A Place of Wholeness

For many youth, especially those raised in Unitarian Universalist communities, the principles, values, and theologies of Unitarian Universalism are in their bones. A Place of Wholeness is an opportunity to examine their faith journeys to better understand themselves in the context of Unitarian Universalism. Every workshop begins with the same opening reading, the last lines of which are: “We are part of this living tradition. Through it we become whole, and through us it becomes whole.” It is this sense of interdependence that the program reinforces. There are several overarching themes that structure this program. Wholeness—the primary theme of the program—is defined as the way in which our Unitarian Universalist “outsides” match our Unitarian Universalist “insides” by understanding, professing, and living our faith. Wholeness is also important in the sense that each person is integral to the wholeness of the Unitarian Universalist community.

About the Author

Beth Dana is a seminarian at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, working toward a Master of Divinity. She is a lifelong Unitarian Universalist from Albany, New York, where she was active in her congregation’s religious education program and youth group. She served in various district and continental leadership roles as a youth, including as a trainer and trainer-of-trainers for the UUA’s programs in Youth Leadership Development, Youth Advising, and Groundwork (Anti-Racism/Anti-Oppression). Beth has been a Unitarian Universalist religious education director, participant, teacher, curriculum designer, and advocate.

Jesse Jaeger currently a stay-at-home father to two great young Unitarian Universalists and the part-time Director of Membership and Leadership Development for the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lynn. He also leads Our Whole Lives Grades 7 to 9 and 10 to 12 facilitator trainings and does independent consulting to congregations and small non-profits around visioning, leadership development and conflict transformation. Previously he spent six years as the Director of Youth Ministry at the Unitarian Universalist Association traveling around the association supporting the development youth ministry programs. Jesse has a B.A. in Religious Studies from the University of Montana and a Masters of Organizational Leadership, as well as Servant Leadership Certificate, from Gonzaga University.

Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank:

  • Our editors, Jessica York and Susan Lawrence, for their ideas, feedback, and editing lens.
  • Adrianne Ross for making creative use of technology possible in this program.
  • Judith Frediani for her feedback on this program as it developed and for carrying the vision of Tapestry of Faith.
  • Reverends Liz Strong and Susan Ritchie for consulting with us and suggesting resources about the history of Unitarianism and Universalism — particularly as it relates to freedom, reason, tolerance, faith, hope, and love.
  • Greta Anderson for writing stories.
  • Reverend Josh Pawelek for working with us to develop a story about roots and wings, based on a sermon of his.
  • Christine Michell for sharing her work on the Pride Rainbow Project.
  • Reverends Hope Johnson, Barbro Hansson, Dick Leonard, and Bill Sinkford for sharing their stories about Unitarian Universalism and racial justice.
  • Jyaphia Christos-Rodgers and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee for talking with us about Unitarian Universalist involvement in the recovery and rebuilding of the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.
  • Mary Ellen Giess, a Unitarian Universalist working for the Interfaith Youth Core, for sharing her story of growing up Unitarian Universalist.
  • Erin Moore and Natalie Cartwright Jaeger for their love and support while we wrote the program.

The Program

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time. — T.S. Eliot

Unitarian Universalists of all ages are inheritors of a theological history, as well as co-creators of the future of our living tradition. A Place of Wholeness is designed to help youth develop a holistic understanding of their Unitarian Universalist faith and community, articulate what this means to them, and feel confident in living their faith with integrity.

For many youth, especially those raised in Unitarian Universalist communities, the principles, values, and theologies of Unitarian Universalism are in their bones. A Place of Wholeness is an opportunity to examine their faith journeys to better understand themselves in the context of Unitarian Universalism. Every workshop begins with the same opening reading, the last lines of which are: "We are part of this living tradition. Through it we become whole, and through us it becomes whole." It is this sense of interdependence that the program reinforces.

There are several overarching themes that structure this program. Wholeness—the primary theme of the program—is defined as the way in which our Unitarian Universalist "outsides" match our Unitarian Universalist "insides" by understanding, professing, and living our faith. Wholeness is also important in the sense that each person is integral to the wholeness of the Unitarian Universalist community. Related to the path to wholeness is the faith journey, which is an ongoing exploration much like T.S. Eliot describes in the above quote. Participants explore their spiritual journeys thus far and by applying the metaphor of migration—of birds, and of people—to their lives.

Each workshop explores a different theme of our faith by introducing its roots in Unitarian Universalism, then helping participants give it "wings" by making it their own. James Luther Adams' Five Smooth Stones of Religious Liberalism ground these themes in each workshop.

The work of Earl Morse Wilbur and other historians are reflected in six core values of Unitarianism and Universalism explored in this program. These core values include faith, love, hope, reason, freedom, and tolerance.

A Place of Wholeness begins with our Unitarian Universalist communities and the experiences and stories of the youth participants. At "the end of all [their] exploring," participants will "arrive where [they] started and know the place for the first time," understanding both their Unitarian Universalist community and the story of their faith journey. They will see themselves as an integral part of our living tradition.

Goals

This program will:

  • Affirm that participants have faith, help them identify that faith, and equip them to effectively articulate and live their faith
  • Tell the story of Unitarian Universalism as one of independence, dependence, and interdependence
  • Encourage participants to see themselves as belonging to a Unitarian Universalist community and being integral to the covenantal community's wholeness
  • Help participants recognize that they are inheritors of a Unitarian Universalist theological history as well as co-creators in the future of our living tradition
  • Creatively employ technology to facilitate learning and community building.

Leaders

To be most effective, leaders need to make connections within their congregation and have a solid knowledge of Unitarian Universalism. We recommend that leaders not be new to the congregation or at least not new to Unitarian Universalism. At least one leader who grew up Unitarian Universalist would be useful. The ideal team of leaders would include at least two adults with diversity in gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, and socioeconomic class. Because theology and spirituality are core components of this program, pay special attention to theological and spiritual diversity within the leadership team.

Every workshop has a musical component, so it would be helpful to have someone with musical, accompaniment, and/or song-leading skills. Many of the workshops emphasize justice issues, so someone with interest in this area would be helpful as well. Finally, many workshops call on the facilitators to empower the youth to take the lead in facilitating activities. Leaders should have some experience supporting youth leadership.

Of course, very few individuals possess all of these skills, so try to assemble the best team possible. The workshops suggest ways to include other adults from the congregation in various ways. Their participation gives youth the opportunity to broaden their concept of what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist.

Participants

A Place of Wholeness is designed for high-school-aged youth. You may find it useful to think about the developmental norms for this age group. Not all youth arrive at each developmental stage at the same time, but knowing what to expect overall from fourteen- to eighteen-year-olds can be helpful, especially to first-time leaders.

In her book, Nurturing Children and Youth: A Developmental Guidebook (Boston: Unitarian Universalist Association, 2005), Tracey L. Hurd discusses developmental characteristics of older youth:

  • practices increased cognitive skills
  • expresses growing interest in abstract values and moral principles
  • engages in moral relativism
  • becomes less egocentric and more interested in the larger society
  • struggles with gender and sexual identities
  • continues to develop ethnic or racial identity
  • needs to belong and have a sense of self worth
  • demonstrates empathy
  • conceptualizes religion as an outside authority that can be questioned
  • questions faith, sometimes leading to deeper ownership of personal faith or disillusionment
  • deepens or attenuates religious or spiritual identity
  • explores sexuality
  • navigates greater risks relating to alcohol, drug use, and unsafe sexual activity
  • sustains the personal fable that "it couldn't happen to me"
  • considers friendships and peers important, with some shifting of alliances.

Integrating All Participants

No one should be excluded from A Place of Wholeness or its activities by real or perceived physical or other limitations. Inclusiveness sometimes requires adaptation, and specific suggestions for adapting activities are included under the heading Including All Participants. By changing approaches or using alternate activities, you can help ensure that every workshop is inclusive of youth with a range of physical and cognitive abilities, learning styles, food allergies, and other sensitivities or limitations.

As you plan workshops, be aware of activities that might pose difficulties for youth who are differently abled. All spaces, indoor and outdoor, need to be accessible to anyone who might be in the group. Check the width of doorways and aisles, the height of tables, and the terrain of outdoor landscapes. When meeting in small groups, ensure the accessibility of all meeting spaces.

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

Find out about participants' medical conditions and allergies, particularly to food. Workshop 12: Wholeness suggests a celebration with food. Make sure all your youth can eat the food you plan to use.

The program mixes active and quiet, expressive and listening, and whole group and individual activities. Alternate activities can be substituted for core activities if you feel they better suit the group or if you have additional time.

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

Families

As children reach adolescence and their teenage years, their notion of family begins to expand to include their close group of friends. At the same time, the home family, whatever shape that comes in, is still a major touchstone in youth’s lives. This program is designed to include both the family and friends of participants by consistently asking participants to engage those important people in their lives around the themes and ideas they are exploring.

Every Taking It Home offers ideas for youth to lead conversations and activities with their friends and family about the topics discussed in that day’s workshop. Taking It Home also suggests ways youth can use social networking websites to engage even more family and friends in conversation. To further facilitate dialogue at home, gather the e-mail addresses of the participants’ parents so that you can send them Taking It Home after each workshop.

Faith in Action is another opportunity for family and congregational involvement. Many of the Faith in Action activities offer ideas for congregational leaders as well as parents/caregivers to interact with the youth and engage with the topics the youth are exploring. When inviting adults to participate in these projects, extend a special invitation to parents/caregivers.

For more information contact religiouseducation@uua.org.

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