Religious Education News

Teacher Recruitment Begins

From Cathy Cartwright-Chow, CRE Director of Family Ministries

000 0869In May we will begin teacher recruitment for the 2016-17 school year. To give you a bit of time to mull this opportunity over, please consider the following:
As Unitarian Universalists, we often describe ourselves as seekers of truth. What we mean is that we assume there is always more to learn about ourselves and the world we live in, and so we keep our minds and hearts open to new perspectives, new facts, and new insights. Our liberal tradition has never accepted religious claims to know the only truth, or the whole truth. We recognize that there are many perspectives, many beliefs, and many truths to be learned and understood. Therefore, religious education for us is a commitment to a life-long process of learning. 
At First Unitarian Church, we place a very high priority on teaching our children, and you can see that readily if you walk the halls of the Eliot Center. The Learning Community is multi-generational and diverse. 60% of our teachers do not have children in the program and 40% are men. We celebrate holidays that are recognized by world religions and world cultures. The goals of religious education for children and youth include: 

• Helping children know that they are important and loved, encouraging feelings of self-worth 
• Encouraging a sense of the wonder of life
• Practicing respect for other people, for differences, for all living things, for the earth itself 
• Clarifying moral, ethical, and interpersonal values based on respect and compassion 
• Teaching the histories and philosophies of Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists 
• Exposing children to ideas of all the great world religions 
• Teaching the importance and practice of service to others
Our expectations are high and the support is outstanding; we ask that adults teach every Sunday we have programming (there are six holidays) and you will not need to miss a service. Our support includes teaching team and staff support, excellent trainings, and substitutes!
Most importantly, this is a community where you just might find a deeper connection to this wonderful community. With consistency, relationships are developed and with relationships, we find love.
On May 3, there will be an announcement that recruiting has begun and Cathy Cartwright-Chow (Director of Family Ministries) will make herself available immediately following the service. Approach her if you are interested!!
Questions? Contact Cathy Cartwright-Chow at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.   


Who Is This Gabriel?

--by Cathy Cartwright, Director of Family Ministries

Christmas PageantDuring the Christmas pageant rehearsal a couple of weeks ago I realized that a lot of our kids, especially the little ones, do not really know the story of the birth of Jesus. They know of Jesus, maybe a little bit. The older ones know that there are some who consider him the son of God, though chances are this is not their belief. I was raised a Catholic and Christmas was, well, spectacular for me. Since I went to parochial school I could anticipate this day with childlike wonder.

In our house we had a crèche. Are you familiar with that word? One meaning is, basically, a nativity scene, complete with all the appropriate characters. But it also means a group of animals who take care of young not their own, like flamingoes. And it also means a group of adults, not parents, who care for children, like the Learning Community volunteers. I love all of those definitions!

It’s so much easier to tell the story of the birth of Jesus if you create a crèche! First you need to start with the stable. In our Kindergarten class we put up our stable every year. It’s big enough for a 5-year-old to stand in. Made of 2x4s and chicken wire, it requires bolts and preplanning weeks before. The stable has animals, some of which are taking care of young that are not their own. We love it when the innkeeper understands Mary and Joseph’s need for privacy. The stable is actually the perfect place for them. But the stable, animals and innkeeper are not the confusing parts for our kids. It’s the angel Gabriel.

Before the crèche is created we need to talk about the angel. Who is this guy? And he told Mary what? Yes. That she is going to have a baby and she couldn’t decide for herself the name this child because that was already determined. This baby was to be called Jesus. (As to a virgin birth, we’ll leave that for the sexuality class for older kids.) Gabriel plays an important part in this story, perhaps the most important of all. I was told by several of the older girls during the course of the church pageant rehearsals this year that they don’t necessarily want to play the part of Mary, which I’ve always assumed was the coveted role. No. They want to play Gabriel. The angel has grand exits and entrances and wears a beautiful orange sherbet costume that flows. (Just to be clear, Gabriel is an angel, neither male nor female, so this role could also be played by a young man.)

Anyway, Gabriel come to Mary to tell her that she is to give birth to Jesus; He comes to Joseph to tell him that he will take Mary for his wife and raise the child as his own; He comes to the shepherds (along with the multitude of the Heavenly Hosts) scaring them and their sheep telling them of the birth of this baby; and He protects Mary and Joseph and Jesus from people (King Herod) who are confused by the rumors of a new “King”. As a child I was fascinated by Gabriel! The Christmas story was my introduction to angels and what can be better then a bringer of good news and a protector. Gabriel is a hero! Gabriel is placed on top of the stable in our crèche.

In my house, growing up, the baby Jesus is not placed in the crèche until Christmas eve. I sang in the choir from a very young age, and participating at midnight mass was a part of my family tradition. My mother would make sure that all six of her children had naps then she and my dad would trundle us off late at night to celebrate the mass, in Latin, and listen to their 2 oldest girls sing the Alleluia’s. When we came home, low and behold, someone has placed the tiny little Jesus figure in the manger!

What is left to complete our crèche? The Kings! These guys were astronomers, wise thinkers, explorers. They notice a singular bright star and each determined on their own that this star needed to be followed. That it was a message of some kind. Were they friends before this? Did they discuss this star between the three of them and come to consensus? The Kings bring grandeur to our crèche, an acknowledgement that the world knows of the birth of the child, that this is not an every-day birth but something special. So now the Kings are added to the scene, with their gold and incense and precious resin, gifts of the rich.

And our scene is complete. Mary and Joseph look over their new child. The animals, shepherds and sheep gather round after hearing of this birth and the Kings have brought gifts. And Gabriel protects them all from above.

I think the pageant is a wonderful teachable moment. Christmas is such a huge part of our culture, going beyond Santa. Allowing our children an opportunity to know this Christian story brings a greater understanding of the world around us. Yes, it poses many more questions than parents might be comfortable answering (involving miracles and angels and virgin birth and yes, even death). It also allows for appreciation of culture and heritage and history.

There was a woman named Mary who was told by the angel Gabriel that she was to give birth to Jesus, and that her son would bring a message of love to the world. She and Joseph, who had agree to take Mary for his wife, traveled to Nazareth to pay taxes. The city was filled with others who had come for the same reason and the only place for them to stay was a stable behind an inn. While there Jesus was born. Shepherds heard of this birth, as did Kings, and they all came to see this new child who brought hope to a world filled with fear.


First Unitarian's Christmas Pageant

Sunday, Dec. 14, 5:00 p.m., First Church Sanctuary

Christmas Pageant KingFirst Unitarian Church in downtown Portland has a long-standing history, dating back to as far as 1860. The Christmas Pageant is only half as young -- this year will be the 90th season (well, actually the 89th or maybe the 88th. There was a year or two during World War II when the Pageant was not performed). The debut performance was presented the very first year the congregation moved into their new Sanctuary, The Church of Our Father, on the corner of Salmon and 12th Ave., December of 1924.

The first year saw costumes that were hastily improvised. One woman remarked that she’s never seen so many paisley shawls in one place before. In succeeding years the costumes became more elaborate … as plum and rose velvet portieres became capes for two of the kings. The original three king’s costumes and makeup are intended to symbolize the different points of the compass coming to Jesus. A congregant noticed during a visit to Guatemala that church art pieces always showed angels with a bit of sky blue trailing around them. She used the idea by covering the wire framework used to attach the wings to the angels’ backs with pale blue chiffon. Gabriel’s trumpet was bought when the chance came to get one of the old-fashioned mouthpieces shown in medieval art. The censer was made from a metal pot found in a search of junk shops. Real frankincense has been burned in it ever since Dr. Eliot objected to the Chinese punk used during a rehearsal.

Because of the Pageant’s longevity, children anticipate growing into the “higher” roles and youth look forward to taking on more responsibility. It is understandable that boys did not object to playing the part of angels when the Pageant was first performed in the mid 1920’s. However, nowadays it’s a different issue. Without boys playing a part when they are young we lose out on the potential of filling older roles, like the Kings, Shepherds or a Light Bearer, when they get older. So horses, cows and goats were added to our stable in 2007. This year we’ve also added “incense bearers” to the Kings; this is an opportunity for 3rd and 4th graders (who might not want to be an angel or animal or acolyte) to be involved. We’re also recreating our Kings costumes. Gone is the face paint and there are costume choices for the cast members. We are also talking seriously about the deep bow (seriously, back-bending deep) that has become traditional. Why do the Kings do this? Should the bow be acknowledged some way by Mary and Joseph?

Over the years the pageant has become a dearly loved part of the Christmas season for the congregation.

If you have a child or youth registered in the Learning Community they are welcome to play a role. Click on Christmas Pageant Sign Up to download the form. Thank you!
Questions?  Contact Cathy Cartwright This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  


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