I witnessed a really cool RE ceremony at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Monmouth today, to honor the first week of the new RE semester. It was all based on surprise, and required that they have a rectangular sanctuary. When you make a toast at a wedding or say “ready, set, go” at a race, its not memorable. Now this may be a common UU ceremony, but it was new to me.
When it was the time to send the children off, the minister talked about the importance of RE, how it was the first week of the year, then asked the RE instructors to come down in front, and to join hands. The altar center area stairs are also the risers where the choir just sang. You would fully expect this was a chance for us to show appreciation to them for the hard work they faced in the year ahead.
Then she asked the RE administration and leadership to come down, and join hands (in UU fashion), and to join onto the other chain. Ahh, nice, showing support to the instructors while letting the congregation see the total size and scope of the work running RE. … Nice.
Then she said “and now will the children … and the parents … come down as well … and join onto these groups”. A murmur went up from the crowd. The total confusion ensued of any unscripted activity involving kids. The teens, all wearing ball caps and jersey crowded in one corner. Some parents were shy but took it with aplomb while others understood and showed support with enthusiasm. The tiniest tots couldn’t sit still and were all cute as a button, of course.
The congregation immediately “got it”. The altar space was overflowing, with people having to stand off in the areas to the far left and right, some too far back to be seen. We looked around the sanctuary to easily see that more people were up front than left in the pews, murmering and pointing and smiling. It was instantly visibly obvious that RE was an integral, not just an ancillary, part of the congregation. There was a pause for all of us to let that thought sink in.
Then she said “And now will everyone in the congregation ….”, and uproarious laughter broke out. We instantly thought we would all be crowding up to the alter, with nobody left in the pews. The envisioned mayhem, the jostling and crowding … “… please rise if you are able and join hands as well. Will those in front please stretch out and come down a bit and make sure both groups join up”.
Indeed everyone joined hands and a few from the altar area stepped down and a few from the front rows stepped forward and everybody present that Sunday was joined in hand.
Then the minister addressed the RE instructors, not the congregation: Look out at the congregation and feel their support. Know that each of us respects and honors the hard efforts and good work you do. Only she said it twice as much and much better and I was busy kinda misting up. In that moment every instructor had to feel fully empowered, fully supported for what is a difficult often thankless job. I know that the minister put words on my personal feelings about the respect and dignity I want to say to every RE instructor, but it often just comes out as “thanks”.
I felt the power of that commitment … in that moment … and I was just a guest!