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Activity 2: Communal Narratives (30 minutes), Workshop 7: Service is Our Prayer

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

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Print two copies of Handout 1, Communal Narratives Chart, for each participant.
  • Print out the story "We Are Each Other's Business" from Workshop 4 and copy it for all participants.
  • Read Leader Resource 2, We Are Each Other's Business Communal Narrative Chart along with the story it analyzes, "We Are Each Other's Business" from Workshop 4. Familiarize yourself with the idea of communal narratives.
  • Choose music and set up music player.
  • Post blank newsprint.

Description of Activity

Participants incorporate communal narratives into the stories of interfaith cooperation they have worked with in previous workshops.

Say, in your own words:

We have worked on our stories of interfaith cooperation a few times. We saw how important storytelling is for changing the conversation. We have practiced using an effective structure for storytelling.

Today, we are going to talk about another level of story—the communal story, or communal narrative. These are the "big stories," the identities we are a part of. For instance, there are multiple stories out there about what it means to be an American. It can mean achieving "the American dream." It can mean leaving another homeland to become part of the American "melting pot," or it can mean being loud, fat, and ignorant, depending on which story we subscribe to. There are stories—we call these "narratives"—about what it means to be a woman, about what it means to be a young person (energetic, rebellious), and about what it means to be a Midwesterner. Can you give me some examples of communal narratives that you are a part of?

As participants suggest communities to which they belong (perhaps immigrant, racial or ethnic, disability-related), write each on the newsprint and thank the participant for sharing. Then say:

We can tell a good story just about things that have happened to us, but the best and richest stories reference our communal identities and narratives. They connect our personal experience to the experience of the larger communities we are a part of. That gives listeners a shortcut to understanding our stories and why their message matters.

This can be a little tricky. Let's look at an example together using a story we have worked with before.

Distribute the story "We Are Each other's Business" and have one, two, or more volunteers take turns reading paragraphs aloud.

Now distribute Handout 1, Communal Narratives Chart. On the newsprint you have posted, draw the image on Handout 1. Lead the group to fill it out together, referring to Leader Resource 2 as a model of what your completed worksheet might look like.

  • Ask "What is the basic stuff that happens to Eboo in this story?" Write the best answers in the Personal Experience box.
  • Ask "What is the idea Eboo wants to get across in this story? What part of pluralism is it most about?" Elicit "respect," "getting along," or similar phrases and write these in the Concept box.
  • Ask "What communities is Eboo a part of? How can you tell from this story?" Elicit "Muslim," "American," and other categories clearly referenced in the story, and enter in the Communal Narrative 1, 2, and 3 boxes.
  • Next, ask "How do you know he is part of those communities? How does he tell you besides just stating it as a fact?" As participants suggest examples, write these in the appropriate Example/Reference boxes. For each example, ask "What idea does this example relate to?" or "How do these references relate to the main idea of respecting and valuing people of other religions?"

After a short discussion, summarize:

Eboo adds importance and flavor to his story by bringing in his communal narratives. By using references to the big stories he is personally part of, he makes the story feel relevant to lots of people. He gets across the message that America is about respect, that Islam is about valuing others.

We, too, can use references from our communal narratives to enrich our stories. We can include in our stories the texts, arts, and historical examples from our tradition that confirm the values we want to lift up.

Invite the group to take the next ten minutes to fill out their own communal narrative chart on their second copy of Handout 1. Say:

What are three "big stories" you feel yourself to be a part of? What are some examples from those communities that support the value of interfaith cooperation? For example, Unitarian Universalism is a communal narrative for all of you. Can you incorporate a UU song we have sung together, a favorite reading from our hymnbook, something from our history, or a contemporary UU story like "Faithful Fools" into your personal story, to increase the story's impact?

Offer copies of Singing the Living Tradition and, optionally, Welcome: A Unitarian Universalist Primer. Maintain a quiet or contemplative space while participants identify their communal narratives. Move around the room to assist those who may be having difficulty.

Give participants time to identify their communal narratives and references. Then, ask one or two participants to share what they found, or to share their story of interfaith cooperation incorporating this new element.

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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