Leader Resource 3: Church's Theology in the Congregation
This is a 30-minute activity.
- Handout 2, Forrest Church's Theology
- Newsprint, markers, and tape
- If you have not already done so, copy Handout 2 for all participants.
Write on newsprint and post:
- Do Church's definition and his very use of the word "holy" make sense to you as a way to reflect upon your own personal experiences of awe and humility, or those of others who have experienced such feelings as a positive state?
Distribute Handout 2 and invite participants to read (or review) it. Explain and summarize the ways in which Church draws from Unitarian and Universalist theological roots, using these or similar words:
Church calls upon us to look through our own theological Unitarian Universalist windowpanes. Tell them that according to Church, traditional Unitarianism posited a single God. Traditional Universalism offered the promise of a shared salvation. Universalism as well as the mystical Unitarianism of Transcendentalists like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Margaret Fuller, Church insists, gave us an inclusive faith. For Church, awe and humility become the principal handmaidens of Universalism as a religious tradition inclusive of theological differences. Birth and death become the sacraments that unite us all in the shared mystery of life. And the surest way to find the sacred, Church insists, is to decode our own experiences—the beauty and the pain: "We all suffer. We are broken and in need of healing... Illumination shines from heart to heart. We discover the healing and saving power of the holy within the ordinary.
Invite participants to define in their own words what Church meant by the term "holy," writing their definition in their journals. Explain that they are not being asked to agree with him, but rather to state his claim in their own words. Allow five minutes for participants to reflect and write.
When time is up, invite participants to move into groups of three and read what they each think Church means when he uses the term "holy." Next invite them to reflect on their various definitions and establish how each of these definitions are linked back (for Church) to the emotional experience of awe and/or humility. Allow ten minutes for sharing.
Ask participants to remain in their small groups and consider, in silence, the question you have posted on newsprint and respond briefly in their journals—ideally, with a single sentence. Allow three minutes for reflection and writing. Then invite participants to share their sentence with the other members of their small group.
Re-gather the large group. Invite participants to share personal and small group insights about Church's use of the term "holy" and whether it makes personal sense to them to link this term to their own personal experiences of awe and humility as positive experiences. Ask: Is Church's idea of the "holy" reflected in the life of your congregation (whether or not Church's term is the one used)?