Give the people something of your new vision. You may possess a small light, but uncover it, let it shine, use it to bring more light and understanding to the hearts and minds of men and women. Give them not hell, but hope and courage... — John Murray, Early American Universalist Minister
The majority of Unitarian Universalists come from other religious traditions or from no religious background at all. They need an introduction to Unitarian Universalism before becoming members of a congregation, not only to enhance their understanding of the faith tradition they are joining, but also to help them become an integral part of the faith community. Before making the commitment to join, prospective members should know something about the vision, mission, and practices of the congregation and be clear what the congregation expects of members. Research has shown Christian churches experience higher retention rates among members who attended a class to explain the tradition prior to joining. This pattern likely applies to Unitarian Universalist congregations, as well. The New UU program provides a framework for an intentional orientation to Unitarian Universalism and the life of your congregation.
The New UU is a series of six 90-minute workshops addressing important themes in Unitarian Universalist congregational life: worship and theology, history, covenant and polity, religious education or faith development, social justice, and membership. Each workshop provides an opportunity for participants to interact and share their own experiences, a process that echoes the Unitarian Universalist commitment to individual theological exploration. Participants will learn about Unitarian Universalism not only by hearing about it, but by doing it—exploring their own theology and its intersection with the tradition.
Recognizing that Unitarian Universalist congregations vary widely, each workshop includes a framework for introducing traditions and practices of your congregation. Each workshop provides opportunities for members of the congregation to interact with workshop participants, so participants become acquainted with members active in various aspects of congregational life. While inclusion of congregational resources and leaders requires significant advance planning for facilitators, it will provide not only a rich experience for prospective members but also an opportunity for facilitators to learn more about their congregation and its distinctive and treasured practices.
Because the program leads toward congregational membership, planning should include appropriate lay and professional leaders, such as the Membership Committee and minister(s). Consult with these leaders about when to offer the program, whom to invite as participants, what information and resources to include about your congregation, and how to conduct Workshop 6, which includes an opportunity to join the congregation.
This program will:
- Introduce newcomers to Unitarian Universalism
- Equip participants to make a decision about membership in a Unitarian Universalist congregation
- Provide information related to Unitarian Universalist worship, theology, history, social justice, religious education, and governance
- Provide resources within and outside the congregation for participants to explore topics independently
- Facilitate integration into the congregation by introducing participants to a cross-section of members.
Two or more co-facilitators are recommended. Ideally, the leadership team will include a minister and a lay person, perhaps someone who has been involved with the Membership Committee. If there are more than twelve participants, add a third facilitator. The team should be as diverse as possible in terms of age, gender, race/ethnicity, and other identities, and should be committed to welcoming diverse guest voices from the congregation. Leaders with these characteristics are likely to be most successful:
- Demonstrated commitment to and enthusiasm for the congregation and Unitarian Universalism
- Experience in leading groups successfully
- Ability to create supportive, safe space
- Curiosity about participants' experiences
- A welcoming and encouraging demeanor
- Willingness to prepare with the team and independently
- Organizational and planning skills
- Respect for individuals, regardless of age, race, social class, gender identity, sexual orientation, and ability
- Willingness to modify workshops to support the full inclusion of all participants.
The New UU is for adults of all ages and life stages who are new to Unitarian Universalism. Ideally, they will have attended a Unitarian Universalist congregation at least a few times. Anyone who has not yet committed to membership, or is relatively new to membership, will benefit from participation.
While participation should be voluntary, inviting people to participate should be an intentional process. Send personal invitations to people who have visited a congregation in recent months, particularly those who have attended worship more than two or three times.
Workshops are ideally suited to a group of six to twelve participants. Adaptations to some activities may be necessary for a larger group, including dividing into smaller groups led by individual leaders. With adaptations, the program will successfully accommodate up to 30 participants.
Integrating All Participants
Because you may not know the participants, be especially sensitive to disabilities or other special needs. Include a question about special needs on registration forms or sign-up sheets. Some activities include specific suggestions for adaptation. In all cases, keep these guidelines in mind:
Accessibility Guidelines for Workshop Presenters
- Make a few large-print copies of all handouts available to participants.
- Write clearly and use large letters on newsprint. Use black or brown markers for maximum visibility (red and green are difficult for some to see).
- Make a printed copy of prepared newsprint pages to give anyone who requests it.
- Face the group when you speak and urge others to do the same. Be aware of facial hair or hand gestures that may hamper lip-reading.
- In a large space or with a large group of people, use a microphone for presentations and for questions and answers. If an activity will make it difficult for speakers to face listeners (e.g. a fishbowl activity, a forced-choice activity, a role play), pass a portable microphone from speaker to speaker.
- When engaging in a brainstorm activity, repeat clearly any word or phrase generated by the group in addition to writing it on newsprint.
- During small group work, make sure that each group is far enough from other groups to keep noise interference to a minimum.
- Be sure aisles and doorways are clear during a workshop so people with mobility impairments or immediate needs can exit the room easily.
- When re-arranging furniture for small groups or other purposes, ensure clear pathways between groups.
- Enlist workshop participants to be vigilant about removing bags, books, coffee cups, and other obstacles from pathways.
- Use the phrase, "Rise in body or spirit," rather than "Please stand."
- Use language that puts the person first, rather than the disability (e.g., "a person who uses a wheelchair," rather than "a wheelchair-user"; "a child with dyslexia," rather than "a dyslexic child; "people with disabilities" rather than "the disabled.")
- Refrain from asking people to read aloud. Instead of going around the room and asking each participant to read a part of something, ask for volunteers or read the material yourself.
- Ask participants in advance about any food allergies. Add to your covenant an agreement that the group will avoid bringing problem foods for snacks or will always offer an alternative snack food.
- Ask participants in advance about any allergies to scents or perfumes. If any participants have allergies or sensitivities, invite members of the group to refrain from wearing perfumes and add this agreement to your covenant.
The Unitarian Universalist Association website offers additional guidance for including persons with specific accessibility needs.
Keep in mind that participants likely come from a variety of religious and secular backgrounds and bring a variety of expectations to the program. In planning workshops, consider how individual participants are likely to respond to activities. Substituting Alternate Activities may be helpful in some situations.