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nancy combs-morganAs I look up and out to our immediate horizon, I begin to imagine what possibilities lie before us in Unitarian Universalist faith formation. Let’s assume that we are mapping out a course together. If we were conducting a MapQuest search, our driving directions would start with the address of where we are today. Our location in the present is that we have a thousand plus congregations who endeavor to provide lifelong religious education, largely in Sunday morning, age graded, classrooms. There are wondrous examples of the successes of many of those Sunday morning experiences….preschoolers engaged in Spirit Play (a Montessori model); children, youth, and adults immersed in workshop studios to experience a central value, such as the “Golden rule,” in drama, poetry, music, etc…., (the Rotation Model). This is important, I am not saying that there aren’t wonderful experiences of Sunday morning religious education taking place, and that should continue taking place, but here is the part when we get back to our driving directions. If our end location is the beloved community we say that we are aiming for, and if our end sight is achieved, in part, by growing our faith and raising lifelong Unitarian Universalists, THEN we must think beyond bricks and mortar experiences.

To help in opening my own eyes that the future of Unitarian Universalist faith formation lies in getting beyond the bricks and mortar view that faith formation only happens in our congregations, I took part in a remarkable training with John Roberto on the “Vision and Practice of 21st Century Faith Formation,” (www.LifelongFaith.com). What was particularly moving was that I wasn’t alone, for congregational, national, regional, and district Unitarian Universalist leaders were at this training, including folks from our national Multicultural Growth and Witness team; the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries; the Vice President of Ministries and Congregational Support; the Director of Information Technology, one of our Growth Strategy Specialists, and many colleagues in Congregational Life staff group. UUA staff are on a mutual course, as an intentional learning community, to face the adaptive challenge before us of growing our faith in new and exciting ways. Yet, if this new course is just mapped out by UUA staff then we will not be truly serving our congregations, for we need to be on this endeavor WITH congregational leaders. The training in Washington D.C. began with a quote from Buckminster Fuller, (a Unitarian who created the geodesic dome, with strong roots in MidAmerica) and the centering quote was, “You never change things by fighting existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” We can do this, we can map a new course, create new models of faith formation, that will ensure that we exist as a vital, engaging, and transformative faith for decades to come. The core of this adaptation is beyond just mapping out the driving directions, for if we are to share in this endeavor we must all seek to open our hearts and minds to the new paradigms of faith formation for the 21st century, paradigms which fully address the importance of using social media on a congregational, regional, associational level.

Time for self confession… I have been the “snowy owl” on our MidAmerica team in terms of social media. Snowy owls are a bit elusive and hard to spot. After the training with John Roberto, I fully grasp the critical importance of a “virtual” driving course in UU faith formation. With that pledge, in the next few weeks, I will be writing a series of blog posts on the exciting developments before us in 21st Century Unitarian Universalist faith formation.

In service to our future,
Nancy Combs-Morgan
Faith Development Director, Heartland District of the UUA
Coordinator of Emerging Models of Youth and Young Adult Ministries, MidAmerica Region

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