Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Resistance and Transformation: An Adult Program on Unitarian Universalist Social Justice History


The Program

Once upon a time we were

Now we are

And some day (Hallelujah!) we shall surely become. — from "Some Day" by Margaret Williams Braxton

This program helps Unitarian Universalists delve deeper into the heart of their faith. Many people come to Unitarian Universalist congregations because of our movement's reputation for engaging in social justice work as a matter of faith. Too often, they learn little about the history of that engagement beyond what is taught in a new member class or offered in an occasional Sunday sermon. Unitarian Universalists who have grown up in this tradition may remember only a few pieces of our social justice history from children and youth religious education programs. Resistance and Transformation presents stories from our social justice history never before gathered in one place. Activities and questions for engagement and reflection deepen participants' understanding of the place social justice work holds in Unitarian Universalist heritage, culture, and identity.

This program is neither an all-inclusive history of the Unitarian Universalist social justice legacy nor a how-to primer on social activism. Rather, it offers a selection of stories, resources, and activities that synthesize ideas and action and blend history, theory, and practice. Participants will come away from these workshops with more knowledge about our past and a sense of how it continues to shape current Unitarian Universalist identity. The program offers vision and inspiration for future social justice work.

Resistance and Transformation consists of 16, 90-minute workshops that can each be extended to two hours. The workshops revolve around the stories of Unitarian, Universalist, or Unitarian Universalist people and congregations' involvement in social justice struggles. Each workshop encourages participants to think about their own involvement in social justice work and how the challenges, struggles, and choices of our religious forebears can inform our own choices today. Themes include:

  • The range of Unitarian and Universalist responses to slavery, and an examination of what it means to risk defying the law of the land
  • The question of pacifism within Unitarianism and Universalism, explored through stories of congregations and individuals that wrestled with decisions to support or oppose particular wars
  • Historic and contemporary experiments in forming utopian communities
  • Unitarian Universalist responses to anti-Communist fervor in American politics and society, following World War II
  • Unitarian Universalist involvement in the Civil Rights movement and the call for Black Empowerment within our Association, and the hard choices individuals, congregations, and denominational leadership made then
  • The Unitarian Universalist involvement in 20th- and 21st-century struggles for equality and justice, including the bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender movements, the women's movement, and the campaign for comprehensive sexuality education.

The workshops unfold events, issues, and challenges in our social justice history, telling the truth as best we know it and acknowledging that our forebears have at times acted in ways that make us proud of our tradition and at times made choices or acted in ways that are not in line with our religious values as we understand them today. This program challenges participants to engage with events and individuals from our history by asking good questions and discerning meaning for our own time. The concluding workshop affirms there are more Unitarian, Universalist, and Unitarian Universalist social justice themes and stories to uncover and invites participants to name some. May this program offer both inspiration and understanding as Unitarian Universalists faithfully face the challenges of our own time in our ongoing struggle for justice in the world.


This program will:

  • Present important themes, people, and events in Unitarian, Universalist, and Unitarian Universalist social justice history
  • Provide resources, including stories, background information, and primary source materials, to help participants engage with the questions and dilemmas that defined particular times in our history
  • Facilitate conversations on major areas of social justice work using a contemporary Unitarian Universalist perspective
  • Introduce a variety of strategies for conducting social justice work
  • Challenge participants to examine how they and their congregations can better put Unitarian Universalist values into action.


This program is well suited to being led by a team of two or more adults that includes a minister or religious education professional, but anyone with a passion for this material and a willingness to facilitate non-judgmental discussion can be a successful leader. Consistency of leadership offers many advantages; however, every workshop need not be led by the same facilitators.

While leaders need not be scholars of Unitarian Universalist history to lead this program, they will need basic knowledge of Unitarian Universalism. In addition, consider choosing workshop leaders who are:

  • Committed to the Unitarian Universalist Principles, the congregation, and the faith development components of this program
  • Willing and able to thoroughly prepare for each workshop
  • Effective at speaking, teaching, and facilitating group process
  • Flexible and willing to modify the workshop plans to support the full inclusion of all participants
  • Able to listen deeply and encourage each individual to participate
  • Able to exhibit respect for individuals, regardless of age, race, social class, gender identity, sexual orientation, and level of ability
  • Able to honor the life experiences each participant will bring to the program.


This program is for adults and older youth who want to learn more about the history of Unitarian Universalism, have an interest in social justice, and want to deepen their understanding of Unitarian Universalist identity.

Workshops can accommodate any number of participants, with six participants an ideal minimum. Workshops of fewer than six participants may do small group activities in the full group, or choose to do only a portion of those activities. The suggested maximum number of participants is 25; you will need at least three facilitators to accommodate a large group.


People with obvious and not-so-obvious disabilities need accommodation in order to participate fully. As a presenter, you may or may not be aware of a participant's need for accommodations. In addition to accommodating the accessibility needs of participants who request them, you are urged to follow theseAccessibility Guidelines for Workshop Presenters for every activity.

  • Prepare a few large print copies of all handouts.
  • 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 information you plan to post on newsprint, to give to any who request it.
  • Face the group when you are speaking and urge others to do the same. Be aware of facial hair or hand gestures that may prevent or interfere with lip reading.
  • In a large space or with a large group of people, use a microphone for presentations and for questions and answers. If a particular activity will likely make it difficult for speakers to face those who are listening (e.g., a fishbowl, forced choice, or role play activity), obtain a portable microphone to pass from speaker to speaker.
  • 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, position each group far enough from other groups to minimize noise interference.
  • Keep aisles and doorways clear at all times during a workshop so people with mobility impairments or immediate needs can exit the room easily.
  • Offer a variety of seating options, such as straight chairs, soft chairs, chairs with arms, and chairs without arms, so participants can find seating that best accommodates their needs.
  • When re-arranging furniture for small groups or other purposes, ensure clear pathways.
  • Enlist workshop participants in being 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—for example, "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."
  • Do not put individuals on the spot to read aloud. Avoid read-alouds that require everyone in the group to automatically take a turn. Request volunteers, or read the material yourself.
  • Ask in advance about participants' food allergies. Add to your group covenant an agreement to avoid bringing problem foods for snacks or to always offer an alternate snack food.
  • Ask in advance about allergies to scents or perfumes. If 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 and staff can offer guidance for including people with specific disabilities; consult the Accessibility section of the UUA website. In addition, some workshop activities suggest specific adaptation under the heading "Including All Participants."

Participants bring a wide range of learning styles and information processing preferences. With this in mind, the workshops offer a variety of activities. Review each workshop's Alternate Activities. Plan each workshop to best suit the group.