Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Credentialing Journey

I posted the picture of a t-shirt days ago and the announcements have been made widely. I have successfully completed the process to become a Credentialed Religious Educator.

But what does that mean? 

Unitarian Universalists value polity- they make their decisions at a the congregational level. This means that a congregation can hire anyone (or no one at all) to direct a religious education program. We all come to the job with different experiences, education, and talents.

The Unitarian Universalist Association has a credentialing process for religious educators, with specific criteria along the career path. There are three tiers.

The first (Associate) involves a minimum of five basic trainings (at least 75 hours), doing specific reading, and assembling a portfolio of work and life experience in eight competency areas.

Next comes Credentialed Religious Educator. This calls for a minimum of nine training opportunities (at least 135 hours), a more extensive reading list, and not only assembling a portfolio in twelve competency areas, but meeting with the RE credentialing committee for a formal interview.

A further level of credentialing is credentialed Religious Educator- Master Level. This involves the aforementioned requirements plus three graduate-level courses and a more extensive portfolio with sixteen competencies, often with a generative project (a book or developed resources.) This is on my long-term plan, not 2012 or 2013.

You can learn a lot more about the program on the UUA website - 

My Journey
I started as an RE volunteer in 2003 and became an RE committee chair in 2004. I attended my first training in October 2004. Since then I've attended well over two hundred hours of Renaissance modules and other training in several states, read roughly seventy books on the resource list, and been in rich discussions and private discernment.

Once I formally announced my credentialing intentions, I was matched with a mentor, the amazing Pat Kahn--we were charged with talking monthly or more, to discuss not just progress on the program, but whatever challenges or triumphs I wanted to share.

I spent July of 2011 (my 'sabbatical' month between jobs) putting together the rough draft of my portfolio, and much of my free time of the next seven months went toward revisions. The submitted portfolio was 126 pages, with an additional twenty pages of completion materials. Once that was all in and I passed an in-depth background check, I got an appointment date.

On May 1st I met with the Religious Education Credentialing Committee (RECC) in Eliot Chapel at the UUA headquarters building. The RECC is made up of a mix of ministers, religious educators, and lay congregational representatives. They are a loving and dedicated group of people who come together for a couple days of meetings and then to interview candidates.

These meetings have a specific format- after introductions, the candidate leads a two to three minute worship piece, followed by a five to seven minute presentation of something from the portfolio. Then it's time for interview-type questions. The candidate is eventually lead out of the room while the committee deliberates, then brought back in for the pronouncement.

Moments before entering the room, my chaplain mentioned, "And Eliot Chapel has the Channing pulpit." I did not really have time to be stupefied that I was about to preach from the same pulpit as William Ellery Channing...

I did not set myself on fire as I lit the chalice.

My voice held enough through the opening hymn (and the committee sang with me), and I had the presentation pretty well down- it was an abridged version of the worship service I led at a district conference months earlier. Soon it was time to sit down and get to the actual interview.

Before each candidate comes in, the committee spends some time discussing the portfolio and completion materials, then makes a list of questions. The questions tend to be broad, developed more to give a candidate a chance to speak from what they know, rather than a narrow question looking for one specific answer. My profession is much more an art than a science.

I'll admit- I had at least two instances where my brain completely blanked- lost names, lost concepts, lost entire banks of knowledge. But that happens in Real Life, too- it's all about the recovery.

Excepting those moments, the interview seemed to go quickly, and examples came easily to mind. The mid-interview moment of silence was barely enough time for me to remember that there was a glass of water next to me. Soon enough I was led out of the room by Jan Gartner (Professional Development Associate for Religious Education and Music Leaders) so the committee could deliberate.

I shared a bit about the process with my chaplain and had barely checked my email (Yeah, I know.) when it was time to go back in. No greetings this time, just sit on down in the chair.

My reader had the honor of telling me that I had earned the status of Credentialed Religious Educator. And a green t-shirt. They asked for some feedback on the process, gave me my t-shirt and blessings, and I was on my way.

I updated Facebook and emailed my mentor and the ministers with whom I serve, said goodbye to the chaplain, and made a bunch of phone calls as I made my way through the cold and rainy Boston day.

I give thanks to all those who have mentored me and seen the possibilities in me, and for all who have come before. And it's still all Joanna's fault.

I'll write further at some point about the process as transformation, but I've got a preschool lesson to revise, a meeting to schedule, and all kinds of logistics to sort.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Inherent Worth and Dignity of all...including LGBTQ teenagers (Guest Sermon 10/10/10 at UU Fellowship of Galveston County)

I've been asked to post this where colleagues can share it. Feel free, friends. --Katy (aka NancyDreUU)

(This is just an exercise and sermon. "Respectacles" refers to the pipe cleaner glasses I distributed for our story -- Oliver Button is a Sissy by Tomie dePaola. These high tech goggles help us to focus on respect in interactions.)

HERE is the sermon I originally planned to give. It’s a good one, meant to give you a basic understanding of Unitarian and Universalist histories and theology. But we’re dedicating the pulpit today to the nine young men we named in our meditation, and thousands others like them – desperate young men and women who need a place to feel welcomed and loved. Friends, there is work to be done.

Rather than a reading, I’d like you to get out the little sticky notes and pen or pencil you got with your order of service. On each paper, write down a word or phrase you might use to describe yourself. You’ve got about two minutes…. Ok, take another twenty seconds to finish up…

Congratulations. You’ve created a set of labels for yourself. Me, I identify as White, Unitarian Universalist, Glee fan, homeowner, cook, Polish, friend, educator, writer, parent.

Now I’d like you to sort your sticky notes -- which have been true your whole life? And which are more recent? For example, I have been white and Polish my whole life. It’s more recently that I’ve been a homeowner and a fan of the show Glee.

-What do you let others know and what do you keep private? What do you hide or even deny when asked? Obviously, I’m up here in front of y’all so I chose examples I am comfortable sharing. But sometimes what you can let people know changes...Sure, I can proclaim that I am Polish, but when my grandma Furmanski married my English grandpa seventy years ago, she had to hide that piece of her identity.

Ok – which of these could you change tomorrow if you wanted to? Which are unchanging? Which could change without your control?
-I could decide to hate Glee. My race is not going to change. And well, we all know that a hurricane or a foreclosure could take my home away… or I could decide to sell it all and become a nomad.

Take a minute or two to turn to the person next to you and share what you feel comfortable sharing – of your personal labels or how you sort them.

When we did this exercise, I asked only for descriptors you give yourself. Real life is far messier – other people are more than happy to label us. Sometimes those labels are accurate—whether a person owns them yet or not. Sometimes they’re an awful lot to live up to. And sometimes they are excruciatingly painful.

That, my friends, is the hell that is junior and senior high school.

Back before I even knew what Unitarian Universalism was, I taught middle school. One of my human development mentors explained that, “What in the younger years is written in pencil, by the end of adolescence will be written in permanent marker.” From ages 12 to 25, there’s a lot of testing and trying on – what fits? What can be pared away? What makes me… me? Adolescence is one big anxiety attack of What will I write on my nametag?

And sometimes anxiety gets to be too much. Each year, about 5000 Americans between 12 and 25 kill themselves. And we know that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning teens commit suicide at three times the rate of their heterosexual counterparts. The ratio for suicide attempts is even higher. Those statistics have been relatively stable over the last three decades.

But suddenly this last month it has become a major news story. We were given names and ages and locations and photos of at least nine young men who killed themselves – these nine struggled – either with their sexual orientation or with bullying – most with both.

Eighty-five percent of LGBTQ teens say that in the last year they’ve been verbally abused at school and forty percent have been physically harassed. Nearly twenty percent report physical assault at school. Nearly two-thirds report that they feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation or gender expression. And LGBTQ teens are four times more likely to run away than their heterosexual peers.

We read these stories and our hearts break. We’re frustrated and angry that schools aren’t doing more to protect these children, that families aren’t accepting enough or loving enough or just don’t know what their children struggle with every day.

A few weeks ago sex columnist Dan Savage started the It Gets Better Project for LGBTQ adults to send in their stories – an immediate way to connect with teens, to be able to say “I know it sucks right now, but here’s how my life has gotten better since the hell of my teen years.” Soon after, the Make it Better project was launched with suggestions of things to do NOW to make these teens’ lives better. Some schools and legislatures are re-examining their policies around bullying and support for all children. So some change is underway… but what steps are we called to take as Unitarian Universalists?

Here’s where my big ol’ history and theology sermon would come in handy, but I know the Texans play at noon, so here’s the quick summary – 19th century Unitarian William Ellery Channing channeled by current Unitarian Universalist minister Rebecca Parker --
We are neither depraved nor damned. The divine is in all of us and we are all saved – but we have a role in both uncovering the divine and the blessing of the world. We are responsible not only for the full unfolding of our own souls, but in removing any social structures which keep others from reaching their potentials.

So – we need to add another label to your identity. Think for a moment -- When you were a child, what superhero did you want to be? Did you have your favorite comic book character, or did you choose a power and a costume all your own? Did you ever jump off the roof to see if you could fly? Or were you content with your meek alter-ego?

Each of us has a hero inside of us. Some, like Superman and WonderWoman, are born with special gifts. Others, like Batman, use our cunning and integrity and an impressive array of technology. Some of us, like Spiderman, are forever transformed by life experience – and choose to use those powers for good.

What are your powers? What help do you need to develop your reflexes and utility belt? How can we fill your spirit with courage and hope so you can set aside your meek alter-ego and go out to bless the world? THIS, my friends, is work for a faith community. As Unitarian theologian James Luther Adams stated, church is where we go to practice being fully human.

This Coming Out Day, come out as a hero. Come out as an ally to LGBTQ youth who need to know that they have worth and they are worthy of love.

This sounds sort of big and scary, but we can break it down into practical items. First – things you can do personally – not necessarily in this building, but as a reflection of your Unitarian Universalist principles and ideals.

**Start by caring for yourself and your own family – if you see signs of depression, get help. If you see the warning signs of suicide – GET HELP RIGHT NOW. Talk to your children and grandchildren and nieces and nephews -- not just about being bullied, but about being the bully. Just because they are intelligent children and you’re teaching them great values, well… do not assume they will always do the right thing. Spend lots and lots of time with them – working on a project, riding in the car, watching movies – whatever… to open a space where they can tell you their struggles.

** Learn more about LGBTQ issues – what do all these letters mean? How do your own life experiences around sexuality shape your understanding? What do you still need to learn?

**Reflect on your own experiences with bullying, whether you were the bully or the bullied. What did it teach you? How have you changed and been changed?

**Wear your respectacles – not necessarily the pipe cleaners, but use the lens of our principles to look at the world and see where behaviors don’t quite measure up – your own and others’. “That’s so gay/lame/retarded” If you’re looking for ideas, comedienne Wanda Sykes has a great Public Service Announcement on this one.

**Speak out – share what you know, call people on disrespectful behavior, educate. In real life AND social media, baby.
– Let me tell you – Facebook is a great tool for this. Monday morning I got the link from Debra Haffner, executive director of the Religious Institute, asking anyone with access to a pulpit to abandon their planned Sunday sermon and instead do something about LGBT youth and adults. By 11am Tuesday, this congregation’s worship committee had enthusiastically agreed to the change and I had a new sermon title. That afternoon, I stopped at my library for some research and found a great little display in the teen area – books on coming out, bullying, and suicide prevention. I posted about it, again, on Facebook and an acquaintance from high school liked it – sent a message to me and some librarians… and by Saturday my hometown library, 1300 miles away, posted pictures of their brand new display for another group of teens and allies to access.

**Love out loud – whatever you do, do it from a place of love. It is easy to offer love to the bullied, to those who are obviously suffering. But we all need love – even when we have done lousy and scary stuff. And keep in mind as you speak out -- People don’t listen to strident. They listen to reasonable loving energy.

**Do we have anybody here today who works in the schools? Well, you’ve got some extra steps as you’re living in the war zone. Speak out speak out speak out. If you feel uncomfortable, do something to work through it. And love every single one of those kiddos, even the twerps. You might also look into the resources of the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network on creating safe spaces for all youth.

Ok, enough about individuals -- what is The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Galveston County, as a community of faith doing? Now, I work for one small congregation and am a member of another - I understand that small congregations cannot do everything.

So you need to be strategic – how can you be a voice in Galveston County and beyond? What do you need to learn to be effective allies? What energy can you as a congregation (not just interested individuals) lend to other organizations already doing the work?

As a relative stranger to your congregation, I do not know what you’re already doing. But I can make some suggestions that will help both the people in these seats and the people who need to find you –

**Become a Welcoming Congregation. This program of the Unitarian Universalist Association will educate the congregation and take you through some tough conversations – to prepare you to be truly welcoming to your LGBTQ visitors AND in your life between Sundays. This program generally takes nine to eighteen months and other congregations would be happy to help you get started.

**Participate in the UUA’s Standing on the Side of Love campaign – the mission is to harness love’s power to stop oppression – whether it is LGBT issues or immigration or any other civil rights growing edge.

**Consider offering comprehensive sexuality education. We call it OWL – Our Whole Lives. Imagine offering the saving message of “We know that we are all sexual beings, from the day we are born to the day we die. You are loved just the way you are. We want to help you to make informed decisions to stay safe and to live out your best values in the world – even when raging hormones are involved.”

**See what organizations already exist in your community – heck, I bet members of this congregation are already working with them. Do your schools or homeless shelters or health clinics have needs that you can fill without burning out? How can you share energies? And hey – how will you be present in the upcoming Galveston Pride parade?

A Unitarian Universalist recently told me that “we aren’t in the soul saving business.” He meant, of course, that we don’t do the born again thing, but I may have given him my teacher look. And I stated, “Unitarian Universalism saves souls every day.”

Let me say that again. Unitarian Universalism saves souls. Every Day.

And the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Galveston County is a part of that. I look forward to hearing what you start – I bet it will be something exciting and nurturing and world-changing.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Save the environment...

help find a cure for childhood cancer.

Seriously - cancer ain't green.

Chemo - that stuff is toxic, and anything the child excretes? Still
toxic. No more cloth diapers -- get it in a disposable, wear
diposable gloves (the nurses also wear disposable coats) while
changing said diaper and get it out of the house! Hazardous waste,

Hospitals in general - they give you a new toiletry kit every time you
wwalk in the door. Sure, you could organize the playroom with those
thin reddish tubs, but...ugh. One hospital stay and the stuff seems
novel. Maybe even kitschy. A room of it? No.

Gladware and aluminum trays and polystyrene - oh my! Getting a family
fed is a whole new struggle. In the hospital, well, the child's meals
might be covered, but not the parents'--so the choices are takeout or
merciful friends bringing food in. At home there's casserole patrol
from loving friends and family and congregations. And you do not
inflict additional dishwashing (and the obligation to return your
favorite pie plate) on a family struggling with cancer.

Transportation - most families do not live within easy walking
distance of a pediatric cancer center. There's a lot of driving
involved. And mentioning public transportation to the oncologist will
garner glares - THE GERMS!!

Tissues- Save parents the tears of cancer and you save acres upon
acres of virgin forest.

I could go on. And on. And on. But it's time for you to take action.

On September 25th, Lizard Eater will be
shaving off her beautiful long lustrous hair to raise funds for
childhood cancer research. Get the details and hand over your money

(And bonus green points -- think of all the shampoo LizardEater won't
be adding to our water supply!)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Times, they are a-changin'...

While I was at General Assembly last week, my children were in the woods of Wisconsin. I met them there Sunday evening and they seemed to have grown immensely - perhaps due to the double breakfasts and double lunches they'd managed to finagle. They'd learned to drive the golf cart through wooded acres, and not only caught and cleaned loads of fish, but to batter and fry them. But they're still happy to climb into my lap and to let me ruffle their hair, so it's all good.

I joined them on the area lakes in my time "Up North" and well, my role was to feed fish worms. But it was lovely weather and there was plenty to see - my breath catches whenever I glimpse a bald eagle. I would point them out and there was no gasping. Just "Uh huh" and back to fishing. And I realized -- in my children's entire lifetimes, our national symbol has been off the endangered list. Heck, those majestic birds have been thriving. Yes, my children have heard my stories of what a big deal it used to be to spot an eagle, how you had to call the DNR to report nest sightings... but those aren't their stories.

The mangy little fox scampering down the bike lane got a bit more notice - they're still less visible and no bobbers held the kids' attention.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Minneapolis Gratitude Exercise #2

1) I've had a lot of opportunities for Calves of Steel workouts. And shoes enough to rotate where the raw spots congregate.
2) I've had any number of really authentic conversations, at nearly every hour of the day. It's a good thing my roommate is the sleeping type, or I'd talk all night.
3) Bacon. My best friend claims that I'm the only person who could come to General Assembly and become less of a vegetarian, but OHhhh, bacon. Salt and crunch and fat. Add some syrup and you get the sweet as well...
4) Rebecca Parker makes my heart sing. (If you missed the John Murray Lecture, you need to seek it out. Really. Don't be me and wear mascara.) And I refrained from leeching on her last night. But it took quite a bit of restraint.
5) Comfortable places to perch - couches and chairs and quiet alcoves -- the third floor restrooms at the Hilton are AMAZING happy coolness, probably costing more than my house. But so hospitable.

(Next: Northwoods Gratitude Exercises...posted after I get back from said woods. Be well, all!)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Synergy celebrated

Last night was Synergy - a multigenerational worship service honoring those bridging from the youth program to young adults. It was lovely. Lovely. (Ok, the gestures for Gathered Here inspired me to start brainstorming what gestures for It's Raining Men might be...)

After, all were invited to a celebration (CAKE!) at the Hilton and then there was a dance. I'll admit, I'm not much of one for dances, at least, not since my own middle school days. And then someone said "80s dance" -- huh. The MUSIC of my own middle school dances.

It was exuberant energy so it took very little to get me in the room, with a LREDA board member coming along. And what was the first song as I got near the floor? Blister in the Sun. Heck yeah.

You'll be happy (?) to know that today's youth know both YMCA and the Macarena, and an assortment of line dances which they probably do not recognize as such. (I resisted the urge to convince the DJ to switch over to Achey-Breaky Heart...) And the age range in the room was easily 15-70, not that I was carding anyone.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Reading List: Salsa, Soul, and Spirit

All our lives, we keep developing--we strengthen our systems if we include study in our business groups as well.

And so I read Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age

Basic premise: How could our culture of leadership be strengthened by understanding and including perspectives from other traditions?

Author: Juana Bordas -

The book is very accessible with lots of story sharing and led me to some new understandings, not only of Latino, African American, and Native American leadership structures, but of the normative culture's structures. It turns out that some of the things that challenge me in our established UU paradigms are just things that I had never encountered in my Catholic, working class, ginormous family background. Huh.

Of course, as all these books do, this one gives me ideas for more books to read. I definitely need to read some history of the US from non-White perspectives. And probably I need to read a few of the "classic" leadership books so I can have a better understanding of what these rules of the mainstream culture ARE...