It was hard to tell who was more excited – the first graders or their parents. One would have been hard pressed to walk through the room to write down any accurate observations, because it was shoulder to shoulder in both the parents’ circle and the six-year-olds’ inner circle. In other words, it was really crowded in the double room in the RE wing on this early January Sunday when all these families showed up for the first day of first grade OWL (Our Whole Lives human sexuality instruction).
The RE wing at JUC is darned near bursting with young families, and this OWL gathering showed once again that our young families are enthusiastic about finding the best religious education for their little ones. And how can we possibly get everyone to fit? Again this year, the RE staff and volunteer teachers are doing everything they can think of to make the best use of JUC’s limited space. And won’t it be a lovely day when the Making Room campaign can come to the congregation and say a possible new campus has been identified?
“Never, never, never give up.” Winston Churchill
Ayrolyn Keady is one of those people who likes to cut to the chase.
Does JUC really does want to make an impact in the world? “If we do,” Ayrolyn says, “ we have to make more space for families with children. Period.”
Ayrolyn understands how we got here – here meaning overcrowded in Religious Education classes. JUC does so much well. Families want to be a part of the congregation. The kids are given good, solid programming. “It’s not just one of those places where you drop off your kids and know they’re going to color for an hour,” she points out. RE has been growing like crazy (280 kids were registered last year).
Finding Room = Finding Time = Finding Parking
JUC’s space dilemmas aren’t always related to Sunday mornings. Just ask Jill Armstrong, recent Social Justice chair and current JUC CAN coordinator.
“Remember last year when we had a forum for the Jeffco School Board election?” she asks, undoubtedly rolling her eyes. “One of the candidates was a few minutes late. There were so many people crowding into the sanctuary that there wasn’t a single space left in the parking lot. The candidate had to park on the street, practically in the ditch!”
Just about any 11 o’clock RE family knows the back story: for some time now, Sunday mornings have been uber-crowded in the RE wing during the second service.
Of course, it’s wonderful that so many families have decided that JUC is the place they want to raise their children. A good, solid, engaging RE program is just what they yearn for. But finding enough room for all those kids on Sunday mornings (nearly 300 last year) has been – to say the least – challenging. And Director of Religious Education Annie Scott worries about the crowding. “It’s harder to get a sense of belonging and develop friendships,” she says, “especially for new kids to connect.”
Have you ever been in the basement at JUC? If you can’t navigate stairs, probably not. The basement holds the YRUU room (which isn’t big enough – a story for another day) and the Priestley Room, where meetings and rehearsals are often held. The Priestley Room and the nearby hall also hold the majority of JUC’s music materials – file cabinets stuffed with sheet music, and the handbells and chimes used by the JUC Ringers.
Hooray for offering popular and important programs at JUC! Right?
Except….it isn’t always easy to find enough room for those popular and important programs.
Case in point: 7th grade OWL -- the Our Whole Lives sexuality curriculum.
Kids, kids, SO MANY kids!
It’s so absolutely, completely, terrifically wonderful to have lots of young families at JUC, right? RIGHT! But…where to put them all? A change in is the works to find enough room for all the precious little two-year-olds and three-year-olds.
Director of Religious Education Annie Scott grins when she says there were 43 pre-schoolers who attended RE classes last year. And then she rolls her eyes.
Fact one: day or night, someone on the ministerial staff is always on call for pastoral care calls and conversations. Each minister takes a two-week pastoral care shift, speaking with congregants facing struggles: a job loss, a tough medical diagnosis, a troubled child, the death of a parent – any challenge, really, crying out for compassionate listening in a safe, private space. This is what our ministers do.
Fact two: Intern minister Kim Mason’s workspace is in the “gopher hole”. That’s what the staff calls the space directly behind the front desk in the JUC office. It’s populated by tall file cabinets, an L-shaped desk space, two computers, one telephone and three staff members. Phone calls? Awkward. Private conversations? Impossible.