Sophia Lyon Fahs, born in 1876, was an innovator in Unitarian religious education. Her contribution was to focus on exploring big questions with her students rather than providing answers. And she felt that lived experience should be the source of their beliefs, rather than written scriptures. As she put it:
“My own children asked very interesting questions, like ‘Where does snow come from?’ and ‘Where are we before we are born?’ As I tried to answer them, I realized the limits of my knowledge. I came to believe that to have a strong faith, finding questions you really care about is just as important as finding answers.”
She once reported that “my class one day was discussing how old we were and when we really began. We traveled in imagination step by step back from our own birthdays to the time of our conception, then on to our parents’ birthdays, and to our grandparents’, and our great grandparents’ and so on, and on. We decided finally that something now within our bodies must have been living hundreds, thousands, millions of years ago. We could never get back to our own beginnings. We must then all be very, very, very old; or at least something within us must be billions of years old.”
In those days, most adults thought children’s minds were like empty jars to fill with learning. But Sophia Fahs thought children were more like gardens, already planted with seeds of possibility for learning and growth. She thought a teacher’s job is to provide the good soil and water and sunlight a garden needs to grow.
When she was 82, Sophia became an ordained Unitarian minister. Her own life was a great example of her belief that every person should continue to learn and grow, from the smallest child to the oldest adult. She lived to 102, and she never stopped learning new things.
[SUUF Member Paul Friedman continues to provide weekly articles for publication in the Red Rock News. This article – or a variation thereof – appeared in the Mar 31, 2023 issue]