At our first elementary RE class this year, I introduced the group’s mascot, a dragon puppet. Unfortunately, the dragon puppet refused todragon 36748 340 come on the screen. They were having a crisis about their own worth and dignity. The students quickly jumped in to affirm the dragon’s worth and dignity, encouraging them, sharing stories of feeling shy themselves, and letting the dragon know that they matter. I wasn’t expecting such an outpouring of empathy and kindness and it was so heartwarming! This month, the worship theme is emotional intelligence and the students are already demonstrating it. 

For many, this is a particularly charged emotional time and it can be hard to sit with difficult emotions. As the adults in children’s lives, we can help kids by being curious about their feelings, asking questions, answering questions honestly, and providing space for a child to feel what they are feeling without judgement. This isn’t easy! I always want to fix things and make them better. It is hard to see people struggling and to realize that we are powerless. This is a time when it is so clear that we can’t fix everything or make it go away. It can be hard to have empathy for others when we don't have the time or space to care for ourselves.

How can we learn to sit with the difficult emotions and trust that we will make it through? How can we care for the dragons inside us?

“Do you have the patience to wait until the mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving until the right action arises by itself?” -Lao Tzu

Over the last two weeks, I had the great pleasure of writing “You are worthy” on tons of gift bags and keychains for kids and families in our community. You arevictoria heath oVhkWq2wLQk unsplash worthy. As I wrote the simple 3 word statement, I thought of the members of our community and imagined their light shining out -- the inherent worth and dignity of each being. 

Our first principle of Unitarian Universalism reminds us to affirm the inherent worth and dignity of all people.  In kid language, we say, Each person is important.  Even when we mess up, even when we feel sad, even when we are utterly overwhelmed, there is light of worth in each of us. For me, this time of COVID has been an especially hard time to remember my own worth and dignity. Have you experienced that?

Peg Johnson shared this passage at a recent RE Council meeting. It’s from a DRE in Florida, Erin Powers:

It’s been said that it’s easier to untangle a string of lights if you plug them in; the brightness of the little bulbs help to guide our fingers through the tangles. It’s no different for people. Connecting with friends, family, therapists, or trusted advisors can shine a little light to help us untangle ourselves, and to help us stretch out to our full potential.

Humans, just like strings of lights, are wired for connection. It’s when we’re wound most tightly that we need the connection most of all. We’re at our best when we are plugged in to each other. We find our true purpose and spark with others, not alone — and it’s in these connections that we shine most brightly.

Here at USNF, we are striving to plug in the lights for folks of all ages, visitors and members. For families, we are offering monthly care packages with activities, service projects, rituals, and hymns to connect to each other at home. In addition to Sunday morning RE classes and youth group, we have created some awesome connections between people of all ages, like an art club, Dungeon & Dragon groups, and Zoom buddies. For parents and caregivers, we are offering workshops on parents as spiritual guides, sexuality educators, and antiracist parenting. I feel like I pointed to the plug and so many people have taken the lead to do the connecting.

“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing.  We think the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved.  They come together and they fall apart.  Then they come together again and fall apart again.  It’s just like that.  The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen:  room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” - Pema Chodron

This is a time of great uncertainty. Without a roadmap, we can respond in so many different ways -- with fear, anxiety, anger. However, we can also choose to pause, be present, notice our feelings and connect deeply with one another through this time. We can create our own roadmap, based on our values and principles. There are new opportunities for us in creating our own map and coming together to care for ourselves and one another at this time. I hope that our community can provide the support that your family needs during this time. How can we best support you and your family? 

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me to talk and connect: Jessica Harwood, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 584-1390 x 203

 

This summer, USNF will be offering all sorts of ways for kids and youth to stay connected to each other and to our congregation. We are kicking off the summer with the School of Wizardry, with 38 kids enrolled in our North Campus! I am so grateful to all the youth and adults in the congregation who have volunteered to make this program possible; we have 20 “faculty members”!thumbnail Flowers USNF 7

While these are all important ways for kids to stay engaged with our community and their values, we are also hoping that families will carve out some time together to connect with Unitarian Universalism. We have prepared a list of hymns, book lists, and activities: Summer Family Activity Resources. Here is a taste of what you could do together:

Listen and sing together! 

Music is a powerful way to connect with each other and to change your mindset. The resource list has a variety of options, including Come Sing a Song with Me sung by Emma, our new early childhood educator, or We’ll Build A Land by Ruby, one of our Junior Youth RE teachers. Make it a habit of listening to these songs and hymns. 

Family Activities

The Summer Family Activity list includes 15 suggestions for activities to do together, from simple things, like lighting a chalice, to actions you can take for racial justice. There are rituals you could try out regularly over the summer, like creating wish cards with words like love, hope, joy that you can choose or gift to each other every morning. You will find activities that you might choose to do just once, like art activities related to the UU principles. 

What will next year look like? 

Like so many things, we aren’t sure! However, we want to provide community, support, play, connection, and inspiration for kids, youth, and families. 

Please weigh in with your interests and ideas for the upcoming year: USNF Fall 2020 Brainstorm. We want to make sure to help your family stay engaged and connected if we continue to be virtual. 

We have had some great ideas already about what would help and engage families, from monthly packets to family-based activities that happen over Zoom (but interactions happen within the family -- off Zoom) to parent and child book clubs. 

Grades 5-8 will likely participate in a Neighboring Faiths curriculum to explore different denominations, virtually visit houses of worship, and learn more about UUism as a faith. 

However, we would love to offer a variety of programs that would interest students of all ages. We would also love to make sure that you, as parents & caregivers, are getting what you need.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to Jessica with questions, ideas, or feedback: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,drawing 2
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
― Gandhi

How did you develop your values? How do you live out your values in your everyday life? How do you help your children to clarify and develop their values?

The Coming of Age class has been exploring their values this month, with activities that would be great for families to do together at home (thank you to Dave Junno and Peg Johnson who helped to develop and implement this activity). 

  1. Create a list of values. For younger kids, the adults might create a simple list ahead of time. For older children, you can generate the list together. You might want to use the 7 Principles of Unitarian Universalism as a jumping off point for brainstorming values.
  2. Make sure everyone understands the values. Even just talking about what justice, kindness, integrity, or empathy are can lead to really rich conversations. 
  3. Think of a hero and explore which values that person demonstrates. How do they live their values? This is a helpful way to think about the meaning of the values and how people can live their values.
  4. Now think about each person’s personal values. Have each person narrow down the list of values to 3-5 that are most important to them. Discuss why they are the most important. 
  5. Brainstorm how you show your values in your everyday life. 

Why Wizard School? hp2

Hopefully by now you've heard that USNF will be offering a School of Wizardry for kids from Age 5 through 17 this summer: https://uunorthampton.org/education/usnf-school-of-wizardry. Some of you might be wondering what in the world this has to do with Unitarian Universalism or religious education. UU Harry Potter Programs are somewhat common, not because Harry Potter is a secret Unitarian Universalist (perhaps he is?), but because religious education is a chance for kids to learn about things that matter to them and explore their values in a fun, engaging way. 

Many kids love entering a world of magic and wizardry (many grown ups too!). Creating this engaging, imaginary world allows kids and youth a chance to think and reflect about who they are and what their values are.

Each day of the School of Wizardry, the students will explore a value such as power, respect, justice, possibility, and hope. Each house represents a virtue: peace, love, faith, and hope. In house meetings and classes, students will consider how they may live these values and virtues. As the students build their sense of community and togetherness in their house, they also consider how they can embody these important values in their lives.

One of my favorite things about religious education is that the curriculum can change and adapt for the students, the teachers, congregations, and lives of the people involved. It is a chance to play and explore, rooted in our 7 Principles, values, and community. As Jenn Blosser, the Director of Religious Education at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Meyers (our partner for Wizard School) says, “There is something really sacred about play.”  Students and teachers together get to jump into a new world, rooted in deep reflection, inspiring the search for truth and meaning.

If you would like to find out more about the School of Wizardry or help out, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

When the 7 Principles of Unitarian Universalism are translated into “kid language” the second principle is “Be Kind in All You Do.” This is a lofty goal for kids --- and folks of all ages for that matter! As we explore the theme of Generosity this month, it is a great time to work together as a family to cultivate kindness in our gifts, our actions, and interactions. kelly sikkema XX2WTbLr3r8 unsplash

You can notice together all of the acts of kindness that you take part in or witness. Talk about how it feels to give a gift and how it feels to receive a gift. What is the best gift you have received? What makes a gift meaningful? If you did not need to worry about money, what gifts would you get for others?

Consider how you can give to others without needing to spend money. What does it feel like to do something for other people? Brainstorm together different things you can do for each other, for friends, or for other people in your community and try to intentionally do something generous together once a week. 

Donating money, food, and used items is a meaningful practice for young people. Perhaps it is time to sort through books and clothes to donate items that you are not using anymore. The holiday card fundraiser was a great success and the kids were so proud to be able to support causes that they care deeply about. The students raised over $300, which they are donating to the Holyoke Soldier’s Home, Grove St. Inn, Shriner’s Hospital for Children, Northampton Survival Center, Muddy Brook Farm, Endangered Species Coalition, and Hampshire HOPE. Some families have a donation jar to which everyone contributes and then chooses a cause to send the money to when it is full. 

Offering gratitude is a generous act. Practice truly thanking each other for all that you do to contribute to each others’ lives. We are grateful for all that each of you brings to our RE program!

On Friday nights in Jewish homes around the world, families come together to light candles, say prayers, and share a meal. For the next 25 hours, the sabbath or elizabeth explores HDQkp4iBLwU unsplashShabbat, is a time to rest. It is a special time set aside from the rest of the week to not work. I have relatives that don’t drive their cars or even turn the lights on and off during this time. They walk to synagogue for worship and have special timers on their lamps. The sabbath is intentional time spent together in presence and stillness. 

In some ways, this time of pandemic feels like a prolonged sabbath. Everything has come to rest. It can feel like a quiet, relaxing break. And, it can also feel stressful, anxiety-provoking and relentless. For many families, there isn’t a clear distinction between work, homeschool, and rest. 

Carving out time for sabbath -- intentional rest, both together as a family and alone, can feel really restorative. There are ideas and resources below for how to do this, including creating an altar, making a chalice, and practicing mindfulness together. Just like getting dressed in the morning is pretty critical at this time, having intentional time to rest and to be together is also vital. 

Let me know how your family is finding time for sabbath, ritual, covenant, and self care. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me to talk and connect: Jessica Harwood, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 584-1390 x 203.

anthony intraversato 5WYkd62XxTo unsplashWhen I asked the 4th through 8th grade class about the culture that they want to create in their class, one student responded that they want it to be welcoming to everyone. Is it? I asked the students to imagine what it might feel like to walk into the class if you are new, from a different culture, with a different communication or learning style. 

We had a similar conversation at the Board and Coordinating Council meeting this month: can we be aware of our own culture in order to be more welcoming and inclusive? There are subtle practices that I am trying to keep in mind - like leaving more wait time for people who think before blurting things out. According the Jen Mattias, cultural humility is an attitude or approach which calls you to be willing to suspend what you think you know about a person and to be open to learning from other people directly about their personal culture. Can we all learn to exercise cultural humility and compassion in our groups and communities?

Compassion is like a muscle -- it develops more the more you work it. As parents, caregivers, educators, and mentors, we can help young people develop compassion by modeling it, noticing it, and practicing it. Over the past month, the K-3 and 4th-8th grade students have been practicing “heartfulness” as their mindfulness ritual. Heartfulness is also known as Metta practice in Pali or loving-kindness meditation and is one way to teach compassion. It involves sending messages of kindness to yourself, loved ones, strangers, and all beings everywhere. It can help to build understanding and compassion for others - no matter who they are. Here is an example of a heartfulness meditation to use with your kids (or yourself!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i9X6tkUXa9o.

"We learned to bring meaning into uncertainty and chaos by maintaining grounding practices and developing new rituals. Rituals have been instrumental in building community, promoting cooperation, and marking transition points. Rituals reduce anxiety...and even work on people who don’t believe in them, research shows. Additionally, rituals benefit our physical well-being and immune-system.”-Ari HonarvarChalice

Routine has been a big buzzword lately -- now that our routines have been thrown out the window and families are trapped at home together. We are told again and again how important it is to have routines and social media feeds are awash in color-coded schedules. I am finding that routines are hard to stick to when everything is changing so rapidly, when there are so many unknowns, and when I want to be involved in so many different things. And I am trying to practice compassion for myself and everyone else. It is okay when the routine is upset. It is okay to make mistakes (thank you for your patience during online services!). It is okay to just be -- without a routine. 

There are elements of my days that I am sticking to -- even if they don’t happen at a regular time. When I have a free moment, I am going out for a walk. Our dog is getting more exercise than ever! When I am feeling overwhelmed, I stop what I am doing and breathe deeply. When I am not burned out on screen time at the end of the day, I try to call someone I love to connect briefly. 

Rituals have brought me a great deal of comfort during this time. Having a set of intentional activities relaxes my mind and allows me to focus back on what matters. Even though on some days, I only meditate for 2 minutes, it starts my day with calm and intention. During story time at 4 pm, I light the chalice and anyone who is on the call checks in with each other; these simple rituals are settling. When we sit down to dinner, my wife and I share something beautiful or inspiring from the day. 

I invite you all to incorporate rituals into your day and week. Below, you will find resources for 20-30 minute rituals. There are also directions for making your own chalice and writing a chalice lighting so that you can use it daily for rituals. 

Charlie19"The great end in religious instruction is not to stamp our minds upon the young, but to stir up their own….In a word, the great end is to awaken the soul; to bring understanding, conscience and heart into earnest vigorous action on religious and moral truth, to excite and cherish spiritual life." -William Ellery Channing

Lately I have been having a hard time using the term Religious Education (RE) to describe our program. In large part, I have observed that people are turned off by the idea of religious education or have a limited view of what RE is. What words better encapsulate this notion of stirring up minds, awakening the soul, and inspiring action? How can we invite new families into this endeavor if they have been turned off by religion in the past?

In my first year as the Director of Religious Education, the RE Council worked on clarifying our mission and vision for the educational and spiritual work that we do at the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence. This was a helpful process to guide our work with students of all ages and I think we clarified the actual work of our religious education program. The visioning process is ongoing though, and I have been enjoying conversations with families about what they envision for their children and themselves in their spiritual and UU educations. Please let me know if you would like to talk about our education program’s mission and vision -- for any age.

Mission Statement

Religious Education at USNF engages children and youth with lessons, activities, community service, and events which exemplify the Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism.  RE brings together community members of all ages to learn, grow, grapple, celebrate, and serve together.

Vision Statement

Religious Education at USNF is:

  • a primary hub through which members of the congregation develop a robust and affirming sense of self, community, and faith.
  • a nurturing environment in which members of the congregation become religiously literate by exploring Unitarian Universalist history, principles, and values, and gaining an appreciation of our neighboring faiths. 
  • an affirming community in which all members feel valued, and become invested in valuing others.
  • an incubator for personal and communal work for social justice.  
  • a space where children and youth experience safety and radical acceptance.
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