Traditions and Faith

With the winter holidays just behind us, I have been thinking a lot about traditions. Our family has a number of wonderful holiday traditions this time of year. From decorating a snow tree for wild animals on Winter Solstice, to celebrating the 12 nights of Yule, to reading ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas before heading off to bed on Christmas Eve. Traditions help make this time of year special and connect us to each other, our past, and our faith. I am sure many of you also have wonderful holiday traditions that connect you as a family with each other and your faith. Do you also have everyday traditions that connect you with your Unitarian Universalist values? Growing up, our family said grace before meals. It was a daily reminder of our faith and values. As a UU, I still appreciate and value the idea of giving thanks for my meals and still need a daily connection to my UU faith. So how do we find that daily connection? How do we take our faith home with us each week? What traditions can we pass on to our children that will connect them daily to their UU faith?

This month, I would like to offer you the idea of a blessing, a meditation, a moment of thanks to offer before eating a meal. This daily tradition can be a way to share our faith and values with your family. While there is not one saying all UU’s share, the UUA worship web offers a search to help you find words that may be meaningful to you and your family. Or, have a family discussion, see what principles you want to highlight in your blessing, do a little internet searching, and make your own! Write your words down, maybe hang them somewhere in your kitchen. Say your blessing at each meal to create a meaningful daily faith tradition for your family.

For some inspiration, here is the blessing our family created:

mealtime blessing


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Finding and Giving Joy


20181118_131430We have so much to be grateful for. The Gratitude Tree in the lounge is overflowing with those things our congregation is thankful for. As we enter the winter holiday season, I hope that you will remember to come to the lounge, to add more leaves to the tree, to remember all those things for which we are grateful.

If your family celebrates Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Yule, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or even if you celebrate none of these holidays, in America, November and December can be busy and stressful. There are presents to buy, decorations to put up, traditions to continue, cleaning to be done, food to be cooked, treats to be baked, memories to be made. It can all feel like too much. It can all start to feel meaningless. I challenge you to have a more intentional winter holiday this year. Ask yourself what is really important about the holiday you celebrate this time of year? What rituals or traditions are important to you and your family? What brings you joy? How can you focus more on what you want and less on what is expected? We are surrounded by a culture that may seem inauthentic to us but we can make other choices. How do your holiday activities align with our UU Principles? To your family’s values? It is alright to say no, to slow down, to find joy in this winter season.

RAK calendar

I’ll tell you a little secret about joy – the more you give away, the more you have. So this December give joy aware freely. You can start with this Random Acts of Kindness calendar. You don’t have to do all of these things, you don’t have to do them on the days listed. This is not one more thing to add to your to-do list. These are ideas to get you started. And trust me, once you get started it is hard to stop. You will find yourself throwing out joy everywhere you go, all year long. Making room for the activities on this calendar can be your first step to celebrating your winter holiday with joy and intention.

In Fellowship,

Jessica Dunn Safonof

Director of Religious Education

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RE Lending Library is OPEN!

library image

If you have been downstairs in the Lounge area recently you may have noticed some changes. We have a new RE Lending Library!

Children’s Religious Education has a great collection of books. The last few months the books have been sorted, cataloged, organized, and labeled. Over 450 books are available for you to read and take home with you. There are books on Unitarian Universalism, UU parenting, world religions, LGBTQ stories and resources, social justice, books for teens, nature, meditation, and other wonderful and inspiring stories for reading and sharing.

You can view the catalog at, then come on down and learn something new, share a great story, increase your awareness, and live out our values. The library is still growing. If you have book recommendations or more topics you would like to see on the shelves please email me. Hope to see you downstairs reading soon!

The library card is a passport to wonders and miracles, glimpses into other lives, religions, experiences, the hopes and dreams and strivings of ALL human beings, and it is this passport that opens our eyes and hearts to the world beyond our front doors, that is one of our best hopes against tyranny, xenophobia, hopelessness, despair, anarchy, and ignorance.”

Libba Bray (New York Times Bestselling Author)

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Dia de los Muertos

Jose Guadalupe Posada

Planning has begun for this year’s fall celebration in Children’s Religious Education. With the help of some wonderful and knowledgeable volunteers, the children will learn about the Mexican celebration of Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead. Day of the Dead originated several thousand years ago with the Aztec, Toltec, and other Nahua people, who considered mourning the dead disrespectful. Death was seen as a natural phase of life and the dead as members of the community, kept alive in memory and spirit. Traditionally, celebrations take place on November 1st and 2nd however our celebration will be held during RE on Sunday, November 4, 2018. The children will learn about the history, traditions, activities, and foods of this yearly celebration of the life and ancestors. We will create ofrendas, (don’t forget to bring pictures of loved ones who have passed away), decorate sugar skulls, and of course enjoy delicious treats. All are welcome, so if you would like to learn along with the children or would like to volunteer your time, knowledge, or experience, please join us.

Enjoy this Literary Calavera, a satirical type of poetry created during Dia de los Muertos!

Al torero                                                                              Bullfighter

Aquí yace un buen torero,                                                  Here lies a good bullfighter,
que murió de la aflicción                                                   Who died of grief,
de ser mal banderillero,                                                     From being a bad banderillero,
silbado en cada función;                                                    Booed at each performance;
ha muerto de un revolcón                                                  He has died of a tumble
que recibió en la trasera,                                                    Received on the rear
y era tanta su tontera                                                          And such was his foolishness
que en el sepulcro ya estaba                                              That he was already in the tomb,
y a los muertos los toreaba                                                Turned into skull and bones
convertido en calavera.                                                      And fighting the dead.


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Fall is in the Air

As we prepare for a new year in Children’s RE, I would like to give thanks to all our summer volunteer leaders. Over a dozen congregation members gave their time, expertise, and creativity to make summer in Children’s RE a fun, learning filled adventure for our children. It was a smashing success that the children will look forward to until next summer.

Our fall semester in Children’s RE begins on September 16, 2018. Our classes this year will be Spiritplay for the Pre-k – 2nd graders, Crossing Paths for the 3rd – 6th graders, and Heeding the Call for the 7th grade and above. Please visit the Children’s RE section at to register your child for classes. Read on to learn more about these engaging class offerings.

SpiritPlay is a storytelling religious education program. During each class, the storyteller relates a story while presenting visual cues (small objects or pictures) to the children as a way to help them remember the story. Included are legends from many different faith traditions, creative expressions of our Unitarian Universalist principles (introduced as “promises”) and tales of our UU ancestors.

In Crossing Paths our adolescents will explore various religious traditions with an emphasis on both the diverse forms and the diverse aims of the traditions. Each month the class will explore a different religious or faith tradition, including a visit to the faith community and/or interview with a member of that faith. From our beginning, Unitarian Universalists have looked to our sibling faith traditions as each having something unique to offer us and the world. Crossing Paths invites us to explore those unique gifts more deeply.

Heeding the Call is a series of workshops that offer a unique opportunity to engage youth in the critical work of developing skills as Unitarian Universalists committed to social justice. The workshops encourage youth to reflect on their own lives while also making connections to the lives lived by others. The youth are encouraged to become Justice Makers by learning together, listening together, laughing together, working together, and heeding the call together.

This important work could not be done without the dedication of our volunteers. If you feel called to participate in this unique spiritual experience, please let me know. We will be glad to have you.

In fellowship,

Jessica Dunn Safonof

UUCSJS Director of Religious Education

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Summer Fun Continues

damon mushrooms

Each Sunday throughout the summer, our children are treated to an all-ages activity or craft led by a volunteer from the congregation. Our activities in July included making sun-catcher chalices, designing problem-solving inventions, a nature walk and mushroom hunt, tie-dying t-shirts, and jewelry making.

More fun is on the roster to finish up our summer program when our Sundays will include the following activities:

August 5 Bug Hunt with Paul
August 12 Fun Stuff with Bud
August 19 Mindfulness & Meditation with Nick
August 26 Sign Language with Ivette
September 2 Yoga with Erica


Our regular Religious Education classes will resume on September 16, 2018. You can register for the 2018-19 RE year by visiting the Children’s Religious Education page at I’ll be announcing the Autumn RE class offerings in the next post!

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Hello, Goodbye from your D.R.E.(s)

As I have prepared to step down from the Director of Religious Education position this month, I have had some time to reflect on the last eleven years and feel immense pride in the work we have accomplished together. I truly appreciate the opportunity of having a career in religious education here at the UU Congregation of the South Jersey Shore. At the same time, I am becoming more and more convinced that I will hardly be missed with such a fantastic replacement!  I am thrilled that Jess Dunn Safonof will be serving as our DRE! Her involvement in UUCSJS has benefited this community in countless ways over the years and her dedication to our faith has been a shining example of what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist. Her commitment to our congregation and her homeschooling experience make her an ideal candidate for leading the Children’s RE program.

I wish her the very best as I pass her the torch (or RE lantern, as it were).

In Fellowship,

Heidi Jannsch

I am so excited to be taking over as the Director of Religious Education.  Heidi has done such a wonderful job in her tenure as DRE to build a strong program with dedicated volunteers.  Many of you know me from my various roles within our Congregation, most recently as the Secretary of the Board of Trustees. My husband Fred and I, along with our three children Quin, Max, and Cyrus, have been members of UUCSJS since 2013 and I have been a  regular volunteer teacher in our RE program. I am conti20180625_1936582nually surprised by the children of our Congregation, and children in general, for their insight and optimism and their willingness to try new things! If you haven’t had a chance to volunteer with the RE program yet I highly recommend you try it out. You will learn so much more than you thought possible from our young people. I have always had a passion for working with children, helping them along their path; learning and growing.  In my spare time I enjoy reading, knitting, and doing yoga. I look forward to sharing my commitment to our UU values and partnering with the children and youth of our community to foster their spiritual growth.


Jess Dunn Safonof

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