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

Activity 3: How Broad the Umbrella?

Activity time: 25 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Newsprint, markers, and tape
  • Leader Resource 2, Freedom of Belief
  • Optional: Computer and digital projector

Preparation for Activity

  • Print out Leader Resource 2, Freedom of Belief and familiarize yourself with its contents.
  • Write on newsprint Henry Whitney Bellows' 1865 descriptions of diverse 19th century Unitarian factions:
    • Evangelical Christian Unitarians - firmly rooted in Christianity, held to the miraculous nature of Jesus as savior of humankind
    • Conservative Unitarians - older traditionalists who put great store in rationalism, holding theologically traditional and institutionally conservative Unitarian Christian views
    • Radical Unitarians -resisted a strong church structure, were strongly anti-creedal, and wanted to include world religions other than Christianity in Unitarianism
    • Broad Church Men - (including Henry Whitney Bellows) Unitarians who saw truth in all these positions and wanted Unitarianism to be as open and broad as possible; sought to unify all the factions
  • Optional: Download the descriptions and prepare them as a single digital slide. Test the computer and projector.

Description of Activity

Tell the group they will now focus on the history of religious tolerance within our faith tradition.

Summarize Leader Resource 2, Freedom of Belief, then read aloud the descriptions of the four factions. Ask participants to consider with which group they might have stood if they had lived in the nineteenth century. Allow a few moments, then designate five parts of the room for the four different groups and "none of the above." Invite participants to move to the part of the room that will reflect their choices, grouping all the "radicals" together and all the "traditionalists" and so on. Once everyone has chosen a position, invite those who wish to say a few words about why they chose to stand where they did. Ask, what might we learn about Unitarian Universalism today from this history? Are there religious "factions" in your congregations? What are they, and what are the positive or negative implications?

Including All Participants

If moving about the room or standing presents a challenge for anyone in the group, allow everyone to remain seated. Call out the names of the groups one by one, and then call out "none of the above." Ask participants to raise their hands or otherwise signify when they identify with the group named.