During the interim process, lay leaders have understood the value of a developing a strategic pathway of UU identity formation and deepening that acknowledges faith formation across the lifespan. The Children and Youth Team is in the process of answering several broad questions that include, “How will someone graduating from the program at 18 have developed their identity as a Unitarian Universalist at UUCN?” “What do children and youth at various stages need to be affirmed as a UU and to grow?” “What are the explicit objectives and goals of the children and youth program?” The Adult Team is in deep discernment as well, reflecting on question such as “What are the characteristics of adult learners?” “What experiences and opportunities do people new to UUism need?” “What do those who have no previous religious or spiritual experience need in their faith journeys?” “What experience and opportunities do long-time UUs need?” “How do we connect Adult Faith Formation to building a multiracial, multicultural, multigenerational beloved congregational community?”
Children starting in preschool and up to 9th grade are involved in curriculum-based programs, many including the UUA’s Tapestry of Faith offerings. Building block programs that intentionally transition the children into their Senior High Youth Group experience include Neighboring Faiths for upper elementary groups, Our Whole Lives (OWL) for 7th and 8th graders (every other year), and a coming of age program for 8th and 9th graders called ROPEs (Rites of Passage Experiences). Younger children are involved in age-appropriate programs that are loosely part of an intentional pathway towards those building block programs for pre-teens and teens.
An effort is made to “loop” peer groups together which sometimes includes adults leaders who will follow these groups. This is an intentional strategy to build friendships which will work around the particular demographics.
Preschoolers can be involved in We Are Many, We Are One, Chalice Children, or Celebrating Me And My World. Lower elementary has been involved with Love Surrounds Us, Love Will Guide Us, Treasure Hunting, and Faithful Journeys. Upper elementary groups have loved Toolbox of Faith, Heart Talk, Spirit of Adventure, Riddle and Mystery, and Amazing Grace. The ever-popular Neighboring Faiths runs every other year.
In addition to their peer group time and time for personal growth, the children are involved in outreach programs that further their understanding of the inherent worth and dignity of all people.
This is an all-ages faith-in-action program that is held on Sunday mornings throughout the church year. The number of Sundays varies, usually 3-4. AREA was created during the interim ministry period by the then Religious Education Committee as a way to give teachers a morning off so they could participate in worship. Two of the REC spearheaded the initiative, unaware of how powerful and popular those AREA events would become.
AREA is an acronym for “Alternative Religious Education Activity.” During the interim period, it was evident that is was not an “alternative” but rather an integral experience reflecting our core values as Unitarian Universalists. It quickly became treasured and anticipated by the children and the entire congregation and many teachers participate. Since the term “AREA” became quickly adopted into the church culture, the leadership has agreed to keep the name despite the change from RE to FF.
Our Whole Lives
The middle school program is offered every other year by a very dedicated group of leaders. The 7th-9th Grade OWL program is offered on Sunday mornings from 9:30a to 11:30a that includes at least one overnight program. Mostly, the participants are from UUCN. There have been several adults trained in the 4th-6th grade module during the first interim year. That program has not been integrated into the program.
Rites of Passage Experience (ROPEs)
This is a very beloved program at UUCN that uses Compass Points as the basis for a coming of age experience. In addition to the formal program, the teens are guided through their discernment process by an adult mentor. There are workshops and gatherings where mentors and teens can share and learn, including the very popular mask making! The ROPEs teens and their mentors lead a worship service in the spring where the teens share their personal beliefs in the form of a credo statement.
Senior High Youth Group
The teens meet on Sunday nights where they collaborate with the Senior Youth Advisors on their needs for Faith Formation, outreach and justice making, connection with the larger community, worship, and fun. This is an informal setting where the teens appreciate a chance to withdraw from their hectic lives and be in community. Each year, the teens lead a worship service, providing almost all of the worship elements including music. The teens are deeply integrated into the life of the larger congregation as many of them are participate in Sunday morning offerings: child care staff, coffee crew, choir, and Faith Formation teachers. They also provide a monthly Pancake Breakfast where they do accept donations. There are three senior youth advisors. The group has decided to attend General Assembly in New Orleans in June, which means they are very busy fund raising.
Based on the adult Tapestry of Faith structure, the Adult Faith Formation program at UUCN involves four areas: Beloved Community, Life Issues, UUism, and Spiritual Practices. Starting with the 2016 church year, we have joined with our congregations in Milford and Manchester to form a cluster where we can share our offerings and make connections outside of Nashua.
At UUCN we have six Covenant Groups that meet monthly as well as a Young Adult Group that meets two Sunday evenings a month. There is a weekly program called TUUSDays at UUCN that is structured both around the four pillars of Tapestry of Faith and the theme of the month. Unitarian Universalism is offered on the first Tuesday, Spiritual Practices on the second Tuesday, followed by Beloved Community and Life Issues on the third and fourth Tuesdays. The specific programs include: TEDTalk TUUSDays: Ideas to Deepen your Faith; Spirited Tuesdays, that introduces various embodied practices; Soul Matters in the World, with an introduction to various world religions, and Life Issues Through Great Literature.
Through our cluster approach, we will be offering the Adult Our Whole Lives, end of life planning, memoir writing, a day-long spiritual retreat, an exploration of UU history, and a Boston UU heritage tour.