Ministry and the role of minister as educator. Has there ever been any common understanding about that? How is it regarded today? How did it get to be that way?

            To prompt your thought and provide a descriptive image from the past, I invite you to sing about the Sunday School, the Teacher and the Pastor as viewed in 1845. The tune is "0 Tannenbaum." The first melody repeats.



The Sunday School! the Sunday School!

            To children's hearts how dear!

From week to week, with joy we seek

            To meet and worship here.

O Father! with thy presence blest,

         Be this an hour of sacred rest

Thy holy will may we fulfill,

            And worship in thy fear.

Teachers and friends! whom Heaven sends

            To help us on our way;

Faithful and true, we follow you,

            O, guide us, lest we stray!

Teach us to sing our Father's praise,

            And lead us to his throne of grace;

There as we now together bow,

            O, teach us how to pray!

Our pastor kind! with willing mind

            Your counsel we receive;

The love you teach, the truth you preach,

            We'll cherish and believe.

Your presence makes our hearts rejoice,

            We love to listen to your voice;

And while for us you labor thus,

            May God his blessing give!


            Now take a quiet moment for inner reflection. In the spirit of Paulo Freire and Thomas Groome, I invite you to explore and recall what lies stored within you that you may "name your own knowing." Take a moment to ask yourself, "What is my role in the educational life of my religious society or institution? When I think of myself and my title, whatever it may be, how do I understand myself as a teacher? What words, what images, what scenes, come to me as I think of myself as an educator? And if there are others with whom I work, others with whom I share being teacher of religion, how do our roles interact?"

            And now that you have seen your role, have briefly named it and described it and perhaps related it to that of another, I ask you to take a second moment to ask yourself a question which invites you to explore your knowing more deeply:, "What led me to understand my role that way? What experiences brought me to define myself as teacher that way? How did I learn that it was to be that way for me?"

            As you hold your knowings, role images, shaping experiences in mind, let me now share some of what I discovered in the Berry Street Essays and in the record that follows. Let your experience and the events I lift up out of history speak to each other.

            No sooner had Channing launched the Berry Street Conference of Unitarian Ministers and delivered the first essay in 1820, no sooner had two noted colleagues spoken to the defects and difficulties of the pro­fession of Ministry in 1821 and 1822, than one of their number spoke on religious education.

            The year was 1823. The title: THE MEANS TO BE USED BY MINISTERS FOR GIVING THE YOUNG ADEQUATE VIEWS OF THE NATURE AND IMPORTANCE OF CHRISTIANITY.[2] The text was published in the CHRISTIAN DISCIPLE. The essayist's name, however, was omitted, so I shall credit "The Rev. Anonymous."

            What a vision The Rev. Anonymous describes in that early day! The educational means to be used by ministers are to include:

  1. instruction on rational, practical Christianity for both young men and young women.
  2. simplicity in instruction appropriate to understanding
  3. cultivation of the spirit of inquiry
  4. the use of Dr. Joseph Priestley's syllabus
  5. "inculcation upon parents and others," so that they may instruct the young
  6. manuals for parents to use at home
  7. periodicals and books for children's private reading
  8. the establishment of church libraries with books suitable for loan
  9. and finally, the winning of new friends in the community and sympa­thetic understandings among the common people, so that their influence supports the proper nurture of the young, to which end the clergy assembled need to further the publishing fund and provide a translation of the New Testament with a commentary free from Calvinist influence.[3]

            The focus of religious instruction was the young, but the task involved a breadth of educational ministry to parents, elders, new friends and the larger community. How broad the sweep! How imaginative the compliment of means, each buttressing the other! How ambitious and far­seeing! But who is to do all this? The implication seems clear.  It is the Rev. Anonymous and the Ministerial colleagues assembled at the Berry Street Conference.

            The essay trail leads on to 1829. The essayist is Dr. Samuel Willard. The topic: MEANS TO BE USED BY MINISTERS IN THE MORAL AND RELIGIOUS EDUCATION OF THE YOUNG.[4]  THE CHRISTIAN REGISTER[5] (Unitarian) lauds the address, but no one published it. Willard was blind and spoke without notes.

            And then, like the bloodhounds tracing the scent to the edge of the cliff, I found that the trail ends. Titles, précis, Charles Lyttle's history[6] do not reveal that an essayist ever again spoke on the minister's role in education or on the minister's art as teacher.

            It is not that the practical minister is ignored in the sea of erudite philosophical and theological essays. Preaching, counseling, social action are treated again and again. Whatever happened to teaching? One wonders.

            What seems to have happened is that teaching as represented by religious education became in ever larger part something considered to be the province of someone else. Institutionally, the somebody else in the Unitarian household was the Unitarian Sunday School Society founded in 1827, rather than the American Unitarian Association founded in 1825. The somebody else was laity and those clergy who were especially interested in religious nurture.

            William Ellery Channing addressed the U. S. S. S. in 1837 with a landmark statement on religious instruction. It does that address no justice to say that Channing railed against the use of Unitarian catechisms authored by his colleagues, but it is a place to start.

            To remind you of their nature and to provide you with an excuse for some deep breathing, I ask you to sing "A CATECHISM" written by the Rev. William Bourne Oliver Peabody for the children of the Unitarian Church of Springfield, MA, USA.[7] First, read the question aloud; then sing the answer the children would have known by heart; read the second ques­tion, sing the answer, etc. The tune is "Old Hundredth," (The Doxology).


Question I.       Who made you?

Answer.           The God in whom I ever trust

                        Hath made my body from the dust:

He gave me life, he gave me breath

And he preserves me still from death.

Question II.      What else hath God made?

Answer.           He made the sun, and gave him light;

He made the moon to shine by night;

He placed the brilliant stars on high,

And leads them through the midnight sky.

Question XI.    What can you tell me concerning sin?

Answer.           I sin whenever I pursue

What God commands me not to do;

I sin too, if I ever shun

What he hath told me must be done.

Question XIV. What do you learn of the Future State of Happiness?

Answer.           Oh, when the hours of life are past,

                        And death's dark shade arrives at last,

                        It is not sleep - it is not rest, -

                        'Tis glory opening to the blest.


            What most people remember from Channing's address follows the passage in which Channing denounces the catechism as an educational abomination. "The Catechism,” said Channing, "is a dead letter, a petri­fication ... which never enters the Sunday School except to darken it."[8]

            This condemnation leads to these familiar lines:

... The great end in religious instruction is not to stamp our minds upon the young, but to stir up their own; not to make them see with our eyes, but to look inquiringly and steadily with their own; not to give them a definite amount of knowledge, but to inspire a fervent love of truth...[9]

            What history has ignored is that Channing linked the goals of free inquiry, the fervent love of truth, conscientious judgment, moral discernment, vigorous action and spiritual life to a four-fold faith: A faith in God; in liberal Christianity; in the educating community of the Sunday School and church, and in the very nature of the child which is made for growth.[10]

            The address was remarkable for its philosophical/theological base and for the affirmation on which religious instruction was to be rooted. It preceded Dewey in its regard for the growth potential of the child. It pre-dated Angus MacLean in upholding qualities of life as its goals, and method as inextricable from message.

            There were however, certain conditions and problems which weighed against Channing's address being put into practice. I like to believe that the Rev. Anonymous took responsibility for the implementation of the vision in his essay, for carrying out the prescription. I believe that Channing saw himself as giving sound advice for others to implement.

            The Unitarian Sunday School Society was an organization of laity and those self-chosen ministers deeply concerned for religious education. It was organized to fill a perceived need and void and to serve the churches of the association. One of the by-products of leaving religious education to the Sunday School Society was, I believe, the unintentional and increasing separation of parish minister from religious education.  Gradually, terms like "Sunday School and "Religious Education" became synonymous with children. Gradually, I believe, many ministers came to assume that their work was only with adults. Gradually, religious education moved from being a central function to a sideshow. The upstairs-downstairs status of church and Sunday School occurred. The relative regard and power for parish ministry and the lack of such for the Sunday School superintendent (or as we now say - the DRE and MRE) came as a fact of church life.

            The Unitarian Sunday School Society of the 19th Century shouldered much of the responsibility for religious education.[11]  It raised money, published series after series of curricula, trained superintendents who recruited volunteers, provided teacher training conferences, and indus­triously sought to serve the need. In so doing, it justifiably became proud of its work and achievement. Indeed many leaders felt called to a lifetime of service and study to the cause.[12]

            It was eighty-seven years after its founding that the American Unitarian Association created a department of religious education and then it did so by adopting the U. S. S. S. staff and all. (Indeed, it tried to adopt the Society's endowments, but could not quite arrange that!)

            I suggest that through the happenstance of history, our Unitarian parish ministry lost, if it had ever had it, the sense that education was central to its role.

            We are today, heirs of this history, particularly on the Unitarian side of the family. We have not had, I believe, any common philosophy of education for liberal religion, by which I mean an inclusive and integrated under­standing of our liberal religious societies as educating institutions.

            Nor have we had any commonly held role for the parish minister as educator, either as solo minister of a church or as senior minister in concert with other staff. Surely there is an educational component to the role of parish minister even when that person works with a Minister or Director of Religious Education, an Assistant or Associate, and/or a Lay Director of Religious Education. We have done little to clarify that role.

            Understandably, I believe, our theological schools have varied enormously - (1) in how they saw the educational role of minister, (2) in how they valued religious education as a subject for study, and (3) in their requirements and offerings regarding it. Indeed, it is the UUA which sponsors the one course in UU religious education offered at Harvard Divinity School and available to the many students preparing for our ministry in schools of other denominations in the Boston area. None of our schools at this time is able to offer a graduate degree program in religious education. The Ministerial Fellowship Committee, out of its own alerted consciousness, has now raised the requirements in religious education for parish ministers. I experience renewed interest by our theological schools and I hope for a rebirth of religious education in our theological schools. It is the right time.

            Meanwhile, the winds of change have blown strongly. Three calls to reconsideration of minister as educator leap out of the record of the last forty years and build to an undeniable crescendo.

            In 1936, the A. U. A. Commission on Appraisal published UNITARIANS FACE A NEW AGE.[13] The report stressed both the need for a new era in religious education and the importance of the minister's role in the educational life of the church.

            Nothing said in 1936 compared with the lightning bolts which struck in 1962 with the report of the Committee to Study Theological Education entitled: A PLAN OF EDUCATION FOR THE UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST MINISTRY.[14]  The plan was controversial, critical, history making. Within it, the report of consultant-educator, Dr. Harold Taylor, sounded a summons for educational action.[15]  It is worth replaying today.

            Imagine a brass choir, trumpets and trombones, accentuated with kettle drums and cymbals. I paraphrase Taylor's charge:

First,       Let the entire program of a liberal church be considered an educational program.

Second, Let the minister believe that the goals which Unitarian Univer­salism sets for itself shall only be met as ministers are involved in building strong educational programs for families and for adult members. (Let it be noted that the UUA did not recognize the profession of religious education until five years after the publication of the report.)

Third,      Let the study of religious education and its accompanying dis­ciplines be honored and included in theological education.

Fourth,    Let the methods used in the teaching in theological schools be ones which are viable for ministers to use with members of their congregations.

Fifth,       Let there be one theological school whose special strength is theory, practice and research in religious education.[16]

            "The Taylor Report" as it was called, could not be fully heard and heeded in 1962. But it is worth reading once again today, as we look forward to new possibilities and programs from the theological education endowment.

            The third summons to action was the 1981 Report of the R. E. Futures Committee,[17] which spoke strongly and clearly to the balance of supports needed to foster religious growth and learning in the societies of this Association. It is so familiar and available that I will not repeat all of its recommendations, even as I urge you to keep it alive in your consciousness.

            One night at Star Island, our summer conference home off the New Hampshire coast, we came out from the worship service in the stone chapel to a worship which was more uplifting than that which we had fashioned. There, against the night sky, the aurora borealis played brilliantly, rising from every comer of the compass to meet in arches above our heads, igniting the sky with an illumination I have never seen before or since.

            It is such a magnitude of factors that combine today to call us to new considerations. Each factor speaks to visions we might have, to the roles that we might play out and to actions we may wish and be enabled to take.

            As I probe the values which underlie my visions for our educational enterprise, I find it important to speak very briefly to them. I find myself using the words, "holism," "interdependence," "outreach," "transcendence.”

            I use the word "holism" to avow that we live in a unified "unitarian" cosmos in which reality is seamless and whole. For me, the nature of that reality provides a model for the small world of the church or fellowship. These little universes, made up of diverse parts and persons, are always in need of knowing their inner inter-relatedness and interdependence as well as that in which they are involved beyond their own campfires. By looking holistically, we see that the best guarantee of harmonious inter­relationships is cooperation and inclusion. These qualities of life are learned and grown and inspired by a prizing of common values. The ideal I hold of our inclusiveness is for all generations, all colors and conditions of humankind.

            I believe that our religious communities are enhanced by the vital creative interchange of people who share deeply with one another, who undergo the discipline and labor of growing in one another’s' presences.

            I would hold that for each of us to be fully human is to be using our endowment for growth throughout our lifespan, that to be fully human is to be developing our complimentary human capacities of the spirit, soul, reason, passion, imagination and intuition in ways which lead to our greatest liberation and most just action. To be fully human is to get our powers together to become most integrated, whole, and in that sense, "religious."

            The nature of our amazing humanness is evolutionary and the promises are lifelong, even as our growth is not inevitable. We humans have a "universalistic" impulse to religious quest. It is true of us all across time and culture that we search for central meanings by which our life experience may be bound together in a wholeness. That quest lies beneath all of our present and collective uniqueness.

            Our growth is also in the nature of our relationships with other humans, and that growth too, is never inevitable. It has been named as a growth from and through dependence, from and through counterdependent assertions. So a person may grow to glorious independence, only to find that such is a part of the pilgrimage to a conscious interdependence. In freedom, we may choose association. In freedom, we may see inter­dependence as the model which befits eternity in any earthly heaven.

            Holding such a model of the human universe before us, we see we have responsibility to others. We cannot have a world of haves and have-nots for long, without knowing its corrosive power. We need become empowered ourselves and we need make it possible for others to empower themselves. There is no universal interdependence without the prior step of independence and empowerment for all.

            Holding such a model of the human universe before us again, we see that we have a responsibility to share whatever light we have. We must reach out, not just for the growth of our denominational village, but because we believe we have truths, modes of address to life, which will bring the world closer to that model fit for eternity.

            So the discovery and use of ways to foster holism in our pedagogy, inclusiveness in our communities, interdependence in our relationships, outreach with the truths we hold, according to a transcendent vision, so these ways become, I believe, crucial.  And from this much follows…


1.  We are called by this new holism to understand religious education as broadened from Sunday School for children to religious growth and learning for the human lifespan.  That mandate of our Religious Education Futures Committee finds foundation in the research and theory of Piaget, Erikson, Kohlberg, Gilligan, Wilcox, Fowler, Kegan, and more.  To be human is to have the repeated task, challenge and opportunity to work on our own evolution, transformation, and transcendence throughout our lives.  We are only beginning to explore what that means in terms of intentionally using the resources of our religious communities to program for the succession of life tasks and faith crises not to mention world crises, that lead to new faith opportunities and actions.

            "Are you asking questions today you never thought about as a teenager?”[18]  When this question was posed to thousands of adults in our society, most answered, "yes.”  If that is so, we need to develop the art of programming for those religious questions as they come throughout the lifespan.


2.  We are called to construct a philosophy of education for our liberal religious societies and for our association.  We respect not only pluralism, but the rich learnings which come through involvement by inviting every congregation to ask itself foundational questions of religious growth and learning and to frame its own answers.

            Soon we will be publishing PHILOSOPHY MAKING FOR UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST RELIGIOUS GROWTH AND LEARNING: A PROCESS GUIDE, by Elizabeth Anastos and David Marshak, UUA Coordinators of Curriculum.  I urge its use.  Lend yourself to its flexible process as both participant and leader in congregations.  I have used the word "congregation” as an intentionally inclusive term to mean all of those people who are or may be engaged in the pilgrimage we serve.  That counts for far more people than the usual policy-making bodies for children’s, youth and adult programs.  It means Social Action folk and Senior Group people, Choir Representatives, women and youth, gays and lesbians, those currently served by the societies’ programming and those who are not served and who are willing to give themselves to the study process.  The art which the GUIDE will assist you in practicing is one of probing the societies’ underpinnings, evaluating the present service to growth and plotting the desired future.  As religious leaders, you may fill several pedagogical roles, by turns calling out need and opportunity, facilitating leadership action, encouraging and empowering persons to take part and more.[19]


3.  We are called to continue a task already begun in naming those principles we can affirm in our individual religious communities, whether they are those of the Proposed Revision to our By-Laws or those of the Futures Committee Report, or a set unique to our own particular society.  I urge us to practice that art which presses for a depth of exploration so that individuals look carefully at the faith and belief, the theology and philosophy which informs the names they give their values and affirmations.  We are called to name the affirmations which will stand as foundational to the goals of intentional educational programming and as a measure of what we may be teaching unintentionally.


4.  We are called to look in a holistic way at the educational effect of everything we do, both the spoken curriculum and the silent curriculum.  All that happens in our religious household teaches, whether for or against free inquiry, the worth and dignity of persons, the democratic process, human justice.  We are blessed or cursed, aided or hampered by the allness of our educational impact.[20]

            Many times in my ministry I have caught myself espousing one thing but teaching another by my actions.  I espoused the rights and powers of congregationally-elected committees in my ministry in Concord, N.H., and then was caught being manipulative, paternalistic, and power-seizing.  What was I teaching?

            The lesson was that I, as a minister, had more rights, power, wisdom than the delegates of the people.  I was teaching that I did not trust the congregation to make wise decisions, and that open inquiry and democratic process are to be aborted on the way to liberal salvation if one wishes.  It was a painful lesson and an important one.  John Fletcher in RELIGIOUS AUTHORITY IN THE CLERGY asserts that the vital ministerial/congregational role achieves a crucial balance where each teaches the other, and has built up the trust and love and strength to achieve that.[21]

            I would use the term "quality controller” to describe a role of religious leadership which helps the congregation monitor its own teachings.  Do congregations really intend all they teach?  There is an ill-clothed, smelly, old man who comes to church.  He is seated by the ushers in a pew so far-removed that he can scarcely see the pulpit or more importantly be within sniffing range of anyone else.  He does not seem to get invited to coffee hour by the ushers, as some are.  Is he one of God’s or Nature’s or the Astounding Universe’s children? Is there any hope for his inclusion or growth in the land of the flaming chalice?  Not by our teaching.

            I have visited affluent churches where everything seems to get funded except wheel-chair ramps and elevators. Are the handicapped among Nature's or God's or the Astounding Universe's children? Not by our teaching?


5.  We are called to learn new arts of education, so that all we do in the name of education is good education. Ours is a tradition of teamed educational preaching. Our story trove is full of examples where our preaching in the sanctuary and on the stump has changed the course of history, no less human hearts, minds, and actions. How I would like to ride a time machine back to hear Thomas Starr King at the San Francisco pulpit, or preaching on these shores of British Columbia, or out winning California to abolition and the union. How I would like to hear Olympia Brown, Francis David, the eloquent lay preacher Mary Ashton Rice Livermore and surely Merle St. Croix Wright, whose brilliant preaching won him the honor of giving two Berry Street Essays. Preaching in its glory does "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable" in ways which bring new life, understanding, action.

            But sometimes it is not so. It is not only that we may sometimes be "pizzley" preachers (that's a New England word for poor), but that we may load an impossible goal on the act of preaching.

            I doubt that many of you have had your preaching labeled as mine once was by a handshaker passing the ministerial toll-gate on the road to coffee hour: "Well," said my critic, "that was a supreme act of verbal masturba­tion, but it isn't going to change me any."

            When we are thoughtful about it, we know that not only does preaching and the conduct of worship need our finest thought and skill, but that there are educational means of augmenting the hour, ways to go further, to enhance, or simply to accomplish what is not meant for a preaching occasion.

            When I am with radical Catholic educator Thomas Groome and expe­rience his modeling the stages of shared praxis, I feel myself in the presence of someone whose art of teaching could inform much that we do in pulpit, classroom, forum or discussion group. Praxis is a process of reflection upon action, a process which invites one to name one's own knowing, invites deep exploration of how one came to that knowing, provides challenge with visions and stories of one's own faith tradition, adds the best insights of one's own day, moves from that vision to the reality of one's own life, invites a dialectic among the ideas and a dialog within the church community, and leads one to answer the question, "What will I do now?" It leads always to action and again to reflection.[22]


6.  We are called to use the arts of education to empower people to act on their affirmations. The United States Administration today is hostile to the humane thrust of 200 years of Unitarian Universalist history. It is trading military madness for human misery. Learning how to empower people to take actions that change even some small comer of the world is pedagogy we could learn.

            When I am told of the program on peace conducted in our Santa Monica Church, I see a vital and complete cycle of learning.

            Santa Monica's month-long program of peace education and action empowerment started with Sunday worship and sermons and went on to include an intergenerational day of learning and celebration, festive communal meals, music by children's and intergenerational choirs. The day included vital opportunities for skill-building and action practice where people not only expressed their commitment to act in behalf of peace and began the practice of letter writing, but committed themselves to on­going actions that they were now clearly motivated and empowered to take.

            Judy Sprenger of the Presbyterian Women's Project has developed a program to help people learn how to grow beyond their own habits of stereotyping (she avoids the word "prejudice") which limit their own freedom of thought and behavior. I am intrigued by the six step learning sequence she outlines.[23]

            Mary Elizabeth Moore's research shows that factual education on world hunger is ineffective. It does not change people's behavior. Moore says that effective education for world hunger includes helping persons:

1. to know not only the facts but the moral content of given world hunger situations.

2. to sharpen their moral reasoning about world hunger.

3. to perceive their own attitudes and to experience what some other possibilities would be.

4. to act, to perceive their own actions or inaction, to know its strength and limitations, to formulate plans for training, for gaining new skills, and for making concrete plans for their own change[24]


            With such programs, I see the arts of education blooming in ways that involve the whole human and invite congruent living.


7.  We are called to open the doors and reach out to our unchurched friends. We are gaining a sense of outreach. Our societies are liberal oases in a hostile environment. Our people live, work and have their being in a world that is often alien to their faith, values and actions.

            According to the massive research on public education by John I. Goodlad,[25] most of our children in public schools are being educated for conformity, acceptance of outer authority, and lack of respect for human diversity; they are discouraged from free inquiry and independent learning.

            The Princeton Religious Research Center, Gallup, The Research Project on Faith Development in the Adult Life Cycle tell us that there are millions of unchurched young adults now coming to that late-twenties or thirties period of life when people re-examine their values and beliefs. They're having their first babies, and many are out church-shopping. They've not been in the church market since they left in disgust- or boredom in their teens.

            The research shows that they are looking for churches where they can freely ask their religious questions; they are looking for help in being responsible about the religious and moral education of their children; they are looking for community; for involvement in interest groups where education, friendship and intimacy can occur; they are looking for a church which practices its preachments.

            The research shows that some of them will not easily come through the front doors of the sanctuary but rather through the weekday activities that speak to their needs. A Boston area Baptist church acknowledges this with signs that read: "If you like us on weekdays, try us on Sundays.

            We could learn arts of reaching out and inviting people in through various doors. Some of our people need help in doing that, like the woman who felt so inadequate in answering question about Unitarian Universalism, that she told people she was Jewish. "They know what that is and they don't ask any questions," she said to justify herself. Her minister designed a credo-making and role playing workshop series, and since this church was in the South, there were tough roles to play:


·    How do you tell your born-again Baptist boss when he invites you to his church, that you're a born-again UU?

·    How do you tell your Catholic in-laws that you're raising their grand­children UU?

·    And how do you tell that nice couple who've joined the food co-op about the wonderful religious community you've discovered and how you came to join it after you'd about given up on organized religion?


8. We have been called to a new family inclusiveness. We have wondrously reclaimed our youth and they us. We have reached out to each other, although I think it was the young people who did the first reaching. They've named themselves Young Religious Unitarian Universalists. They are serious about being a part of our societies, our districts and our denomination, and we adult religious leaders need be serious about giving ourselves to that, to serving as advisors and teaming the skills of that, to serving on district youth/adult committees and the denominational YRUU Steering Committee, and giving the care, skills, time and the money for that. The youth staff at 25 Beacon is serious about starting new post-high school groups.

            We need to practice the art of including our youth wherever in the church and denomination their interests lie. Have we really invited them into the arenas of social action and service? Have we engaged them in telling us what would make it worthwhile for them to stay with us through the years? Have we really invited them into active membership? What if we had a youth corps that served the values our youth hold, as our youth interns at 25 Beacon serve our youth programming? Why should the Moonies have a comer on offering youth a place to work on the world within and without their religious household? We have a hymn, "Forward through the ages in unbroken line." William Tilden lecturing Meadville students 100 years ago said, "We've Sunday-Schooled our children, but never churched our youth." What if we learned the arts necessary to keep our babies, children, youth and adults of all vintages in unbroken line? What is we were no longer a revolving door for the fallen orthodox? Why, by the year 2000, we might have to consider being a middle-sized denomination. Could we bear it? Could we in addition learn to go beyond the spectrum of society we now serve to a broader and more inclusive one, that includes people of color - "De Colores," more urban people, more people for whom English is a second language? What if?


9. We are called to the art of web-weaving. I have sometimes described the church as being as disjointed as a Raggedy Andy/Ann doll on its last frayed string, each group doings its own thing, ignorant of the others and the whole: R. E. over here; Adult Programs there; the choir rehearsing a cantata that doesn't fit the Sunday Service; the Social Action Committee secretly plotting its strategies out of any other earshot, hidden down in the bowels of the church. (Didn't I say I needed a course on stereo­typing?) I long for us to see if there are not arts for bringing it all together, to bring the energy together, the power and the flow together. I see us helping church groups to discuss their common mission, their central concerns and affirmations, and to imagine ways to make vital connections that magnify the energies and effects. I dream of the Social Action Group meeting with the R. E. Committee and Youth-Adult Committees to see how they could connect in education and action.


10. We are called to being intergenerational connectors. Today there is an increased hunger in our congregations for intergenerational worship and meaningful church family activity. In an age-segregated society, where condominiums can advertise that they are "child free" - meaning free of - our societies as age-inclusive organizations have such possibilities, among them one-to-one intergenerational sharing, one-to-one mentoring, where each learns from the other what is prized and loved, hated and feared. I believe that there is a wonderful greening power when cross-generational sharing, learning, living and worshipping take place. I believe that each of us has our view of life to give to the other in ways which are widening for our perspective. Adults who have lived through despair and discouragement and still labor with hope for a peaceful and just world have that to share with children who have about given up on the world. And vice-versa: what a gift of idealism our youth have to give us who are older.


11. We are called to be the tellers of the great visions and stories which come out of history, out of the long line of religious liberalism, out of the heritage we cherish. We need share that long stream of light especially with those who step newly into the stream, adults and children, so that we see ourselves strengthened by being part of something that stretches backward to powerful roots and forward with vision and wings. When you have told the great stories you know and find, please send them to us, for we need to compile and share them back again.


12. We are called as leaders to a new interdependence within our local societies, to a new and higher mode of relationship. The vision of our passage to interdependence must not only be one for our fragmented world society. Interdependence must not only be a sensed reality of humans and their planet home. Interdependence must not only be a way we discover for blacks and whites, Indians, Hispanics, Vietnamese, Chicanos to co-exist with dignity and empowerment for all.

            Interdependence is a relational mode we need learn and model within UU Societies among our professional leaders who share a common enter­prise, and among professional lay leaders and every man and woman.

            In some societies today, I see a consciously articulated, purposefully­ lived interdependence, and it blesses the life of those societies with abundant riches of leadership, spirit and growth.

            In some societies, I see the most awful conflict which afflicts and robs the life and spirit of the leaders and of every member.

            I believe with Donald Bossart, in his book on creative conflict in religious education and church administration, that our de facto interdependence is both the source of our conflicts and of our creative use of such conflict. The same interdependence that brings us to collision, says Bossart, "also offers the hope for constructive growth, since there are common values in every interdependent system. If these values are kept before the parties, then growth for all could result from the conflict, as all are pulled together by their common shared values.”[26]  The price is one of commitment to those shared values, commitment to the institution, real caring about oneself, and real caring about the other involved and commitment to do the hard work involved.

            These are a dozen calls to pedagogy. I know many of you have already responded to them, many who have already practiced or polished one or many of the arts mentioned. What can there be to help us?

            I envision a new depth of education for lifespan religious education in our theological schools, new professorships, centers, research, supervised R. E. field work. I dream of a convocation on religious education where we share the best that is known. I envision continuing education in religious education for ministers. I see our MREs and DREs and Parish Ministers sharing more fully with each other. There are some of you whose experience in religious education has been minimal or whose theological education in lifespan R. E. was skimpy who can now enter the UUA's Renaissance Program, even though it is intended for lay people. You would find a rich sharing of theory and practice, successes and wisdom among that group. I see the possibility that some of you who are fellow­shipped as Parish Ministers might add the Ministry of Religious Education to your portfolios - using the UUA's Independent Study Program as your educational vehicle.

            There is great action in the religious education world beyond our campfire - in the disciplines and research centers on human growth and brain research, in the Religious Education Association of North America, in the liberal Catholic centers of religious education.

            There is a world of help possible if we open the doors to it.

            How I yearn for us to effect and broaden the "Voucher Plan" of the noted church consultant Lyle Schaller. The plan suggests the yearly gift to every religious professional of a voucher for whatever continuing education one most needs. Now that would make another wonderful endowment!

            The task of ministry, the task of all forms of religious leadership is always on the side of transformation and transcendence. It is to help people to be, to find roots, to find wings, to become and to surpass what they have been. For me, the task always involves our own transformation and that of our society. The task, as I see it, invites our measuring what is by the transcendent vision of a model for eternity. We seek to transcend what has been, and that is often most painful, most difficult when we apply it personally, for we live in a fishbowl where it is hard for us to show that we have stunted edges that beg for growth.

            And yet we know that the pain of our growing is as nothing to the collective pain of a world society desperately conflicted, teetering nervously between ideologies, theologies and stratagems, caught between greed and planetary survival, seemingly locked in a race hell-bent for hell.

            We change the world by starting with ourselves. We help in building the liberal oasis. We reach out to the desert beyond. We work in concert with others. We mobilize ourselves and others for transcending the greatest threats that history has ever known.

Always we know that to help others grow, we must start with ourselves. "We too must grow."

            And so, to the last act of praxis...

            As you consider what you have read of truth or folly, of vision or void, what does it say to you? And if it says anything to you, what do you intend to do about it?





1. William Crosby, The Sunday School Service Book, Boston, 1844.

2. "The Means to be Used by Ministers for Giving the Young Adequate Views of the Nature and Importance of True Christianity," The Christian Disciple, No. 27, May-June 1823.

3.  Ibid.

4. Charles Lyttle, "An Outline of the History of the Berry Street Ministerial Conference,"Meadville Theological School Quarterly Bulletin, Vol. XXIV, No. IV, July 1930.

5. "Ministerial Conference in Berry Street," The Christian Register, May 30, 1829.

6. Lyttle, "An Outline of the History of the Berry Street Ministerial Conference."

7. Rev. William B. O. Peabody, A Catechism for the Use of Children, Boston, B. H. Greene, 1849. (Originally published in Springfield, Mass. 1823)

8. William Ellery Channing, "The Sunday School: Discourse Pro­nounced Before the Sunday School Society," Boston, American Unitarian Association, 1903.

9. "The Great End in Religious Instruction," Hymns for the Celebration of Life, #462, Boston, Beacon Press, 1964.

10. One who saw the breadth of Channing's address was David Parke. See: David B. Parke, "The Historical and Religious Antecedents of the New Beacon Series in Religious Education," Boston University Graduate School, Ph.D. Thesis, 1965.

11. Robert Dale Richardson, 125 Years of the Unitarian Sunday Schools, Boston, Unitarian Sunday School Society, 1952.

12. The ecumenical annals of religious education by Dorothy Jean Furnish credit Unitarians as having a pioneer professional religious educator in 1907 when Clara Bancroft Beatley was the paid profes­sional Director of the Unitarian Church of the Disciples, Boston, Mass.

      Dorothy Jean Furnish, DRE/DCE-The History of a Profession, Nashville, Christian Educators Fellowship, The United Methodist Church, 1976.

13. Unitarians Face A New Age, The Commission of Appraisal, Boston, American Unitarian Association, 1936.

14. A Plan of Education for the Unitarian Universalist Ministry, Report of "The Committee to study the Theological Education of Unitarian Universalist Ministers," Boston, Unitarian Universalist Association, 1962.

15. Harold Taylor, "Report to the Committee to Study the Theological Education of Unitarian Universalist Ministers, Regarding the Unitarian Universalist Theological Schools," A Plan of Education for the Unitarian Universalist Ministry, 23-133.

16. In 1962, Taylor was referring to the proposed merger of our two Universalist theological schools, Crane Theological School, at Tufts University, Medford, Mass., and the Theological School of St. Lawrence University, Canton, N.Y. Both schools made religious education a central subject of study and required it of every student for parish ministry. For a variety of reasons the envisioned merger did not happen. Both theological schools closed within a few years of the printing of the report. We still do not have a center for the study of religious education that fulfills the need Taylor saw.

17. Religious Education Futures Committee Report to the UUA Board of Trustees, Boston, Unitarian Universalist Association, 1981.

18."Are You Asking Questions Today You Never Even Thought About As A Teenager?" Kenneth Stokes, Editor, Faith Development in the Adult Life Cycle Project, Minneapolis, 1983.

19.As congregations complete their own studies, they are invited to send their consensus findings to the UUA Curriculum Office. That way our whole free association may benefit by a UUA philosophical statement on education for liberal religion which reflects our cherished commonalities and our honored diversity and the best wisdom, theory and research we can share.

20. Lindell Sawyers, Editor, Preparing Ministers for Educational Leader­ship in the Congregation, New York, Church Education Services, The Program Agency, United Presbyterian Church, 1980.

21. John Fletcher, Religious Authenticity in the Clergy, Washington, D.C., The Alban Institute, 1975.

22.Thomas H. Groome, Christian Religious Education, New York, Harper & Row, 1980.

23. Judy Sprenger, "Stereotyping Workshop - Purposes, Strategies, Goals, Assumptions," Presbyterian Women's Project, unpublished working paper, 1983.

24.Mary Elizabeth Moore, "Cognitive Experiential Moral Education: With Implications for Education About World Hunger," Claremont, California, School of Theology, 1979.

25. John I. Goodlad, "What Some Schools and Classrooms Teach," Educational Leadership, April 1983.

26.Donald E. Bossart, Creative Conflict in Religious Education and Church Administration, Birmingham, Religious Education Press, 1980.