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Activity 2: Unpacking Our Baggage (15 minutes), Workshop 5: Difficulties of Interfaith Work

In "A Chorus of Faiths," a Tapestry of Faith program

Materials for Activity

  • Newsprint, markers, and tape
  • Pipe cleaners, clay, or other materials to make pliable sculptures
  • Bell or chime
  • Music and music player

Preparation for Activity

  • Choose instrumental music. Test the equipment.
  • Post blank newsprint.

Description of Activity

Participants examine core values and assumptions they may have as Unitarian Universalists and how these might influence their interfaith service work.

Ask, in your own words:

What are some core beliefs or values that you hold as Unitarian Universalists? Name some ideas you might consider universal values—that is, ideas you might assume everyone would agree with—but which actually may be quite different from beliefs or values held by people of other faiths.

After discussing for a few minutes, hand out sculpting materials. Invite participants to choose some clay (or other material) and form it into a belief or value that is important to their Unitarian Universalist identity. Assure them the form need not be perfect, nor do they have to make something identifiable—abstract forms are fine.

Play instrumental music while participants work. After about five minutes, ask volunteers to share about their process and tell what belief or value came up for them. Write responses on newsprint.

When all volunteers have spoken, ask the group what other Unitarian Universalist beliefs or values might belong on the list. Examples might be: UUs are pro-recycling, UUs expect women and men to have equal status and opportunities, UUs celebrate a wide range of BGLTQ identities; UUs believe in the Big Bang theory and evolution. Add new contributions to the list.

Now invite the group to consider how one or two beliefs or values on the list could cause conflict in an interfaith setting, and engage them to discuss how they would handle such a conflict.

For example, you might say:

Many Unitarian Universalists feel really strongly about recycling. What if, during the service project, you saw our interfaith partners throwing their bottles and cans into the regular trash, or littering? You may have an initial gut reaction of "What in the world are you doing?"

How do you deal with your feelings? How can you keep your focus on the shared values and the project at hand?

Ask each participant to find a discussion partner. Instruct them to each take a turn choosing a belief, value, or issue they feel strongly about as a Unitarian Universalist that might be a source of conflict in an interfaith service project. Say:

Role play with your discussion partner how you might deal with the feelings. Keep in mind, the goal is to complete an interfaith service project. After two minutes I will ring the bell. Then, switch roles so the other person has the opportunity to engage with an issue they feel strongly about.

Re-gather the group and ask volunteers to share techniques discussed. Be ready to raise, if none do: using humor, seeking to understand the other person's point of view, walking away if you find yourself angry.

To conclude, say, in your own words:

To do interfaith service work, we must be ready to find the values we share with our interfaith partners and to agree to disagree on other aspects of faith. That is how we will be able to work together on the project at hand. If you feel at a loss, come back to what brought you together in the first place: a shared value in the rightness of serving our communities by helping when help is needed.

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 Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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