Tapestry of Faith: Faith Like a River : A Program on Unitarian Universalist History for Adults
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Activity 4: Our Unitarian Universalist Culture

Activity time: 20 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Recruit two volunteers to read the pieces in Leader Resource 2, First Experiences. Give each their assigment in advance.
  • Print out Leader Resource 3, Newcomers' Bios. Cut it into strips, one bio per strip, and place the bios in a bowl or basket suitable to be passed.

Description of Activity

Read or paraphrase the following:

Unitarian Universalist historian Conrad Wright reminds us that boundaries are essential to any group in order to describe their identity. Our congregations are covenantal communities, gathered for a common purpose defined, if not by theological beliefs, then by shared values and ethics. We express our boundaries through the formal instruments common to groups of all kinds: mission statements, covenants, bylaws, and principles and purposes. These are important to define who belongs to our congregations.

Many may be drawn to visit our congregations because they share values we articulate as Unitarian Universalists. However, in ways both subtle and informal, our congregations can either extend a welcome to newcomers or send a message that a difference they represent or embody from the congregation's culture is too great to be bridged.

Invite two volunteers to read Leader Resource 2, First Experiences aloud, one reading the words of Joseph Fabry, and another the words of Gail Geisenhainer. Ask the group for reactions to the stories.

Then, invite participants to call to mind the first time they came to a Unitarian Universalist congregation, or the first time they visited a congregation other than the one with which they were most familiar. How did they feel when anticipaing what the experience would be like? What was the actual experience like? Can they identify aspects of the encounter which made them feel the congregation was "like them?" What about aspects of the encounter which made them feel "different?" In what ways did they feel included? Excluded?

Once all who wish to have shared, pass the bowl or basket in which you have placed the Newcomers' Bios (Leader Resource 3). Explain that each slip has a short description of a person who might one day visit the congregation for the first time. Invite each participant to select a slip of paper, read it to themselves, and imagine being the first to greet this individual on a Sunday morning before a service. In what ways might they expect the newcomer to bring some difference to the congregational culture? In what ways might the newcomer find similarities with members? How might the newcomer feel included? Excluded?

Allow two minutes for silent reflection. Then, say:

One aspect of religious hospitality that is sometimes overlooked is that hosts must be open to being changed by their guests. When a genuine welcome is offered to a newcomer-that is, when guests are received as who they are, without the need to conform to the established culture-the stage is set for transformation of both hosts and guests. When such a welcome is extended to a newcomer, the group risks being transformed by the newcomer's presence and gifts.

Lead a discussion, using these questions as a guide:

  • In what ways might the congregations that welcomed Joseph Fabry and Gail Geisenhainer have risked being changed by their presence?
  • How might you, as an individual, be changed by the newcomer whose bio you have selected?
  • How might that newcomer change the entire congregation?