Tuesday, 2 March 2010

We have a hit - Bright Lights

It is so incredibly satisfying when you try something new and it works on the very first time out of the box. When Edison was trying to find a material that would be suitable as a filament in his invention of the light bulb, it is reported that he tried at least 900 different substances before hitting on one that worked!  

My congregation has been incredibly fortunate to have our new Bright Lights programme work the first time right out of the box!  Yesterday, we held the second in this monthly series of these gatherings for families and children. We started last month and had seven kids (plus their parents). Today, it was thirteen kids and lots of parents. It felt great!

What a very nice rate of increase! If we just keep growing at this rate, attendance will exceed 6,000 by the end of this year. Another year and we can expect just over 10 million... See the graph.  [Sorry - pathetic geek humour...]

Somehow, we've managed to hit on a formula that works. We begin with a quick craft project that the kids can start as soon as they arrive. Then, we all say together:
This is the home of the open mind,
The loving heart,
And the helping hands.
Together we care for our earth
And work for friendship and peace in our world
...and there are movements that go with each line that the kids just love to do!

Then there's a chalice lighting where one child each month gets to light the chalice - a truly awesome experience for the lighter and everyone else as they become silent seeing one of their own number allowed to do the hitherto forbidden magic of fire!
For the chalice lighting, we all say together:
We light this chalice for the light of truth.
We light this chalice for the warmth of love.
We light this chalice for the energy of action.

At about this time, they're ready to make some noise and the basket full of maracas and tambourines goes out in preparation for a rousing three verses of This Little Light of Mine accompanied by sometimes exuberant and often slightly confused child-hood maraca and tambourine artistry.

The centre-point of the event is a story with lots of participation, and an important message. Last month was 'we're happier when we help other people to be happy.' This month, we hit 'everyone is special' with a story about a very nice fellow whose appearance scared everyone until they finally got to know him.

Another song - from the canon of children's favourites - yesterday's was When You're Happy and You Know it.

And finally, we end with these shared closing words:
Walk softly.
Speak truthfully.
Love gently.
Breathe deeply.
Live wisely.
Go in peace.
And then the crucial time I like to think of as snacks and chaos - well, barely controlled chaos, as the parents chat, the kids scarf down food and run around together having a great time in our large space...  

Of course, it's not just the formula that makes it work. The team is essential! Without Amy, Deborah, Jenny, and Darren, this would not have worked at all. How we ended up with the perfect team is beyond me... It could easily have been a flop without any of these wonderful people and, at best, it would not have nearly the richness it has or be as lively and natural. Amy magically shows up with inspired concepts and brilliant materials. Deborah has the knack of creating craft projects that work for every age. Jenny smoothly and effortlessly creates a refreshment scene that welcomes and manages to be right for all ages. Darren is the lively and lovely musician... and I must say that yesterday, Darren was the most amazing piano-playing Mr. Big - the misunderstood gorilla! Awesome...

Finally, I think it's crucial that we're clear about what we're trying to achieve. Bright Lights is about a fun, engaging experience, but it's also about helping families to raise kids who are kind, compassionate, justice-seeking people - ready to play their part in a pluralistic world moving toward more peace, equality, and harmony. The values we aim to share in every session:
Each person is important
Be kind in all you do
We're free to learn together
We search for what is true
All people need a voice
Build a fair and peaceful world
We care for our Earth


  1. Hi Yewtree...

    to be fair, we used (nicked?) the name 'Bright Lights' because we liked it best among a variety of other choices on our list. How similar is the format to what you do at Bristol? We didn't look at your programme as a model...

  2. Hi Andy, Great to see this review and know it's working out really well! Congrats to you and all the team who worked so hard on forming a group/service that was totally focused on reaching out to children and families. Lots of the ideas participants come up with seems to have worked excellently and with growth the input and variety increases.

    Yewtree- Has Bristol shared its program and formula with the rest of its district or the movement?
    It seems interesting after reading the site but I couldn't see how similar it is to the one in London. Would be great to experience your program but its so far!

    Guess like Unitarianism we all use the same name but the flavour, style and experience will always be different. Diversity and Freedom is fantastic!

  3. Good to hear of Islington and Newington Green Unitarians' latest success.

    The most interesting thing to me is how the prgramme has been aimed squarely at children and their parents. The effectiveness of so-called "all-age" worship has been on my mind for a long time and I'm coming to the conclusion that an ordered religious service is probably not the most appropriate place to engage all generations together.

    Further to this, we also need to stop considering "worship" as simply meaning the Sunday service and take into account shared rituals such as sharing food, celebrations, and experiences outside a church building. Those to me are the best places to bring all ages together in a spiritual community.

    I've sat through years of "all age" worship services. I regularly cringed and felt patronised, and was rarely stimulated (apart from being annoyed). The older people, however, loved looking (down) at the cute kiddies, and the young children enjoyed shouting down the microphone, singing songs, doing the actions and being asked questions by the minister.

    The approach of "Bright Lights" seems way ahead of my own experience of churches atempting to engage with children, but it still probably wouldn't appeal to me as a childless working-aged adult. Yet that's fine, as a meeting especially for children and their parents is a great idea, and I'm glad it's so far proving effective.

  4. It sounds quite similar to what happens in Bristol.

    Yes, we have shared the Bright Lights model on our website, at an Engagement Groups event at Great Hucklow, in the Inquirer, and via a leaflet produced by the Engagement Groups panel.

  5. Yes, I would like to see more stuff that engages childless 20- to 40-somethings. It sounds as if New Unity is doing just that with its main services.

  6. Right Yewtree - Childless 20-40 somethings make up probably half of the congregation! We need to work on making the community fully intergenerational (more kids and more middle-aged folks) and more thoroughly representative of the people in our larger context.