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Wisdom from the Hebrew Scriptures

A Multigenerational Tapestry of Faith Program

This program offers multigenerational workshops based on eight stories from the Hebrew scriptures. Some of these stories are well-known and others less so. Some have been told to children in Sunday school classes and Hebrew school for generations; others will be unknown even to some adults. Some of those narratives fit well with contemporary Unitarian Universalist values and others are more challenging in both the theology and the values expressed. All of these stories offer wisdom that can help people of all ages growth in spiritual depth and understanding.

About the Author

Rev. Thomas R. Schade has served the First Unitarian Church of Worcester since 1999, first as Associate Minister, then as Minister. His ministry was affirmed in the Spring of 2010, when he was designated the sole minister of the church.

A life-long Unitarian, he received a BA from George Washington University in 1970, majoring in Political Science. After a career in Information Technology, he prepared for the Unitarian Universalist Ministry at the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, and was ordained in 1999 by the First Unitarian Church. He was the President of the Board of the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship in 2004 and 2005.

Gail Forsyth-Vail is the Director of Adult Programs at the Unitarian Universalist Association. She is a Credentialed Religious Educator, Master Level, who served congregations for twenty-two years before joining the UUA staff. She is the author of Stories in Faith: Exploring Our Unitarian Universalist Principles and Sources Through Wisdom Tales and co-author of Harvest the Power: Developing Lay Leadership. She was the 2007 recipient of the Angus MacLean Award for Excellence in Religious Education.

Acknowledgments

We gratefully acknowledge the use of the following material:

  • Judean Desert Well photograph, used with permission of BibleWalks.com.
  • Rev. Meg Riley It Gets Better video.

The Program

Even if the Bible remains for us only great literature, and not sacred scripture, we should try to approach it on its own terms: as literature trying to tell us of human experience from a transcendent, God's-eye perspective, trying to remind human beings who had experienced both undeserved goodness and unmerited evil how to remain true to the transcendent source of creation, liberation, and ultimate justice. — Rev. John A. Buehrens

This program offers multigenerational workshops based on eight stories from the Hebrew scriptures. Some of these stories are well-known and others less so. Some have been told to children in Sunday school classes and Hebrew school for generations; others will be unknown even to some adults. Some of those narratives fit well with contemporary Unitarian Universalist values and others are more challenging in both the theology and the values expressed. All of these stories offer wisdom that can help people of all ages growth in spiritual depth and understanding.

This program draws on our Unitarian and Universalist heritage of critical and contextual examination of biblical text, which dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. It approaches biblical texts from four different points of view, asking:

  • Where does this text fit into Jewish history, both legendary and real? Who are the major voices in the passage? Who are the dissenting voices or minor characters?
  • What did this story mean to those who told it and to those who later recorded or preserved it?
  • What are the questions the story raises for contemporary Unitarian Universalists?
  • How does this story connect to the lives and experiences of program participants of all ages? What wisdom does it offer?

The program asks not only "what happened?" but also "when and why was this recorded and what did it mean for the people of the time?" It asks not only, "What does this story mean in our contemporary lives?" but also, "How does it challenge each of us spiritually and what wisdom does it offer?"

"God" who appears in the Hebrew scriptures has many different faces. The stories, which were composed by many different authors over a long period of time, tell many competing and conflicting stories about both God and God's people. The understanding of God shifts, changes, and evolves over the course of centuries as the stories are told, edited, adapted, and recorded. Above all, the Hebrew scriptures are a text of extraordinary courage, astonishing in that they contain not only the history and tradition of a people and a culture, but also an ongoing critique of that culture. Indeed, it is because of the conflicted and contradictory nature of this text that the narrative story of a small, obscure middle Eastern kingdom still holds wisdom and meaning in today's world. This program does not shy away from those contradictions, but rather embraces them as a reflection of a people's struggle to understand themselves and their world. It asks some of the questions they asked—about violence and war, about pain and tragedy, about gifts of life, about the nature of freedom, about group identity. This program invites Unitarian Universalists of all ages to view their own lives and personal experiences through the lens of those very same questions.

Goals

  • Offer resources and activities for Unitarian Universalists to access beauty, wisdom and meaning from the Hebrew scriptures
  • Acquaint participants with the cultural and religious importance of stories and texts from Hebrew scripture
  • Give participants a lifelong approach to exploring the historical and socio-political context of scriptural narratives
  • Offer an opportunity for re-examination of literal interpretations of Hebrew scriptures, including those texts which are cited to support particular social and religious points of view
  • Provide welcoming and challenging multigenerational experiences using a variety of different approaches
  • Build community among participants across the lifespan.

Leaders

A team of two or more adults, either lay leaders or religious professionals, should facilitate these workshops. Although consistency of leadership offers many advantages, every workshop need not be led by the same facilitators. Seek a team of leaders who are:

  • Comfortable leading a multigenerational program and knowledgeable about children's, youth, and adult faith development
  • Committed to the Unitarian Universalist Principles, to the congregation, and to the faith development components of this program
  • Willing and able to thoroughly prepare for each workshop
  • Effective at speaking, teaching, and facilitating group process
  • Flexible, and willing to modify workshop plans to support the full inclusion of all participants
  • Able to listen deeply and to encourage participation of all individuals
  • Able to demonstrate respect for individuals, regardless of age, race, social class, gender identity, and sexual orientation
  • Able to honor the life experiences each participant will bring to the program, regardless of age or life stage.

While knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures is helpful, it is not a requirement for effectively leading this program. Willingness and ability to adequately prepare for each workshop, and comfort with a multigenerational group is far more valuable.

Participants

This program is intended for people of all ages and life stages over the age of six. If you are using the program for children younger than ten or eleven, you will want to use the Alternate Activity in each workshop, which is designed with younger children in mind. The workshops are equally suitable for first-time visitors and long-time congregational members. Facilitators should be attentive to the differences in developmental stage, knowledge, and life experience that participants bring to the group.

Workshops can accommodate any number of participants, although the program will be most effective if there are at least four people in each breakout group. You will want to adjust the number of breakout options offered according to the size of your group. You will also want recruit from among the participants a leader for each breakout group. It is best to recruit group leaders in advance so that they can familiarize themselves with the instructions for the activity. When recruiting group leaders, be sure to consider junior and senior youth as group leaders.

Integrating All Participants

People with obvious and not-so-obvious disabilities may need accommodation in order to participate fully. As a facilitator, you may not be aware of a participant's needs. In addition to accommodating the accessibility needs of participants who request them, you are urged to follow these basic Accessibility Guidelines for Workshop Presenters for every activity:

  • Prepare a few large print copies of all handouts.
  • 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 information you plan to post on newsprint, to give to any who request it.
  • Face the group when you are speaking and urge others to do the same. Be aware of facial hair or hand gestures that may prevent or interfere with 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, forced choice or role play activity), obtain a portable microphone to pass from speaker to speaker.
  • 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, position each group far enough from other groups to minimize noise interference.
  • Keep aisles and doorways clear at all times so that people with mobility impairments or immediate needs may exit the room easily.
  • Offer a variety of seating options, e.g. straight chairs, soft chairs, chairs with arms, and chairs without arms so that participants may find seating that best accommodates their needs.
  • When re-arranging furniture for small groups or other purposes, ensure clear pathways between groups.
  • Enlist workshop participants in being 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.")
  • Do not ask individuals to read aloud. Avoid read-alouds that require everyone in the group to automatically take a turn. Request volunteers or read the material yourself.
  • Ask participants in advance about any food allergies. Add to your group covenant an agreement to avoid bringing problem foods for snacks or to always offer an alternate snack food.
  • Ask participants in advance about allergies to scents or perfumes. If 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 and staff can offer guidance for including people with specific disabilities; consult the Disability and Accessibility section of the UUA website. In addition, some workshop activities suggest specific adaptation under the heading, "Including All Participants."

Participants bring a wide range of learning styles and information processing preferences. With this in mind, the workshops offer a variety of activities. Review each workshop's Alternate Activities. Plan each workshop to best suit your group.

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.

Share, Print, or Explore

For more information contact religiouseducation@uua.org.

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