Multiculturalism and Summer Learning

Last month, I told you how much I love summer learning and offered you my summer reading list and some other fun summer learning ideas. This month, I would like to tell you about the wonderful learning opportunity I was able to participate in this summer.


The week of July 7-12 I attended Religious Educators Week at The Mountain.  This week-long series of workshops and seminars was held at the Unitarian Universalist Mountain Retreat and Learning Center in Highlands, North Carolina. The Mountain, as it is called, is nestled in the Nantahala National Forest, perched atop Little Scaly Mountain, 4,200ft up on granite cliffs with spectacular views, and just past the center’s Many Hands Peace Farm, an educational farm dedicated to regenerative agriculture. The Mountain offers mountain and farm camps for children and youth and hosts many UU gatherings and retreats throughout the year as well as individuals interested in relaxation and contemplation.



The main focus of the Religious Educators Week was on the 5-day Multicultural Religious Education Rennaisance Module and the 4-day Dismantling White Supremacy in Religious Education workshop. I was fortunate to participate in both of these workshops as well as a workshop on incorporating music in religious education and another on storytelling.



This past program year, Barbara Miller and I began the Family Song Circle. The purpose of this once a month, multiage gathering is to engage children and families in deepening their faith and UU identity through music. I am excited to bring some new ideas and tips to this gathering and to incorporate more music into our RE program. (This is your official warning that strange sounds and noises that may or may not be called music will most likely be coming from downstairs during worship. Do not be alarmed, or distracted, we are just putting our love and faith into sound!) I am also excited to use some of my newly acquired storytelling skills in the Time for All Ages for this year’s new schedule of bimonthly multigenerational worship services.


In the Multicultural Religious Education workshops, I learned how to incorporate a more multicultural lens to our religious education program.  I discovered that the UUA is focusing on editing its Tapestry of Faith curriculum to be more inclusive and to de-center whiteness and lift up the stories of people of color in our denomination and the wider world.  The Dismantling White Supremacy in Religious Education workshops opened my eyes to the white supremacy culture that surrounds me and provided concrete ways to begin fighting it in myself, our religious education programming, our congregation, and our world. 


I will be implementing some new ideas in the religious education program that align with the ideas of Beloved Community and sharing some new ideas with the congregation as a whole in my monthly newsletter. During the retreat, I worked with a group of religious educators to design a tool for congregations to engage more fully in social justice action with marginalized communities. I will present this tool at the August meeting of the Board of Trustees. I am grateful for the opportunity for continuing education and I look forward to using this knowledge in our religious education program and in our congregation.


Other RE News – Fall Religious Education classes start on September 15, 2019. We are still looking for volunteer teachers. If you feel called by our principles, and would like to encourage the spiritual growth of our youth and guide them in their search for truth and meaning; let’s talk! If you would like to learn more about our faith and develop relationships with some of the coolest kids you will ever meet; let’s talk! If you are slightly interested but feel unprepared or not knowledgeable enough; let’s talk! Teachers generally commit to teaching for one semester (fall or spring) which is 12-13 Sundays over a 4 month period. All lesson plans, materials, and supplies are provided for you as well as a teacher orientation, a classroom assistant, and ongoing support. Help keep our program strong and volunteer “downstairs.” You won’t regret it!


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Summertime – Reading and Relaxing

“Live in the sunshine, swim in the sea, drink the wild air.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ah, summer. There 20190531_203235are many opinions about summertime and many of us hold opposing opinions of it at the same time. It can be both beautiful and oppressive, relaxing and stressful, enjoyable and overwhelming. It can be a time of relaxation and rejuvenation or just more of the same old, same old with added humidity and mosquitos. Regardless of your schedule or your responsibilities, I hope that you get the chance to get out and notice the beauty and wonder around you before we plunge back into the dark, cold of winter. I hope you get the chance to learn something new and to put our faith into practice. To get you started I would like to offer you some summer reading, listening, and activity ideas. It’s like those summer reading lists you used to get in school, only much more interesting and fun.

The InSpirit Bookstore is a valuable resource for all things UU. Here are some of their offerings I hope to read this summer:

And for the kids

If you are looking for something to listen to in the car or sitting at the beach or getting chores done at home there are some wonderful podcasts you can try out. You can find them on Podcast Addict, Stitcher, iTunes, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Here are some that I have been listening to this year:

UU Specific Podcasts

  • Fortification
  • The Pamphlet: Uncovering Unitarian Universalism’s Hidden Histories
  • The UU Perspective with Sharon Morrell

Other interesting and informative podcasts

  • Code Switch from NPR is produced by journalists of color and centers on conversations about race and identity
  • How to Be a Girl is the story of a single mom and her six-year-old transgender daughter
  • Invisibilia also from NPR, “fuses storytelling and science to see the unseeable forces that control human behavior and shape our ideas, beliefs, and assumptions”
  • On Being with Krista Tippett, conversations about the big questions of meaning

For family listening

  • Brains On! A science podcast for curious kids and adults
  • Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls – not just for girls!
  • Storynory has family-friendly stories and folktales from around the world
  • TED Kids & Family
  • Wow in the World from NPR journeys into the wonders of the world around us from inside our own brains to out into space

Maybe you want to get out and see or learn something new. Here are a few websites and apps to get you started.

  • If you are into hiking (or nature walking as my family calls it) you can check out There are ways to search for the level of difficulty, accessibility, and kid or pet-friendly trails.
  • Want to stay comfortable inside and see the world at the same time? Try Google Earth. Select “Voyager” to see the many games and activities you can try out to explore our planet and its people.
  • Wondering about the stars in the night sky? Download the SkyMap app to your smartphone. It will show you exactly what you are seeing. Visit the Edelman Planetarium at Rowan University to view a public show or check out the South Jersey Astronomy Club ( which has open membership and public stargazing events.
  • Learn about science in a fun hands-on way. Stockton PAC is hosting Franklin Institute events on July 10, 24, & 31. See Stockton PAC website for more details.

Hopefully, these suggestions have sparked some summer curiosity and a need for learning. May you find the time to rest, to learn, and to grow in faith this summer.

Jessica Dunn Safonof

Director of Religious Education

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Classroom Spotlight: Heeding the Call

The remaining class in Children’s Religious Education to be in the spotlight this year Heeding the Call. This class offered our teens a unique opportunity to develop skills and Unitarian Universalists committed to social justice. Organized as a once a month workshop, the teens came together to learn about injustice, hear inspirational stories, learn what it means to be an ally, and gain the skills and tools necessary to help create change.

The first workshop raised the teens’ awareness of the many injustices in the world. They began creating a Justicemaker’s Guide they would build upon in future workshops. The guide included tools that describe the spheres of influence, an oppression continuum, and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, as well as journaling space, and resources on how to be an ally.

Workshops 2 and 3 inspired the teens with stories of Unitarian Universalists who acted against injustice and they learned how art can be a nonviolent tool to bring awareness and change. They learned, in Workshop 4, that taking action can sometimes involve risks, like arrest, damage to personal property, and even injury. There was a lively discussion that day! Workshop 5 focused on courage, what it is and how to have it- a much-needed tool in fighting injustice. In their final workshop of the year, they learned about Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom (Oasis of Peace), a village in Israel that is an intentional Arab-Jewish community committed to multicultural equality and sustainable peace. From this example, the teens learned that hope and dedication are essential tools in the fight against injustice.

In the final weeks of our regular RE year, the teens began a project to audit the social justice actions of our UUCSJS community. With the end of the year obligations and the need to plan their yearly RE Sunday Service, the teens were unable to complete this audit. However, they are still very enthusiastic about the project and hope to be able to complete it soon.

CRE News and Notes

  • RE Sunday Service – June 9, 2019

    The teens have been working hard to plan this Sunday service which will include two students Bridging and one Coming of Age.

  • RE MakerSpace – our summer fun theme begins on June 16, 2019. Volunteers needed to lead all ages classes in creating fun and learning!
  • Murray Grove Family Retreat – June 21-23, 2019

    Come enjoy the fellowship of other RE families and make some wonderful memories.

  • Families – don’t forget to stay and sing with Barbara Miller on July7, 2019 for our next Family Song Circle – a great way to celebrate our UU faith and culture, all are welcome!

In fellowship,

Jessica Dunn Safonof

Director of Religious Education

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Classroom Spotlight: Spirit Play

20190217_103024Have you ever looked up at the night sky and felt the wonder of the vastness of space and the unknown that exists there? Have you ever wondered what God looks like? Or how to be brave when you are scared? These are big questions but they are also topics that some of our youngest Religious Education students get to ponder each week in Spirit Play. Spirit Play engages the children in existential questions about life through a Montessori inspired approach to storytelling. The children hear and see a story told with manipulatives. Then they are encouraged to ask questions and learn and create together.

Spirit Play allows the children in preschool through second grade to learn in a unique Unitarian Universalist context and grow their faith while hearing inspiring stories that reinforce our seven principles and honor our six sources. This year the children have learned about UU ancestors like Maria Mitchell, the first American scientist to discover a comet, and Henry Bergh, who began the ASPCA after witnessing animal abuse on the streets of New York City. They have played “Hide and Seek with God” and learned about the Good Samaritan. They experienced different ways people and faith traditions celebrate light and hope. They discovered what happens when you only know a small piece of information like the people in the story of the Wise People and the Elephant. Through folk tales from around the world, stories from various faith traditions, and well-loved children’s literature they have learned the importance of bravery and truthfulness. Along with many other things, they have learned how to honor their uniqueness and find others who accept them, and they have learned how to be good friends and build community.

Each week the children in Spirit Play have the freedom to wonder, to ask questions, to use their creativity to learn big things and grow their faith. What an exciting adventure! If you would like to help guide our children and learn alongside them, please volunteer! UUCSJS is only able to provide this fantastic opportunity because of our wonderful volunteers. Hope to see you “downstairs” soon.

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Classroom Spotlight: Crossing Paths

Spring has sprung and our RE year is inching closer to the end. Thoughts of summer fun activities are beginning and we are all looking forward to another enjoyable summer, full of learning adventures for the children of UUCSJS. I would like to take this opportunity, however, to look back and highlight some of the amazing learning that has happened this year.

Our third through sixth-grade class spent the last seven months learning about the world’s various religious traditions. Using a curriculum called Crossing Paths, the youth have not just learned dry facts, they have been able to experience the beauty and uniqueness of these traditions. This class has lifted up Unitarian Universalism’s embrace and celebration of religious pluralism and has sent our youth out into the community to learn from the followers of these faiths. As a result, they have been able to build interfaith connections and grow their own UU faith.

Each month focused their learning on one faith tradition and the particular challenge and aspiration each religion has devoted its self to. They then experienced the rituals and culture of the faith tradition. The youth began their journey in our own congregation, deepening their understanding of Unitarian Universalism. They have since visited a Jewish Synagogue for Friday evening prayers, a Presbyterian Church for Advent, and a Hindu Temple where they participated with worshipers in two faith ceremonies, were guided through a Mandir and its beautiful marble statues, and enjoyed an authentic Indian meal. They have welcomed guests of the Quaker and Islamic faiths to their classroom and asked them many, many questions. In the months that follow they will attend a celebration at a Buddhist temple and welcome a practicing Pagan to teach their class. In a time when religious tolerance and acceptance is greatly needed, our children have become ambassadors of our faith and lived out our principles. Our mission in Children’s Religious Education is to encourage our youth to ask questions and explore. We seek to instill in them confidence as they set out on their unique spiritual journeys. And we hope to establish a lifelong dedication in our youth to the Unitarian Universalist community at large. We are so very fortunate that our youth have this opportunity here at UUCSJS and my heartful thanks goes to the volunteers and parents who have worked tirelessly to make this journey possible for our children.


BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Robbinsville, NJ

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Art as a Spiritual Practice


“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

                  • Pablo Picasso

There is something new downstairs. Have you seen it? That large black wall stretching down the hallway near the elevator? No, it’s not a new interior design element. It’s an artist’s blank canvas! Art, that ancient and universal language, has been a part of being human since being human was a thing. We have always had the creative impulse for ritual, music, dance, and visual arts. Anyone who studies art knows the range of human expression that stretches from cave paintings to modern performance art and everything in between. But why do we create? And can art be a spiritual practice?

An internet search of “art as a spiritual practice” returned 164,000,000 results so I guess there is a bit to learn. There are books, videos, Ted Talks, psychology articles, religious articles, scientific journals, panel discussions, workshops, artist blogs, and so much more. If we think of spirituality as getting to know yourself so you can connect with something bigger than yourself we see how art can be a spiritual practice. Art provides us a vehicle for contemplation and self-reflection. It can heal the wounded spirit, allow us a deep engagement with mystery, and help us in the search for meaning. When we create art for the process and not the product we are free to express ourselves without judgment. We can create for the sheer joy of creating – no artistic talent necessary.

When I was in first grade, my art teacher commented that I was coloring my picture wrong. That you are supposed to color in only one direction. I needed to choose either side to side or up and down but not both. She explained how that would make my art better. She was probably right, it would most likely have made my picture look better. But it didn’t feel better. As a matter of fact, it felt terrible. I have carried that one simple comment into adulthood as a judgment on my artistic ability and creativity. Doing it wrong or not having the skills or talent to do something often stops us from trying something new. I challenge you to release that inner critic. Art as a spiritual practice is not about the product. It is about the process. I challenge you to try art as a spiritual practice and see where the process takes you.

The Chalk Wall is available to everyone to begin your art as a spiritual practice. Beginning in March, the Art Cart will be stocked with art supplies to continue your journey. All are welcome to come downstairs to create art. Bring your coffee, bring your friends. Parents, bring your children and create something together. Each month will be a different theme and different supplies. The Art Cart will be available in the downstairs lounge every Sunday following service and will be “open” until 12:30 pm.

But don’t wait, come downstairs this Sunday, grab some chalk and start doodling. You can’t do it wrong.

RE News and Notes

  • Families – don’t forget to stay and sing with Barbara Miller on March 3, 2019, for our Family Song Circle – a great way to celebrate our UU faith and culture, all are welcome!
  • The Adult RE committee is searching for new workshop offerings for the spring and fall. What can you share with our community?

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This Week in RE

web3Want to read about what the kids did in RE this week? Misplaced your weekly newsletter? Just curious about what we do “downstairs?” Click here to read this week’s edition of the UUCSJS Religious Education News.

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