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Opening (10 minutes), Session 1: The Big Questions

In "Riddle and Mystery," a Tapestry of Faith program

Materials for Activity

  • Chalice or LED/battery-operated candle
  • Newsprint, markers and tape
  • Bell, tingsha chimes or other sound instrument
  • Kid for the Day bag or box, card stock cut into uniform size pieces for all participants and pencils or markers
  • Handout 1, Today's Big Question and (optional) a plain envelope
  • Optional: Nametags and markers
  • Optional: Quiet background music and music player

Preparation for Activity

  • On newsprint, make a sign that says "Today's Big Question." Post the sign, and post a blank sheet beneath it.
  • Write the chalice lighting words on another sheet newsprint, and post.
  • Review Handout 1 and print out one copy. Fold it to conceal the text. To increase mystery, you might place it in an envelope and address the envelope to "Kid for the Day."
  • Obtain a bag or box from which you will randomly select the name of one participant to be Kid for the Day each time the group meets. Label the bag or box "Kid for the Day." If you know most of the youth who are coming, you may write each participant's name on a small piece of card stock and place all the names in the bag or box. Or, prepare to distribute uniformly-cut pieces of card stock and pencils or markers for youth to write their own names. Keep extra card stock pieces for new participants. (Or, if you prefer, establish a different way to select the Kid for the Day and make the appropriate preparations.)
  • Optional: Make nametags for participants you know are coming. Set out supplies for additional participants (or all) to make their own.
  • Optional: Choose soft background music to play during the Opening. Obtain and test music player. Begin playing the music before participants arrive.
  • Optional: Prepare and post an agenda for the session.

Description of Activity

Greet youth as they enter, and introduce yourself to any you do not already know. Ask each youth to write their name on a small piece of card stock and place it in the Kid for the Day bag or box. Hand out nametags you have made in advance or ask participants to make their own.

Sound the bell, tingsha chimes or other sound instrument to signal the youth to be silent. Tell them lighting a chalice when we gather is a rich Unitarian Universalist ritual, one the group will use each time it meets. Say, in your own words:

In Riddle and Mystery, the program we are beginning today, we will choose a Kid for the Day to light the chalice each time we met. Then, a bit later, because the program is about big questions, the Kid for the Day will announce the day's Big Question.

Reach into the Kid for the Day bag or box and select a name without looking. Announce the name and place the paper back in the bag or box. (If a Kid for the Day seems reluctant, allow them to pass. Draw another name or invite the participant to select one.)

Indicate where you have posted the chalice lighting words. Invite the Kid for the Day to light the chalice while you lead the group in reciting "May this chalice light show the way as we search through the riddle and the mystery."

Invite the group to share a moment of silence. End the silence by sounding the bell or tingshas. Explain that you will use this same ritual—chalice lighting, followed by silence—at each session.

If participants do not already know one another, ask them each to say their name and where they live. You can do more of a check-in, but keep it focused to avoid losing session time to long descriptions of movies seen or video games conquered.

Give Riddle and Mystery a positive introduction. Affirm that Unitarian Universalists often enjoy and even celebrate asking big questions. You might say:

Participating will be an interesting and fun way to think about the big questions people have been asking since the beginning of time. In Unitarian Universalism, asking the questions is just as important as getting answers.

Give any brief logistical or other information you wish to provide about the program.

If you want the group to create a covenant, post a sheet of newsprint. Ask the group, "What do you want this group to be like? How do you think we should act when we are together?" Write "Covenant" at the top of the newsprint. Explain that a covenant is an agreement people make with each other. Ask how the youth wish to agree they should act. Write down the ideas on which they seem to agree. Keep this activity brief, post the covenant in plain view and move on. Plan to keep the covenant posted for the duration of the program or repost it each time the group meets; you can lead the group to revise the covenant in future sessions, if that seems useful.

Announce that it is time to hear the Big Question of the day. Hand the Kid for the Day a copy of Handout 1 and help them understand and implement the instructions (calling for a drum roll, then announcing the question dramatically—after this first session, the procedure should become routine). Write the question on the newsprint under the "Today's Big Question" sign.

Ask the Kid for the Day to extinguish the chalice. Move the chalice table aside as necessary to allow movement in the room.

Set aside the "Today's Big Question" sign and the Kid for the Day bag or box, with the names and extra pieces of card stock, for re-use.

Including All Participants

If the group includes youth who may have difficulty reading, be sure you routinely allow the Kid for the Day to pass.

Use this opening session to assess any special needs among the youth. Plan to speak with parents, your director of religious education, or the youth themselves about those needs, as appropriate and as required so you can adjust activities to the satisfaction of all.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Wednesday, October 26, 2011.

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