European Unitarian Universalists
Affirming the inherent worth and dignity of every person
Youth RE

EUU Youth Religious Education

At each retreat, the RE Committee facilitates a lively, interesting, and informative program for children from 4-18 years of age. In between retreats, fellowship RE coordinators independently design and adapt curricula and activities based on upcoming retreat themes and/or topics of local interest.

Previously, retreat RE themes were designated by a rotating selection of the following broad topics: UUism, Christian Heritage, Nature-based Spirituality, and World Religions. Recent developments are moving the RE curriculum toward more extratheological themes, rather than selections of single world religions or elements of historical heritage per retreat. Themes such as social action, artistic expression, celebratory ceremonies, views of the afterlife, the roles of deities, and music are a few examples. This format provides sufficient room to incorporate analysis of numerous religions through a common lens, encourages participation in discussions with reflections of previous experiences with "real world" themes, and leads to more direct application of the lessons' content to personal spiritual growth and understanding.

  

Spring 2014 Theme: With Reason as Our Guide

Exploring Faith and Wisdom with Reason as our Guide

Have you ever held a prism up to a bright window and admired the rainbow it produces on the floor of your room? If we think about it, the prism can represent Unitarian Universalism or religion as a whole. The sunlight could symbolize the universe, teeming with mystery and wonder. And the smear of colors on the other side? That would be the spectrum of understanding that people adopt to help explain the universe and the "big questions", like how the world exists or why some are fortunate while others are not.

Instead of a doctrine, or a set of defined beliefs, to follow, UUism is a religion that upholds "a free and responsible search for truth and meaning." Our fourth principle often leads us to new and different beliefs from one another and even from our own earlier judgments. The emphasis on the use of reason and the willingness to change one’s beliefs based on new information are hallmarks of our liberal faith tradition.

At this year's Spring Retreat, the Treasure Hunters (ages 4-6) and Explorers (ages 7-12) stepped into the role of a scientist as they explored the importance of being independent thinkers with reason and logic as their primary tools. The "Scientific Method" took center stage to better understand how we know what we know. After all, the Scientific Method is not just important for studying science- it embodies our capacity to use knowledge, to identify questions and to derive evidence-based conclusions in order to understand and help make decisions about the world and our experiences. In other words, it defines how we distinguish proven facts from other types of "knowing", like opinions, memories, or ideas.

"Don't believe everything you think" is a phrase from a favorite bumper sticker. Just because we can imagine a system or connection doesn't mean it exists in reality. That fuzzy divide between reality and the unknown is precisely what the children addressed, as they juggled the concept through games and activities that demonstrated the nature of our perceptions and reasoning skills. For example, we may hold a new toy car under a table and understand its shape, texture, and weight, but unless we look at it, we couldn't know everything about it, such as the color of the paint. Even with all of our senses, we are still not fully equipped. For example, we can see the colors of the rainbow, but we're blind to a type of light that comes from the sun, called UV light. Even though we can't see it, we know it exists because of the sunburn we receive after a summer day at the beach.


"It's not that I don't trust my senses, I just interpret them in context. We're subjective beings in an objective world." Brian Greene, author of "The Elegant Universe" and Chairman of the World Science Festival.


EUU Teen Coming of Age Program: A UU Rite of Passage

Most cultures celebrate the passage from childhood to youth with a study program, a culminating project, and a graduation ceremony. In the same way, UUism has developed something quite special for young teens to explore and craft their personal belief system under the guidance of the seven principles while building precious community with others.

Beginning with the Spring Retreat in Melun, France, EUU teens (13-15 years) are in the middle of a 3-month UU Coming of Age (COA) Program, concluding with an outdoor adventure this summer. With different mountain ranges, seas, and national borders in each of our backyards, we EUUs are devoting a hefty dose of creativity to foster a close-knit and meaningful COA community. Cue in the internet! Harnessing the power of a few online platforms, we'll be able to facilitate hangout sessions and cooperative projects as if sitting around the living room.

To be given the freedom by the entire community to delve deep within themselves and forge their own sense of purpose by means of their own convictions is something still very unique in modern society. With the generous help of local adult mentors, COA participants are taking steps individually, with their families, and with their fellow teens in pursuit of the following goals:

  • To explore and clarify beliefs, values, and practices;
  • To learn the importance and meaning of personal integrity and putting our beliefs into action;
  • To impart a deeper comprehension and appreciation of Unitarian Universalism;
  • To learn the meaning of being a member of a diverse religious group;
  • To learn how to be in community with others so all feel welcome and empowered;
  • To have fun.


Fall 2013 Theme: Prayer and Meditation

Deep Thoughts: Next retreat's topics are prayer and meditation 

This autumn, we dive into our second installment of the EUU RE's new topical format, in which real-life experiences and engaging discussions connect spiritual themes and practices with modern issues and lifestyles. Taking a cue from nearly every major religion, we will be exploring the substantial use, benefits, and traditions of prayer and meditation.

"Prayer changes people, and people change the world. So let us pray," Rev. Dr. Arvid Straube of San Diego's First UU Church used to say before leading the congregation in reverent thought. Most people may already be familiar with both prayer and meditation, but the varieties that exist around the world are truly endless and often surprising. Structured meditation is as old as Hinduism, recorded several thousands of years ago, and as new as five minutes ago, as therapists and spiritual leaders continue to develop new age "awareness training" exercises.

Prayer, too, is so intertwined with religion that its history spans from Ancient Roman and Greek Paganism to modern day Islam, Bahá'í, Judaism, and all denominations of Christianity. Secular and humanist groups, as well, generally incorporate some form of meditation or prayer into their routines, whether communal or in private. As UUism is theologically inclusive, we may adopt many definitions and manifestations of prayer. Some UUs feel most comfortable with traditional recitations before going to sleep while others may include experiences such as observing a beautiful rainbow or working at a homeless shelter as their form of connecting with the sacred.

The reasons for prayer are as varied as the practices, but most can be described as a means of connection, spiritually, communally, and personally. One may believe to be communicating directly with a spiritual entity or deity, confirming loyal membership in a community, or finding inner peace among the noise and busyness (and possibly uncomfortable or scary situations) of everyday life. Each form is broadly used, and there are four basic types of prayer: praise (gratitude), confession ("I'm sorry"), petition (a wish), and intercession (loving wishes on behalf of others). Though we have such thoughts throughout the day (thankful for your dad's delicious breakfast, regretful for not doing your homework well, anticipating a good grade nonetheless, or hoping for your little sister's success in a football match), to pray is usually a more deliberate act. All of the above examples could be considered valid content for a prayer, however when praying, a person is usually more focused on the reflection or hopeful request.

"Who cared if there was really any Being to pray to? What mattered was the sense of giving thanks and praise, the feeling of a humble and grateful heart." - Oliver Sacks, Neurologist

Beyond traditional religious reasons, prayer and meditation are two avenues to influencing the mind, a subject your DRE is particularly fascinated by as a neuroscientist. Consider this: think of one of your most peaceful memories. Really, take a minute away from this page, stare off into the distance, and put yourself fully in the memory. Perhaps it took place in nature, with family, or just before you fell fast asleep last night bundled up in a warm blanket. If you think of this memory long enough, remembering the smell of the place, the expression on your face, and the thoughts that filled your mind at that moment, you may start to feel more relaxed (deeper breaths, loosened shoulders, and a calm mood may be physical signs), even if you're reading this in the middle of a stressful day. Such is the awesome power of the mind, to convince yourself of living in better or different circumstances simply by thinking of them. And what's more exciting is that we have greater control of our feelings, moods, and consciousness than we may know! As Walt Disney once said, "Happiness is a state of mind!" More on that at the retreat...

Participating youth will be delighted to know that some of your favorite teachers are signed-up to lead your retreat program, including Karen Kyker Frey, Janie Spencer-Bellet, and Julianne McCall. A large portion of the schedule will be devoted to first-hand engagement with active and diverse meditative and prayer practices, when we will experience how people of many different religions connect with their most important values. Whether you develop some respect for what others cherish as sacred or add a component of what we learn to your own spiritual habits, this will be a retreat full of activity for the senses and perception!

Spring 2013 Theme: Social Justice  

 

EUU Teen Online Community

The EUU Teen Online Community is active year-round in providing a virtual space for EUU teenagers to share stories, activities, humor, and resources. Check it out at www.euu-youth.tumblr.com. This blog serves as a platform to share online news articles, videos, music, images, opportunities for social action, UU scholarships or student exchanges, etc. The approach can be thought-provoking, compassionate, humorous, or just plain silly and still worth sharing. The youth agree that twice a year is too seldom to connect with one another, so this online community contributes significantly to forming strong UU bonds across great distances and between retreats.

The blog is publicly accessible, and to contribute, youth need only to submit an email address. To be more actively involved, a free Tumblr account would be helpful to comment on others' posts and join discussion threads. The EUU DRE will serve as the administrator, ensuring that all posts and comments are reviewed before published. The EUU Youth Community will soon be represented as a Facebook Group, as well. That way, everyone has access to the online community, whether they're on FB or not.

This is a teens-only initiative, and further information about the concept, the content, and participation may be requested by emailing
YouthRE@europeanuu.org.



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