Sex and the church: UMCSC to help congregations teach faith-based, holistic sex ed

By Jessica Connor

When it comes to sex, who would you want to be your child' s teacher: the world? Or the church?

Across South Carolina, United Methodist churches are gearing up to offer faith-based sex education to their tweens and teens. The effort is designed to help young people understand and celebrate their bodies “ and perhaps drown out inappropriate messages they might be getting from television or their peers.

If the church isn t going to have a voice about sex, someone else will, said the Rev. Jeri-Katherine Warden Sipes, member of the S.C. Conference committee tasked to organize the effort. TV and magazines become that voice; friends. If the church isn t going to be a voice, we re leaving it up to the world. And that s a scary, scary thing to leave up to the world. Our silence can speak a lot louder.

The conference passed a resolution two years ago to strongly encourage UMCs to offer or participate in sex education for youth. The Rev. John Culp drafted the legislation. Organizers have spent the last two years putting together a team of people and finding the right curriculum, finally selecting two holistic programs: Good Sex 2.0 for teens (ages 13-19), and Created by God for tweens (ages 9-12). They are calling the effort Courage for THE Conversation.

They cover everything from the basics about body parts to actual questions about sex, and they are completely faith-based, said Congregational Specialist the Rev. Cathy Joens, the Connectional Ministries staffer relating to the task force.

With the curricula selected, organizers now have to recruit trainers who will go into districts and teach. At Annual Conference, attendees will learn more about the effort and how they can help.

Then on Sept. 15, the conference will hold a training day for the trainers, who will pair into teams of two and teach six-to-eight-week courses in local churches from Charleston to Greenville and everywhere in between. The training will be at Virginia Wingard Memorial UMC, Columbia.

The church needs to be on the front lines. There is a lot of information out there, and there has to be more than fear or ˜don t get pregnant, Joens said. This is a sacred part of who we are, an important and vital conversation. ¦ I don t believe God wants us to be uninformed. He wants us to understand.

In addition to Joens and Sipes, the committee includes Carol Singletary of the S.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, social worker Delois Daniel, Shawn Howell, Elizabeth Cheezem and Rhonda Jones.

Important for the body and the soul

Understanding sex has an impact on our whole lives, from our body to our emotions to our soul, organizers said. And the sexual aspect of our being is just as important as the other aspects, Sipes said; it should not be taboo.

We are sexual creatures, and God loves our whole selves, Sipes said. If God made us that way, we can t ignore that we are sexual beings. When you are spiritually not healthy, then it affects us spiritually. One of God s first commandments is to be fruitful and multiply.

Sipes hopes the sex education course can extend beyond the six to eight weeks and into a continual spiritual formation lesson for youth.

Shawn Howell, children s ministry director at St. Paul UMC, Florence, has been teaching the Created by God curriculum at her church for some time. She thinks the conference-wide push to offer sex education in our churches is extremely important. Not only does the church provide a positive, responsible voice in educating children about sex, but it also helps them embrace their full selves.

Rather than God wants us to be ashamed of our bodies, it s that God wants us to celebrate what he s created. We re created in His image, Howell said.

Howell has found children are actually more comfortable talking about sex with their church leaders than with their parents or teachers “ and the parents prefer it, too.

And the timing could not be better, organizers said. Current statistics show that 19 South Carolina teens give birth every single day; 26 percent of them were already teen parents.

With grandparents parenting and children having children when their bodies have not matured enough to handle the childbirth, Joens said the church can no longer remain silent because they are uncomfortable or because talking about sex is taboo.

Our churches have to have the courage to have this conversation, Joens said.

Look for more information about the curricula or about becoming a sex education trainer during Annual Conference, set for June 10-13 at the Florence Civic Center. Or contact Joens at [email protected] or 864-940-1893.

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