Wednesday, August 26, 2009

BYKOTA Families Please Save These Dates

We have a tentative BYKOTA (middle school youth group) calendar for the year. All 6th-8th graders at First Unitarian Church are eligible to participate in BYKOTA.

We have one BYKOTA business meeting per month. This is when we plan for our events. We encourage all BYKOTA youth to participate in these meetings. Our meetings are on the first Sunday of every month at 9:00am-10:00am in the Diane Mirick Room-- room one-- except in September, October, and April (see schedule). The meeting schedule is below:
  • September 27, 2009
  • November 1, 2009
  • December 6, 2009
  • January 3, 2010
  • February 7, 2010
  • March 7, 2010
  • April 11, 2010 (moved from first Sunday due to Easter)
  • May 2, 2010

The Corn Maze at Davis Farmland

Our events range from social activities to service projects. We hold approximately one event per month. Below are our tentative plans. Most take place for a couple of hours after church. When this is not the case, it is noted in the description.

  • September 20th: Come to the Opportunity Fair during coffee hour and play with legos. We'll be getting ready for a big lego project we have planned for the 225th anniversary of our church this year.

  • October: We'll be working during October on our lego project, with date(s) to be announced. We may have a special Saturday workday.

**Note, please also save the date for a bakesale fundraiser to take place either Saturday, October 3rd at the First Unitarian Church yardsale or Sunday, November 8th during coffee hour.

  • November 1st: We'll walk the corn maze at Davis Farmland. This is always a really fun time, with plenty of getting lost, friendly competition, laughter, and games.

  • December 13th: Please join us as we prepare holiday gifts at the Little Store on Chandler Street. These gifts go to children all around Worcester whose families need a little extra help this holiday season.

  • January 23rd: This will be our annual sleepover at church. Come hang out with us for a special worship service as well as games, movies, or other fun and plenty of FOOD!

  • February 28th: We'll head over to the climbing wall together, get to know one another better, and climb away!

  • March: During worship we will spend one Sunday collecting donations for the Carty Cupboard food pantry. We collect the donations in a shopping cart we push down the aisle of the sanctuary. Exact date to be announced.

  • April: Activity to be decided by our group once the year has begun.

  • May 14th: We'll have a year-end FEAST at church with lots of food. We'll play some games and have a special ceremony to say "goodbye" to our 8th graders who are graduating from the group.

Can You Donate a Shelf?

Updated 9/21/09: We need just two more of the shelf pictured above to complete our Spirit Play classrooms. The shelf costs $39.99 at Staples. It is item #690047.

If you are able to purchase one (or two) shelves, put it (or them) together, and bring it in to church within the next couple of weeks, please let Sierra-Marie know at 508-757-2708 ext. 105 or sm gerfao @ first unitarian . com (please remove all spaces). If you can't put it together, please don't worry. We'll find someone who can help.

THANK YOU! Each ONE helps a TON!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Reducing Spread of Illness (and Swine Flu)

We want you here at church, and hope you and your family will come to church as regularly as possible.

However, it is important to follow our sick policy in order to keep illness from spreading. This is no less important this year, a year in which Swine Flu is of particular concern.

To reduce the spread of illness, please:

  • Wash hands frequently, including before coming to church
  • Regularly clean frequently-touched surfaces, such as your car steering wheel
  • Use the hand sanitizer available at the entry into the Religious Education level of the building

Please keep in mind that we have very young and very elderly folks at church, as well as people who are otherwise medically at special risk for becoming ill or for having serious side effects when they do become ill.

Please keep your family home from church if you or any member of your family has any signs of illness or an infectious condition. Signs might include but are not limited to:

  • Fever, particularly over 99.5 degrees
  • Moderate clear or discolored drainage from mouth, nose, ears, or eyes, or any green nasal drainage
  • Red discoloration of whites of eyes or itchiness of eyes from unknown origin
  • Undiagnosed skin rashes
  • A bad cough or sore throat
  • Untreated lice or nits or itchiness of the head from unknown origin
  • Vomiting within the last 24 hours
  • Diarrhea within the last 48 hours
  • Generally feeling lousy

Monday, August 24, 2009

Can You Help With Our Back to Church Backwards Party?

Coming together again as a whole church community is really something worth celebrating!

We could use help with any of the following for our children's party on ingathering Sunday, September 13th. Please consider giving of your time or snacks. If you are able to help, please contact Sierra-Marie at 508-757-2708 x. 105 or sm gerfao @ firstunitarian . com (please remove all spaces).
  • Decorating for the party: 9:00am-10:00am
  • Setting up games and activities for the party: 9:00am-10:00am
  • Food for the party: Gluten, nut, and dairy free foods such as veggie and fruit trays and popcorn with a gluten/nut/dairy free topping can be dropped off at 10:15am
  • Activity-leader at the party: Lead games or other activities for the children between 10:45-11:30am
  • General helper at the party: We need a couple of adults who can help with general supervision during the party from 10:45-11:30am

Thank you very much for your assistance!

Please note the classes begin Sunday, September 20th.

"Back to Church" Backwards Party!

nac uoy llet tahw siht syas?
hint: a mirror would help!

All children are invited to a "back to church" forward-backward themed party at First Unitarian Church on ingathering Sunday, September 13th!! Children are invited to wear their clothes backwards if they want to!

After dismissal from the worship service around 10:45am, the children will go upstairs to Unity Hall for backwards food, games, and other activities.

Even though we're coming "back" to church, we're looking forward to a new year! But the new year will be one of both looking forward and backward as we celebrate our 225th birthday as a church!

Kids, remember to save some water from summer adventures (from a pool, pond, lake, or sprinkler, etc.) for a special ceremony at the party. If you forget, however, don't worry. You can bring tap water to symbolize summer water, and we'll have extra on hand as well. We'll look back at our summers, return the water back to the earth, and look forward to the new beginnings ahead...symbolic beginnings as well as flowers that will come up from the watered earth in the spring!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

2009-2010 Children and Youth Programs

PreKindergarten, Kindergarten, 1st Grade
This is a well-loved program being used now in churches all across the country. It is a Montessori method of Religious Education. Each day the children will have an opportunity to explore religious and spiritual topics through stories, art, music, yoga, and hands-on materials. We’ll have a special orientation to introduce all families of our preschool-1st grade children to this new way of being together in Church School. See

2nd-3rd Grade
This classic and popular curriculum is with us for another year! Our kids will learn about Holidays and Holy Days from around the world as they explore the religious values that we as Unitarian Universalists share with other folks of faith. This class is filled with highly engaging activities, stories, and lots of food!

4th-5th Grade
This is a rite-of-passage curriculum in which the children begin to explore in depth the stories and themes of the Bible, in both a historical and religious context. For the children this means building a Palestinian village, making art, playing games, acting out stories, and discussing topics of relevance in their lives.

6th Grade
Note: three more teachers are still needed for this class!
We have a very exciting year planned for our 6th graders! We’ll use a brand new curriculum that has been receiving rave reviews! The children will explore the moral dilemmas of their lives and how they can make good and strong decisions. Meanwhile, this class will also develop and produce the first ever First U News broadcast (to be played during coffee hour), we’ll build a mini-church, and we’ll do things that make a difference in the world.

7th-8th Grade
In this fun and interesting class, movies both classic and contemporary will be a vehicle for theological exploration.

Plus these programs:
  • BYKOTA Youth Group for middle schoolers: This group meets at 9:00am on the first Sunday each month to plan a fun monthly activity. Monthly activies range from social events to service projects.

  • YRU2 Youth Group for high schoolers: This group meets during worship each Sunday for discussion, social time, and sometimes worship. They also get together periodically for other events including social events and service projects.

  • Our Whole Lives for 7th-8th (+9th?) graders: This is a values-based sexuality education course designed to convey accurate information about sexuality to our youth. The program not only gives the youth facts, but helps them clarify their values, build interpersonal skills, understand the spiritual, emotional, and social aspects of sexuality, and make sound and health decisions about the sexual and emotional components of their lives. See 7th-8th graders are eligible to enroll. 9th graders will be eligible if we have a particularly low number of 7th grade enrollees.

  • And possibly Coming of Age for 11th-12th graders: In this program, the youth prepare for their entry into young adulthood through self-reflection, a relationship with a mentor, self-challenge, and an opportunity to write their own credo. The launching of this program may be delayed, however, until 2010-2011.

UU Galaxy: A Report Back to Mission Control

Note: The "Stardust Curriculum for Kids" and some of the other materials that we used during our summer program can be found at

In a cooperative effort among four congregations and five religious professionals, this summer we held our first ever children's summer adventure program at First Unitarian Church of Worcester.

For one week in July, we hosted 45 kids ages 4-12 from around the central Massachusetts region. We called our summer program:

UU Galaxy
Together with a large group of teen and adult counselors and counselors-in-training, the kids (among other things):
  • Conducted science experiments, including making mini bottle rockets
  • Made "galaxies in a jar," alien puppets, and other galaxy art
  • Visited with animals in a special exhibit called "Frogs, what planet are you from?"
  • Bounced around in a moonwalk
  • Attended an alien puppet show
  • Spent quiet time in our mini-planetarium
  • Collected enough recyclables to buy several small Heifer animals
  • Collected a number of used eyeglasses and cell phones for programs that help folks who need them for safety
  • Played "space games"
  • Heard the story of the universe, from its creation in the big bang through present times
  • Created a beaded timeline of the universe
  • Participated in worship, around a "campfire" everyday
The children learned about:
  • Our solar system
  • Our galaxy and its "solar neighborhoods"
  • Stars (their definition, why they are what they are, what they do, and their lifecycles)
  • Black holes and the hole at the center of our galaxy
  • The cosmic creation of all the elements on earth (except for helium...our helium being created right here)
  • The reason our bodies are as old as the universe (think hydrogen that has been around since the big bang)

On Friday, a week's worth of work among our oldest kids, the 8-12 year olds, culminated in the inflation and placement of 538 helium-filled balloons as a 3-D model galaxy in Unity Hall. Each balloon represented a solar neighborhood, with multiple stars and their planets.

The model was made with instruction, guidance, and assistance from the actual creator of the much more detailed 3-D Garden Galaxy in Hawaii. The Garden Galaxy is-- to our knowledge-- the world's largest, greatest 3-D model of the galaxy.

The children began the project early in the week by placing many dots on each balloon, each dot representing a star. Unforunately, many of these "stars" rubbed off during the week through handling and even more rubbed off with inflation, even though we used Sharpie markers. However, the point of the dots was not lost on the kids. We found out that if we were to use an object to represent each star and its planets, we'd need to use sand stacked two to six feet high! Then our own solar system would be just one grain of sand!

During the week the children made a grid on the floor using tape, and then mapped the galaxy with string. We used Garden Galaxy materials for the mapping process, some of which are viewable on the Garden Galaxy website.

Though we were not particularly successful, we attempted to put more of the blue and white balloons on the edges of the model, lower than the dark and light red balloons. This was our attempt, upon the suggestion of Garden Galaxy's creator Jon Lomberg, to demonstrate the profile view of the galaxy. In fact, scientists did not have a good idea of what the center of the galaxy was or looked like until recently, partially because our view was obstructed by the bulge at the core. The bulging core of the galaxy tends to be red/orange, while the disc appears blue/white. Though the coloring differs, you can view a 3-D demonstration of the galaxy, including the bulge, at Planet Quest.

The older children worked on the galaxy every day of the week, and on Friday spent most of the day completing its construction with the finally-inflated balloons. After its completion, they enthusiastically gave tours to the younger children and the parents, though they were a bit disappointed they did all that work only to have the balloons deflate at the end of the day!

Here the model is getting close to completion. While difficult to make out in the picture, each arm of the galaxy is distinct, forming a spiral shape that the children and their parents were able to walk through like a labyrinth.

The children thought 538 balloons didn't look like much in such a big room. This was a reminder that our own galaxy is one in perhaps hundreds of billions throughout the universe. The children called the balloons that accidentally floated to the ceiling, "Andromeda," a neighboring galaxy. Not yet placed at the time of the picture, a yellow balloon represented our own solar neighborhood. We also had not yet placed the black trash can at the center of the galaxy, which represented the black hole. We put deflated and popped balloons inside the trash can to represent those things which end up in the black hole. You can view more about the center of our galaxy at the Garden Galaxy page on the galactic center.

One tiny dot on a single, yellow balloon marked our own solar system. That tiny dot, of course, includes the many miles stretching from the sun all the way out to Pluto and the farthest reaches of the solar system!!

As far as we are aware, this was the second largest 3-D model of the galaxy ever created (let alone created by a small group of elementary school children)!! Our circle was 30 feet in diameter.

If you can make a small donation to Garden Galaxy in the name of UU Galaxy of First Unitarian Church, it would make a huge difference to the educational efforts of that project and would be a nice way for us to thank the garden's creator, Jon Lomberg, for his hours of time as a volunteer project consultant for us.
Through the creation of our model galaxy, the kids:
  • Had a hands-on experience with the vastness of creation
  • Displayed a sense of joy in how many stars there are in our galaxy and beyond
  • Were impressed with how very, very small our own solar system is, and by extension, our own planet
The children put into use their ever-increasing knowledge about stars, planets, black holes, the elements, and creation. They also put into use the following skills:
  • Math
  • Grid-making
  • Mapping
  • Cooperation
  • Negotiation
  • Shared leadership
  • Planning and following-through with plans
  • Religious imagination
We owe a special thank you to Randy Ingham, Jen and Jehan Dolbashian (and friend), Amy Borg, Gina Gerfao, David Spanagel, and Fran Kraus for inflating all those balloons for the kids! We also owe a thank you to the many parents who made special donations to UU Galaxy, including these folks from our own congregation (and my apologies to anyone I've accidentally left off this list): Joyce Hancock, Amy Borg, and Carrie West.