Welcome to the
Westside Unitarian Unviersalist Congregation's
Children and Youth Program!
Who are we?
We are a vibrant, family-friendly, liberal faith community located in the beautiful Gatewood neighborhood of West Seattle. All families are welcome at Westside.
Our congregation has a membership of over 200 adults and 125 children and youth. We are affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association, yet maintain congregational polity, which means no church authorities dictate what happens at Westside. While our congregation was founded in the 1960s, we began our rapid growth in about 2002 when the Rev. Peg Morgan was called to serve the church. The congregation deeply values its children, youth and families and supports excellent programming for all ages.
The families of Westside are a diverse bunch. People come from across the Seattle metro area and beyond and also have a broad diversity of theological beliefs and backgrounds. Westside is certified as a Welcoming Congregation and works to offer an explicitly anti-racist, anti-oppression based classroom experience for all our children.
What do we offer?
Westside offers classes for children from birth through 9th grade and a Sunday evening youth group for 6th through 12th grade students. Each Sunday children are welcomed into a community of unconditional caring, where they have developmentally appropriate lessons about spiritual practice, world religions, Unitarian Universalism, and gain tools for dealing with difficult times. We also have occasional family programming and events.
Children and youth at Westside are affirmed in their wholeness and holiness each time they come to church. We strive to support children in their own faith formation while also providing an understanding of world religions, modeling of spiritual practices and guidance toward the beginning of a life long journey of discerning and living of personal values. A deeper overview of the specific curriculum used in each class is available on our website.
Westside also offers comprehensive sexuality education, the Our Whole Lives program, outside of our Sunday morning programming. Families may choose to enroll their children in the summer camp style K-1 Our Whole Lives, the 4th-5th grade Our Whole Lives or the yearlong Jr. High Our Whole Lives.
What should we expect on Sunday morning?
Our children begin each Sunday in the sanctuary and then move to classrooms for age group classes. Classes are interactive learning opportunities which often include story, art, and active play to help children learn about religion, values and justice.
At Westside when we say we're family friendly, we really mean it. Every Sunday our children share the first part of the service with the adults in our beautiful sanctuary. They hear the opening, experience our ritual chalice lighting share a hymn or a song and then are invited forward for a kid-friendly Story for All Ages. Then our congregation forms an arch over the aisle and sings the kids out to their various classes.
Children who don't wish to leave are welcome to sit with their families; we have "busy bags" filled with quiet activities. We also have a quiet room in the balcony that is open to anyone who may need it.
Parents are also welcome in classes as visitors or helpers. Each class will work as a stand-alone lesson, but we find that the children of families who attend three Sundays a month have a deeper learning experience and their children are often more eager to come to church.
How can we get involved in the Religious Exploration program?
Parents and caregivers are needed in many different roles. Register your child each year and indicate how you'd like to be involved, and then watch our weekly email to catch other opportunities.
The Westside "RE" program is a cooperative program that relies on the whole congregation donating time and talents in a wide variety of ways. Classes are taught by carefully chosen teams of people, both parents and non-parents, who commit to teaching one or two Sundays a month for a full year. If you'd like to teach, let the Director of Religious Exploration know, and we'll see if there is a good fit for you.
We also need parent/caregiver volunteers to help in the classrooms on occasion. Other opportunities arise during the year with our soup lunch fundraisers, homeless teen feeds, work days, and events. A "yes!" attitude is deeply appreciated!
What is expected of parents/caregivers?
At Westside we do expect families to be actively involved in the life of the congregation, both in the Religious Exploration program and across the church community. If we all give a little more of our time and treasure than is our fair share, it makes room for those of us who need a little help.
Family life today goes at double speed, everyone is busy. We understand. But we know that when a family puts its spiritual health on the "to do" list, everyone in the family benefits. We advise three simple things:
- If you find Westside to be a good fit for your family, then come to church regularly about three times a month is ideal, join groups, volunteer as a family and make your Sunday church time a celebration not a chore.
- Find the place that calls you to really put your heart into the church work needed-Gardening? Greeting? Making coffee? Vacuuming the sanctuary? Teaching? Organizing the RE library? Working with new or old committee? It takes a village-or a small city-- to run a church; all contributions are needed and welcomed.
- Communicate! Talk with your kids about their class, talk to the teachers about your kids, talk to the A/DREs about what's happening and be sure to fill out the forms and permissions we need to communicate with you!
How do we keep our children safe?
Safety is the top priority in our community of children, youth, and adults. The Religious Education Council and staff are committed to establishing and following congregational best practices to keep children and youth safe.
Westside has a congregation wide safety policy for all congregants that is continually being updated and reviewed. For our children and youth we have a policy of always having two unrelated adults with any group of children, and a variety of other policies enacted to assure that our children are safe and well cared for. (link to safety policy which includes bathroom policy)
If you wish to volunteer with our program at any time during the year we ask that you fill out the Washington State Patrol form and our Code of Conduct form and return them with your family registration each year. (https://fortress.wa.gov/wsp/watch/Help?Index=forms)
Does Westside welcome children with special needs?
Westside welcomes all children and youth, including those with special needs. The Religious Exploration program makes every effort to accommodate people with special needs in our classes. Please share information with our volunteer teachers so that various learning styles can be honored.
We know that a faith community has a deep calling to welcome all children, with all kinds of abilities. While we are unable to offer professional support for children with special needs, we are deeply committed to working with families to provide the best experience possible for each child attending Westside.
Our church is working to be accessible to wheelchairs and scooters, but presently some of our classes meet in rooms that are only accessible by stairs. If you will be visiting with a child who uses an adaptive device and needs to avoid stairs, call ahead and we'll adjust our room assignments to accommodate the needs.
Teachers are trained to be careful about asking children to read aloud, or to perform other tasks which may expose a hidden special need. Other special needs may be noted on the registration form, or you may contact the Director of Religious Exploration for a private conversation.
How is the Religious Exploration program structured?
Our program is managed by two paid staff members and a volunteer Religious Exploration Council. We have groups that focus on specific programs, including a Youth Advisory Committee, a Coming of Age working group and Religious Education council members who focus on teacher trainings, social justice and social gatherings.
Our classes are divided generally into two-year age breaks with a constant eye to balance between groups. The minister supervises our Director of Religious Exploration and all staff are in contract with the Board of Trustees. The Religious Exploration Council is a self-selected group of people who manage the program in partnership with the professional staff; appointments are sanctioned by the board of trustees. The REC generally accepts new members at the end of the church year in June. Volunteer teachers and advisors are recruited annually. The Our Whole Lives leaders receive special training to teach the sexuality education classes.
Any concerns that may arise can be brought to any member of our staff or Religious Exploration Council, or the minister or president. For classroom concerns, we find it makes sense to bring the concern to the child's teacher first, then reaching out to others if the issue is not resolved.
In our classes we make promises or covenants about how we will treat each other and what we will do to create and maintain a safe and sacred space. The nurseries have specific behavior guidelines. If children or youth have a difficult time abiding by the covenant or guidelines, we approach the situation with respect and care and work with a family to resolve any issues.
As any group of children gathers we know that there may be issues of behavior that doesn’t fit in the classroom setting. In our congregation we work to set the tone for a great classroom experience for all by covenanting to a set of behaviors. Our children usually begin the church year in class by writing their own set of agreements, what we call our covenant. Different groups will use the covenant in different ways, some sign the agreement asking new members to read and sign as they join, some younger groups have a teacher read the covenant each time the class meets, and some display the covenant as a reminder. When the very human thing happens, and the covenant is broken, we work to honor the value of the child while still working to change whatever behavior is unacceptable.