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Opening (10 minutes), Session 10: Courage And Conviction (Saddlebags)

In "Toolbox of Faith," a Tapestry of Faith program

Materials for Activity

  • Chalice candle or LED/battery-operated candle
  • Lighter and extinguisher, if needed
  • Newsprint, markers, and tape
  • Tool of the Day — saddlebags, bicycle panniers, or a rucksack
  • A photo or illustration of saddlebags
  • Toolbox of Our Faith poster and a glue stick or clear tape
  • Scratch paper and pencils for all participants
  • Optional: Image of a Universalist itinerant preacher

Preparation for Activity

  • Print the opening words on newsprint. Post the newsprint where the children will be able to see it when they gather in the Council Circle space.
  • Collect images of people demonstrating courage and conviction (see "Find Out More" for suggestions). Include one or more images of Universalist itinerant preachers.
  • Before participants arrive, post the images around the room, display them as a gallery, or arrange them on a table.

Description of Activity

Gather the children in a circle in the Council Circle space. Light the chalice.

Indicate where the opening words are posted, for any children who are unfamiliar with them. Lead the group in reciting:

We are Unitarian Universalists

with minds that think,

hearts that love,

and hands that are ready to serve.

Hold up the saddlebags, bicycle panniers, or rucksack — or a photo/illustration of saddlebags — and tell the children what it is. Pass this Tool of the Day around. Invite children to share prior experiences with saddlebags.

Tell the group that saddlebags are the Tool of the Day because they were used by the early Universalist itinerant preachers. These preachers, male and female, showed the courage of their convictions by traveling from community to community, spreading a message of religion based on faith, hope, and love.

You may say:

The topic for today's session is courage and conviction.

A person's convictions are the beliefs and ideas that they feel are so important, that they are willing to stand up for them, even when it is hard to do so because acting on their beliefs might cause them a lot of inconvenience, or ridicule, or even harm.

Collect the tool. Invite a participant to attach the picture of saddlebags to the Toolbox of Our Faith poster, and write the words "Courage and Conviction" on the poster. Extinguish the chalice.

Now, engage the group in an experiential introduction to conviction and courage. Invite them to comment on the images they have seen around the room. If more structure would be useful, give each participant one image and invite the children to share their images with one another in pairs.

You may use these questions to spark discussion:

  • Which of these images have you seen before? When/where?
  • What do you think all the images have in common?

You need not try to make a particular point or dig deeply into any of the comments (unless the emotional safety of the group calls for it). This activity provides an opening, and sets the stage for the topic of the day.

If the group has dispersed, re-gather them in a circle and distribute scrap paper and pencils. To encourage them to think about their own convictions, ask participants to write down three or four things they feel strongly about, beliefs they might call their convictions. Tell them they can write whatever they like, and that they can change what they have written during the session. Tell them they will have an opportunity to share some or all of what they write in the Council Circle. Allow a minute or so for participants to write. Then, say:

Many people think "courage" means "not being afraid." But, courage is a quality that people can draw on when they must do something, even when they are afraid. Courage is what allows you to have convictions, and to stand up for what you believe, even when it is hard to do so. The images you have seen around our room today all represent times when people acted with courage.

If you have time, draw out participants' ideas about what might be called courageous in some of the images. Tell the group:

We will explore today the ideas of conviction and courage in our faith community, starting with the example of some courageous women and men from the earliest days of the Universalist movement in North America—itinerant preachers of the late 1700s and early 1800s.

An "itinerant" preacher was one who did not have a church of their own, but instead traveled from town to town preaching and gathering believers. If they were successful at starting a group, they might return to the same places over and over, in a particular order, or "circuit." Since they most often rode horses to get from place to place, they became known as "circuit riders." They carried all their clothes, some food, and a copy of the Bible in their saddlebags.

Being a circuit rider was hard work. Since they didn't have a regular job, they didn't have regular pay. What they did have was the fire of conviction—a fire that burned in their hearts. As Universalists, they had discovered through prayer, reading the Bible, and just plain reasonable thought that God was a force for love among all people. At that time, many other preachers spoke about God as a force bringing punishment and fear. Because the Universalist message was usually a new one, itinerant preachers risked being ridiculed, physically threatened, or even beat up for the beliefs they preached.

Our story today is about these early Universalists and their work, and the courage and convictions they carried with them in their hearts and in their saddlebags.

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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