In my small congregation, we've been unable to find both the money and the volunteers to make OWL possible. That has left us with a few choices: attend another UU church, partner with the UCC churches, or work outside the box.
Option one is to send our youth to a program at a nearby church. But few parents seem to want to drive a 45-minute drive (one way) to another church to put their youth in a class where they won't know the teachers. The youth may be reluctant to take OWL in the first place, but to take it in a class where they don't know the other teens is asking a lot, particularly with teens who are at all introverted. So this option, while viable, has never happened for us.
Option two was to partner with UCC churches. There are two UCC churches in our town. However, one church is about our size with few youth, and at the time we reached out to them had no real religious education director. The other UCC church has more youth, but an interim minister. Both churches didn't take the bait when we started fishing. We tried talking to them, and to the Congregational (non-UCC) church in town, but none of them seemed ready to start partnering with us on what seemed like a controversial and peripheral program for them. This may change, and there's still potential there, but it's a hard work of coordinating when none of us have much in the way of dedicated Religious Education staff.
So our third option was to think outside the box, and this is what we did. I met with our local chapter of Planned Parenthood, and they have programs that are grant-funded for teens, and programs that were unfunded for younger children that they were happy to come and present at our church for our youth, provided we were willing to open them up to the public. The youth program, being grant funded, we did not need to pay for. The elementary school program, as it was not grant funded, they asked us to contribute for, and we raised the $150 they asked for plus some through a special plate pass that we were going to have anyways for Planned Parenthood. Total cost to our congregation: $150. Compare that with the $1270 cost to run OWL, and it was an easy sell. Our children got some sexuality education at church, and we built a stronger relationship with Planned Parenthood. There were a lot of positives to this.
But it was not OWL, and not as good as OWL. The Planned Parenthood series was much shorter than OWL -- only two or three sessions. Planned Parenthood, because the teen program was funded from a Federal grant, was not allowed to discuss abortion -- at all. I talked with the Planned Parenthood leader ahead of time about making sure that it included LBGT people, but I'm sure it wasn't as thoroughly inclusive of LGBT people as OWL would be. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that the word "transgender" didn't come up in their presentation, although it might have. I'm also pretty sure it wasn't as thorough about sex as OWL would be. Planned Parenthood isn't abstinence-only; it is comprehensive sexuality education, but I get the feeling that it's less comprehensive, if only due to the shorter time frame.
And lastly, OWL is presented from our faith perspective, and only we can do that. I can't ask Planned Parenthood to understand Unitarian Universalism completely, much less present from our perspectives and connect things to our values and principles.
There are answers to how we can do this better. There are ways to make OWL more accessible. We'll explore some of those in the final part to our series.