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Principled Commitment: A Program for Unitarian Universalist Couples

A Tapestry of Faith Program for Adults

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Developed in response to Unitarian Universalist adults’ desire to build strong relationships and our congregations’ desire to meet that need, the eleven workshops of Principled Commitment provide avenues for growing in faith while nourishing committed partnership. Each workshop connects one of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations’ seven Principles with a broad principle, quality, or attribute that participants can cultivate in their relationship.

About the Author

Melanie J. Davis is an author, sex education consultant, and owner of Honest Exchange, LLC. She has been an Our Whole Lives facilitator for the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in <?XML:NAMESPACE PREFIX = ST1 />Somerset Hills, New Jersey, where she co-founded a health ministry service group and a sexually healthy congregation interest group. Melanie delivers lay services to UU congregations in the Metropolitan New York District. Melanie has a B.A. in mass communications and a minor in women’s studies from California State University, Hayward, and an M.Ed. in human sexuality education from Widener University, where she is a doctoral candidate in the same field. Melanie is an adjunct professor of human sexuality at Moravian College and is a founding member of the Consortium on Sexuality and Aging. She was named a 2007 Emerging Professional in Sexuality Education by the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality.

Stephanie Haymaker, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Oldwick, New Jersey. She is a partner at Oldwick Associates and is a consultant for the New Jersey Department of Labor. She maintains a general practice in addition to specializing in marital therapy, the assessment and treatment of eating disorders, psychotherapy with children and adolescents, and women’s issues. Prior to opening her private practice in 1996, Stephanie was senior psychologist at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. While there, she was responsible for training staff, psychology interns, and psychiatry residents, in addition to providing direct clinical services. She completed undergraduate work at New York University and received her M.S. and Ph.D. in clinical and health psychology from the University of Florida.

The Reverend Craig Hirshberg, M.Div., is a community minister in private practice specializing in teaching spiritual and contemplative practices and facilitating spiritual formation retreats. As a spiritual director she serves as an adjunct faculty for the Shalem Center for Spiritual Guidance in Washington, DC. For nine years she was parish minister at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Somerset Hills in Somerville, New Jersey, serving as its founding minister. She received her M.Div. from Drew Theological School in 1996, and her B.A. from Kent State University. Other formal study includes programs at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Guidance, the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, and New York University. Other professional experience includes positions in program development and international education for YMCAs in Ohio, California, and New York. As a trainer for the YMCA of the USA, Craig provided staff courses in cross-cultural communication, group work, program development, values education, and global education. Her “Global Education Workbook” includes 40 global education activities in the areas of interdependence and cross-cultural communication.

Richard Bellingham, Ed.D., is the CEO and founder of iobility, a New Jersey–based consulting firm that specializes in aligning people and organizations with a company’s mission, vision, and values. He has more than 25 years of experience working in the areas of ethical leadership, organizational learning, leadership development, team development, and business transformation. Richard has held executive positions within major corporations, including Senior Vice President, People and Culture, Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC); Vice President, Organizational Learning and Workforce Development, Genzyme Corporation; and Vice President, Leadership Development, Northern Telecom. Richard has written more than fifty publications and training guides on topics including ethical leadership, leadership myths and realities, corporate culture change, spiritual leadership, wellness, and corporate culture.


The developmental editors wish to express their heartfelt appreciation for the team of colleagues and consultants who helped bring this project to fruition: assistants Barbara Gifford and Rachael Brown, project manager Adrianne Ross, technology consultant Margy Levine Young, adult development consultant Marion Mason, Ph.D., Rev. Lynn Ungar, and others who reviewed the draft curriculum and provided insight.

Special thanks to the field-test leaders, religious professionals, and participants from the following congregations for their valuable contributions to this curriculum:

Unitarian Universalist Church of Long Beach, California; Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Santa Monica, California; Unitarian Society of New Haven, Connecticut; All Souls Church, Unitarian, Washington, DC; Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Lauderdale, Florida; The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Miami, Florida; Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Harford County, Churchville, Maryland; White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church, Mahtomedi, Minnesota; Eliot Chapel, St. Louis, Missouri; All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, Bellville, Ohio; First Jefferson Unitarian Universalist Church, Fort Worth, Texas; and the Michael Servetus Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Vancouver, Washington.

We gratefully acknowledge the use of the following material in Principled Commitment:

“The Guest House” in Workshop 1, Leader Resource 10, is by Rumi and translated by Coleman Barks. Copyright 1995 by Coleman Barks. Reprinted by permission of Coleman Barks.

Quotations from sermons on humility in Workshop 2, Leader Resource 2, are drawn from "Where the Awesome Meets the Familiar" by the Reverend Barbara Wells ten Hove (preached January 26, 2003, at All Souls Church, Unitarian, in Washington, DC) and “Be It Ever So Humble” by the Reverend Forrest Church (preached March 25, 2001, at Unitarian Church of All Souls in New York, New York).

“Nine Guidelines for Listening to Others” in Workshop 3, Handout 1, is adapted from The Sacred Art of Listening by Kay Lindahl. Copyright 2002 by Kay Lindahl. Reprinted by permission of Skylights Paths Publishing.

The Taking It Home activities in Workshop 3 are adapted from Practicing the Sacred Art of Listening by Kay Lindahl. Copyright 2003 by Kay Lindahl. Reprinted by permission of Skylights Paths Publishing.

Handout 2 in Workshop 10 is adapted from Our Whole Lives: Sexuality Education for Adults by Richard S. Kimball. Copyright 2000 by the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries. The graphic in Handout 2 is used with permission from Robert J. Sternberg.

The personal altar activity in Workshop 10 and the couple altar activity in Workshop 11 were created by Anne Principe, Credentialed Religious Educator.


Developed in response to Unitarian Universalist adults' desire to build strong relationships and our congregations' desire to meet that need, the eleven workshops of Principled Commitment provide avenues for growing in faith while nourishing committed partnership. Each workshop connects one of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations' seven Principles with a broad principle, quality, or attribute that participants can cultivate in their relationship.

To some, it may seem strange to connect our Principles with romantic partnership; to others, the connection may seem quite natural. In fact, the seven Principles that our congregations covenant to affirm and promote do not mention the word "love." Yet, in many ways, they are all about love. Imagine a love note based on the seven Principles:

I love you. I recognize your worth and dignity. I seek to create a just, equitable, and compassionate relationship with you. I accept you and encourage your spiritual growth and your free and responsible search for truth and meaning. I respect your conscience and its role in our decision-making process. And loving you makes me want to transform the world: to create peace, liberty, and justice; to really respect and recognize our interdependence with all existence.

In bringing together Unitarian Universalist values, relationship skills, covenanting, fellowship, and fun, this program offers participants the opportunity to build and enhance a principled commitment to one another.

As one in a series of Tapestry of Faith curricula for adults, Principled Commitment weaves Unitarian Universalist values, Principles, and Sources with four "strands": spiritual development, ethical development, Unitarian Universalist identity development, and faith development. Each of the strands is described below.

Spiritual Development. In the book Everyday Spiritual Practice, Scott Alexander defines spirituality as our relationship with the Spirit of Life, however we understand it to be. Our spirituality is our deep, reflective, and expressed response to the awe, wonder, joy, pain, and grief of being alive. In this sense, the Tapestry of Faith programs seek to form children, youth, and adults who:

  • Know that they are lovable beings of infinite worth, imbued with powers of the soul and obligated to use their gifts, talents, and potentials in the service of life
  • Appreciate the value of spiritual practice as a means of deepening faith and integrating beliefs and values with everyday life

Ethical Development. When we develop our ethics, we develop our moral values — our sense of what is right and wrong. We also enhance our ability to act on those values, overcoming oppressions and despair. In this sense, the Tapestry of Faith programs seek to form children, youth, and adults who:

  • Realize that they are moral agents, capable of making a difference in the lives of other people, challenging structures of social and political oppression, and promoting the health and well-being of the planet
  • Accept that they are responsible for the stewardship and creative transformation of their religious heritage and community of faith in the service of diversity, justice, and compassion

Unitarian Universalist Identity Development. A person's participation in a Unitarian Universalist congregation does not automatically create Unitarian Universalist identity. Personal identification with Unitarian Universalism begins when people start to call themselves Unitarian Universalist and feel part of a Unitarian Universalist congregation or community. Identity is strengthened as individuals discover and resonate with the stories, symbols, and practices of Unitarian Universalism. As individuals find and give acceptance, as they cherish the community's people and values and messages, as they find sustenance for their holy hungers, they grow into Unitarian Universalists. In this sense, the Tapestry of Faith programs seek to form children, youth, and adults who:

  • Affirm that they are part of a Unitarian Universalist religious heritage and community of faith that has value and provides resources for living
  • Recognize the need for community, affirming the importance of families, relationships, and connections between and among the generations
  • Accept that they are responsible for the stewardship and creative transformation of their religious heritage and community of faith in the service of diversity, justice, and compassion

Faith Development. When we develop in faith, we develop as meaning-makers. Faith is not about accepting impossible ideas. Rather, faith is about embracing life's possibilities, growing in our sense of being "at home in the universe." Faith is practiced in relationships with others — it has personal dimensions, but it is best supported by a community of shared symbols, stories, values, and meaning. This strand — faith development — emphasizes each person's religious journey as a participant in a faith community and faith tradition, and each person's lifelong process of bringing head, heart, and hands to what is of ultimate meaning and value.

Each of these strands is woven, to some degree, in each of the Principled Commitment workshops, even though their primary focus lifts up the Unitarian Universalist Identity Development and Ethical Development strands most often.

— Sarah Gibb Millspaugh, Developmental Editor, Unitarian Universalist Association Adult Programs Director

The Program

In this generous world, love will come our way now and then. But if we do not plant the love that we have in the firm soil of living relationship, we may be in danger of supposing that it will grow on its own, without our nurture or our small acts of concern. Therefore, let us tend to our small plots, that this harvest may flourish, enough to share not only with our neighbors, but with our enemies as well.

— Jake Bohstedt Morrill, contemporary Unitarian Universalist minister

Principled Commitment is a flexible, 22-hour program that can be tailored to a group's needs. The 11 two-hour workshops offer information, facilitated discussions, and in-class and take-home activities. Discussions help participants explore their own ideas and learn from others' perspectives. Activities are designed to enhance interaction between partners and among members of the larger group.

Principled Commitment is appropriate for adult couples seeking to enhance their committed, healthy, long-term relationships. The workshops are designed primarily for couples of all sexual orientations who have made vows or pledged to spend their lives together. It is not designed for couples considering engagement, though engaged couples may find the course valuable. This workshop series does not provide couples therapy; couples with serious relationship issues should speak to their minister or another counseling professional.

The mission of Principled Commitment is to enhance and support long-term, committed relationships that reflect the values of Unitarian Universalism. Unitarian Universalist congregations can provide a nurturing environment for interpersonal relationships, and our Principles provide an excellent framework to support and enrich marriages and other blessed unions between loving partners.

Principled Commitment seeks to deepen participants' ethical, spiritual, faith, and Unitarian Universalist identity development. This is accomplished through the theme and activities of each workshop.


Participants will:

  • Nurture the health of their relationships
  • Learn skills to build and strengthen healthy relationships
  • Benefit from the wisdom and experience of other participants
  • Interact and communicate more effectively with their partners
  • Strengthen their Unitarian Universalist identity

Congregations will:

  • Be resources for couples' enrichment
  • Experience stronger interpersonal bonds among members
  • Gain opportunities for community outreach


Effective co-leaders are essential to the success of the Principled Commitment program. Leaders will present information while helping participants discover and express their own ideas and answers. They may be laypersons or clergy, and neither experience in facilitation nor expertise in relationships is necessary. Congregations are encouraged to select leaders of different genders so that participants benefit from varied perspectives.

Leaders will be most effective if they have the following strengths:

  • Respect for individuals, regardless of race, religion, ability, sexual identity or orientation, or type of relationship in which they are engaged
  • Ability to create a supportive group environment
  • Appreciation of the lay ministry opportunities afforded by the program
  • Time and willingness to prepare thoroughly for each workshop and to take appropriate action in the event of unexpected cancellations
  • Ability and commitment to maintaining the curriculum's focus on healthy relationships
  • Commitment to Unitarian Universalist Principles and to the faith component of this curriculum
  • Confidence to be comfortable speaking to a group of adults
  • Willingness to support healthy group process by reinforcing ground rules politely and confidently


This program is best suited to groups of four to ten couples, or a maximum of 20 participants.

Committed couples of all sexual orientations are welcome to participate. Those who have made vows or pledged to spend their lives together will find the workshops most suited to them. Participants should be made aware that the workshops are designed to enhance healthy relationships, not to "fix" troubled ones.

Integrating All Participants

People of all ages have a range of abilities and disabilities. Adults become more and more likely to live with disability as they age. The sample registration form (Leader Resource 2 in Workshop 1) asks individual participants to identify any particular disability-related accommodations they will need. Principled Commitment provides leaders with resources for responding to some of the most common needs: Workshop 1, Leader Resource 5, for including people who are hard of hearing and who are deaf, Workshop 1, Leader Resource 6, for including people with low vision and who are blind, and Workshop 1, Leader Resource 7, for including people with limited mobility, including those in wheelchairs. The Unitarian Universalist Association's website and staff can offer guidance for inclusion of people with other disabilities. Consult the Accessibility section of the UUA website. In addition, some activities contain specific accessibilities guidance under the heading "Including All Participants."

Downloading the Document

You can download this program, save it on your computer, edit it, and print it. Or, you can download individual sessions or workshops.

About the Authors

Craig Hirshberg

Melanie Davis

Richard Bellingham

Stephanie Haymaker

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