First Parish in Needham Logo

23 Dedham Avenue
Needham, MA 02492

Learning

Overview

Here at First Parish, we believe that religious learning and spiritual exploration are lifelong endeavors. Since we adhere to no creed or dogma, we believe that each person’s path is a unique and fascinating journey. We look forward to supporting you on yours!

Children & Youth

Kids Religious Exploration ("RE")

At the core of First Parish RE is our Sunday morning small groups for children in preschool through 9th grade.

We offer RE programming September through June. Small group meetings take place roughly two out of every four Sundays; special all-kids-together Justice Sundays are held once monthly; and there is an average of one multigenerational worship service per month when we gather as one with the adult community.

The RE program provides children and youth with developmentally appropriate opportunities to explore topics that include UU heritage and history; morals and ethics; community; social justice; health and sexuality; world religions; and spiritual exploration.

We encourage wonder, asking questions, critical thinking, compassionate loving, and honoring diversity of beliefs.

For more information or if you have questions, please contact Sarah Elizabeth Dyer-Santa Cruz, Interim Director of Religious Exploration, at dre@uuneedham.org.

Youth (Grades 7 & Up)

Our Sunday morning classes include special highly-regarded curricula for students in 7th through 9th grade while many of our older teens appreciate the leadership development opportunities to volunteer teach/lead activities with our little kids.

  • Building Bridges for our 7th and 8th graders. Learn and explore other religious traditions with field trips to other houses of worship as a tool for deeper understanding of themselves and others.
  • Coming-of-Age for our 9th graders. This beloved rite-of-passage program invites teens to go deep exploring their own beliefs as they wonder “who am I” and “who do I want to be”.
  • Youth Group for our high school teens. This group meets a couple times per month and offers teens the chance to connect with peers for fun and inspiring activities. Topics and activities are chosen by the group and are designed to help provide a deeper opportunity to connect to community, explore issues of importance to teens, and come to understand and appreciate one’s self more fully. There is another monthly meeting on a third Sunday each month for youth interested in going on a service trip during a school vacation to plan and prepare. Youth members help plan the trip and fundraise to help cover the costs.
  • For our 7th and 8th graders and for our 10th and 11th graders, (as well as classes for younger kids), we routinely Our Whole Lives (OWL), a highly regarded health and sexuality program.

Our Whole Lives ("OWL")

The “Our Whole Lives” program is an age-appropriate health and sexuality course, developed in collaboration between the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ.

OWL programs are value driven and focus on helping children and youth to develop a strong sense of self worth, an understanding of their own bodies, and a respect for responsible, just and inclusive approaches to human biology and sexuality.

OWL classes are offered at four grade levels:

  • K/1st grade
  • 5th grade
  • 7th/8th grade
  • 10th/11th grade

The classes are lead by UUA trained facilitators. Parents must attend a mandatory orientation as well as complete and sign a permission form before their children will be allowed to participate.

OWL Program Assumptions:

  • All persons are sexual.
  • Sexuality is a good part of the human experience.
  • Sexuality includes much more than sexual behavior.
  • Human beings are sexual from the time they are born until they die.
  • It is natural to express sexual feelings in a variety of ways.
  • People engage in healthy sexual behavior for a variety of reasons including to express caring and love, to experience intimacy and connection with another, to share pleasure, to bring new life into the world, and to experience fun and relaxation.
  • Sexuality in our society is damaged by violence, exploitation, alienation, dishonesty, abuse of power, and the treatment of persons as objects.
  • It is healthier for young adolescents to postpone sexual intercourse.

    (from the UUAOur Whole Lives manual)

OWL affirms UU values by:

  • addressing the whole body
  • affirming- does not shroud, it presents sexuality in a positive
  • light without fear
  • being honest and respectful
  • building community*
  • creating a safe place to explore diversity
  • explaining the diversity of sexual orientation
  • giving a positive response to life
  • giving participants a core of knowledge
  • life affirming
  • makes a mind, body, spirit connection
  • respecting decision-making ability
  • saving lives
  • strengthening parent relationship with their
  • children about the subject of sexuality

OWL Teaches About the Following Subjects:

  • Abortion: Our Whole Lives discusses the medical procedure of abortion, and provides a respectful format for participants of differing viewpoints to discuss the ethical controversies that surround this procedure. (Gr. 7-9, Gr. 10-12, Adult)
  • Abstinence: Our Whole Lives supports abstinence from sexual activity as one of a number of healthy choices individuals can make at any point in their lives. Abstinence is consistently stressed as the best way to prevent sexually transmitted disease and unwanted pregnancy. Our Whole Lives also emphasizes the maturity and responsibility required for sexual activity, and presents abstinence as the best choice for young adolescents. (Gr. 4-6, Gr. 7-9, Gr. 10-12, Adult)
  • Body Image: Our Whole Lives affirms that bodies of all genders, sizes, colors, ages, and abilities are beautiful. Our Whole Lives offers the opportunity to critique the prevailing cultural standards of beauty, and to expand that definition.
  • Families: Our Whole Lives affirms that families come in many forms. It features stories and readings about stepfamilies, single parent families, two-parent families (both same-gender and other-gender), multi-ethnic families, adoptive families, and families where children live with a family member other than their parents.
  • Gender Identity: Our Whole Lives upholds the worth and dignity of people of all genders, including transgender people. It affirms that gender identities are not limited to male and female, and clarifies the distinction between gender identity and sexual orientation.
  • Gender Roles: Our Whole Lives stands for gender justice, countering sexist stereotypes. The program affirms people in non-traditional, as well as traditional, gender roles, and challenges participants to understand the pressures that sexism puts on everyone.
  • HIV/AIDS: Our Whole Lives contains up-to-date and age-appropriate information on HIV and AIDS symptoms, treatment, and prevention. It stresses the importance of safe behavior and HIV testing. It promotes compassion for those infected with HIV and afflicted with AIDS.
  • Homosexuality and Bisexuality: Our Whole Lives teaches that bisexuality, homosexuality, and heterosexuality are all natural sexual orientations, and that people of all sexual orientations have the right to express love, commitment, and pleasure. Our Whole Lives (Gr. 7-9, Gr. 10-12, Adult) invites guest panels of openly gay, lesbian, bisexual people to speak to the class. Our Whole Lives assumes that its participants will include people of all sexual orientations.
  • Love and Commitment: Our Whole Lives celebrates love and commitment at all stages of life. It teaches that love requires understanding oneself as well as one’s partner; that loving oneself improves one’s ability to love another person; and that loving another person can be one of life’s greatest joys. Our Whole Lives stresses that marriage and lifetime commitments require mutual effort and understanding.
  • Masturbation: Our Whole Lives presents masturbation as a natural, valid, and safe form of sexual expression. Our Whole Lives (Gr. 4-6, Gr. 7-9, Gr.10-12, Adult) recognizes that individuals, cultures, and religions have differing opinions about masturbation and that ultimately, the individual will decide for him- or herself.
  • Parents: Our Whole Lives affirms that parents are children’s primary sexuality educators. Our Whole Lives’s parent orientation programs and the Parent Guide help foster positive, proactive communication between parent and child regarding sexuality. Studies show that comprehensive sexuality education programs like Our Whole Lives promote communication between parents and children. (For more information, see Facts about Comprehensive Sexuality Education.)
  • Puberty: Our Whole Lives teaches that people go through puberty at different times and in different ways. Our Whole Lives for Grades 4-6 educates participants about the changes their bodies will be going through and teaches that those changes are natural.
  • Relationships: Our Whole Lives helps participants recognize that healthy relationships are based on responsibility, respect, love, and commitment. Same-sex relationships are celebrated in the same way that heterosexual relationships are.
  • Sexual Relationships: Our Whole Lives teaches that healthy sexual relationships are respectful, consensual, nonexploitative, mutually pleasurable, safe, developmentally appropriate, and based on respect, mutual expectations, and caring.
  • Values: Values are central to Our Whole Lives. Our Whole Lives gives participants the opportunity to evaluate and strengthen their values, and to act on them.

Resources

Milestones Program

Each First Parish Milestone is aimed at a particular time in a child’s life and development. Collectively, they mark a child’s spiritual growth from infancy into young adulthood.

  • Child Dedication
    • Generally done during infancy, a dedication ceremony is a public proclamation of the congregation’s commitment to the health and well-being of a child and their family.
    • Presided over by the minister, the dedication is an important reminder that we are all bound as a loving community to care for one another, especially the youngest among us.
    • Many parents will invite their extended family to the ceremony and may wish to present godparents will also proclaim their commitment to the child.
  • Chalice Keepers
    • Around the time a child turns eight and enters the stage of life developmental psychologists label the “age of reason,” children are invited to participate in the Chalice Keepers program.
    • This milestone connects children to some of the specific aspects of congregational life and their First Parish family.
    • Children complete a number of tasks aimed at strengthening the relationship between them and this community. This includes serving as a chalice lighter, having a Q&A with the minister, reading a couple of age-appropriate books about our values, and doing group activities that promote using their “thinking minds, loving hearts, and helping hands.”
    • On completing the program, chalice keepers are recognized in a short ceremony and given the gift of personal chalice.
  • UU Seekers
    • In the fifth or sixth grade year, children once again explore their spirituality through a guided self-study. This time, however, the goal is to develop an understanding of and a connection to the broader faith and traditions of Unitarian Universalism.
    • Children in this program will learn about historic figures, study some of our important sources, and will complete a service project with their classmates or family.
    • Recognition of this accomplishment will take place during a spring worship service and, once again, participants will be given a small, personal gift from the congregation.
  • Coming of Age
    • The Coming of Age (“COA”) class meets during the youth’s 9th grade year. It marks the culmination of their studies at First Parish and invites them to explore deeper questions of spirituality, faith and religion, and their own sense of belief.
    • Each youth will work with a mentor who helps to guide him/her through the process. The program ends in a worship service built and delivered by the members of the COA class.
    • During this time, each youth shares his or her personal credo and is recognized and honored by the congregation.
  • Bridging
    • The final step in our milestones program occurs just as a young person graduates from high school and from the First Parish Youth Group.
    • Each teen is welcomed into their adult years by the congregation in a special ceremony.
    • We think of this as a moment “bridging” their childhood years with first parish and their spiritual life going forward as an adult.

RE @ Home

When you add up all of the hours that your child spends in various activities, you find that their RE experience makes up a very small bit – about 40 hours each year if you manage to get to church every Sunday during the school year. Compare that to all of the time spent in sports, at school and all of the other things that your child engages in and you’ll see that it seems like just a drop in the bucket.

Yet, for many of us, church is where our children learn some of the lessons we most values, about morals and ethical choices, faith, UU principles and practices, and so on. It is the one place where time is devoted specifically to nurturing our child’s spirituality and to helping her or him connect to our wonderful principles.

With this in mind, we’ve gathered some resources for families to use at home as a kind of supplement to the weekly RE experience at church. Here you’ll find some nice stories or lessons that can easily fit the home environment, including a number of short bios about important Unitarian Universalists and a fun summer challenge to keep you and your child focused a bit on the 7 Principles while enjoying vacation and other activities.

You’ll also find a number of links to online resources, included a link to the Church of the Larger Fellowship which is a virtual space for UUs without a home congregation and postings about current opportunities for children and families, here in Needham and beyond. You might want to consider a summer experience in the Adirondacks or up at New Hampshire’s Starr Island where UU-oriented camps offer lots of cool programs.

So, take a look around, come back regularly and let us know if there is something we should add here, or if you have a specific request to help us become partners in your child’s religious exploration.

Resources for families

Teaching as a Spiritual Act

RE@Home Book List

A Perfectly UU Summer

Stories about UU’s

The Unitarian Universalist Religious Educator

The Unitarian Universalist Poet

The Unitarian Universalist King

The Unitarian Universalist Nurse

The Unitarian Astronomer

Helpful Links

Church of the Larger Fellowship

Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere (COLAGE)

UU World Family Pages

Ferry Beach

Camp Unirondack

Rowe Camps for All Ages

Safe Congregations

First Parish participates in the UUA’s “Safe Congregations” program. This program emphasizes safety and right practices between all people in our community, with a significant emphasis on interactions between adults and children or youth.

What this means is…

  • All RE classes and youth programs are taught/led by adults who have undergone a CORI check with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and who have signed the church’s statement of Code of Ethics form;
  • No RE class or program will operate without at least two adults present. Senior youth (high school) may serve as one of the two in certain circumstances;
  • The church maintains an up-to-date Policies and Procedures to Safeguard Children and Youth and annually reviews procedures for dealing with related issues;
  • The Director of Religious Exploration and the Minister serve as trained, mandatory reporters of abuse within the state system and make up part of our Safe Congregations Response Team;
  • First Parish maintains its Welcoming Congregation practices and provides a safe space for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer youth and adults, and;
  • Regular review of other safety issues and procedures takes place throughout the church as well, including fire safety and evacuation procedures.

Continuing Education

Adult Programs Overview

First Parish has a rich history of Continuing Education courses:

  • Evening Programs
  • Sunday Morning Discussions
  • Workshops
  • Book Clubs, and
  • Other events that contribute to spiritual growth, lifelong religious learning, and a deep understanding of the world in which we live.

Lane Lyceum Speaker Series

  • Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m.
  • A Forum on Public Affairs, Spirituality, Culture, and Science
  • Upcoming Schedule

Workshops

We frequently offer workshops and workshop series offered by lay leaders, guest facilitators, and First Parish religious professionals.

Recent examples include:

  • The New UU
  • Widening the Circle of Concern study group
  • The Defining Moment in Poetry
  • Courage for Racial Justice, and
  • Building Your Own Theology

Zoom Interest Groups

Meditation

  • Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.
  • No experience necessary.
  • Bring yourself and your thoughts.
  • Writing on things small and large with joy in the process.

Writing Escape for Everyone

  • Thursdays at 11:00 a.m.
  • This 14-session class will guide you deep as you explore your beliefs and ask some big questions. 
  • Great for folks approaching or in a life change.

Creative Escape

Vespers

Zoom Support Groups

We offer Support Groups over Zoom for First Parishioners who are looking for solidarity and support.

Our Support Groups, which are facilitated by caring members of First Parish, include:

  • The Cancer Support Group (monthly)
  • Caregivers Support Group (biweekly), and
  • Grief & Loss Support Group.

Sunday Night Book Club

  • Last Sunday of the month at 7:30 p.m.
  • List of Books for 2022-23:
December 11The Japanese LoverIsabel Allende
January 29The Children’s BlizzardMelanie Benjamin
February 26HorseGeraldine Brooks
March 26Rent CollectorCamron Wright
April 3oPainting the LightSally Gunning
May 28Hotel SilenceAudur Olafsdottir
June 25Lessons in ChemistryBonnie Garmus
  • Since 1995, members of the Sunday Night Book Club have enjoyed reading and socializing around books, both fiction and non-fiction.
  • The Sunday Night Book Club has served as a gateway for new people to meet members of the congregation.  Everyone is welcome and you have the flexibility to read the books you choose.
  • Monthly reminders are printed in the Bell Notes.
  • Check out our list of over 150 books we’ve read.
  • Meetings are currently being held on zoom.
  • Contact: Jeannette Anderson at bookclub@uuneedham.org

Understanding Our Country Book Club

Announcing Next Selection for the Understanding Our Country Book Club:  Open invite to anyone who would like to join in the discussion of our next books.  

We have selected the following books for the upcoming season:

Reading List

Small Group Ministry

Small Group Ministry ("SGM") Overview

The Small Group Ministry (SGM) program is an active part of the ministry of First Parish, and it is one of the largest ministries within the Parish.

Members cite multiple reasons and benefits from participating in a Small Group. One of the most commonly acknowledged benefits is the opportunity to get to know other members of the Parish on a deeper level.

Having the opportunity to reflect on and discuss topics that can offer guidance and enrichment in our daily lives is another frequently cited benefit of SGM membership.

Some participants attribute participation in a Small Group as enhancing their spiritual and/or ethical practices and awareness.

Group Size, Leaders & Schedule

SGM groups have 6 – 10 members and are led by trained lay people.

Groups meet twice a month, such as the first and third Tuesday, either at the Church or in group members’ homes.

Meetings last one and a half to two hours, and may include refreshments.

SGM groups serve to enrich our community, allowing time and space for the types of conversation and attentiveness that can be difficult in the busy life of a congregation.

Group members listen to each other, but don’t attempt to solve each other’s problems. Small Groups are not therapy or encounter groups.

Session Plans

Session plans focus on a specific topic and are provided for each meeting.

Some discussion topics are spiritual or ethical in nature (faith, prayer, ethical living); others reflect universally human themes (compassion, loss, forgiveness, humor).

Discussion topics are supported by questions to stimulate conversation. Members respond to the topic questions by sharing their insights, readings, experience, etc.

SGM groups are not study groups or debate teams. The focus is on respectful listening, reflection, and thoughtful interchange among group members.

Covenant

Each group makes and abides by a covenant that defines the group’s relationship to the Parish and to each other.

Covenants typically include elements such as non-judgmental listening without interrupting, allowing time for all members to participate, starting and ending on time, attending regularly, and respecting the confidentiality of the groups’ discussions. SGM members are respectful of one another, but SGM groups are not support groups.

When a member is in need, the other group members may provide assistance as a way of connecting with each other. The Caring Committee, the Pastoral Care Team or minister can fill in as needed.

Service Projects

SGM Groups are part of a religious community–the Church, and may choose to take on a service project in support of the Parish’s operation or Mission.

Groups may choose to usher or set up and serve at social hour as a service to the congregation.

Groups are encouraged to take on other service projects for the church and/or the larger community.

Groups, Meeting Times & Info re: Joining

Information about our current SGMs – This PDF provides information about current groups and meeting times.

Our SGMs – depending on space availability – accept new members in the months of October and February each year.

If you are interested in joining a group, please contact one of the facilitators. Any of the facilitators will be able to answer any questions you may have; however, if you have time constraints and have identified that a specific group is the best fit for your schedule, please contact the facilitator of that group.

Before joining a group, new members are asked to meet with the group’s facilitator in advance of joining a group. This initial meeting provides you with an opportunity to learn more about how a particular SGM functions and to review the Covenant.