Editor’s note: I invited Michelle Mueller to share a guest post with Pagan Families on the Patheos site-wide theme of Passing On The Faith. I was especially excited to receive this post and discover how well it dovetails with other Pagan Families posts from the past week.
What Pagan Families Can Learn From Unitarian Universalists
By Michelle Mueller, M.Div.
I’ve been Wiccan (or at the least known that I was) since I was 12 years old. Like many of us, I started as a solitary through books by Scott Cunningham and others. I am now 30, a graduate of a progressive Christian seminary, faculty for Cherry Hill Seminary, and a professional religious educator for two Unitarian Universalist fellowships.
For my masters, I attended the Pacific School of Religion (PSR) in Berkeley. PSR is one school of the Graduate Theological Union, a multi-faith consortium of Christian seminaries and centers for Jewish, Islamic, and Buddhist Studies. The GTU also houses Starr King School for the Ministry, one of two officially Unitarian Universalist (UU) seminaries. (To date Starr King and Meadville-Lombard are the only UU seminaries though other seminaries have large UU student populations.)
After graduating as a Pagan from a Christian seminary, I looked for work in youth or young adult ministry…but I wanted to work in a ministry job that matched my spiritual values. As a Pagan, these jobs are hard to come by.
One day on Craig’s List, I found a listing for a three-quarter time job as Director of Religious Education for the Unitarian Universalist in Cherry Hill, NJ. I worked in the position for 2.5 years and, as I was preparing to once again move across the country to Berkeley, CA–this time for a Ph.D. at the Graduate Theological Union–I looked for other Director of Religious Education jobs in the Pacific Central District, which includes Northern California, Nevada, and Hawaii. *
I worked for the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Stockton, CA for a year a half until deciding that my 50-mile commute was too much. This fall I am embarking in TWO Unitarian Universalist children’s ministry positions in the Bay Area.
Here are a few items that I learned from Unitarian Universalists that could benefit Pagan families….
The responsibilities of the DRE job include: running a Sunday program for kids and youth, supervising childcare for infants and toddlers, and working with ministers to ensure good multigenerational (all-ages) worship and fellowship events when desired. UUs often meet together for a Story for All Ages (a children’s story that should also touch and inspire all ages), after which children leave with DRE and teachers for a Religious Education class or experience. The Berkeley Fellowship, with select other congregations, has titled their program Religious Exploration to reflect the nature of the children’s experience as explorative rather than didactic.
I have learned so much from Unitarian Universalists in terms of including children in worship and/or ritual and in community, and working around parents’ needs–scheduling meetings that busy parents can attend and providing childcare during business meetings so that parents can be active members of religious communities!
I learned that children LOVE ritual. Pagan traditions are really effective for positive experiences for children–from Sabbats to chants to the particular structure of circle ritual. The Unitarian Universalists I have worked with have been very supportive of my including Neo-Pagan traditions in children’s worship. Many adult services celebrate the Equinoxes and Solstices as well. In general, I have found that most UUs are either personally knowledgeable or at least very curious and interested in Paganism.
Jessica Zebrine-Gray, UU-Pagan and religious educator, recently developed a brochure for the UUA on Unitarian Universalist Pagans, and of course I cannot skip mention of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans!
Unitarian Universalists also have a program of liberal values-based sexuality education. The program is called Our Whole Lives because it ranges through the lifespan, regularly called “OWL” for short.
I would like for Pagans to develop their own programs of sexuality education for children and youth. I have seen some festivals address sexual health and ethics for young people…such as Witchlets in the Woods I attended recently, where Copper taught Sacred Sexuality for Young Adults ages 16-22.Starhawk, Diane Baker, and Anne Hill also address youth sexuality in Circle Round: Raising Children in Goddess Traditions.
Sexuality education is vitally important to the emotional, physical, and spiritual health of youth and adults….it cannot be a once-a-year activity. I applaud Pagan community members for offering it when they can; I’d like us to think more about structures we can offer and share with other Pagan groups (so that they don’t have to reinvent the wheel).
For parents who do not have the time or community of Pagans to develop their own sexuality education program, participating in OWL at a local UU church is a great idea!
*The UUA is a democratic faith-based or spiritual organization, consisting of districts that are simultaneously independent and in cooperation with each other through the Unitarian Universalist Association.
Michelle can be found Sunday mornings at the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists, and at Live Oak UU Fellowship of Alameda, CA 1st and 3rd Sunday afternoons. She is also involved with Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) in Northern California and nationally, and organizes programming for Pagan students at the Graduate Theological Union. See: http://pagansonthehill.blogspot.com .