Our Whole Lives (OWL), the UUA/UCC lifespan sexuality education curriculum, is a tremendously important program for our churches. It provides the most comprehensive sexuality education available at all ages. It sets our churches apart for their healthy attitudes towards sex and sexuality. It literally saves lives, and it has the potential to transform communities. We're justifiably proud of this curriculum. When we point to what is ground-breaking, innovative, and cutting-edge in our movement, we can (and should!) point to OWL. In a society with unhealthy attitudes towards sex and sexuality prevalent, OWL has a unique and important role in our movement and in our congregations.
Though OWL is an incredibly vital and important program, is is also the most inaccessible program for congregations to offer. Its high pricetag for training and materials sets the cost above the reach of many of our small congregations. This is the bulk of our churches -- in MidAmerica, for example, half of our churches are under 100, and 2/3 are under 150. That inaccessibility for most churches then ensures that the trainings become less frequent, making travel more of a cost for the mid-sized and larger churches.
How much does it cost to get OWL started in your congregation? It depends partly on travel, but let's suppose that I was interested in OWL for my grades 7-9 junior high group, and I wanted to get training sometime between July and September. I have five choices: Bozeman, MT ($250 plus lodging); Corvallis, OR ($225 plus lodging); Bellevue, WA ($250 plus lodging); Nashua, NH (unclear price); and Murray Grove in Lanoka Harbor, NJ ($375 including lodging). Note that these numbers do not include travel to these locations!
Let's say I decide to rule out the ones at UCC churches because I want to be trained in the UU faith component of the OWL program. So cross off Nashua and Bozeman. From my location in Michigan, it's therefore cheapest to get to Murray Grove, where the lodging is included. OWL requires two facilitators, so our costs would look something like this ( without counting incidentals, travel cost to/from the airport, and meals):
$750 - Registration and Lodging for 2 peopleKeep in mind that is the cost for getting trained to facilitate one age group. The 7-9 junior high training is the most expensive for materials, but also the most commonly offered. Other age ranges would have lower material costs, but one might have to wait much longer for training or travel much further. Regardless, a $1270 cost for offering the program would cut a pretty large-sized hole in my small-sized budget. If we wanted to get a third person trained, allowing us to rotate facilitators so as not to rely solely on just two facilitators, the costs are even higher.
$400 - Air Fare
$120 - Books (curriculum, companion book, advocacy manual & parent guide)
$1270 - Total Cost
These costs also don't include the time off from work that is required for those who get trained - the training is 2.5 days, not including travel time. Most people would be required to take at least one, possibly more, days off work in order to attend. This hidden cost further limits who can participate in facilitator training.
The UUA estimates that as of 2009, more than half of UU congregations had at least one facilitator trained at one level. That means it's likely even fewer have two trained facilitators, and fewer still have two for more than one level of OWL.
Compare this to another UUA program that UU congregations are encouraged to participate in, which also requires a substantial time investment with multiple leaders: the Welcoming Congregation program. The vast majority of congregations across the country have become Welcoming Congregations. In Michigan, for example, the number is 82% of congregations -- all but three. The materials are all online, and no facilitator training is necessary. This program has been extremely successful in helping our congregations become more welcoming to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. In part, its success is due to the lack of barriers to participation in the program, barriers which the OWL program unfortunately continues to have. There are reasons for some of these barriers, but some of our thinking around them is outdated.
According to the Religious Institute, one of the hallmarks of a sexually healthy congregation is that it offers comprehensive sexuality education at every age level. But too many of our UU churches don't meet this benchmark, or scramble to do so. It's time to make OWL accessible for all churches.
Edited to fix a typo.