Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: The New UU: A Program for Welcoming Newcomers to Unitarian Universalist Congregations

Activity 2: Theodore Parker and the Crafts

Part of The New UU

Activity time: 25 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Copy the story "Theodore Parker and the Crafts" for all participants.
  • Write questions for the small groups on newsprint, leaving them covered until the appropriate time:
    • What do you think motivated the actions he (they) took?
    • What risks did he (they) take?
    • What aspects of his (their) thinking and action do you support? What aspects do you object to?
    • Have you ever acted with similar motives? How did it work out?

Description of Activity

Participants will consider a story of social justice and the complexity of motives behind people's actions. Introduce the activity with these or similar words:

You may recall from our discussion of Unitarian Universalist history in Workshop 2 that Unitarian Universalists have actively worked to change the world. Unitarians, Universalists, and Unitarian Universalists have been leaders in abolition, women's rights, educational reform, civil rights, and other movements. There are also times in our history when the choices made and actions taken did not as clearly support the goal of justice, equity, and compassion in human relations, at least when those actions and choices are viewed with a twenty-first century lens. We'll consider a nineteenth-century story to reflect on the challenge and complexities of social activism within our movement.

Distribute copies of the story "Theodore Parker and the Crafts" and invite volunteers to read the story aloud. Invite participants to move into three smaller groups. Invite one group to consider the Crafts; the second group, Theodore Parker; and the third group, Millard Fillmore.

Display the questions written on newsprint. Ask each group to address these questions about their assigned person/s, allowing ten minutes for this discussion. Then, invite each group to present key points from their conversation.

After each group has had a chance to present, continue the discussion with this question, "How could the same faith lead to such different responses to the situation in the story?"

Conclude the activity with a summary such as:

Since Unitarian Universalists do not subscribe to a particular theology or view of truth, none of us can dictate a particular stance on an issue. However, we do trust in the process of ongoing revelation and in the ability of people to use reason and compassion to guide their work in the world. Thus, we embrace democratic process and encourage all to work within that process. Sometimes, this means that we move more slowly than some activists would like. Other times, we may find Unitarian Universalists on different sides of a complex issue. We may find that in time we change our position on an issue we felt so sure of. Often, though, building support slowly within a faith community with a focus on hearing all voices (democratic process) results in a deep level of congregational commitment to a particular course of action.

Parker is often quoted as saying, "I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice. Things refuse to be mismanaged long."

Good words to keep in mind as we struggle toward a more just world in the long run.