Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Upcoming Adult Programs

Working with my "Adult Program Team" and Rev. Tracey Robinson-Harris, I am pleased to invite all adults to upcoming adult programs.  The first begins next week.

UU Pocket Guide book discussion with Jessica Gray
Mondays at 7 pm, 12/2 and 12/9

Whether you are new to Unitarian Universalism or have been connected for a long time, this is a great opportunity to open discussion to some significant aspects of the UU tradition.  The Pocket Guide is one of the most complete introductions to Unitarian Universalism available, covering ministry, worship, religious education, social justice, and history. 

If you have not read the book, you are still encouraged to join us for the discussion.

It is available for purchase on the UUA Bookstore website

Advent series with Rev. Barbara Merritt
Tuesdays at 7 pm, 12/3, 12/10 and 12/17

Faith in Action Presentations (topics TBA)
Sunday, noon
12/15, 1/12, 2/9, 3/9, 4/6, 5/18, 6/1

With Rev. Tracey Robinson-Harris:
Conversations with the Minister
Sunday, 1/5 at noon
Monday, 1/27 at 7 pm

Inquirer’s Sessions
Mondays at 7 pm
2/3 and 2/10

Building Your Own Theology
Mondays at 7 pm
2/24, 3/3, 3/10

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Reflection on my Affirmation as Director of Faith Development Ministries

By Jessica Gray

On Sunday, November 10, the congregation of First Unitarian and I shared in a spiritual commitment ceremony that we called an "Affirmation."  I wanted to share this with those who could not be present Sunday and also with other religious educators (as the text of very few of these ceremonies can be found online).  After the text of the ceremony is a reflection I gave about my experience here thus far.  It was a beautiful day that reinforced for me the commitment this congregation has to our program and my ministry.  Thank you.

Laura Kirshenbaum

In the spring of 2011 we asked Jessica Gray to join us as our Director of Faith Development Ministries to help us reach our vision for multigenerational Faith Development in our congregation.  Specifically,

to create vibrant educational programs appropriate for all stages of spiritual development,

to develop meaningful faith-in-action projects and adult spiritual exploration programs,

and to implement engaging multigenerational programs that nurture the spiritual development of Unitarian Universalist families.  With Jessica’s leadership, we have worked and will continue to work toward achieving this vision.

This morning, the lay leaders of the church ask the congregation to affirm our relationship with Jessica by establishing a covenant of spirit symbolizing a mutual commitment, an affirmation of shared responsibility for the Faith Development of all.

We ask the people of the First Unitarian Church of Worcester, to exercise your collective power to affirm Jessica Gray as our Director of Faith Development as she affirms herself to us.

All Congregants

We promise to support the faith development of all in this community.

Laura Kirshenbaum

Jessica Gray, will you please rise? You have embraced the vision of this church.  Are you prepared to join us in the affirmation of shared responsibility for the faith development of this congregation?

Jessica Gray:

Yes, I am.

Children and Youth:

Jessica, as our Director of Faith Development, you have a unique relationship with us. Do you promise to let us come to you with questions and doubts, our joys and sadness, and our ideas to help us spiritually grow and learn what it means to live in our community and the world as Unitarian Universalists?

Jessica Gray:

Yes, I do. Now I have a question for you. Do you, the young people of our congregation, promise to bring to me your questions and doubts, your ideas and joys, your laughter and tears as we explore what it means to be Unitarian Universalists? If so, please say all together, WE DO!

Children and Youth:


Adult Congregants:

Jessica, as our Director of Faith Development, you have a unique relationship with us. Do you promise to let us bring you our thoughts and questions, our concerns and ideas to help us continue to explore and learn what it means to be Unitarian Universalists?

Jessica Gray:

Yes, I do. Now I have a question for you. Do you the adult people of our congregation promise to support my efforts by bringing me your ideas and concerns and continuing to wonder and explore in thought and in action what it means to Unitarian Universalists? If so, please say all together, WE DO!

Adult Congregants:


Laura Kirshenbaum

The spiritual growth and learning of our congregation from childhood into adulthood is one of the most precious gifts we offer ourselves as a community. Do you, the people of our congregation, agree to support Jessica as our Director of Faith Development by being an active part of the spiritual growth of our congregation? As parents bringing your children faithfully to church and sharing with them what they have learned in their classes? As congregants, continuing to shape and expand our Faith Development programs for all ages by trusting and guiding Jessica as she works with us to meet the goals set out in our vision by volunteering, mentoring and being involved, as best as you can?  If so, I invite your heartfelt response:

All Congregants:


Laura Kirshenbaum:

Let us now say together a covenant of spirit and affirmation:

All Congregants:

With the expectation that you will always strive to be of service to all; with the promise that you will work for spiritual growth within yourself as well as fostering spiritual growth of our children, youth and adult congregants; and with the hope that you will always reach for truth and insight, teaching as you can, we the members and friends of the First Unitarian Church of Worcester, do hereby affirm you, Jessica Gray, as our Director of Faith Development Ministries. We pledge to walk with you in a partnership that strives to strengthen the life of our church and our liberal religious movement.

 Jessica Gray

Mindful of its privileges and its responsibilities, I accept your affirmation of my ministry among our children, youth, their families and our adult congregants. I know that I have the support of your hearts and hands as together we build here what no one of us could achieve alone. I pledge to walk with you in openness of spirit, in the paths of truth as we discern them and in the bonds of caring and understanding.


My Reflection
Romans 12:1-2
12 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

In fall of 2011, I began working as the Director of Faith Development Ministries at First Unitarian in Worcester.  To be honest, I felt a bit alien and out of place.  For most of my life I have lived in the south, and New England was a bit of a culture shock.  This church was also so much more conservative than I am in its liturgy and dominant theology.  How would a "Blessed Be" girl work in an "Amen" church?  When Rev. Schade called to offer me the job, I expressed hesitation.  But he said, "We don't want to change you."  That's exactly what I was hoping to find in a new congregation, but could it possibly be true?  

Some people have told me how much they enjoy my different perspective.  I have done my work the way I know how to do it.  I have chosen Spirit Play stories and other curricula, recruited and trained teachers, and helped create welcoming classroom spaces.  I have done my best to meet and get to know the families and adults of the congregation.  One of my favorite ways of working for this church has been in leading worship.  I have incorporated drama in our multigenerational worship (most recently including a "Devil" wearing full face makeup and a fog machine).  I have continued developing pop-culture based programs (including the Hogwarts summer camp and the brand-new Jedi Academy) and have preached sermons based on The Wizard of Oz, Harry Potter, Mary Poppins and even Facebook.  I have also spoken about more traditional topics, including salvation, sacrifice, and social action.  (And yes, each of those is a link to the sermons I've given and the philosophy of the programs.)  I'm proud of this work.  And I have gotten such positive feedback from members of the congregation about how my sermons touched them personally or how their children are excited to come to Sunday School.  This church is changing, and I am a part of those changes.

Rev. Schade said, "We don't want to change you."  But in the past two years, I have changed.  I learned to fit some of my radical ideas into a more structured liturgy.  I grew in my understanding of how and why we come together as a church community.  And then, last year, I faced a serious health crisis.  My life had to change.  I needed to reach out for help, and help was given.  I needed to learn how to accept compassion.  I needed to learn how to accept my limitations.  I needed to see just how incredible the members of this congregation could be.

After everything that has happened, I asked to affirm my spiritual bond with this congregation.  I am not just a hired employee.  I am in ministry here.  This type of spiritual commitment between congregation and religious educator is considered a "best practice" in my profession.  It is not done immediately, but after the educator and church have gotten to know each other for a few years.  Now is the time, and I take this commitment quite seriously.  I am here for you.

In the scripture I read a few moments ago, we are encouraged to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, to be transformed by the renewal of the mind and thus discern the will of God.  Letting go of my expectations was a sacrifice.  It’s never easy to change.  But change allows for transformation and allows a greater understanding of the Spirit of Love and Mystery.  As above, so below – I align my will with a greater Will, that which is beyond my understanding.

Change is inevitable.  The only constant in life is change.  I am not finished bringing change to First Unitarian, and I know you are not finished bringing change to me.  But I am excited about what the future will bring.  I am excited about our adult faith in action and faith development programs.  I am excited about working with the new minister this congregation will choose.  I am excited about continuing to get to know the people of this church.  I look forward to how we will explore our faith development together.


Christmas Pageant 2013!

On Sunday, December 15th many of our children will perform in our annual Christmas Pageant.  Participation is optional, but for a number of our children this is one of the most fun and rewarding traditions of the year.  Children who participate enjoy the feeling of accomplishment through this mixed age event.  Most of all, annual traditions like this that remain relatively unchanged over many, many years hold great meaning and are both joyful and comforting for kids and adults alike. 

The pageant sign ups are now online (click here) or you can sign up on Sunday during fellowship hour (“coffee hour”) after class.
The pageant takes the place of the usual Sunday worship service on December 15th.  Children in first through fourth grade are invited to participate in the play as angels or shepherds.  These parts are offered first to fifth and sixth graders: Herod, Mary, Joseph, Gabriel, the innkeeper, and the three wise people.   The narrator parts are offered first to those individuals in 7th and 8th grade.  Those who prefer to continue this year as angels or shepherds, along with the younger children, are always welcome to do so. 

The narrator parts are the sole speaking roles in the play.  We always hold an informal, low-key “try out” to help the play director become familiar with narrator styles.  As has been done in years past, we make final assignments of narrator parts at the “try out.”   Those who wish to play Herod should also plan to attend the “try out.”   Please attend the “try out” after church on Sunday, December 1st at 11:45, immediately after dismissal from class, if you have signed up as a narrator or as Herod or (NEW PART THIS YEAR) if you would like to sing the solo in "Coventry Carol."  If you can’t make it because you are out of town or ill, you can contact me to make alternative arrangements to read for Kris Johnson, the director.

Again, the pageant sign ups are now online (click here) or you can sign up on Sunday during fellowship hour (“coffee hour”) after class.

Children who sign up:

·    Will need to attend rehearsals on Saturday, December 7th, and Saturday, December 14th, from 9:00am to Noon (shepherds and angels from 10:00-noon).  Our rehearsals include time for costume fittings.   During downtime at rehearsals, the children enjoy social opportunities and a chance to do seasonal crafts. 

·    Will also need to come to church by 8:45 am on December 15th for the dress rehearsal followed by pageant performance.

Help With the Christmas Pageant!

Parents and Guardians, thank you so much for your willingness to help with the Christmas pageant.  This annual event is a community effort that requires all of us to pitch in.  Your pageant hours do count toward the total volunteer hours required from you annually.  Parent helpers can also sign up online (click here) or on Sunday.  You can sign up for one day or for multiple days:

·    Kid wranglers help shepherd (pun intended) our young children through rehearsals and the performance.  These people guide the children through the blocking/staging of the performance as this blocking is directed by Kris Johnson, direct the children to costume fittings, assist the children in finding their costumes as needed, and help the children with activities during rehearsal downtime.  We need six wranglers.

·    Holiday Craftspeople set up and assist the children with holiday crafts during rehearsal downtime.  Bring your own ideas (or supplies), or simply come ready to help and we’ll provide the activities (or supplies).   We need two craftspeople at each of our two Saturday rehearsals.

·    Costumers attend the Saturday rehearsals and help the children with costume fittings, do minor alterations as needed when an exact-fit can’t be located (this is in a minority of cases), help locate and keep the costumes organized, make new tinsel garlands or other simple costume accessories as needed.  Only very basic sewing skills are necessary.  We need two or three costumers.

·    Props Assistants come a little early to the rehearsals, particularly the morning of the first rehearsal to help us get out the props and costumes and place them appropriately. 

·    Hair Accessory Masters help the children to get hats, halos, and other accessories securely in place on the day of Pageant, Sunday, December 11th.  These folks need to arrive with the children for dress rehearsal, and should be available until show time.  If you can manage bobby pins, you can do this job!

·    A Director’s Assistant is on hand to assist the director in any way needed at the rehearsals and during the pageant.  

·    Snacks: Bring snacks to our rehearsals and on the morning of the big show.  Can you bring snack on Saturday, December 8th or Saturday, December 15th, or on Sunday, December 16th?   We need just a few snacks per rehearsal.

Note: Snacks will need to be nut free.  Please try to avoid large amounts of heavily processed and overly sweet foods.  Some good snack suggestions include sliced fruit, carrot and celery sticks with dips, pretzels, popcorn, sliced bagels and cream cheese, and cheese and crackers. 100% fruit juices are also popular drinks.