Connecting Minds and Hearts across the Miles

Published on: December 21, 2015

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I had completed my first term as minister and had received two offers to minister elsewhere. I awaited divine guidance to tell me what I ought to do next, and I affirmed that it would be obvious. At the end of an interview, exactly one year ago, as I walked the beach in Amesbury, Mass., with a full moon rising over a rippling ocean, I heard it. It was a very quiet thought from my right shoulder: “You’re going home to Durham.” I was surprised: Durham-Chapel Hill, N.C., was my home from 1986 until I went to seminary in 2009. Return there? For what? I had not received an invitation to serve a ministry there!

Another month of serendipitous logistical answers firmly pointed me “home.” The weekend I arrived, I received the most exciting information: My daughter was pregnant, after 7 years of trying! At that moment, it became clear: I had returned home to add enjoyment and balance to my life—to witness my daughter’s pregnancy, to know my newborn grandson, and to reunite with my family in a renewed depth of relationship.

My career questions were still unclear. I had expected to be a church minister. Yet I had served only two years and was now in limbo. I was aware of a strong desire to teach rather than to preach, but didn’t know how I could do that. I held the understanding that divine guidance had brought me here, and my niche would become clear.

 

How to Work Around the Weather

Winter came, and along with it came a surprising invitation to teach two SEE (Spiritual Education and Enrichment) classes in Greensboro, N.C. I was thrilled to help them out, and dove into curriculum prep and material development. Greensboro is an hour from my home, which is not a big deal—until the winter kicks in with its black ice.

I cancelled one class. The following week brought eight inches of snow. Anyone who knows the Southeast knows you stay home when the snow falls! I didn’t want to cancel classes a second week in a row, so I set up classes through a conference call.

During the conference call, after I presented a paragraph or two of lesson content, I heard nothing but silence! Were they thinking? Or had they fallen asleep? How can I teach without seeing their faces? Without reading their non-verbal communication?

I realized I could teach long-distance if I had a platform that offered visual as well as audio connection. And if I had that, I could reach people who for whatever reason, weren’t getting the Unity learning experiences they wanted. (Some students attend spiritual communities that don’t offer SEE classes. Some don’t have the budget or the time to fly out to an SEE week. Others don’t enjoy taking four classes in one week. Some don’t enjoy taking online classes as they experience them as very isolating. They prefer interaction, conversation and feedback to isolated readings and writing essays.)

I found the perfect platform for my vision: eLecta Live offers video and audio connection, text chat, a whiteboard, PowerPoint and web interface. The platform is cheap, and I have virtually no overhead costs, so I can keep my tuition low and make these courses accessible and affordable to many.

Our first class was June 15, 2015, and my first student to register was from Australia. We are literally a global learning community! In less than six months, I have enrolled 90 students, delivered twelve core SEE courses, and have scheduled seven more through April 2016. Students range from young professionals to older retirees. Busy young people are happy they don’t have to rush out to church after a long day of work. Older folks much prefer to stay home and take the class in comfort.

 

Mixing Up the Learning Styles

Teaching in a virtual classroom is more challenging than in a real classroom, in several ways. As with all classes, offering a variety of learning experiences is important, even when tied to a computer. Offering varying mental activities by implementing simple matching activities, assigning students to “be the expert” and teach a portion of the lesson, or introducing a video excerpt by a contemporary scholar are excellent options for offering variety. Engaging in prayer and meditation over the miles also puts our faith into action. Built-in breaks and encouraging students take care of themselves during class also promotes a healthy learning style.

I believe that a small classroom setting is an effective way to facilitate lasting transformation. I think that this type of spiritual community is what contemporary spiritual seekers long for.

I suggest it is time to “see” the Unity movement with a new perspective, one that will be true to the consciousness of Unity’s founders and relate to the awakening consciousness of the 21st Century. If the Unity movement is to maintain relevance, we must see our ministry within the framework of the evolution of consciousness. My desire is to invite Unity leaders to mature spiritually into the “second tier” of consciousness, which requires continual conscious release of ego, and “putting on” the Christ Consciousness.

Each week I witness my students awaken further to their own wisdom, deepen their understanding of their faith and the Unity teachings, and expand their vision of involvement with Unity’s future.

 

Pat Veenema, M.Div.

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  • It’s a wonderful class experience. I have not been able to take any more classes due to time once I started ministerial school but I love learning with Rev Pat. The discussions that happen make the experience so much better.

  • Brenda Love Pendergraft

    I was desperate for SEE classes but they were offered infrequently at my church and at that rate it was going to take a very long time to complete the required courses. Rev Pat came up with this wonderful solution that works so well for me! I have grown through her teachings and I intend to continue. I am so grateful!