November 17, 2022

What do a dragon’s name, a bird funeral, and Undecorate the Tree have to do with UU Religious Exploration? 


After two rounds of voting, we have, in the spirit of the 5th Principle of Unitarian Universalism, named our guardian dragon Sapphire Tide.  We have come to a consensus – without voting at all – that this dragon is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns.

In the week following our successful naming of the dragon, my head was full of a plan of what to talk about as we headed into the woods… And there, in our stone circle, was a tiny, perfect, female goldfinch.  She was dead, of unknown causes. A week after All Souls, a day after we honored Ruth Decker’s life, there was nothing to be done but to drop all my plans and lay her to rest. Children feel death deeply, and so frequently we adults fear to talk about it with them. Following their lead, we talked: why did the bird die? What should we name her? How can we make sure her little body is safe from predators and accidental unburial by preschoolers?  It’s so sad that she died.  Everything alive dies, eventually.  This is part of life.

Last week we all pitched in to help set up the Youth Group-sponsored Undecorate the Tree.  We stuck the names of children onto cutout ornaments, tied loops of fancy string on them, and hung them on the tree. We talked, a little, as we worked, about what we wanted out of RE and church.  Crafts, fun, being with friends, they said.  (Creativity, joy, community, I heard). “Do you like doing projects like this where we’re helping others?” I asked.  “Yes,” they said. This is important, remembering that we are not alone and that that means both asking for help and helping other people.

There’s a bit of Religious Education philosophy that comes from the book Fashion Me a People by Maria Harris. Harris comes from a Christian RE tradition, but what she said works really well for any faith. She says there are three kinds of teaching in faith development: explicit, implicit, and null. Explicit teaching is what we say, the words we use.  Implicit teaching is the messages we don’t say, but hope we convey through action.  Lots of curriculum lessons are a combination of Explicit and Implicit teaching. You teach a story about voting rights.  That’s explicit.  On the wall you have your Seven Principles poster, and you might even, that day, point out that we have a Principle about voting/democracy. The implicit message is that our faith cares very deeply about people having a voice.

And then there’s the Null Curriculum.  This is a tricky little sucker because it is the things that we learn from what nobody says. We say, implicitly and explicitly, that we care about people’s opinions and voices, and we give them a place for that by practicing congregational polity (that thing where the members of our congregations run things by committee and voting, unlike many faiths where the Big Guys Up There On Top run things.  Some people have the mistaken idea that the UUA ‘runs us’ and ‘tells us what to do,’ but it’s the opposite.  We run them.

But then… it’s time for the annual meeting, and what happens? Children have no say at all under the bylaws. Youth might, if they’re old enough to sign the book, but we say to them: hey, we need you to provide childcare for the Annual Meeting. We tell our children, not by our words, but by our deeds, that we don’t think they belong in that room where the decisions are made. Meetings are long and dry and boring, and we only do them because we have to.  But maybe they grow up thinking that they don’t belong there… and if we never explicitly help them make the transition to belonging there, a lot of them get the feeling that they will never belong there. 

I’m not making accusations or saying that First Parish is ‘doing anything wrong.’ I haven’t been here long enough to know whether this is the children and youth culture First Parish nurtures or not. I see evidence that our kids are valued here, especially when I see things like youth in the adult choir, or being trusted to run an important activity like Undecorate the Tree.  I’m simply pointing out that the Null Curriculum, the things we don’t say at all, are the most powerful messages that people receive.  In Religious Exploration, I want to make sure our children and youth feel seen, heard, and valued. Sometimes it might seem like we didn’t do anything in RE today… but by being child and youth-centered, by giving them as much power as they can have within the systems that exist, and by exploring the things that touch them most deeply, we as a congregation can grow them into loving, caring, confident human beings.  Love, after all, is the doctrine of our church.  It is the force that holds us all together, and the spirit by which we will liberate the world.


October 30, 2022

In the past weeks in RE, we’ve begun building space for our rituals and deepening our community. We read out loud our Covenant each week and each person gives a thumbs up to agree to it. A thumbs down does not mean “I don’t agree” but “I have a change I’d like to make.” Covenants are at the heart of the ways that UUs enter into community with one another, and thus far all our mornings in the woods have been approached with intense respect for our covenant.
The Guardian of our Forest School space is the teal and blue dragon with yellow eyes whose photo is above. The dragon sits on one of the posts that mark the entrance to the Nutting Path and we greet it as we step across the threshold, using this small ritual as a way to enter into church school spirit. This dragon has neither name nor gender yet because the children and youth are currently getting to know the dragon. They have brainstormed a list of names for the dragon and last week began exercising our Fifth Principle to decide on a name. First, we had to decide on a way to vote. We had a long list of names and we decided to use a form of ranked-choice voting – everyone voted for their first, second, and third choices.
It turned out that four choices – Tide, Poseidon, Sapphire, and Mortimer, the Devourer of Apples – got equally weighted votes, and then we ran out of time. On Sunday, October 30 we will be doing our second round of voting. Learning about different forms of democracy and engaging them is a very UU practice, and I hope that we will all be satisfied with the Dragon’s name in the end.  Lauren Strauss, Director of Religious Exploration








September 20, 2022

We had a lovely time in our Forest School on Sunday the 18th and we are looking forward to more.  We have already begun using a ritual to enter and exit (the exit ritual will include tick checks!) and we shared Joys & Sorrows in the woods.  We created this year’s covenant on a whiteboard because covenants are living documents and we will change ours as needed this year.  Right now our church school covenant reads:

  • Respect for each other and what we share.
  • Be patient.
  • Be careful of the equipment.

This week in church we’ll be talking about the Prophethood of All, and in recognizing that we are all prophets, we’ll also be writing letters for the preschoolers.

Youth Group

September 25: Please attend Reverend Aaron’s installation at 3:30 pm.

October 2: BAKE SALE followed by Apple Picking at Berlin Orchards (where the good apple cider donuts are)

October 9: No Youth Group

October 15: (SATURDAY!) Youth Group provide babysitting for Fundraiser Concert from 2-3:30pm.

October 16: No Youth Group.  Maybe a Bake Sale?


The Tech Gremlins got me, and instead of different links for the forms, I sent out the same link for all. Sorry! 😊

If you have kids from birth through high school, please register them for our RE programs here:

Religious Exploration Registration 2022-23

 Parents will be asked about volunteering on this form.

If you’re not a parent but would love to come to play and learn and worship in nature with us, or if you have a special skill you’d love to share, or if you’re interested in being part of the newly reforming RE Council, please fill out this form:

Religious Exploration Volunteer 2022-23