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Wayside UCC leader on national UCC OWL staff

Through her work as youth director at Wayside UCC in Federal Way, Amy Johnson herd about the Our Whole Lives faith-based sexuality training for all ages.  She started using it at church and found it “transforming.”

Amy Johnson commissioned at Wayside as minister for sexuality education with the UCC.         Photo courtesy of Amy Johnson

“Youth and parents were excited to have sex education from trusted adults with faith values,” she said. “It brings together youth and families, has a social justice component, as well as the faith piece.”

She and Eric, her husband of 30 years, have been teaching it at Wayside since 2006. Amy and Eric have two sons, one works in Seattle with an online company and one is in Belize with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.

Amy grew up primarily in Illinois, daughter and granddaughter of progressive Presbyterian pastors.  After earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1982 and a master’s in social work in 1984 at the University of Illinois Champlain-Urbana, she moved to Seattle.

She worked with a youth agency, a mental health agency and as a school social worker. She owns Vigilant Joy, her own business on sexuality education and consulting. 

She and Eric, who grew up in Eagle Harbor UCC on Bainbridge Island, tried several Presbyterian churches and began attending Wayside in 1988.

In 2014, she began working on contract with the UCC to provide leadership for OWL trainings.  OWL comes under the national Justice and Witness Ministries Team.  She has been a part-time employee for a year promoting OWL at General Synod, the National Youth  Event and throughout the United States and Canada. 

She was recently commissioned to that role at Wayside.

Her job is to help oversee trainings in the U.S. and Canada, making sure trainers are eligible and have had background checks. 

She works with her counterpart in the Unitarian Universalist Association to promote the program, oversee changes in the curricula, which offers six levels of Our Whole Lives training.

The UCC and Unitarian Universalist Association established an official partnership in the summer.  They have 120 trainers in North America.

“The curriculum is the gold standard in sexuality training in the U.S., with age appropriate courses from kindergarten to adults to older adults.

In sync with the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, OWL offers guidelines on human sexuality appropriate for different ages.

In grade school, values are respect, relationship and responsibility. Children ages four to six learn about their bodies, families, safety and birth.

Fourth to sixth graders learn about puberty, gender, orientation, lovemaking, reproduction, health, safety, decision-making and communication.

Values for seventh graders through adults are self-worth, sexual health, responsibility, justice and inclusivity. 

Seventh to ninth graders focus on language, body image, gender, attraction, decision-making, consent, contraception and risk reduction; 10th and 12th graders learn about power, harassment, sexuality and social issues, parenting, disabilities and relationships.

Young adult sessions focus on mind, body, pleasure, health, gender, orientation, communication, relationships, family and advocacy. 

Older adults learn about values, communication, health, relationships, diversity, family and aging.

Amy said the curricula, rather than being an “information dump” encourages doing activities to process learnings.  Students look at scenarios, reflect on consequences of actions and think about them.

“OWL looks at sexuality so it can be a healthy, sacred and positive aspect of life,” she said. “We talk about abstinence as well as how to be safe if they are sexually active.

“It’s an amazing ministry that is life saving and life giving, relevant for all ages, and understanding of what Scriptures say,” she said.

It helps participants address bullying, media messages, pornography, healthy relationships, ending relationships and life skills.

The UCC’s guiding principles on sexuality education include understanding that regardless of sexual orientation, gender or age, and regardless of whether people are partnered, single, celibate, widowed, divorced, able-bodied of physically disabled, sexual responses begin in the womb, include sexual feelings and are part of human experiences until death, said Amy.

“Sexuality is a God-given gift to enhance human wholeness and fulfillment, to express love, commitment, delight and pleasure, to bring new life into the world and to give glory to God,” she quoted the guidelines.

For information, call 253-653-2786 or email


Pacific Northwest United Church of Christ News © November-December 2016


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