Thursday, December 18, 2008

What kind of theological education do UUs want or need?

In recent years lay people in our congregations have expressed tremendous interest in having more opportunities for theological education – what some call spiritual formation or faith development. People will sometimes ask, “How can I go deeper into an examination of my Unitarian Universalism than is possible in my home congregation? I want something more than Wednesday night adult ed classes, but don’t have the time, money, or interest in enrolling in a two or three year academic program at a seminary.”

Of course, more and deeper just point in a direction; they don't present a clear goal or map out a way to get there.

Over the last two years two separate “consultations” – conversations involving over two dozen people from various walks of UU life -- were held to explore this interest and discuss how it might be addressed. The invitation letter from President Bill Sinkford to one of the consultations stated, “There is a need for our faith to offer a higher level and a greater depth of theological education to our laity. We need to offer avenues to deeper theological understanding and spiritual growth. The Association must find a way to address this critical need.” (See more comments from these consultations below.)

This year the UUA is devoting 50% of the funds raised for Association Sunday 2008 (an amount that could reach $300,000) to enhance lay theological education. Grants will be distributed by the Lay Theological Education Task Force during 2009. (Here's our application form in PDF or in Word format.)

If you are a Unitarian Universalist, your insight into your own needs and the needs you see in your congregation can help us form the views that we will take into the decision-making process. Feel free to leave comments on this blog or to write to us privately at

Questions to which we welcome your thoughts:

Do you ever wish you could go deeper into Unitarian Universalism? What does that mean to you? What kinds of programs (if any) does that cause you to fantasize?
Have you taken classes/workshops in the past that make you say, "Like this, only moreso"?

Do you ever envy what other churches/religions offer? Do you know people of other faiths whose religious identities have a depth, a grounding, or a solidity that you wouldn't know how to achieve as a UU?

What lay theological education resource would make it more likely that more lay leaders would have the depth, understanding, commitment, and passion to live out their values in the world?

In your mind, is there a distinction between lay theological education, spiritual formation, and faith development? If so, what is it?

What topics or subjects should be addressed in any lay theological education program curriculum?

What do we need to teach/learn to make it more likely that members of congregations will deepen their faith and live a life more consistent with their faith?

Comments from participants in the consultations that may spur your imaginations:

I see lay leaders burned out from overwork because their spirits are not being fed. We need more theological/spiritual development for our lay leaders.

We do not currently offer an effective way to develop depth and personal and communal level. We need to be doing this work.

Too often we only talk about the how of doing church and not the why. Lay leadership development focuses on the how. Lay theological education focuses on the why.

We need to encourage and promote lay theological education because it's what makes us a faith and not just a club.

Our interfaith partners speak out of a theological depth which makes them more effective in addressing the world's needs.

People need to engage theological questions to become a whole person spiritually, intellectually, psychologically, and practically.

Theological education will help people to live a life of integrity.


amylynn1022 said...

One of the challenges I have always had with UU adult RE is that there does not seem to be any development to it. There seems to be no shortage of curricula and programs on the introductory level but if you want to go deeper the material is often lacking. For example, there are a few "Intro to the Bible" curricula and John Buehren's book but I know of no resources at the next level. There seems to be a presumption that excluding anyone from participating is somehow "elitist" or "undemocratic". But I am not sure that we are doing ourselves any favors by having to start at the beginning every time. That may be why so many lay leaders feel like their spirituality is neglected--you can only take the 101 courses so many times before you start getting bored. I think we will also need to think about different ways of educating adults--evening and early Sunday morning meetings are not the most family-friendly.

anybody said...

I attend 12-step meetings, i.e., Alcoholic Anon., Al-Anon, on a fairly regular basis. What I learn from these meetings: self-acceptance, acceptance of others, a greater freedom to just simply be, humor, how to be a friend....
Can there not be a 12-step-like program surrounding the "problem" of spirituality and/or religion? The 12-step meetings typically has a lead speaker who shares his/her experience, strength & hope for about 20 honestly as he/she dares. Others follow with their shares usually limited to 3-5minutes. Is there any greater love than being completely honest and being affirmed, accepted & hopefully forgiven for any faults that may have been committed? In a deeper search for meaning I've personally found it easy to go astray on several occasions. But the main point seems to me to return yet again, as best we can, to that religion/spirituality when we have indeed strayed from what we consider sacred. Maybe the downside of such an approach is we won't be anonymous (altho I do attend an AA meeting where last names are shared.) We'll have to see each other again week-after-week, assuming we attend church on a regular basis. There's more to be said about this, to be sure, but perhaps enough for now.