General Assembly: GA Presentations: Presenter views and opinions do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UUA.

Articulating (Y)OUR Faith

General Assembly 2000 Event 252
Presenters: Rev. Barbara Wells and Rev. Jaco B. ten Hove, Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist (UU) Church, Adelphi, MD

"Articulating (Y)OUR Faith" is a curriculum designed to help UUs of all ages, particularly young adults and youths, to talk about Unitarian Universalism knowledgeably in response to questions that are sometimes challenging or difficult to answer. Whereas a preview of this process was presented during the Plenary session earlier in the morning to the entire General Assembly (GA) attendees, the afternoon workshop gave a more immediate experience to the more than sixty young people and the thirty not-so-young observers who attended.

Using a fish-bowl arrangement of three circles, the young people were seated in the inner two circles while the not-so-young people were invited to sit in the back row in the role of observers. This arrangement makes it possible to concentrate on the people whose participation is sought.

The facilitators began by involving the young people in a brainstorming session to list questions others may have directed at them, or statements made about their religion that they have found difficult to respond to or have made them uncomfortable. Such questions and comments as, "Are you a cult? Sounds like a social club to me. You're nothing more than a self-help group. Do you believe in hell? How can you be good if you don't believe in God? You're a bunch of middle/upper class white folks. If you are so diverse, what does your minister preach? What does UU mean? Hypocrites! Wishy-washy."

For the next section of the workshop, the young people shared testimonials of success, of times that they have felt empowered by their religion, have spoken up for justice, have felt effective in bridging gaps of understanding and beliefs. They shared stories of tolerance and strengths, and the use of humor when all else have failed.

The basic of UUism, according to the curriculum, is that the first and seventh principles are statements of WHAT we affirm about life. Our belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person and the respect for the interdependent web of life are the two pillars that hold up the other five principles, which are about HOW we do religion. The curriculum also gives people tools to handle awkward questions by providing them with various angles of articulation. These include knowledge of UU History and theology, and reclaiming the original meanings of words like "Religion" and "Worship".

Workshop attendees enjoyed the role-playing portion of the presentation where one person plays the role of questioner and a second plays the role of a UU articulating his/her faith. At any time in the role-play, other young adults may call out "freeze" and tap one of the two players on the shoulder to replace that person and continue the dialogue. This generated much laughter, gaiety and enthusiasm for more.

During the feedback section, many felt that this is a wonderful curriculum not only for youth conferences, but also for incorporating into Religious Education, Coming-of-Age Program, and for adults as well. A few youths who were brought up in UU households felt that they were not given strong moral guidelines and had to struggle along the way, often stumbling, to arrive at this point in their lives. They are needing more structure and guidance in how to bring up their own children without having to go through the same struggle they did.

The curriculum was available from the Unitarian Universalist Association's (UUA's) Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries.

Consider these helpful angles when articulating (Y)OUR faith:

  • UUs are generally united about guiding principles, but very diverse on speculative matters. We try to unite more around behavior than belief.
  • "Leaps of faith" are not only okay but valuable! We trust life and experiment.
  • When asked, "What do you believe?" first clarify who is "you." No one can speak for UUism as a whole about belief issues.
  • "'Religion" is from Latin: religare, meaning "to bind back or together," as in "ligament." Religion, therefore, refers to shared values (whatever binds us together), not just shared beliefs.
  • "Worship" is from Old English: weorth, meaning "'worth," plus scipe, meaning "to shape." Worship, therefore, refers to shaping what is of worth (as in friendship, ritual, community, etc.)
  • UUs generally honor the mystery of life as a glorious reality. We can happily celebrate that "We just don't know!" We strive to be comfortable with ambiguity even as we search for truth.
  • We cultivate an open-hearted approach to what is new or strange to us. We are students and learners "from cradle to grave."
  • "Revelation is not sealed!" The universe is always unfolding anew.
  • We don't just believe anything we want; we believe what we have to. For instance, we could believe the world is flat but our knowledge and experience tells us otherwise.

Reported by Kok Heong McNaughton.