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

Activity 1: Introduction

Activity time: 15 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Print out Leader Resource 1, Background - Saints and Martyrs and familiarize yourself with its contents.

Description of Activity

Share these words of Unitarian Universalist minister Victoria Safford:

Many Unitarian Universalists are accustomed to self-identify as exiles, or at least emigrants either from some other religious tradition or from an utterly un-churched secular life. For most of us, our emigration has been voluntary. We were not excommunicated or banished from the churches and the temples of our childhood; we walked, and nothing forced us to come here. Technically, we are more willful expatriates than persecuted exiles.

But within our collective memory, the shared history of our tradition, is carried the imprint of true exile: early Universalists banished from the countries of their birth, chased as far as the New World (and even here the going was not exactly easy); early Unitarians martyred by Calvin or the Inquisition, their books forbidden, their churches destroyed, their communities demolished, in Poland, Spain, Italy, Romania. Read one way, our history is the story of gadflies and rabble-rousers, perpetual malcontents and incurable heretics always inconveniently pushing the boundaries of convention. Read another way, and perhaps more honestly, Unitarian Universalist history is the story of those who could not with integrity abide imposed belief or imposed religious practice. It was there they faced the most awful kind of exile-separation from their own hearts, their own consciences, their God.

Introduce the workshop theme with these words, or your own:

While Unitarian Universalists often invoke the names of our most famous martyrs-Michael Servetus, Frances David, Norbert Capek, James Reeb, Viola Liuzzo-and the ways in which they died, we rarely take the time to contemplate their "stories of exile." Let us not forget that these women and men lived lives filled with quandaries and choices that are not unlike our own, and that their deaths do not constitute the full story of the lives they lived.

Use Leader Resource 1, Background - Saints and Martyrs to explain the terms "believer," "saint," "martyr," "witness," and "sacrifice." Invite comment and reflection.