Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Harvest the Power, 2nd Edition: A Lay Leadership Development Program for Adults

Activity 5: Stresses in the System

(15 minutes)


  • Newsprint, markers, and wall-safe tape
  • Timer or clock
  • Optional: Small wrapped candies and a basket, bowl, or candy dish


  • Draw the outline of a large soup pot on a sheet of newsprint, and post it where all participants can see.


In this activity, participants identify issues—both internal and external to the congregation—that cause stress for those who are part of the congregation and for leaders.

Tell participants that you are going to make a “soup” together that will be a metaphor for some of the changes and challenges that members of our congregation experience, day to day.

Point out that each person in the room will have different “ingredients” to contribute. Invite participants to take care when using the words “we” and “us;” ask them to be specific and name who they mean when they say “we” (e.g., white Unitarian Universalists are experiencing…; Unitarian Universalists who are Millennials are experiencing…; parents and caregivers are experiencing...). Ask participants not to speak for generations, genders, or other cohorts to which they do not belong. Acknowledge that people who aren’t in the room might have additional suggestions if they were present.

Ask your co-facilitator or a volunteer to scribe while participants name all the changes that they and other members of the congregation have had to adjust to in the last few years. These may be technological or societal, or they may relate to personal life transitions. Invite people to name all the things they are concerned about, whether related to home, the congregation, safety, world affairs, or any other realm of life. Have the scribe write each item inside the soup pot. If you wish, invite participants to symbolically add candies to the bowl as they contribute ideas. Approach this part of the activity playfully to ensure that it does not raise anxiety. Encourage light-heartedness and laughter. Acknowledge any serious items that people share, but do not let them overwhelm the process.

If there is a lull, encourage people to name more changes. You might offer a small candy for each answer as a way to encourage people to keep going, while your scribe tries to capture them all in the pot (with increasing difficulty!). It is not necessary that each word be legible from a distance. The important point is the sheer number of changes and challenges written in the “soup.” Continue this part of the exercise, leaving at least five minutes to conclude the activity.

After you have created your stress-filled “soup,” invite the group to silently take in the creation. Invite them to consider stresses in the soup as challenges to be met as a faith community seeking to honor its mission, rather than problems to be avoided. After a pause, invite people to share one-word reactions to the soup that you have created.

If no one has mentioned difficulties that some in the congregation may face based on an identity they hold that is marginalized in the congregation, community, or larger society, lift that up now. Then say, using these or similar words:

When, as leaders, we orient ourselves to “WE” instead of “I,” we have a new responsibility to understand who is in the “we” with us.” For example, could our “soup” include stress that is happening for people who hold a marginalized racial or gender identity? Some may feel stress as they encounter congregational practices or traditions, cherished by some, that reflect ways of knowing, seeing, and being in the world that make it impossible for them to bring their full selves. The important spiritual work leaders do in orienting themselves to “WE” and transforming practices that exclude adds to the soup.

Conclude by saying:

This soup is the context in which our congregation’s leaders must lead. It is up to our faith community and to us as leaders to hold us all—as we share this soup together.