Neighboring Faith Communities: A Process Guide
A curriculum for grades 6-8
Compiled by Dan Harper, v. 0.9
Copyright (c) 2014-2018 Dan Harper
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This material appeared in earlier versions of this curriculum, where there no scripted lesson plans. It’s included here to help teachers who may want to modify the curriculum as written.
A. If you aren’t going to use the scripted lesson plans at all:
1. At the first class meeting, do basic group-building exercises.
Then show the introductory video:
Now ask the young people to help you brainstorm a list of other faith communities they would like to visit. Most items on the list will probably be fairly broad and generic, such as “Buddhist” or “Muslim.” Sometimes class members will brainstorm ideas that are somewhat more specific, such as “that temple down the street from us,” or “that church we visited last year with friendly people and good snacks.” More rarely, a class participant will mention a faith community by name. Teachers should have a good list of faith communities that they (a) want to visit, and (b) know it will be practical to visit.
2. During the following week, the teachers develop a more specific list of faith communities based on this brainstormed list, using Internet search engines to come up with possible visits. E.g., if the class came up with the idea of visiting a Buddhist faith community, the teachers will track down nearby Buddhist temples and churches.
Alternatively, the teachers may simply generate a list of prospective visits that they then present to the class. This may often be a better alternative, especially when the class simply does not know much about the other faith communities that are in the immediate area, or where the class can only think of returning to those faith communities they went to the previous year (especially the ones with good snacks).
Most classes will be able to schedule about 4-6 visits in a typical congregational year. We want the young people to be able to vote on which visits they would like to make, and we would like to have several back-up possibilities in case it proves impossible to schedule a visit to a preferred faith community. Therefore, the teachers will want to generate a list of about 12 specific faith communities that meet on Sunday mornings and are within reasonable driving distance.
We have found that the young people need information about each of the dozen faith communities in order to be able to make a good decision on where to visit. So we have tried to come up with a one- or two-sentence description of each faith community, telling why we might want to visit that faith community. One way to do this is to make a handout of the list to distribute in class.
When generating the list, it makes sense to try to come up with a mix that includes some or all of the following:
— nearby UU congregations
— nearby liberal congregations (Quakers, UCC churches, etc.)
— mainline Protestant Christian churches, and Reform or Conservative Jewish congregations
— other nearby Christian churches, showing some of the wild diversity of Christianity
— non-Western religions
Be sure to choose nearby faith communities. You want to make sure you don’t have to drive long distances for most of the field trips.
3. Always go to another Unitarian Universalist congregation for the first visit. In Palo Alto, there are a limited number of nearby Unitarian Universalist congregations that we can realistically drive to on a Sunday morning, so simply decide which one to go to — preferably not the same one as last year.
4. Schedule the visits. YOU MUST GIVE PARENTS AT LEAST A MONTH ADVANCE NOTICE OF TRIPS. Parents tell us they prefer to have the dates of all the trips at the beginning of the school year — this is probably the best way to ensure high participation.
It works best if one person can do all the work of scheduling the visits. THIS IS A MAJOR TIME COMMITMENT, AND IT IS BEST TO HAVE SOMEONE WHO IS NOT TEACHING DO THIS. Such a person should be very organized, and they should have excellent social skills since they will representing your UU congregation when they contact other faith communities.
When scheduling the visits, we have found that it works best for the young people if we begin with one or two visits to faith communities that are culturally more familiar. Start with a visit to another UU congregation because we can focus on the logistics of making a field trip without having to worry about dress codes, language barriers, radically different values, etc. Ideally, the second visit will be to a Christian or Jewish faith community that is somewhat similar to our congregations, e.g., a UCC church, a Quaker meeting, a mainline Protestant church, a liberal Jewish temple, etc. Then we save the more challenging visits for later in the year — so it’s best if the visit to the Vietnamese Buddhist temple where the whole service is in Vietnamese comes later in the year.
5. Logistics and arranging visits. Read the lesson plans in the main curriculum to get a sense of how to arrange the visits.
Visiting the nearby UU congregation is pretty easy — someone just has to email the minister and/or the Director of Religious Education, and say we will be attending the service on such-and-such a Sunday. Ditto for most liberal congregations, and most mainline Protestant churches. It’s OK to just show up.
The other visits can be more complicated. It is wise to contact someone in advance, to make sure the faith community is OK with us visiting, and to make sure that we are coming on a day that works well for that faith community. More than once, we have discovered that we would not be exactly welcomed a given faith community, because they don’t return our emails or calls, or they keep putting us off, or they sound very ambivalent about us. When that happens, we tell the young people that that visit is not going to work out — and then we might talk a little bit about why some faith communities might not want us to visit them. We also have to make sure that we really can schedule a visit — if the service lasts 3-4 hours, will it be OK for us to arrive late or leave early?
It cannot be emphasized enough that the purpose of these visits is NOT to tell other faith communities how much better Unitarian Universalism is than their religion. The purpose of these visits is NOT to enforce our own beliefs on others. Thus, we are NOT going to harangue another faith community on the second-class status of women in their community, and we are NOT going to challenge members of another faith community because they are not welcoming to BGLQT persons. And we ARE going to conform to standards of dress and behavior expected in other congregations; and if someone feels they cannot conform to another faith community’s standards, they should avoid going on that visit.
B. Writing lesson plans to orient teens before field trips
The young people need to be oriented before the visit; they need accurate and unbiased information about the faith community they are going to visit. Look at the scripted lesson plans in this curriculum to get an idea of how to write your own.
You should use online resources, such as videos and photo collections, to show the teens music, lively arts, art, and architecture associated with that religious tradition, thus engaging them in the emotional and material dimensions of the religious tradition — there is a curated list of such resources here.
C. Other class sessions
Other class sessions have included the following:
1. Games and fun: It is good to have periodic classes devoted to group bonding and fun. Play games and have some group initiatives for team building. You can find a collection of games online here. Or consult books like The New Games Book for games, the Project Adventure books for initiatives and group problem-solving activities, etc.
2. Guest speakers: One year, early in the year, we had a guest come talk to us about feminism, and how important feminism is for Unitarian Universalists. This helped set the stage for understanding other faith communities we visited: how did a given faith community treat males and females? Were males and females equal, or were men given higher status than women?
3. Related topics: Sometimes topics of interest arise in the course of making visits. One year, the young people got very curious about Mormonism. Based on the young people’s questions, the teachers researched and prepared a short presentation on the Mormons, which led to a fascinating discussion. That discussion in turn led to a class session talking about Jehovah’s Witnesses, another Restorationist Christian group.
Note that in some cases you will not be able to schedule visits to a faith community, perhaps because they meet at an inconvenient time, perhaps because they are so small they would not welcome you, or perhaps for other reasons. In such cases, you can devote a class session to these faith communities. Remember, though, to emphasize:
— the emotional dimension of religion
— the material dimension of religion
— the social dimension of religion
Use these concepts when you create your lesson plan.
Sometimes we have also brought in a visitor, an adherent of that faith tradition, to talk with the teens, thus engaging them (a little) in the social dimension of the tradition.