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'Tapestry' puts curricula online

Free, fully searchable religious education curricula for all ages.
By Michelle Bates Deakin
Winter 2012 11.1.12

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In the late 1990s, religious educators and teachers were looking to the Unitarian Universalist Association for more resources. They wanted curricula that were more up-to-date culturally, socially, and politically. They wanted lesson plans that could change with the times to meet future needs as well.

They were asking for the moon. In return, they got the moon and the stars. Over the last decade, a team of UUA religious educators has compiled 14,000 new pages of religious education curricula. All of those pages are now available for free on the Internet in the UUA’s comprehensive Tapestry of Faith program. They support religious education programming starting in kindergarten, with abundant resources for students through high school as well as curricula for young adults, adults, elders, and retirees.

“No other denomination has all this online free,” said Judith Frediani, curriculum director of the UUA’s Resource Development Office, which created Tapestry of Faith. The accessibility of the information means that it can be used not only by religious educators, but also by anyone else searching the Web. “It’s a tool that brings religious education out of the basement,” she said.

The lesson plans—which are all fully searchable at UUA.org/re/tapestry—are now in use by Sunday school teachers each week. And many others are finding ways to use the information, too. District leaders search the database for chalice lightings, conference leaders find stories for workshops, and ministers discover historical information for sermons. “This is a resource that’s ready to use wherever UUs are gathered,” said Frediani, who has worked at the UUA for 27 years.

The site receives more than 100,000 searches each month, as UUs and others navigate the site seeking to learn about Unitarian Universalism or make use of the rich collection of factual information and suggestions for activities and discussion. Among the most popular curricula for children’s programming are “Toolbox of Faith” (Grades 4–5) and “Moral Tales” (Grades 2–3). Popular adult lessons include “Harvest the Power,” about lay leadership, and “Spirit of Life,” which explores spirituality. Each lesson includes a “Taking It Home” activity.

In addition, all the lessons incorporate UU rituals, such as chalice lightings, closings, and faith-based reflection, said Gail Forsyth-Vail, adult programs director, who notes that all the lessons use a common UU language to build the UU community and faith.

The 14,000 pages were nearly a decade in the making. From 2001 to 2003, Frediani and her staff surveyed congregations, religious educators, parents, and youth groups about their religious education needs. They commissioned a team of more than 40 authors to write on specific topics. There are currently 37 different curricula on the site, with more coming.

All the lessons are intentional about viewing issues through the lens of Unitarian Universalism. “It’s called Tapestry of Faith because we’re no longer shying away from acknowledging that we are a religion with a strong heritage of Unitarianism and Universalism,” Frediani said.

Department close-up

Office of Church Resource Development

Mission:The Office of Resource Development, which produces the Tapestry of Faith curricula, creates materials and provides leadership to support religious education programs for children, youth, adults, and multigenerational groups in congregations.

Our Whole Lives: The office also oversees the Our Whole Lives sexuality education programs. Developed jointly by educators at the UUA and the United Church of Christ, Our Whole Lives includes lesson plans for different age groups, including Grades K–1, 4–6, 7–9, and 10–12, as well as for young adults and adults. The curricula provide an opportunity to learn about sexuality within religious communities. A new version for grades 7-9 will be published in 2013.

Bridging Handbook: The office also publishes a series of printed handbooks for congregations. Most recently, it published Bridging: A Handbook for Con­gregations (2012; $15, UUAbookstore.org). Written by Gail Forsyth-Vail, adult programs director, and Jessica York, youth programs director, it offers a blueprint for a year-long program marking the transition from youth to young adulthood.

This article appeared in the Winter 2012 issue of UU World (“Inside the UUA: 'Tapestry' puts curricula online,” page 55). See sidebar for links to related resources.

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