Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: What Moves Us: A Unitarian Universalist Theology Program for Adults

Activity 2: Introducing Charles Chauncy

Part of What Moves Us

Activity time: 25 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Copy handouts for all participants.
  • Prepare to project Leader Resource 1, Charles Chauncy Portrait, or make copies.
  • Post the newsprint with four categories of experience from Activity 1.
  • Optional (recommended): Arrange for a participant or guest to play the role of Chauncy and read the sermon excerpts (Handout 2). If possible, provide the handout to the volunteer ahead of time.

Description of Activity

Display or distribute Leader Resource 1, Charles Chauncy Portrait. Briefly introduce Charles Chauncy using these or similar words:

Chauncy was the leading opponent of the Great Awakening, the Protestant evangelical movement that swept through the British North American colonies between 1739 and 1745. Prompted by the verbal attacks of the evangelical preachers and his growing distrust of the mass outbursts of enthusiasm they stoked in their followers, Chauncy used his highly-disciplined, dispassionate, rational mind to analyze the major elements he believed were really involved in a personal, spiritual experience of religious conversion and renewal. In the process, he constructed a rational foundation for a theologically progressive but socially conservative liberal faith tradition, inadvertently sparking a new American liberal theological tradition.

Distribute Handout 1, which contains more detail about Chauncy's life, and invite participants to take it home.

Invite participants to explore whether Chauncy provides a useful frame to help us understand what we mean when we say we have or want to experience personal, spiritual renewal as Unitarian Universalists. Tell them you will use excerpts from his 1742 sermon, "The Out-pouring of the Holy Ghost" for this purpose. Mention that the excerpts include some paraphrasing.

Distribute Handout 2 and invite participants to take a few minutes to read it. If you have arranged for a participant or a guest to play the role of Chauncy, introduce that person and invite them to read aloud Chauncy's words.

When the reading is done, direct participants' attention to the list of Chauncy's four categories of experience and the reflection prompt you have posted. Invite participants to identify something they have experienced in a Unitarian Universalist worship service (a reading, story, sermon, music, prayer or meditation) and analyze it according to Chauncy's categories. Invite participants to use Chauncy's categories as a guide for learning new ways to think more concretely about what they mean when they talk about personal spiritual experiences as part of their liberal faith tradition. Allow five minutes for reflecting and writing.