Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Faith Like a River: A Program on Unitarian Universalist History for Adults


Program Structure

To acknowledge our ancestors means we are aware that we did not make ourselves, that the line stretches all the way back, perhaps to God; or to Gods. We remember them because it is an easy thing to forget: that we are not the first to suffer, rebel, fight, love and die. The grace with which we embrace life, in spite of the pain, the sorrow, is always a measure of what has gone before. — Alice Walker

History is often viewed as a linear progression, where events follow events and actions occur in reaction. But history is not straightforward. This program guides participants to explore the dynamic course of Unitarian, Universalist, and Unitarian Universalist history—the people, ideas, and movements that have shaped our faith heritage.

The program offers maximum flexibility, allowing congregations to customize a series of workshops to fit their interests and needs. Workshops are organized thematically rather than chronologically so groups can choose areas of interest to them. Just as congregations can customize the overall program, facilitators can tailor an individual workshop by selecting from a variety of different kinds of activities.

While our history is largely influenced by and centered in Europe and North America, this program includes a broad a range of stories, people, and locations.

The authors hope this program inspires both facilitators and participants to continue to explore our shared and diverse heritage.


This program will:

  • Introduce the rich history of Unitarian Universalism from the beginning of our theological heritage to contemporary times
  • Explore our inheritance of theology, practice, and institutional organization as manifested in various times and places in our history
  • Present some of the events, historical settings, and people that influenced Unitarianism, Universalism, and Unitarian Universalism
  • Demonstrate connections between historical events, people, and stories and current Unitarian Universalist values, symbols, organizational structures, and traditions
  • Engage participants with primary source materials
  • Encourage participants to explore the history of their own congregations
  • Give participants the tools and inspiration to research more deeply topics of particular interest
  • Offer participants a way to enter into the story of Unitarian Universalism so that it becomes personally relevant.


A team of two or more adults, either lay leaders or religious professionals, should facilitate these workshops. Although consistency of leadership offers many advantages, every workshop need not be led by the same facilitators. Seek leaders who are:

  • Knowledgeable about Unitarian Universalism
  • Committed to the Unitarian Universalist Principles, to the congregation, and to 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 workshop plans to support the full inclusion of all participants
  • Able to listen deeply and to encourage participation of all individuals
  • Able to demonstrate respect for individuals, regardless of age, race, social class, gender identity, and sexual orientation
  • Able to honor the life experiences each participant will bring to the program.

While knowledge of Unitarian Universalist history is helpful, it is not a requirement for effectively leading this program. Willingness and ability to adequately prepare for each workshop, to research answers to questions raised by participants and to encourage participants' own research is far more valuable to creating a good learning and faith development experience for participants than is extensive knowledge of Unitarian Universalist history.


This program is intended for adults. It can be adapted for youth or for a multigenerational program that includes youth and adults. The workshops are equally suitable for first-time visitors and long-time congregational members. Facilitators should be attentive to the differences in knowledge and life experience participants bring to the group, particularly if the group includes a wide age span.

Workshops can accommodate any number of participants. Workshops of fewer than six participants can do small group activities in the full group, or skip some small group activities. If the group has more than twenty-five participants, you will need at least three facilitators.

Integrating All Participants

People with obvious and not-so-obvious disabilities may need accommodation in order to participate fully. In addition to accommodating the accessibility needs of participants who request them, you are urged to follow these basic Accessibility Guidelines for Workshop Presenters:

  • 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 microphone you can 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.
  • If the group will listen to significant amounts of material read aloud, be ready to provide printed copies to any hearing impaired participants so they can read along.
  • 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—for example, straight chairs, soft chairs, chairs with arms, and chairs without arms—so participants can find seating that best suits their needs.
  • When re-arranging furniture for small groups or other purposes, ensure clear pathways between groups.
  • Enlist participants' vigilance in 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 ask individuals to read aloud. Request volunteers or read the material yourself. When possible, ask for volunteers before the workshop and give each volunteer a copy of the material they will read.
  • Ask participants in advance about any food allergies. Add to your group covenant an agreement to avoid bringing problem foods or to always offer an alternate snack.
  • Ask participants in advance about any 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 UUA Disability and Accessibility webpage.

Participants bring a wide range of learning styles and 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.