Building Bridges: A World Religions Program

A Tapestry of Faith Program for Youth 8th-9th Grades

Building Bridges is a world religions program to deepen youth's understanding of the dynamic, fascinating, and varied world in which they live. It seeks to broaden their knowledge of humanity and embolden their spiritual search.

About the Author

Mary K. Isaacs is a lifelong Unitarian Universalist with a B.A. from the University of Texas, Austin. She has served as Director of Religious Education and Interim Director of Religious Education at congregations in Austin, Houston, and College Station, Texas, and has provided preaching and music to UU congregations throughout the Southwest. She is a prejudice awareness trainer, grief group facilitator, wedding associate, and credentialed religious educator. She currently teaches, preaches, and lives with her two sons in Austin, Texas.

Acknowledgments

Without an excellent editor, nothing worthy of print ever makes it to publication. Attentive, patient, and creative, Jessica York's careful and tireless ministrations have greatly benefitted this work.

Acknowledgment is also due loved ones, without whom this work could never have been undertaken: Kathleen and especially Mignon, Will, and Forrest Bryant made creative contributions, rewrite suggestions, and offered unfailing support. The Reverend Chuck Freeman, whose thoughtful ideas, passionate commitment to Unitarian Universalism and nontraditional outlook influenced many aspects of this work, also must accept radical gratitude for sustaining the author with his steadfastly positive approach to life, his unwavering encouragement, and his love.

Tapestry of Faith Core Team

The following UUA staff brought Tapestry to fruition:

Judith A. Frediani, Curriculum Director, Tapestry Project Director

Adrianne Ross, Project Manager

Susan Dana Lawrence, Managing Editor

Jessica York, Youth Programs Director

Gail Forsyth-Vail, Adult Programs Director

Pat Kahn, Children and Family Programs Director

Alicia LeBlanc, Administrative and Editorial Assistant

We are grateful to these former UUA staff members who contributed to the conceptualization and launch of Tapestry of Faith:

Tracy L. Hurd

Sarah Gibb Millspaugh

Aisha Hauser

Pat Hoertdoerfer

Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley

The Program

The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone. — Humanist Manifesto III

UU Humanists believe that religion is too important to be based on unprovable beliefs such as a belief in God. They wish to base the meaning of their lives on something that they can be sure of, that is here with us, that gives us meaning and purpose. — Rev. Christine Robinson

Humanism refers to the affirmation of the worth and dignity of every person, a commitment to human betterment, and the necessity for human beings to take responsibility for themselves and the world. — Rev. William R. Murry

I believe in God, but I spell it nature. — Frank Lloyd Wright

Building Bridges is a world religions program to deepen youth's understanding of the dynamic, fascinating, and varied world in which they live. It seeks to broaden their knowledge of humanity and embolden their spiritual search.

The program is organized roughly chronologically, capturing the strong parallel between societal change and religious evolution over human history. The Religions Time Line helps illustrate the emergence of religions in clusters at different points in history. However, this is not a history course. It is a series of workshops that attempts to lovingly and reverently examine some of the closest kept treasures of the human heart. This exploration nurtures participants' positive outlook toward other faiths and the people who follow them.

To study religion together is to invite a certain amount of discomfort for individuals and conflict in a group. This program provides youth a unique opportunity to engage the world's diversity of faiths in a safe, affirming atmosphere that is grounded in Unitarian Universalist faith. As facilitators, acknowledge tensions and disagreement and model how to work toward understanding. Help create an environment where respectful exploration and questioning are encouraged, where differences are encountered with open minds and hearts.

Goals

  • Increase knowledge of religions practiced around the world and in local communities
  • Understand how religion addresses basic human needs
  • Fosters acceptance of the diverse forms that religious expression takes
  • Build awareness of the diversity of followers within every faith; understand that to know someone's religious identity is not the same as knowing what that person thinks, believes, or practices
  • Support the faith development of participants
  • Empower youth to better appreciate human diversity and connect with others and be able to respectfully discuss important matters with people with whom they disagree
  • Nurture open-mindedness and critical inquiry.

Leaders

Leaders need not be knowledgeable about world religions to facilitate this program. You do need:

  • Respect for and curiosity about religions
  • Enthusiasm for guiding youth through the explorations of this program
  • Ability to respectfully engage with youth in both serious inquiry and fun.

Having respect for faiths does not necessarily mean agreeing with them. To successfully facilitate Building Bridges, you must be able to suspend judgment of a religion's impact on yourself, accept its validity for other people, and help youth decide what they believe is true and good. An attitude of respect and compassion is as important as any information gleaned in this program.

Building Bridges is designed for co-leadership. It is common safe practice to have two or more adult leaders present at each workshop. Co-facilitation also provides the benefit of shared preparation. Consider forming a teaching team with diverse theologies, to model theological pluralism.

Participants

This program is designed for youth in eighth and ninth grades, usually ages 13 to 15. Growing in their use of higher reasoning, these youth can attain significant understanding of different religious concepts and the roles religion plays in human experience. The program is adaptable for somewhat younger or significantly older groups. Each workshop offers activities diverse in style and complexity to address the needs of the group.

In her Tapestry of Faith Toolkit book Nurturing Children and Youth: A Developmental Guidebook, Tracey L. Hurd identifies some characteristics of the young adolescent:

  • Seeks support for self-esteem and body image as she/he transitions into an adult body
  • Engages in abstract and hypothetical thinking
  • Concentrates on self and other's perceptions of the self
  • Engages actively with peers and social relationships
  • Tries to reconcile the inner self with the outer self
  • Explores gender, racial, and ethnic identities through affiliations
  • Expresses criticisms of self and others
  • Seeks belonging and membership, and is concerned with social approval
  • Takes on others' perspectives and understands that sharing perspectives does not necessarily mean agreement
  • Expresses interest in religion that embodies values
  • Sustains faith development by engaging with a community that allows questioning
  • Seeks love, understanding, loyalty, and support.

This program offers ways to support the young adolescent, including:

  • Promote healthy body image and self-esteem
  • Affirm and support the adolescent's many physical, emotional, and cognitive changes
  • Model respect
  • Be flexible and responsive
  • Provide opportunities or complex thinking and the pondering of big questions
  • Respect and take seriously the adolescent's self-consciousness
  • Recognize that challenging authority provides an outlet for new cognitive skills
  • Maintain clear expectations enabling adolescents to make independent decisions
  • Keep some routines or rituals that provide continuity from childhood to adulthood
  • Be a sounding board for youth's exploration of ideas
  • Encourage involvement in multiple settings
  • Actively support the adolescent's exploration of identity
  • Encourage participation in a faith or religious community
  • Provide outlets for questioning faith, religion, and creed
  • Facilitate youth's work in the community
  • Celebrate both change and continuity.

Integrating All Participants

Unitarian Universalism is an inclusive religion and Building Bridges is an inclusive curriculum. No one should be excluded from the program or its activities by real or perceived physical or other limitations.

Inclusiveness sometimes requires adaptation, and specific suggestions for adapting activities are made as appropriate under the heading "Including All Participants." By modifying activities or using alternates, you can include youth with a range of physical and cognitive abilities and learning styles, food allergies, and other sensitivities or limitations.

As you plan workshops, be aware of activities that might pose difficulties for any participants. All spaces, indoor and outdoor, need to be accessible to everyone. Check the width of doorways and aisles, the height of tables, and the terrain of outdoor landscapes.

Allow participants the opportunity to pass on any roles that involve reading. Be prepared to support young people who wish to read, but need assistance. Be alert to group dynamics and ready to do what is needed to keep the workshops safe for all participants.

Since discussion plays a central role in the program, deaf or hearing impaired participants will require an interpreter. For a blind or vision-impaired participant, have an adult volunteer (in addition to the facilitators) explain visuals and provide any other needed assistance. To accommodate a participant with a cognitive or learning disability, discuss with the youths' parents what adjustments you can make to support their full participation.

Find out about participants' medical conditions and allergies, particularly to food. Serve only food everyone can eat.

In the Teachers section of the UUA website, you will find descriptions of a helpful resource book, Welcoming Children with Special Needs by Sally Patton. The congregation's religious educator is another resource for adaptations to make workshops as accessible as possible.

Families

Youth are at a critical time in their faith development. The interest and participation of their most important spiritual guides—their parents—will greatly enhance the benefit they derive from this program. Recognizing the essential role of the family, each workshop includes a Taking It Home section that suggests specific ways families can be engaged. In addition, many Faith in Action activities include ideas for families. To help families utilize these opportunities, distribute Taking It Home handouts in class, email suggestions to families, and post the Taking It Home handout and other resources you identify on a religious education bulletin board. The Engagement activities (the first Alternate Activity in each workshop) offer another opportunity for parental involvement. Chaperones and drivers may be needed for these offsite visits to various faith communities. Talk with your religious educator about safety procedures. In addition, some workshops suggest that congregational members talk with the group about their experience in different faith communities.

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.

For more information contact religiouseducation@uua.org.

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