A Tapestry of Faith Program for Adults

The New UU program provides important tools to help congregations welcome, orient, and integrate newcomers into their faith communities. The program addresses the needs of newcomers who want to know more about who we are and what we believe. It provides opportunities for members of your congregation to share with newcomers what it means to them to be a Unitarian Universalist. It gives newcomers a chance to examine their own personal stories in the light of our Unitarian Universalist tradition and heritage. It provides a chance for newcomers to the congregation and long-timers to connect. It provides an explicit invitation to become a member.

About the Author

Rev. Jonalu Johnstone

The Rev. Jonalu Johnstone has served as program minister of the First Unitarian Church, Oklahoma City since 2002. Previously, as a growth consultant she helped small and mid-size congregations of the Southwestern UU Conference understand and address their particular strengths and challenges. She has served the Channing UU Church in Edmond as consulting minister, the James Reeb UU Congregation in Madison (Wisconsin) as new congregation minister, and the UUA working with the Dallas/Fort Worth Metropolitan Strategy for Growth. A graduate of Harvard Divinity School, Jonalu was ordained in 1993 by the UU Fellowship of Greater Cumberland (Maryland). She has contributed leadership to Interweave Continental, the UUMA Committee on Ethics and Collegiality, the Southwestern UU Conference, the Oklahoma Food Co-op, and other organizations. She resides with her partner of 25 years, Jane Powell, in Oklahoma City, where each has a parent nearby.

Acknowledgments

We gratefully acknowledge the use of the following material:

Excerpts from Cathedral of the World, by Forrest Church, copyright 2009 by Forrest Church. Reprinted by permission of Beacon Press, Boston.

"The Founding of the Dedham Church," from Our Covenant: The 2000-01 Minns Lectures, The Lay and Liberal Doctrine of the Church: The Spirit and the Promise of Our Covenant, by Alice Blair Wesley. (Chicago, IL: Meadville-Lombard Press, 2002). Used with permission.

The activity in Workshops 1 and 6, Sentence Starters, is adapted with permission from an idea of Rev. Mark Christian, parish minister at First Unitarian Church, Oklahoma City.

Preface

People come to our congregations in many ways. Some research carefully, devouring every word on a congregation's website before entering the building. Some are drawn in by a newspaper story or an event poster, and decide to come and check the congregation out. Some have been wounded in their former faith communities and seek a community more in line with their values and theology. Some have never belonged to any faith community, and are longing for spirituality and community. Some seek religious education for their children and youth that teaches strong values while allowing for theological diversity. Some want to be part of a faith community that believes social justice work is at the heart of what it means to be religious. Others long for worship that moves their spirits and engages both heart and mind. All of these people, and many more, come to our Unitarian Universalist congregations hungry for what we offer.

The New UU program provides important tools to help congregations welcome, orient, and integrate newcomers into their faith communities. The program addresses the needs of newcomers who want to know more about who we are and what we believe. It provides opportunities for members of your congregation to share with newcomers what it means to them to be a Unitarian Universalist. It gives newcomers a chance to examine their own personal stories in the light of our Unitarian Universalist tradition and heritage. It provides a chance for newcomers to the congregation and long-timers to connect. It provides an explicit invitation to become a member.

As one in the Tapestry of Faith series of curricula for adults, The New UU weaves Unitarian Universalist values, Principles, and Sources with four strands: spiritual development, ethical development, Unitarian Universalist identity development, and faith development:

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

  • Know 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. Tapestry of Faith programs seek to form children, youth, and adults who:

  • Realize 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. Participation in a Unitarian Universalist congregation does not automatically create a Unitarian Universalist identity. Personal identification with Unitarian Universalism begins when individuals start to call themselves Unitarian Universalist and truly feel a 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. Tapestry of Faith programs develop children, youth, and adults who:

  • Affirm 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 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 about embracing life's possibilities, growing in our sense of being "at home in the universe." Faith is practiced in relationships with others. While faith has aspects that are internal and personal, it is best supported in a community with shared symbols, stories, traditions and values. Unitarian Universalist faith development emphasizes each person's religious journey, each person's lifelong process of bringing head, heart, and hands to seeking and knowing ultimate meaning.

Each New UU workshop weaves these strands together to help participants learn more about what it means to be Unitarian Universalist and give them the tools they need to make a clear decision about membership in a congregation. May our faith come to life through your enthusiastic facilitation of these workshops. May you create an opportunity for newcomers to bring their stories, their spirits, their minds, and their hearts to this inquiry about who we are, what we believe, and what we are called to do in this world.

— Gail Forsyth-Vail, Unitarian Universalist Association Adult Programs Director

The Program

Give the people something of your new vision. You may possess a small light, but uncover it, let it shine, use it to bring more light and understanding to the hearts and minds of men and women. Give them not hell, but hope and courage... — John Murray, Early American Universalist Minister

The majority of Unitarian Universalists come from other religious traditions or from no religious background at all. They need an introduction to Unitarian Universalism before becoming members of a congregation, not only to enhance their understanding of the faith tradition they are joining, but also to help them become an integral part of the faith community. Before making the commitment to join, prospective members should know something about the vision, mission, and practices of the congregation and be clear what the congregation expects of members. Research has shown Christian churches experience higher retention rates among members who attended a class to explain the tradition prior to joining. This pattern likely applies to Unitarian Universalist congregations, as well. The New UU program provides a framework for an intentional orientation to Unitarian Universalism and the life of your congregation.

The New UU is a series of six 90-minute workshops addressing important themes in Unitarian Universalist congregational life: worship and theology, history, covenant and polity, religious education or faith development, social justice, and membership. Each workshop provides an opportunity for participants to interact and share their own experiences, a process that echoes the Unitarian Universalist commitment to individual theological exploration. Participants will learn about Unitarian Universalism not only by hearing about it, but by doing it—exploring their own theology and its intersection with the tradition.

Recognizing that Unitarian Universalist congregations vary widely, each workshop includes a framework for introducing traditions and practices of your congregation. Each workshop provides opportunities for members of the congregation to interact with workshop participants, so participants become acquainted with members active in various aspects of congregational life. While inclusion of congregational resources and leaders requires significant advance planning for facilitators, it will provide not only a rich experience for prospective members but also an opportunity for facilitators to learn more about their congregation and its distinctive and treasured practices.

Because the program leads toward congregational membership, planning should include appropriate lay and professional leaders, such as the Membership Committee and minister(s). Consult with these leaders about when to offer the program, whom to invite as participants, what information and resources to include about your congregation, and how to conduct Workshop 6, which includes an opportunity to join the congregation.

Goals

This program will:

  • Introduce newcomers to Unitarian Universalism
  • Equip participants to make a decision about membership in a Unitarian Universalist congregation
  • Provide information related to Unitarian Universalist worship, theology, history, social justice, religious education, and governance
  • Provide resources within and outside the congregation for participants to explore topics independently
  • Facilitate integration into the congregation by introducing participants to a cross-section of members.

Leaders

Two or more co-facilitators are recommended. Ideally, the leadership team will include a minister and a lay person, perhaps someone who has been involved with the Membership Committee. If there are more than twelve participants, add a third facilitator. The team should be as diverse as possible in terms of age, gender, race/ethnicity, and other identities, and should be committed to welcoming diverse guest voices from the congregation. Leaders with these characteristics are likely to be most successful:

  • Demonstrated commitment to and enthusiasm for the congregation and Unitarian Universalism
  • Experience in leading groups successfully
  • Ability to create supportive, safe space
  • Curiosity about participants' experiences
  • A welcoming and encouraging demeanor
  • Willingness to prepare with the team and independently
  • Organizational and planning skills
  • Respect for individuals, regardless of age, race, social class, gender identity, sexual orientation, and ability
  • Willingness to modify workshops to support the full inclusion of all participants.

Participants

The New UU is for adults of all ages and life stages who are new to Unitarian Universalism. Ideally, they will have attended a Unitarian Universalist congregation at least a few times. Anyone who has not yet committed to membership, or is relatively new to membership, will benefit from participation.

While participation should be voluntary, inviting people to participate should be an intentional process. Send personal invitations to people who have visited a congregation in recent months, particularly those who have attended worship more than two or three times.

Workshops are ideally suited to a group of six to twelve participants. Adaptations to some activities may be necessary for a larger group, including dividing into smaller groups led by individual leaders. With adaptations, the program will successfully accommodate up to 30 participants.

Integrating All Participants

Because you may not know the participants, be especially sensitive to disabilities or other special needs. Include a question about special needs on registration forms or sign-up sheets. Some activities include specific suggestions for adaptation. In all cases, keep these guidelines in mind:

Accessibility Guidelines for Workshop Presenters

  • Make a few large-print copies of all handouts available to participants.
  • Write clearly and use large letters on newsprint. Use black or brown markers for maximum visibility (red and green are difficult for some to see).
  • Make a printed copy of prepared newsprint pages to give anyone who requests it.
  • Face the group when you speak and urge others to do the same. Be aware of facial hair or hand gestures that may hamper lip-reading.
  • In a large space or with a large group of people, use a microphone for presentations and for questions and answers. If an activity will make it difficult for speakers to face listeners (e.g. a fishbowl activity, a forced-choice activity, a role play), pass a portable microphone from speaker to speaker.
  • When engaging in a brainstorm activity, repeat clearly any word or phrase generated by the group in addition to writing it on newsprint.
  • During small group work, make sure that each group is far enough from other groups to keep noise interference to a minimum.
  • Be sure aisles and doorways are clear during a workshop so people with mobility impairments or immediate needs can exit the room easily.
  • When re-arranging furniture for small groups or other purposes, ensure clear pathways between groups.
  • Enlist workshop participants to be vigilant about removing bags, books, coffee cups, and other obstacles from pathways.
  • Use the phrase, "Rise in body or spirit," rather than "Please stand."
  • Use language that puts the person first, rather than the disability (e.g., "a person who uses a wheelchair," rather than "a wheelchair-user"; "a child with dyslexia," rather than "a dyslexic child; "people with disabilities" rather than "the disabled.")
  • Refrain from asking people to read aloud. Instead of going around the room and asking each participant to read a part of something, ask for volunteers or read the material yourself.
  • Ask participants in advance about any food allergies. Add to your covenant an agreement that the group will avoid bringing problem foods for snacks or will always offer an alternative snack food.
  • Ask participants in advance about any allergies to scents or perfumes. If any participants have allergies or sensitivities, invite members of the group to refrain from wearing perfumes and add this agreement to your covenant.

The Unitarian Universalist Association website offers additional guidance for including persons with specific accessibility needs.

Keep in mind that participants likely come from a variety of religious and secular backgrounds and bring a variety of expectations to the program. In planning workshops, consider how individual participants are likely to respond to activities. Substituting Alternate Activities may be helpful in some situations.

For more information contact religiouseducation@uua.org.

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