We recently celebrated the retirement of longtime Director of Religious Education for Children and Youth, Kathleen Carpenter. Kathleen’s retirement at the end of this calendar year and Martha Kniseley’s retirement earlier this year from her role as our Adult Programming Coordinator created the need for us to plan for new ways to staff our religious education programming.

As you may have read in these pages earlier this fall, we opted to follow the lead of other larger Unitarian Universalist congregations in creating a new position: Director of Lifespan Religious Education. Staffing our religious education programming in this way is intended to give us a comprehensive approach and to invite us to think in a more integrated way about what we offer.

However, aware that Martha Kniseley significantly shaped our approach to adult religious education and that Kathleen Carpenter’s remarkably lengthy tenure completely defined our approach to children and youth religious education, we were strongly advised by a religious education consultant to contract with an Interim Director of Lifespan Religious Education. This Interim Director could help us define and celebrate the strengths of our programming, recognize and address the challenges and chart a new course with new possibilities, all while helping us sustain our programming.

This fall we launched a national search for a trained Unitarian Universalist religious educator guided by our Interim Search Group—Craig Harbold, Melissa Schropp, Julie Smith and ministers Jay Leach and Eve Stevens. We received some intriguing expressions of interest from candidates that, at least on paper, seem to have skills that would be of value to us.

However, this Search Group recently discussed two difficult realities. First, because we are in a virtual mode and will be for at least the early months of next year, our Interim would have limited opportunity to get to know us, to understand our approach, to shape our current offerings or to help imagine new possibilities. In addition, because this is a full-time position, it will require a significant financial investment at a time when we are being even more careful with our budget. We were not convinced that this is a prudent investment of our shared resources at this time.

So, we have opted to suspend our search for now. Our intention is to list this opening again in the early part of 2021 with the expectation of having our new Interim Director with us by mid-year. We think this offers us a much better opportunity to benefit from this addition to our professional staff and a much better investment of the congregation’s resources. We are hopeful about the prospects of finding an educated and trained religious education professional who can help us move forward in our efforts to embody our vision and mission as a community.

This first significant decision necessitated a second. How will we staff our religious education programming in the meantime? Since Martha’s departure, Jay Leach has served as the professional staff liaison to the Adult Religious Education/Spiritual Development Team. This exceptionally strong team, chaired by Sharon Baker, has created a robust array of programming for us in recent months. We’re hopeful that this will continue for the remainder of the congregational year.

In conversation with Kathleen Carpenter, we have now created a temporary approach to our children and youth religious education programming that is similarly hopeful. This programming will be led by a Children and Youth Religious Education Coordinator. This contract position is intended to help us sustain the programming that Kathleen put in place during our time as a virtual congregation and will serve to coordinate our CYRE programming until the summer.

When Eve and Jay approached Kathleen for recommendations of who among us might be able to fill such a role for these upcoming months, they asked her to think of someone highly organized, deeply familiar with the programming and the volunteers, and able to invest the time to provide leadership under Eve’s supervision. We made it clear that creativity and innovation will be welcomed but the capacity to manage the details of this role are the primary assets needed.

Kathleen offered a list of names but highlighted one as particularly capable of filling this role.

We’re pleased to announce that the person Kathleen recommended was interested and available. So, beginning January 1, Lisa Walls will be our Children and Youth Religious Education Coordinator. As those who’ve worked with her know, Lisa is deeply committed to our program, very familiar with what we do and how we do it, and renowned for her remarkable organizational skills.

We’re grateful to Kathleen who, as a final act of investment in the lives of our children and youth is now working closely with Lisa to help facilitate an effective transition.

If you have questions about our approach to staffing our religious education programming, we encourage you to communicate with one of our ministers—Eve or Jay. For now, we thank you for your continued support of the UUCC, support that makes it possible to sustain our programming at this challenging time.