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Help Youth Get the Most From Boston Heritage Trips

Every year from March to May youth groups and Coming of Age classes come to Boston to visit the Unitarian Universalist Association and see historic Unitarian Universalist (UU) sites. With proper planning the trip can be the capstone of many years of religious education.

“The trip gives the youth a visual impression of what we’ve talked about all year, a frame of reference and a context for their religion to add to the oral explanation and stories they hear the rest of the year,” says Rev. Barry Andrews, minister of religious education at the UU Congregation at Shelter Rock in Manhasset, NY.

He adds, “The tour of Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) headquarters helps fill in historic blanks.  When we go to Arlington Street Church someone tells us about the historic role of the church and William Ellery Channing. The youth get to ring the bells in the belfry, which is always a highlight. They also hear about the extraordinary windows at the church, which gives them a sense of what type of Christians the Unitarians were in the late nineteenth century.”

Customary stops for youth groups are the UUA and UU Service Committee offices and the Harvard University Divinity School. Many groups attend worship services at King’s Chapel, First Church in Boston, or Arlington Street Church. Quincy Market and its Durgin Park restaurant offer fun, food, and shopping. Many groups visit Concord, Walden Pond, and Lexington. Others walk the Freedom Trail from Boston Common, take a Duck Boat Tour to the Boston Harbor, or take in a Blue Man Group show. 

Sabe Graham, the UUA’s public information assistant, encourages groups to do some advance planning to get the most from their Boston trips. For instance, groups that visit the UUA on Mondays or Fridays can also sit in on a Youth Office information session.

Graham recommends that groups take time to see UU-related movies such as the Civil War movie Glory or Little Women, before coming to Boston.

Before coming to Boston, Andrews conducts a “UU College Bowl” experience with his groups, after requiring them to read the book 100 Questions About Unitarian Universalism. Each youth is required to research a historic individual or site and then tell the group something about that subject at the appropriate site in Boston.

Andrews says, “I always tell the youth that this isn’t just a vacation, it’s a pilgrimage. Nothing brings home history and heritage as much as a visit to the sites and shrines connected to them.”

The coming of age class from All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Okla., comes to Boston annually, notes Kate Starr, the church’s youth program director. “It’s part of their spiritual development. Seeing UU historical sites and visiting the UUA provides a strong foundation for learning and staying in touch with their UU heritage. At Walden Pond we have them spend an hour alone in reflection and every year at least a few of the youth write their personal credos there. Also, visiting the UUSC gives the youth a personal connection with the social justice causes they hear about in church.”


Contact info [at] uua [dot] org or 617-948-4652 for information about scheduling and planning heritage trips. Ask for a heritage tour trip-planning guide. Also visit the heritage tours page at UUA.

About the Author

  • Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.

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