2nd 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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SECOND VISIT: A progressive faith community

Logistics and advance planning:
— arrange visit to First Congregational Church (UCC) Palo Alto on Oct. 14

Session 5: Representing UUism in other faith communities
Session 6: What makes a religious progressive?
Session 7: Visiting a UCC church (alternate years: Quaker meeting)
Session 8: Talking about the field trip


 

Session 5: Representing UUism in other faith communities

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. Representing Unitarian Universalism in other faith communities

On a flip chart, come up with some answers to this question:
“What’s a common misconception about Unitarian Universalism?”

Now, on a new sheet of flip chart paper, come up with some answers to this question:
“What’s something you wish other people knew about Unitarian Universalism?”

After you have the young people answer these questions, write the following on the flip chart (or if it’s already listed, circle it):
“Unitarian Universalists want to make the world a better place.”
For most Unitarian Universalists, the is the most important thing that they want other people to know about us — especially other faith communities. We Unitarian Universalists have different beliefs about God, about what happens after death, etc., but ALL of us believe it is important to make the world a better place.

Now write the following on the flip chart (or if it’s already listed, circle it):
“Unitarian Universalists value a sense of community.”
One thing that almost every Unitarian Universalist agrees on is that our congregations should be places where we feel welcome and at home. (Even if you think your congregation is not very welcoming to you, or you don’t feel at home there, most UUs would say that their congregation SHOULD welcome them, they SHOULD feel at home there.) So this is another thing we feel is super important, an essential part of Unitarian Universalism.

Invite any conversation on this general topic.

OK, now it’s time to sum things up. When we go on visits to other faith communities, we are mostly going to learn about that faith community. But when we visit, people in that other faith community might be curious about UUs as well. Remember that the Neighboring Faith Communities class can serve as good will ambassadors to other faith communities — and that UUs are always looking for allies as we try to make the world a better place. With that in mind, when someone asks you about Unitarian Universalism, maybe the first thing you can say is, “We work to make the world a better place.”

D. Bonding games and fun

We have found that it’s good to break up this course with occasional sessions where we play games or do group-building initiatives. So this session, do some games and activities to help improve group cohesion. You can find suggestions for games here. (Other sources include Project Adventure books.)

E. 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 6: What makes a religious progressive?

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. Videos about the United Church of Christ

A key issue facing religions in the United States today is how to deal with transgender rights. Religious conservatives want to promote the idea that you must stick with the gender you are born with. But religious progressives — including groups like the United Church of Christ, the Quakers, etc. — believe that their faith community should welcome and celebrate transgender people. Here’s a short (1:42) video from a United Church of Christ congregation in Ohio, about how they recognize Transgender Day of Remembrance:

And in this video, a member of a UCC church in Raleigh, North Carolina, tells what’s important for him in his church: community, and social action:

D. Religious progressive faith communities — 5 min.

On a flip chart, write:
“Some values that progressive faith communities share:
“Helping those who are poor
“Ending gun violence
“Protecting the environment
“BGLTQ rights
“Black Lives Matter…”
Ask the young people if they can think of other things religious progressives might agree on. Some of the things they may think of include: immigration reform, ending homelessness, preventing war, ending gun violence, equal pay for women, help for low-wage workers, etc. HOWEVER, while Unitarian Universalists and the United Church of Christ both support abortion rights and trnasgender rights, not all religious progressives do.

Now write:
“Some things progressive faith communities disagree about:
“Belief in God
“Importance of Jesus
“Whether to have paid clergy (ministers, rabbis)…”
Ask the young people if they can think of other things religious progressives disagree about. There are religious progressives who are Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, and Baha’i, so there are going to be LOTS of points of disagreement.

Now write:
“Religious progressive faith communities make good social justice partners for us UUs.”
In other words, we may disagree about many things, but we can find issues where we can work together to make the world a better place.

E. Preparing for the visit to a United Church of Christ congregation:

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.

Dress code:
Where and how we will be expected to sit/stand/etc.
What we will be expected to do

We also help the young people strategize about how they will behave in the case of longer periods of prayer and quiet. 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.

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.

Leader resource: Religious progressives

In terms of religion, religious progressives are more likely to question tradition (they may also embrace trdition, but use it creatively). In terms of social commitments, religious progressives tend to value human diversity, care for the poor and oppressed, and environmental stewardship. Some religious progressives do not separate certain religious stances from the associated political stance. For example, Quakers are pacifists by religious conviction, and carry out their pacifism as political action and social justice work. Thus, for religious progressives it is often not possible to separate out the religious from social justice work.

Faith communities where you are likely to find an overwhelming proportion of religious progressives include:
— most Unitarian Universalists
— most United Church of Christ congregations
— most Quakers affiliated with Friends General Conference (mostly silent meetings)
— most Reform and Reconstructionist Jewish congregations

Religious progressives may also be found in significant numbers within many other denominations and faith communities, such as:
— Progressives within many Protestant denominations, including Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Baptists (particularly the American Baptist Churches, or ABC), Disciples of Christ, Lutherans, etc.
— many Baha’is
— some Buddhist groups, including so-called “engaged Buddhists”
—- etc.

For Protestant Christian congregations, there are certain markers you can look for to identify more progressive congregations. Wording like “open and affirming” or flying a rainbow flag typically means a congregation that supports of BGLTQ rights, and perhaps transgender rights. Phrases like “Green Christianity” and “environmental stewardship” typically indicate congregations supportive of environmental protections; etc.

Then there are religious groups where progressives do exist, though they may be a distinct minority, including the following:
— Progressive Catholics, while a minority in the United States, include individuals who are more progressive on social issues than many Unitarian Universalists, including supporting radical equality for women, support for same sex marriage, and radical economic reform to help the poor and oppressed.
— Some evangelical Christians, particularly younger people, support women’s rights, BGLTQ rights, and environmental stewardship (which they may call “Creation care”). Some of these evangelicals may prefer not to use the term “social justice.”
— Some Muslims are progressive on a variety of religious and political points.
— Some Orthodox Jews, particularly younger people, support women’s rights, BGLTQ rights, and environmental stewardship.
— Some Mormons, particularly younger people, support women’s rights, BGLTQ rights, and environmental stewardship.

Therefore, we can’t assume that just because someone belongs to a certain faith community that they will or will not be progressives. At the same time, we can’t assume that just because someone belongs to a progressive religion that they will share the same social justice commitments you and I do — and this includes Unitarian Universalists (not all of whom are religious progressives!).

All this is a powerful argument for avoiding stereotypes of any kind when it comes to religion. And this is also a powerful argument that religion is far more diverse than we generally like to think!


 

Session 7: Visiting First Congregational Church (UCC) of Palo Alto

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 8: Talking about the field trip

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 at least 5 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. More about sharing social justice work with UCC religious progressives

Watch the following brief video:

Questions:
The UCC video quotes the Bible as justification for immigrant rights, BGLTQ rights, the rights of people in prison, etc. Can Unitarian Universalists quote the Bible to support these rights? Should Unitarian Universalists quote the Bible to support these rights? What other sources can Unitarian Universalists quote to support these rights?

E. Writing a thank you note

Write a thank you note to the field trip site and/or the host who greeted you, have everyone 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