I was recently asked to give a 2-minute testimonial at a church service. The topic was how the church’s Religious Education program had impacted our family. Of course, I spoke for 5 minutes.
Here it is:
Russell and I have been attending the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu for twelve years. We first got involved in our church’s Religious Education (R.E.) program many years ago, when we were leaders of the youth group. It was a humbling experience. Each Sunday I would leave after an hour or so of “teaching” the teens feeling as though I gained so much more than I could ever give. I remember the Youth Sunday the year we were youth group leaders. After the kids had done their thing during the service and it was time for the congregation to respond, I stood up and told those kids the most honest thing I had shared with them all year. I said, “When and if Russell and I have children, nothing would please us more than to have them turn out half as wonderful as any of you.”
So, now, we have kids. Two. Zaffron, who’s about to turn seven, and Mgazi, also known as Lulu, who just turned five. Both love coming to church and are soaking up all that R.E. has to offer them. Just last week, I was in my bathroom, brushing my teeth, getting ready for work when Zaffron walked into the room and said, “I don’t think I believe in God.” It wasn’t an announcement. She wasn’t proclaiming anything significant. It was conversational. Apparently, this had been rattling around in her head and this is what popped out. Of course, I immediately started hyperventilating. I grew up Baptist. Twelve years of being a Unitarian didn’t erase the fear of God in me.
When the nausea passed, however, I was filled with pride. I’m pretty confident that none of Zaffron’s R.E. teachers told her there’s no God. Instead, they shared with her facts, and history, and stories, and details of religions around the world and here at home, and most importantly, our U.U. principles, and this is what she decided based on the information she was provided. R.E. is helping my daughter become a critical thinker.
Our church’s R.E. program is not parked solely in the realm of religion. It also offers a groundbreaking human sexuality program called O.W.L.—Our Whole Lives.
We enrolled Zaffy when she was five years old into this program. She learned the medically appropriate terms for body parts, the different forms that families can take, what’s appropriate behavior and what’s not, how to stay safe, and, somewhat to my dismay at the time, but now my relief, how babies are made… down to the very… last… detail.
Russell often takes our daughters to Kaimana Beach on Saturdays. One of the girls’ favorite things is to rinse off in the showers after an energetic morning of swimming and playing in the sand. They’ll run ahead of Russell, leaving him behind to collect the towels and toys. They jump under the falling water of the showers, completely unaware that other beachgoers may have been waiting for their turn.
One of the girls will invariably turn around and yell across the beach to my husband who is still gathering their things, “DADDY, SHOULD WE RINSE OUR VULVAS?”
[Don't believe I said "vulva" in church? I've got video proof!]
This is what we get out of this church’s R.E. program. Children who are unafraid to speak their minds. Children who analyze information that they are given and make their own decisions. I realize that both of my examples of how R.E. has impacted our lives convey a mixture of horror and pride. But to me, this is a good thing. My kids are becoming independent thinkers, in no small part due to our church’s R.E. program. And any good independent thinker is going to provoke a variety of emotions in the people they interact with.
I’m thrilled that my Mgazi and Zaffron get the opportunity to participate in our R. E. program. I’m even more thrilled that they are well on their way to becoming just as wonderful as the teens that Russell and I had the privilege to learn from ten years ago.