Saturday, May 05, 2007

Why People Come to Church Part II

People come to church for all kinds of really good reasons, (see yesterday's post), but amongst them, only two are uniquely served by churches. There are a variety of ways, even in this fractured society, to find community. There are many groups in which one can join with others to be of service. But transformation and religious education are uniquely the purposes of church. (Not that they can't happen elsewhere, of course, but they are one thing that we're about as churches that no other institution is about.)

Therefore it's unfortunate, to my mind, that we don't focus more on these two areas. One particular bee I have in my bonnet is the inordinate amount of time we tend to spend on sex education in our RE programs. It's a worthy and needed cause, and not divorced from faith and transformation, but if you add up the hours we have with, say, our 5-18year olds, (13 years, and hour a week for, let's say, an average of 40 weeks a year) and compare that to the number of contact hours a church doing the entire set of OWL offers and you discover that kids will have spent about 1/4 of their hours and almost all of their "intense" hours on the topic of sex. Most of the kids graduating from our programs know everything they ever wanted to know about sex but don't know much about religious literature, don't have a clue about how to meditate and think a journal is a diabolical tool invented by teachers to torture them.

End of Rant.

But the reason we engage in such an extraordinary amount of sex education, in my opinion, is that we're scared of teaching religion or encouraging transformation. We fill the void as best we can. The problem is not with OWL, it is with the lack of really compelling religious and spiritual programs for kids and youth.

Adults in our churches too often get the same short stick, and often because they themselves are skittish about matters and language of faith and transmit that skittishness to their clergy, who then turn to safer projects of community-building and world-saving. It's a long, hard, risky, project for a minister to work with a congregation to create a worship service which is consistently, deeply inviting people to identify and trust the transformative processes in their lives. And they themselves have mostly been far better prepared in seminary and by our credentialing processes to identify racism than to identify transformation.

I feel another rant coming on and will stop here. It is good to be able to identify racism, and not without transformative potential. But that's not, in the end, what a church is for.


Steve Caldwell said...


Wow ... where should one start here. I hate it when folks use numbers as a rhetorical device and not as a tool for conveying accurate information.

The 25% of RE contact time isn't factually accurate.

And the misunderstanding that sexuality education isn't "real" religious education (grounded in UU theology and/or UCC understanding of the Bible) is all too common.

When one realizes that "sexuality" is more than body parts and lubricated friction and that it includes friendships, relationships, discovering who one is, etc, the time spent in OWL class isn't excessive at all. This is one area of RE class that we know our youth will use as adults.

Dr. Rebecca Parker's has a very short and concise explanation of what Unitarian Universalist soteriology is. She says that we offer salvation from those things that deny life or make life less whole.

Using this view of salvation, I would suggest that the OWL program is part of that salvation that we offer a world in need of salvation.

That's enough theology -- let's go back to the numbers.

Here's a breakdown of the time spent in the OWL program at each age/grade level for Unitarian Universalists who are not adults:

Grades K-1 - 8 sessions (8 hours)

Grades 4-6 - 8 sessions (8 hours)

Grades 7-9 - 27 sessions (41- 54 hours, depending on the amount of religious ritual used with the basic 90 minute sessions)

Grades 10-12 - 14 sessions (28 hours)

The total amount of time spent in formal sexuality education classes is 98 hours (based on the figures provided above).

The estimate of time spent in all RE activities (based on your estimate) is 520 hours.

Assuming that OWL program happens on Sunday morning instead of non-OWL RE classes, the percentage is not 25% -- 18.9% is what I come up with.

However, I doubt that the figure is any near 18% in most Unitarian Universalist congregations.

For example, my congregation only offers the grades 7-9 program and I suspect this is true for many other congregations (the grades 7-9 program is viewed by many as the replacement for "About Your Sexuality," the earlier UUA sexuality education program).

Furthermore, we offer the program outside the Sunday morning RE time slot and it doesn't replace the non-OWL RE program. It supplements it. For my congregation and for many others like it the actual figure is 9.4%.

It's rare to find a congregation that offers OWL at all age/grade levels. I know this from my experience as a trainer in my district. The only OWL training workshop that has happened every year in my district is the training for adolescent OWL. Some years, the children and adult programs don't make the minimum enrollment number.

However, there are some congregations that do offer all age/grade levels of OWL. But they offer them outside Sunday morning as a supplement to the non-OWL RE program. In those cases, the percentage isn't 18%. For these congregations, the percentage is closer to 15%.

Finally, I'm sure that somebody is wondering why anyone would need 27 weeks and 40-52 hours to talk about sex. If all we provided in the OWL program was just the biological - medical facts about anatomy, reproduction, disease prevention, etc, 52 hours of class time would seem excessive.

However, we cover more than just "sexual health and reproduction" in the OWL program.

We talk about sensuality -- BODY AWARENESS - how we feel about our bodies, how it looks, feels and what it can do. Sensuality is about being aware of and in touch with the pleasure our bodies can give us and others.

We talk about intimacy -- the basic need to be emotionally close to another person or persons and have that closeness returned. Relationships give us a sense of belonging, connection, and affection. Relationships can be friendships, family relationships, or romantic relationships.

We talk about sexual identity -- who we are sexually, including our sense of gender; the ways we express our gender; and the direction of our romantic and sexual attractions.

We talk about sexualization -- the use of sex or sexuality to influence, manipulate, or control other people. Sexualization is not always negative. It can range from harmless flirting to extreme violence.

This multi-faceted and complex model of sexuality that we use in the OWL program can be found online here:

Circles of Sexuality

Teaching abstinence or condom use are both simple skills that can be taught in less than 1 hour. The hard part is providing the opportunity for folks to explore the relationship issues so our youth have the ability to negotiate effective and safe sexual decisions with their partners.

End of my rant.

Unknown said...
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Jamie Goodwin said...
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Steve Caldwell said...

Jamie wrote
"Do you have the numbers for people who get frustrated and leave UUism because everytime they have something to say someone jumps in their face to prove how stupid they are?"


I really don't know the answer to your question, but I think you're doing an excellent demo of jumping in my face to prove how stupid I am.

I do judge the circumstances for the person I'm responding to. I would expect that our clergy and our DREs should have some background with the OWL program at all age/grade levels.

Given that our congregations are spending somewhere between 10% and 25% of our RE time with the OWL program and it's a major denominational initiative, it's not unrealistic for a minister or non-ordained religious professional to have more than a passing familiarity with OWL.

Sadly, I've only had very few ministers or ministerial candidates in OWL training workshops (two ministers and two M.Div. students). I've had just as many non-UU clergy attending past workshops (3 UCC and one Presbyterian minister).

I would love to see our clergy obtaining the Adult OWL training and looking at the issues raised in the Adult OWL program (understanding of self and others, family, aging, relationships, etc) in our congregations and in their collegial gatherings.

The curriculum is both a lot of fun and very connected to our theology.