Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Welcome Rev!

A hearty congratulations to Rev. David Carl Olson, enthusiastically called by The First Unitarian Church of Baltimore (Universalist & Unitarian) to serve our congregation beginning in the Fall.

We enjoyed getting to know Rev. Olson throughout Candidating Week and look forward to his presence here for many years as our children grow. In addition to a packed week's worth of events, our RE Community potluck on Saturday enabled over 70 of us to hear his thoughts on ministry here in Baltimore. Special thanks to host, Idalee DiGregorio and family, as well as the planning team: Karla Peterson, Gina Foringer and Caitlin Cross-Barnet.

In two consecutive Sundays of worship, Rev. Olson energized and inspired, welcoming the participation of families and bringing new ideas along in his suitcase.

We have the many long months of hard work and dedication by the Search Committee to thank for finding Rev. Olson and enabling us to spend so much time over the last week getting to know each other. If you haven't already, I hope you will take a moment to speak to the members of this incredible team to let them know how grateful we all are for the fine work they've done on behalf of the congregation.

I know we all look forward to saying soon, "Welcome Rev!"

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Meet the Minister Events

Candidating Week is upon us! There will be many opportunities throughout the week to meet Rev. David Carl Olson, the candidate for settled ministry for our congregation. In addition to the Potluck BBQ for the Religious Education Community (for more info, click here), here is a list of other "Meet the Minister" events.

The following events are open to anyone:

Sunday, April 19
• 11:00 am, Sunday Worship Service*
"A Thinking Mystic: Nurturing the Spirit," led by Rev. Olson, followed by our usual coffee hour in the Enoch Pratt Parish Hall
• 1:00 pm, Annual Meeting*
Members will vote on the budget and nominations for the Board, etc. Rev. Olson will attend and observe.
• 3:30-4:30 pm (following the Annual Meeting) Meeting with Social Action Clearinghouse

Monday, April 20
• 10:00 am, Drop-in Time in the Minister's office
Come meet with Rev. Olson in a smaller group and ask him any questions you may have
• 12-2:00 pm, Lunch with Buildings and Ground Committee and the heads of the Neighborhood Caring Circles
Bring your own bag lunch and have lunch with Rev. Olson and these committees

Wednesday, April 22
• 3:30-4:30 pm, Meeting with Outreach, Communications and Denominational Affairs Committees

Friday, April 24
• 6:30-9:30 pm, All Church Potluck and Q&A with Rev. Olson*
Bring a potluck dish to share. Come ask Rev. Olson any questions you have about his background and his ideas for First Unitarian's future.

Saturday, April 25
• 9:00 am, A walk in Patterson Park
Come walk in the park and chat informally with Rev. Olson and other church members. Meet at the pagoda. (Cancelled if bad weather.)
• 5-7:00 pm, Cocktails and Tapas with Young Adult Group, location TBD

Sunday, April 26
• 11:00 am, Sunday Worship Service*
"Liberalism and Liberation: Healing the World," led by Rev. Olson
• 12:30 pm, Congregational Meeting*
Immediately following the service, the congregation will discuss and members will vote on whether to call Rev. Olson as our next settled minister. A reception in Pratt Hall will follow.

* Childcare will be provided
(Contact search@firstunitarian.net to RSVP)

In addition to the above events, which are open to everyone, I hope all members of the RE community will join us for the Potluck BBQ on Saturday, Apr. 25, 12-3:00 pm. RSVP to me here. The schedule for meetings which are not open to all is available from the church office (here) and have been mailed to members' homes.

Will you be around for some of the above events but not here for the Congregational meeting on April 26? You can still vote!! A system for absentee voting has been created. If you have been an active member for at least three months, all you need to do is...
1. attend one meeting during Candidating Week and meet Rev. Olson,
2. request a ballot from the hosting Search Committee member at that meeting,
3. complete your ballot and obtain the Search Committee member's validating signature,
4. submit your ballot (either in person or via mail)

Sorry, ballots received after Saturday, 4/25 will not be counted.

I hope you will join us in these opening chapters of a new era at First Unitarian!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Meet the Candidate!

When a congregation is in search for a new minister, the Search Committee's job is to find one excellent candidate to present to the congregation for approval. First Unitarian's Search Committee proudly announced that our prospective minister will be Rev. David Carl Olson, currently serving the UU Church in Flint, Michigan.

"Candidating Week" is an eight-day slate of events where congregants will have the opportunity to meet the candidate and get to know him as he learns more about us and our congregation. Candidating Week is bookended by two Sunday services led by Rev. Olson, beginning this Sunday, April 19. There will be a Congregational meeting immediately following the worship service on April 26 where members will vote whether to call Rev. Olson as our permanent settled minister.

Members of the Religious Education Community are invited to a BBQ lunch on Saturday, April 25, 12:00 to 3:00 pm to meet with Rev. Olson and ask any question you may have of him. This event will be hosted by our Religious Education Committee chair. Burgers, hot dogs, sodas and dessert will be provided. Please bring a potluck side dish to share.

To RSVP for this event and get directions, contact Becky Brooks (redirector@firstunitarian.net).

Childcare will be provided for infants and toddlers. There will be games and (weather permitting) lots of outdoor play for the kids.

Keep your eyes on your mailbox for a full schedule of Candidating Week events.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Parents as Resident Theologians, the online version...

In lieu of an in-person meeting, this week's "Parents As Resident Theologians" class will be held online, right here on RE-Connect!

This week's topic:

Theological Questions, continued.

Opening Words:

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; not to form an outward regularity, but to touch inward springs; not to bind them by ineradicable prejudices to our particular sect or peculiar notions, but to prepare them for impartial, conscientious judging of whatever subjects may be offered to their decision; not to burden memory, but to quicken and strengthen the power of thought. — William Ellery Channing

As parents and religious educators, we have been greatly influenced by these words by Channing. So much so, that it is sometimes difficult to discern the difference between "stamp[ing] our minds" on our children and offering our own opinions or understandings. It is vital to understand this quotation in its context. Religious Education in Channing's time and religion consisted essentially of catechesis and little else. Though Catechism is still in use, even in liberal religious denominations (see here for a modern example and here for a more academic example, based on a Channing sermon) it is no longer the norm for liberal protestantism. In Channing's time, however, the idea that a religious question might be posed to a child who would answer from his or her own mind was radical.

Within Unitarian Universalism (and many other religious communities as well) it is widely accepted that children have the capacity to develop their own religious understandings from their lived experience and interactions. In fact, in some respects the balance has slipped the other way: UU parents sometimes fear articulating their own beliefs to their children out of a deep desire to avoid leading too directly. The value of freedom of belief is one we hold so dearly that it can cause us to forget one of our other deeply held values: the use of experience and education in the development of our religious understandings.

Identifying Our Core Beliefs about God:

Take a moment to think about and write down three things that you believe are true (or not true) about God.

-Where/When/How did you come to believe those things?

-What personal experiences or interactions led you to develop these beliefs?

-Is there something or someone in your life without which/whom your beliefs would be different? Why?

Take a moment to relate your thoughts in the comments to this post (see the link immediately below the post.)

With very few exceptions, we develop our beliefs within a context, given our own personal situations, experiences and interactions. Your children have begun a lifelong process of developing their own beliefs and one of the key interactors in their work will be you, their parents.

Within Unitarian Universalism, we speak of six sources which help us form our religious identities. As your children develop their own religious understandings, each of these sources (in many different forms) will play a role.

Look through the list of sources here. Is there one that stands out as particularly influential in your own life? Why? (Comment below)

Children's Religious Development:

In their essay, "Children's Developing Concepts of God," Roberta and Christopher Nelson write:

It is crucial that we companion our children on the journey of changing ideas and concepts. We should be there to listen, to hear, to ask clarifying questions and accept where they are in their development. They need us to share where we are without negating where they are.

Download the entire (brief) essay here.

Though the use of the word "development" can suggest an arc from one distinct place to another distinct place, this isn't the case with religious understanding. There isn't a particular goal of understanding we are trying to help our children work towards. Rather, our job as parents and religious educators is to help our kids develop tools for making meaning in their lives. When our kids ask us "Is there a heaven?" or "Do you believe in God?" it is an effort to not only get at the "facts" of the matter, but also to create meaning and assign value to particular situations, people or feelings they might have.

When a child asks "Do you believe in hell?" there might be a wide range of layers beneath the question, like: "what happens after we die?" or "is God watching us?" or even "what is the Earth made out of?"

Take a look at the list of theological questions we brainstormed in our last class (below.) Pick one of these questions and brainstorm an auxiliary list of all the other questions that might be hidden in layers under the one posed:

• What happens when you die?

• Why did people kill Jesus?

• Are you a Christian?

• Where is God?

• Was Jesus a good guy or a bad guy?

• Is there a God?

• Do you believe in God?

• Why do bad things happen?

• What form does God take?

• Did God make _____________?

• Does God love _____________?

• What is God's relationship to evil?

• Are things we disagree with evil?

• Was Jesus a King?

• Who made the world?

Though no parent can be expected to read all the layers of your child's questions, knowing the context of a question can help you answer the question they are really asking. That's why a well placed, "why do you want to know?" or "what do you think?" can often be helpful, in order to help you read their question properly.

It is true that sometimes this fishing for context ends up allowing for space for your child to answer their own question, but remember that the answer isn't always the most important part (whether it's your answer or your child's.) We ask religious questions not only to find answers, but to find meaning. An example conversation:

Child: "What happens to us after we die?"

Adult: "Why do you ask?"

Child: "My teacher said that her cat went to heaven after he died but I think that's stupid because there is no heaven. When we die we get buried and stay under the ground forever and ever."

Technically, the child answered her own question. She already has an opinion about what happens after we die. The context gives a better understanding that she has encountered a challenge to her beliefs, that she may want not necessarily an answer from you, but a sense of solidarity or affirmation (and that she may benefit from hearing about the value of diversity of belief.) Some of the layers that might be at work here include: "why do people believe different things?" or "how do we know what to believe?"


We've talked some in class about questions that your children ask you. What about the other way around? What are the religious questions you have for your children? Take a few minutes to brainstorm a list of religious questions you'd like to have the answers to from your children (for now, don't worry about whether they can answer them or how you'd ask them, just think of the questions, regardless of your child's age or experience.)

Once you have some, make a note about one or more of the questions in the comments below. If this exercise was difficult, make a note about why in the comments below.


Last week we asked you to make a note of it when your child asks a theological question and to bring that question to the group. If you've done this already, write a comment to this post about what the question was. If you like, share how you answered it.

Closing Words:

(from Rev. Richard Gilbert:)

Life matters;

People are precious;

Deed is more important than creed;

Love is the spirit of our church;

Existence is our gift;

Meaning is our quest;

Service is our prayer;

Freedom in community is our way;

Responsibility for others is our obligation;

Reverence for life is our practice.

In the love of beauty and the spirit of truth,

we unite for the celebration of life

and the service of humanity.

Unitarian Universalist Theology

Unitarian Universalism is a religion without a creed. This is to say that there is no belief or set of beliefs that an individual must adhere to in order to call themselves a Unitarian Universalist. Even the UU Principles, which have been often used to describe us in the twenty-four years of their existence, are not meant to be seen as definitive. When we UUs are asked what we believe, even the briefest of answers are diverse and varied. Without a concise, universal kernel of religious truth to name, our faith is frequently examined.

Following is a list of three different contemporary sermons which attempt to examine and describe Unitarian Universalism. Each has a different perspective about what Unitarian Universalism means to the speaker. Pick one of the sermons. How does your personal faith match or diverge from what is described? (Comment below)

While Standing on One Foot: A Unitarian Universalist Catechism, by Rev. Richard Gilbert

In Our Hands, Rev. Michael Tino

Keep the Circle Whole: The Challenge of Unitarian Universalist Theology (pdf), by Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Seder Cancelled

The Seder scheduled for April 9 has been cancelled. The staff and volunteers involved with the planning of this event have been distracted, aren’t we all?, with preparing for Candidating Week as well as the Annual Meeting, etc. We apologize for any disappointment this cancellation causes, but be sure to enter the event on your calendar for next year when the First Unitarian Seder will return. Next year in Pratt Hall!