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

Alternate Activity 1: Cone vs. Abbott - Is Scientific Reason an Adequate Guide for Living?

Activity time: 30 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Handout 4, Reason and Reverence Worship Resources
  • Copies of Singing the Living Tradition, the Unitarian Universalist hymnbook, for all participants
  • Materials for creating worship, e.g., the chalice, table, and decorative cloth from the workshop
  • Optional: Meditation manuals and other worship materials
  • Optional: Keyboard or piano

Preparation for Activity

  • Copy Handout 4, Reason and Reverence Worship Resources, for all participants.
  • Optional: Arrange for an accompanist to help lead the music participants choose for the worship service.

Description of Activity

Participants plan and then lead a ten-minute worship service.

Introduce the activity using these or similar words:

When Charles Darwin published his Origin of the Species in 1859, it set off a firestorm in religious circles as the idea of direct, Divine creation was challenged by theories of evolution by natural selection. The initial response from both Universalists and Unitarians was negative, but by the turn of the twentieth century sympathy was growing for the idea-as historian Ernest Cassara writes, even a "joyful acceptance."

Two Universalist leaders who spoke on opposing sides of the issue were Orello Cone (1835-1905) and Alexander Abbott (1812-1869). Cone found no conflict between science and religion. He felt that the knowledge gained from scientific investigation created only a stronger basis for religious belief and hoped that the scientific method would help unravel faith's mysteries. He believed the Bible must be approached, as other areas of study are best approached, with reason and rational scientific inquiry. Abbott, while he respected science and its accomplishments, held that the mysteries of faith were not only necessary to the fullness of human existence, but also an area which science could never penetrate.

Ministers on both sides of the argument, and in both Unitarian and Universalist churches, weighed in with articles, essays, books, and addresses to their congregations. While views of religion, science, and their intersection may have shifted over the years, this topic is still a matter of lively engagement in our congregations.

Invite participants to create a ten-minute worship service on the theme of reason and reverence. Distribute Handout 4, Reason and Reverence Worship Resources and copies of Singing the Living Tradition. Then invite participants to self-select into three groups:

  • Creating sacred space
  • Music, opening words, closing words
  • Dialogue between Abbott and Cone.

Explain that the worship service will include a dialogue between Cone and Abbott, as well as music and opening and closing words. Tell them they will have fifteen minutes to plan their component and coordinate with the other groups.

In addition to Handout 4 and hymnbooks, offer any mediation manuals and other worship materials you have provided. Explain that they may use these materials in their plan if they wish to.

Tell the groups when ten minutes have elapsed. At the end of fifteen minutes, re-gather the group and invite them to present the worship service they created.

Including All Participants

Some people may wish to read aloud as part of the worship service or to dramatize the dialogue, others to share music, others to handle logistical details, and some to simply participate. Invite participants to be involved in the worship service in ways that feel comfortable and authentic for them.