Developments in Religious Exploration: Three ways for us to do great things together
Leah | Aug 02, 2018

“You can do what I cannot do. I can do what you cannot do. Together we can do great things.” Mother Teresa

You may have already read that, at my request, I have moved from full time to three quarter time in my position at Albany UU so that I can pursue some outside interests. While that may indicate to you that our families and our Religious Exploration program for children and youth will be served less, let me assure you that I’ve been working with Rev Sam and Dick Dana, (Albany UU’s president) and the RE Council on plans to keep what we have now and to provide you with more.

I have been talking to Rev Sam and others in leadership positions in our congregation to really lift for them that families in our congregation are experiencing all the same forces of our society as everyone else. I see you parents and caretakers balancing what society demands of you to ensure that your children to do well and grow to be successful, on the one hand; and resisting the demands which work against your values on the other. I see you struggling to foster compassion in a competitive world; to place value in meaning over materialism; in community over rugged, self-centered individualism; acceptance and celebration of differences in the face of hatred and ignorance.

And at the same time, of course, there is the real competition for time:

  • time to create at home life
  • time for your children to attend activities
  • time to participate a religious community that can help you

The leadership and I agree that the RE program and I could do better in supporting you in your balancing acts. So we have created two structures as ways to support you and I invite you to join in a third way.

1. My job title has changed to Director of Religious Education and Family Ministry. Family Ministry means building strong connections between families and the congregation; and supporting parents and caregivers in being their children’s primary religious educators. That last bit may seem scary. I’ve heard parents/caretakers say that they don’t know about religious education; that’s what they count on Sunday school to do! And I hear you on that. I felt the same way when my kids were young. But I also think that I could have used some resources to help – just one suggestion at a time would have given me reassurance. Some of you attend the monthly Parent/Caretaker Support Group in person or in our Face Book group. That’s one example of Family Ministry. I’ll be talking to you and putting other things out there via my blog and email for your consideration and getting your feedback about them.

2. After a very competitive hiring process, Elizabeth Baldes was offered and has accepted the new role as part time RE Program Assistant. Elizabeth is a long-time member and volunteer at Albany UU. She is a graduate of Empire State College and is also currently a preschool teacher at New Covenant Nursery School. Elizabeth will work 15 hours a week and she will take on some administrative and clerical tasks for the RE program and the routine support for the Sunday morning RE volunteers; promote events and resources for families; and work with me to plan events like training sessions. She will also substitute for me one Sunday morning once a month and make sure things run smoothly that morning in Sunday school. Elizabeth is motivated and has amazing organizational skills. So with her coming on board, our staff is better equipped to focus on needs of families.

3. Let’s focus and put less energy into measuring attendance and more into engagement. I remain a big fan of frequent Sunday morning attendance. AND I know that there are other ways for you to fulfill our mission at Albany UU to seek truth, pursue justice, and cultivate compassion. More simply put, let’s work together to find what you need to equip you in fostering UU identity and our faith for your children. Different families could use different tools at different times to meet the same goals.

  • maybe your family makes a point of attending monthly Family Chapel
  • maybe you get to Albany UU for Sunday school or attend service together once a month or more
  • maybe you join in multigenerational events (like social events; social justice witness events; service events at Albany UU and other places with fellow congregants)
  • maybe you read books at home together that promote UU values; discuss movies and shows you watch together in light of UU values
  • maybe you do UU spiritual practices together at home
  • and I encourage all parents and caretakers talk to their children at home about your values, why you do what you do.

Because, let’s face it, Sunday school attendance alone, even frequent attendance, never did a terrific job of transmitting our religious identity, faith and values to our children and youth.

Your engagement with your children’s religious exploration fuels their sense of what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist and a passion for our faith.

I love how the old Loews slogan, “You can do it; we can help!” also applies to supporting parents and caretakers. There is the “you” AND the “we”. Everyone is part of developing our multigenerational, “we” culture at Albany UU. So whatever tools you’re using in your family,  your engagement with our faith community is also part of your parenting as a Unitarian Universalist. Now is the perfect time for you to consider serving our congregation in whatever way you can – become part a Meaning Matters small group; bring a friend on a Sunday morning or to an event; volunteer; and give generously, however that looks for you.

We’re all in this together – and as religious people, we join together in love.

Warmly in faith,


Leah Purcell, Director of Religious Education and Family Ministry, Credentialed Religious Educator