1st visit

Neighboring Faith Communities
A curriculum for grades 6-8
Compiled by Dan Harper, v. 0.9
Copyright (c) Dan Harper 2014-2018

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FIRST VISIT: Another UU congregation

Logistics and advance planning:
— arrange visit to First Unitarian Church in San Jose on Sept. 23

Session 1: Intro to the course
Session 2: What makes a UU? Visiting another UU congregation
Session 3: Visiting First Unitarian in San Jose (alternate years: Redwood City UU Fellowship)
Session 4: Talking about the field trip


 

Session 1: Intro to the course

A. Take attendance, light the chalice — 5 min.

Each week a different young person can light the chalice. Then say the standard chalice lighting words for our congregation.

B. Check in — 10 min.

For check-in, there are three jars of water on the table: one labeled with a happy face, one labeled with a sad face, and one labeled with a question mark. Everyone gets three marbles to drop in the jars. Before you drop your marbles in the jars, say your name. When you drop a marble in the jar with a happy face, you can say something good that happened to you in the past week: “I’m happy because….” When you drop a marble in the jar with the sad face, you can say something bad that happened in the past week: “I’m sad because….” And when you drop a marble in the jar with the question mark you can say something that you wonder about: “I wonder….”

C. Bonding games

In this first class, play some games so participants can learn each other’s names (including the names of the teachers!), and so that they can feel more comfortable together as a group. You can find suggestions for games here.

D. Overview of the course: UU good will ambassadors

Say something like this:

“In this course, we’ll be visiting different faith communities that are near our own congregation. Our first visit will be to another Unitarian Universalist congregation — that’s an easy visit, because we know we’ll be welcome, and we know they won’t be too much different from us. After that, we’ll be visiting faith communities where we have less in common. In some cases, we may disagree with most of the beliefs and rituals of the other faith community.

“When we make these visits, here’s something we should keep in mind. The most important thing for us Unitarian Universalists is NOT belief or ritual, the most important thing for us is making the world a better place.

“Even though we may not agree with the beliefs and rituals of many faith communities, most faith communities are doing things to make the world a better place. So we have to ask ourselves — how can we work with other faith communities to make the world a better place? Our congregation already works with other faith communities on making the world a better place. We are part of Hotel de Zink, a homeless shelter that stays for a month at a time in 12 different churches and faith communities over the course of a year. We are part of Multifaith Voices for Peace and Justice, a group that, among other things, supports immigration rights and wants to end warfare. We are part of Peninsula Interfaith Action, a group that works for affordable housing, better schools, and safer communities….”

E. A guide to visiting nearby faith communities

The following video gives an introduction to this class:

Some questions to talk about:

— Which kind of building do you prefer, a simple building or a building with a lot of decorations? How about our own building—do you think it is more on the simple end the scale, or more on the highly decorated end?
— What do you think about the clothing you saw people wearing in this video? What about our own congregation—do people dress up, or dress down? And why do we dress the way we do?
— When you visit other faith communities, do you expect to hear a wide variety of types of music? In our own congregation, of the different kinds of music that you hear, which do you prefer?

F. Bonding game

If there’s time, play another bonding game!

G. Closing circle

Stand in a circle. Hold hands. Go around the circle, and everyone says one thing they learned today. Then everyone says the unison benediction together:

Go out into the world in peace
Be of good courage
Hold fast to what is good
Return no one evil for evil
Strengthen the fainthearted
Support the weak
Help the suffering
Rejoice in beauty
Speak love with word and deed
Honor all beings.

(The classroom has this posted in 4 of the languages used in our congregation: English, Spanish, German, and Hindi. Participants may say the unison benediction in any of the four languages.)


 

Session 2: What makes a UU? Visiting another UU congregation

A. Take attendance, light the chalice — 5 min.

Each week a different young person can light the chalice. Then say the standard chalice lighting words for our congregation.

B. Check in — 10 min.

For check-in, there are three jars of water on the table: one labeled with a happy face, one labeled with a sad face, and one labeled with a question mark. Everyone gets three marbles to drop in the jars. Before you drop your marbles in the jars, say your name. When you drop a marble in the jar with a happy face, you can say something good that happened to you in the past week: “I’m happy because….” When you drop a marble in the jar with the sad face, you can say something bad that happened in the past week: “I’m sad because….” And when you drop a marble in the jar with the question mark you can say something that you wonder about: “I wonder….”

C. Video: What we look like to others

What do UU congregations look like to someone who isn’t a Unitarian Universalist? Here’s a video by an atheist who attended a UU church in Oklahoma, and did a review of what he experienced:

D. What’s most important in a Unitarian Universalist worship service?

What do you think is most important in a Unitarian Universalist worship service? Participants get to vote on what’s most important in a UU worship service. Write the following items on a flip chart:

Listening to music
Lighting a chalice
Quiet time for meditation or prayer
Singing songs together
Listening to a sermon
Coffee and snacks
Friendly people
[ask if anyone wants to add to the list…]

“Now we’re going to vote on each of these things. What are the two most important things on this list — two things that you MUST have in a UU worship service? Take a moment of quiet to think about it — and decide which is MOST important, and which is second-most important for you….”

After a moment of quiet, go down the list, item by item, asking who thinks that item is most important — for each person who thinks an item is most important, put 3 check marks beside that item.

Next, go down the list, item by item, asking who thinks that item is second most important — for each person who thinks an item is second most important, put 2 check marks beside that item.

Finally, a last chance vote — go around the room, and each participant can add one more check mark to any item.

“Let’s look at the list. We’re going to visit another UU congregation next week. Do you expect they will have the things we voted on as most important?”

E. Preparing for the visit:

To prepare for a visit, the teachers should read over the relevant section in How To Be a Perfect Stranger. In particular, they should identify things that the young people will need to know. We try especially to let the young people know:
— what the dress code will be;
— where and how they will be expected to sit (in pews in mainline Protestant churches; on the floor in a Sikh gurdwara; stand the whole time in a Russian Orthodox church; girls separate from boys in an Orthodox Jewish temple; etc.)
— what, if anything, they will be expected to do (take or not take communion in Christian churches; eat the pudding in a Sikh gurdwara; sing, pray, genuflect, etc.)

Even when visiting another Unitarian Universalist congregation, we’ll follow these principles. So to get in this habit, look up Unitarian Universalism in How To Be a Perfect Stranger and see what’s expected.

We also help the young people strategize about how they will behave in the case of longer periods of quiet meditation (e.g., at a Quaker meeting, at a Unity Church). And we talk about how they should behave during the social hour afterwards (e.g., don’t grab too much food, wait until others have eaten, etc.). Sometimes, it can be useful to look at a faith community’s Web site, to see if they have video snippets of services to see how people are behaving, photos showing what people are wearing, etc.

In the case of a worship service at another Unitarian Universalist congregation, what are going to be the difficult parts? Sitting still for the entire sermon, maybe? What about this: is it OK to say something during “Joys and Concerns” if you’re just visiting? And how much money (if any) should you put in the collection basket? Anything else you can think of?

F. Closing circle

Stand in a circle. Hold hands. Go around the circle, and everyone says one thing they learned today. Then everyone says the unison benediction together:

Go out into the world in peace
Be of good courage
Hold fast to what is good
Return no one evil for evil
Strengthen the fainthearted
Support the weak
Help the suffering
Rejoice in beauty
Speak love with word and deed
Honor all beings.


 

Session 3: Visiting another UU congregation

As families arrive on the morning of the visit, one teacher checks in each young person, and makes sure they have a signed permission form (unless their parent is going on the trip). The other teacher engages the class in conversation about what they might expect, and what to look for when they arrive at the place they’re going to visit. All this may happen in the parking lot, depending on your schedule. However, if there’s time, go in to the classroom and light a flaming chalice and do check-in. This helps center everyone.

Then split up into cars, and drive to the place you’re visiting. Plan to arrive so that you have time to park, and so that you will have at least ten minutes from the time you set foot on the doorstep to the beginning of the service. Ideally, you will have made a contact at the site you’re visiting, and they will welcome you; if so, you should arrive at the time they ask.

After the service is over, attend the social hour (if there is one) for 10-20 minutes. Then back into the cars, and head back to the parking lot for parent pick-up.

 


Session 4: Talking about the field trip

This session is a chance to talk about differences and similarities between Unitarian Universalist congregations.

A. Take attendance, light the chalice — 5 min.

Each week a different young person can light the chalice. Then say the standard chalice lighting words for our congregation.

B. Check in — 10 min.

For check-in, there are three jars of water on the table: one labeled with a happy face, one labeled with a sad face, and one labeled with a question mark. Everyone gets three marbles to drop in the jars. Before you drop your marbles in the jars, say your name. When you drop a marble in the jar with a happy face, you can say something good that happened to you in the past week: “I’m happy because….” When you drop a marble in the jar with the sad face, you can say something bad that happened in the past week: “I’m sad because….” And when you drop a marble in the jar with the question mark you can say something that you wonder about: “I wonder….”

C. Processing the field trip experience: “What, so what, now what”:

i. “What happened?”: 5-10 minutes

Teachers prompt the young people to collectively give a narrative account of what happened on the trip: What happened when we arrived, what did you see and hear? What happened next? And next? What people did you meet? Etc. (If there are young people or teachers who did not attend the field trip last session, this is a chance to tell them what happened on the trip, in some detail.)

ii. “What was important?”: 5-10 minutes

This is based on the classroom poster.

— Feelings:
Stand up if this is how you felt at any time during the service:
Peaceful
Excited
Hopeful
Worried
Cheerful
Sad
Comfortable
Uncomfortable
…any other feelings?

— Music and arts:
Values voting: think about the music used in the service (and describe the music to anyone who did not go on the field trip). “If you really liked the music, go to this side of the room [point], if you really didn’t like it go to the other side, or you can stand somewhere in the middle.” Then ask people at the extremes and/or in the middle to what the music made them feel like.

— Social norms:
Free-for-all discussion: Who was the most important person (or people) in this service? Could you tell who was in charge of the faith community? Who was friends with whom — were there cliques, could you see an in-group and an out-group, or did everyone seem to get along with everyone?

— Polite & impolite:
Brainstorming: On a flip chart, make 2 horizontal headings: Clothing; Behavior. Starting with clothing, brainstorm a list of what people were wearing — what was the most common thing to wear (for males, for females, any other genders)? Next go to behavior, and brainstorm a list of things you could and couldn’t do in the service, and at social hour. Finally, see if you can think of anything else that was considered polite or impolite.

iii. “Now what?”: 2-3 minutes

Imagine our congregation wanted to work on a social justice project with the field trip site. List the top 2 or 3 social justice projects you think we might possibly cooperate on. Then, how would we reach out to them (whom would we contact, how formal would we have to be, etc.)?

D. What’s most important in a UU worship service?

On a flip chart, have participants help you list all the different parts of a Unitarian Universalist worship service. Help the participants out, and make sure all the following elements of UU worship services get on your list:

prelude (opening music)
opening words
lighting a flaming chalice
time for silent meditation
time for prayer
joys and concerns [also known as caring and sharing, joys and sorrows, etc.]
songs or hymns everyone sings
song sung by a choir
readings
taking an offering
music during the offering
sermon
closing words
postlude (closing music)

OK, now make two columns to the left of the list you’ve created; these are columns for recording votes in. Title the first column “Most important to YOU” and the second column is titled “Not a real service without it.”

First have participants vote on which of these things is MOST IMPORTANT TO THEM PERSONALLY — each person gets one vote, and for each first-place vote record 3 points. Next have participants vote on the SECOND MOST IMPORTANT THING TO THEM PERSONALLY — each person gets one vote, and for each second-place vote record 2 points. (If you want, you can go on to third place; if you do, each third-place vote gets 1 point.) Add up the points for each worship service element, and see which one gets the highest total. Any discussion?

Now in the second column you’re going to record votes for “It’s not a real service without this”; in other words, this is something that MUST be included in every Unitarian Universalist worship service. Everyone gets one vote per item; you can vote for as many items as you think are essential for UU worship services. Go down the list and ask for votes. Feel free to stir up dissension by pointing out that there are special services that may not have certain of these elements — for example, not every service has joys and concerns (e.g., Christmas Eve); some services may not have a sermon, and so on. You can also stir up dissension by questioning whether we REALLY have to have certain things — can we do without music? can we do without hymns or songs sung by everyone? etc.

You’re not supposed to come up with any final answers in this exercise!

As a final point, you can say that there can be a lot of variation in Unitarian Univeralist worship services. King’s Chapel in Boston, a Unitarian Universalist church, has communion every week. There are some UU congregations that do not light a flaming chalice. In some UU congregations, they don’t have a sermon at all; instead they have what they call an address or a talk. And so on. In short, one of the more interesting things about Unitarian Universalism is that we don’t all exactly the same thing in worship services.

E. Writing a thank you note

Write a thank you note to the site, and/or to the host who greeted you. Have everyone in class sign it.

F. Closing circle

Stand in a circle. Hold hands. Go around the circle, and everyone says one thing they learned today. Then everyone says the unison benediction together:

Go out into the world in peace
Be of good courage
Hold fast to what is good
Return no one evil for evil
Strengthen the fainthearted
Support the weak
Help the suffering
Rejoice in beauty
Speak love with word and deed
Honor all beings.

 

Curriculum for Unitarian Universalist congregations