In Gatherings by Rev. Marta I Valentin

...we are stirred
like the leaves of the fall seasonLeaves 3

rustling around sacred trees,
tossed hither and yon
until we come to rest together,
quietly, softly . . .
We come to gather strength from each other.
We come to give strength to each other...

Like the leaves, it does feel like we are coming to rest together, quietly, softly, here in this community after so much tumult from the past year and even the past month of transition and uncertainty. I am looking forward to gathering strength together over this month.

 The early childhood class has been meeting together outside, playing together, creating art, and learning about the first principle of Unitarian Universalism - Each Person is Important (more below). Our middle grade classes are creating an impressive mural with Harriet Diamond's help, exploring the 7th principle - Respect for the interdependent web of which we are a part. As they learn about and paint the web of existence, they are building their web of connection in the class. Meanwhile, our Coming of Age class, Our Whole Lives Sexuality Education program, and Youth Group are all launching, building vital cross generational and peer relationships.

 In October we will focus on Cultivating Relationship, giving opportunities for RE participants to get to know each other better and to build their community. Creating a covenant is an important step now in thinking about how they want to be together, to take care of each other, and to learn and grow together. The RE Council is looking forward to coming together with families on October 10 at Mt. Tom from 1-3 pm for games, pumpkin carving, and a short walk. We hope that our RE programs offer opportunities to gather and give strength. 

Respect is the act of giving attention or showing care for someone or something. Being respectful takes time, awareness, and thoughtfulness. Consider how you show respect to another person - when they are talking, when they are walking by you, when they might need help. Sometimes the best way to show respect is by listening. Simply listening.

respect is one of the greatest expressions of love miguel angel ruiz quoteAnother important aspect of respect is being open to people -- people who are different from you or people who behave differently than you expect. It can be helpful to be curious about others and try to learn more about them.  As a family, practice intentionally showing respect to each other and sharewhat it feels like -- both for the recipient and the respecter. Brainstorm ways to show respect to a variety of people and situations. One example is to participate in donating a meal for Cathedral in the Night.

We also think about respect with regard to our planet. How do we show respect for the environment? This month, as the snow melts (hopefully), we invite you to show respect for the earth by picking up trash in your neighborhood or nearby natural area and starting seeds inside.

Over the last two weeks, I had the great pleasure of writing “You are worthy” on tons of gift bags and keychains for kids and families in our community. You arevictoria heath oVhkWq2wLQk unsplash worthy. As I wrote the simple 3 word statement, I thought of the members of our community and imagined their light shining out -- the inherent worth and dignity of each being. 

Our first principle of Unitarian Universalism reminds us to affirm the inherent worth and dignity of all people.  In kid language, we say, Each person is important.  Even when we mess up, even when we feel sad, even when we are utterly overwhelmed, there is light of worth in each of us. For me, this time of COVID has been an especially hard time to remember my own worth and dignity. Have you experienced that?

Peg Johnson shared this passage at a recent RE Council meeting. It’s from a DRE in Florida, Erin Powers:

It’s been said that it’s easier to untangle a string of lights if you plug them in; the brightness of the little bulbs help to guide our fingers through the tangles. It’s no different for people. Connecting with friends, family, therapists, or trusted advisors can shine a little light to help us untangle ourselves, and to help us stretch out to our full potential.

Humans, just like strings of lights, are wired for connection. It’s when we’re wound most tightly that we need the connection most of all. We’re at our best when we are plugged in to each other. We find our true purpose and spark with others, not alone — and it’s in these connections that we shine most brightly.

Here at USNF, we are striving to plug in the lights for folks of all ages, visitors and members. For families, we are offering monthly care packages with activities, service projects, rituals, and hymns to connect to each other at home. In addition to Sunday morning RE classes and youth group, we have created some awesome connections between people of all ages, like an art club, Dungeon & Dragon groups, and Zoom buddies. For parents and caregivers, we are offering workshops on parents as spiritual guides, sexuality educators, and antiracist parenting. I feel like I pointed to the plug and so many people have taken the lead to do the connecting.

“Forgiveness shakes loose the calcification that accumulates around our hearts.” -Frank Ostaseski

Studies have found that young people who know how to forgive are generally happier, have stronger relationships, and even do better in heart school! The good news is that we can teach forgiveness.

An important foundation for learning about forgiveness is understanding the inherent worth and dignity of all people (UU principle 1) and the importance of kindness and respect (principle 2).

For young children, it is helpful to start learning about apologies and forgiveness with stories and scenarios. There are book suggestions on the padlet. You will find 2 characters to re-create situations with and practice. Using stories and scenarios, you can start to introduce forgiveness: when people forgive, they are kind to those who are not kind to them. When people forgive, they try to show respect to those who have not shown respect to them. It is also important to make it clear that there is harm that needs to be reported to a trusted adult.

Once your child begins to understand about forgiveness, you can start to apply it to personal situations and explore what it might look like.

For people of all ages, there are steps you can follow:

  • Acknowledging the feelings of pain: anger, frustration, sadness, etc.
  • Deciding that you are ready to forgive and realizing that it will cause less suffering for you.
  • Working through the idea of forgiving the person, even if you can’t heal the harm. For this step, it is helpful to remember the 1st principle of UUism - the inherent worth and dignity of all people. Empathy is really important in this step.
  • Noticing the impacts of forgiveness -- how it can be helpful & healing.

Questions to Explore

  • What is an apology? What does it sound like? What does it look like?
  • What is forgiveness? What does it sound like? What does it look like?
  • What are some examples of situations when you should get help from an adult?
  • Why is forgiveness important?


This summer, USNF will be offering all sorts of ways for kids and youth to stay connected to each other and to our congregation. We are kicking off the summer with the School of Wizardry, with 38 kids enrolled in our North Campus! I am so grateful to all the youth and adults in the congregation who have volunteered to make this program possible; we have 20 “faculty members”!thumbnail Flowers USNF 7

While these are all important ways for kids to stay engaged with our community and their values, we are also hoping that families will carve out some time together to connect with Unitarian Universalism. We have prepared a list of hymns, book lists, and activities: Summer Family Activity Resources. Here is a taste of what you could do together:

Listen and sing together! 

Music is a powerful way to connect with each other and to change your mindset. The resource list has a variety of options, including Come Sing a Song with Me sung by Emma, our new early childhood educator, or We’ll Build A Land by Ruby, one of our Junior Youth RE teachers. Make it a habit of listening to these songs and hymns. 

Family Activities

The Summer Family Activity list includes 15 suggestions for activities to do together, from simple things, like lighting a chalice, to actions you can take for racial justice. There are rituals you could try out regularly over the summer, like creating wish cards with words like love, hope, joy that you can choose or gift to each other every morning. You will find activities that you might choose to do just once, like art activities related to the UU principles. 

What will next year look like? 

Like so many things, we aren’t sure! However, we want to provide community, support, play, connection, and inspiration for kids, youth, and families. 

Please weigh in with your interests and ideas for the upcoming year: USNF Fall 2020 Brainstorm. We want to make sure to help your family stay engaged and connected if we continue to be virtual. 

We have had some great ideas already about what would help and engage families, from monthly packets to family-based activities that happen over Zoom (but interactions happen within the family -- off Zoom) to parent and child book clubs. 

Grades 5-8 will likely participate in a Neighboring Faiths curriculum to explore different denominations, virtually visit houses of worship, and learn more about UUism as a faith. 

However, we would love to offer a variety of programs that would interest students of all ages. We would also love to make sure that you, as parents & caregivers, are getting what you need.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to Jessica with questions, ideas, or feedback: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 

“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.” -Mary Olivertijana drndarski KFOyQtJSZq8 unsplash

In the dark of winter, we find ourselves with a theme that reminds us of the dark and loneliness. Our tendency is to avoid the feelings of desolation, but feeling those feelings is also important. We have been looking for consolation from this pandemic for almost a year now. I am hopeful that it will come, but until then we need to find consolation elsewhere - in walks outside, Zoom interactions, good books. What is providing consolation for you these days? How do you console each other in your family?

Tonglen is an ancient Buddhist meditation practice. Tonglen means giving and taking or sending and receiving. You can practice this breath meditation sitting down or even in the moment in your life. When you breath in, you can imagine breathing in hard things, suffering, or desolation. When you breath out, you can imagine breathing out consolation, love, or good feelings. This practice helps develop compassion and it also helps you slow down and take in all that is around you mindfully.  Find a guided meditation here:

  • What does desolation feel like?
  • What causes desolation in you?
  • What does consolation feel like?
  • What consoles you?
  • How can you offer consolation to each other?
  • What are you learning? How are you growing? (4th principle)

Why Wizard School? hp2

Hopefully by now you've heard that USNF will be offering a School of Wizardry for kids from Age 5 through 17 this summer: Some of you might be wondering what in the world this has to do with Unitarian Universalism or religious education. UU Harry Potter Programs are somewhat common, not because Harry Potter is a secret Unitarian Universalist (perhaps he is?), but because religious education is a chance for kids to learn about things that matter to them and explore their values in a fun, engaging way. 

Many kids love entering a world of magic and wizardry (many grown ups too!). Creating this engaging, imaginary world allows kids and youth a chance to think and reflect about who they are and what their values are.

Each day of the School of Wizardry, the students will explore a value such as power, respect, justice, possibility, and hope. Each house represents a virtue: peace, love, faith, and hope. In house meetings and classes, students will consider how they may live these values and virtues. As the students build their sense of community and togetherness in their house, they also consider how they can embody these important values in their lives.

One of my favorite things about religious education is that the curriculum can change and adapt for the students, the teachers, congregations, and lives of the people involved. It is a chance to play and explore, rooted in our 7 Principles, values, and community. As Jenn Blosser, the Director of Religious Education at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Meyers (our partner for Wizard School) says, “There is something really sacred about play.”  Students and teachers together get to jump into a new world, rooted in deep reflection, inspiring the search for truth and meaning.

If you would like to find out more about the School of Wizardry or help out, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

nick fewings ka7REB1AJl4 unsplash

The second principle of Unitarian Universalism in is Justice, equity and compassion in human relations. That’s the adult language. In kid language, we say Be kind in all you do. It is interesting to think about how the key ingredients of kindness might be justice, equity, and compassion. Do you agree?

How do you practice kindness? How do you talk about kindness as a family?

This month, we invite you to think about how to cultivate more kindness by creating a family covenant, making gifts and offering service for others, and practicing loving kindness in meditation. The care package songs for this month are Magic Penny and How Could Anyone Ever Tell You?

Here are some questions to explore as a family: 

  • What is the kindest thing anyone has ever done for you?
  • What act of kindness have you done for others recently?
  • What acts of kindness do you want to commit to doing as a family?
  • What can you do to help remind yourself to be kind?
  • How can you treat yourself with kindness?

On Friday nights in Jewish homes around the world, families come together to light candles, say prayers, and share a meal. For the next 25 hours, the sabbath or elizabeth explores HDQkp4iBLwU unsplashShabbat, is a time to rest. It is a special time set aside from the rest of the week to not work. I have relatives that don’t drive their cars or even turn the lights on and off during this time. They walk to synagogue for worship and have special timers on their lamps. The sabbath is intentional time spent together in presence and stillness. 

In some ways, this time of pandemic feels like a prolonged sabbath. Everything has come to rest. It can feel like a quiet, relaxing break. And, it can also feel stressful, anxiety-provoking and relentless. For many families, there isn’t a clear distinction between work, homeschool, and rest. 

Carving out time for sabbath -- intentional rest, both together as a family and alone, can feel really restorative. There are ideas and resources below for how to do this, including creating an altar, making a chalice, and practicing mindfulness together. Just like getting dressed in the morning is pretty critical at this time, having intentional time to rest and to be together is also vital. 

Let me know how your family is finding time for sabbath, ritual, covenant, and self care. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me to talk and connect: Jessica Harwood, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 584-1390 x 203.

At our first elementary RE class this year, I introduced the group’s mascot, a dragon puppet. Unfortunately, the dragon puppet refused todragon 36748 340 come on the screen. They were having a crisis about their own worth and dignity. The students quickly jumped in to affirm the dragon’s worth and dignity, encouraging them, sharing stories of feeling shy themselves, and letting the dragon know that they matter. I wasn’t expecting such an outpouring of empathy and kindness and it was so heartwarming! This month, the worship theme is emotional intelligence and the students are already demonstrating it. 

For many, this is a particularly charged emotional time and it can be hard to sit with difficult emotions. As the adults in children’s lives, we can help kids by being curious about their feelings, asking questions, answering questions honestly, and providing space for a child to feel what they are feeling without judgement. This isn’t easy! I always want to fix things and make them better. It is hard to see people struggling and to realize that we are powerless. This is a time when it is so clear that we can’t fix everything or make it go away. It can be hard to have empathy for others when we don't have the time or space to care for ourselves.

How can we learn to sit with the difficult emotions and trust that we will make it through? How can we care for the dragons inside us?

“Do you have the patience to wait until the mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving until the right action arises by itself?” -Lao Tzu

"We learned to bring meaning into uncertainty and chaos by maintaining grounding practices and developing new rituals. Rituals have been instrumental in building community, promoting cooperation, and marking transition points. Rituals reduce anxiety...and even work on people who don’t believe in them, research shows. Additionally, rituals benefit our physical well-being and immune-system.”-Ari HonarvarChalice

Routine has been a big buzzword lately -- now that our routines have been thrown out the window and families are trapped at home together. We are told again and again how important it is to have routines and social media feeds are awash in color-coded schedules. I am finding that routines are hard to stick to when everything is changing so rapidly, when there are so many unknowns, and when I want to be involved in so many different things. And I am trying to practice compassion for myself and everyone else. It is okay when the routine is upset. It is okay to make mistakes (thank you for your patience during online services!). It is okay to just be -- without a routine. 

There are elements of my days that I am sticking to -- even if they don’t happen at a regular time. When I have a free moment, I am going out for a walk. Our dog is getting more exercise than ever! When I am feeling overwhelmed, I stop what I am doing and breathe deeply. When I am not burned out on screen time at the end of the day, I try to call someone I love to connect briefly. 

Rituals have brought me a great deal of comfort during this time. Having a set of intentional activities relaxes my mind and allows me to focus back on what matters. Even though on some days, I only meditate for 2 minutes, it starts my day with calm and intention. During story time at 4 pm, I light the chalice and anyone who is on the call checks in with each other; these simple rituals are settling. When we sit down to dinner, my wife and I share something beautiful or inspiring from the day. 

I invite you all to incorporate rituals into your day and week. Below, you will find resources for 20-30 minute rituals. There are also directions for making your own chalice and writing a chalice lighting so that you can use it daily for rituals. 

Page 1 of 3