Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Riddle and Mystery: A Program on the Big Questions for Grade 6

Activity 5: Then What is a Religion?

Activity time: 5 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Newsprint, markers and tape

Preparation for Activity

  • Review your own understanding of the terms faith, religion and spirituality.
  • Review this activity. Be ready, if time is short, to bring the group quickly to the explanations of the three terms provided in the Description of Activity. Make sure you do not skip the conclusion, which connects these terms to youth's UU identities.
  • Post three sheets of newsprint and title them RELIGION, FAITH and SPIRITUALITY.
  • NOTE: If the group will do Session 16, UU You, you may want to re-use this Description of Activity and any notes you make on newsprint. Identify a place to store these materials where you or a co-leader can retrieve it later.

Description of Activity

Faith, religion and spirituality are all parts of a Unitarian Universalist experience. Exploring these concepts and their inter-relationships within a Unitarian Universalist identity will help youth more deeply understand their "UU" answer to the question "What are we?"

Say in your own words:

We have been talking a lot about religion in this session, and that makes sense, since Unitarian Universalism is our shared religion. You could say that religion brings us together here today. But, what is religion? What does the word mean?

Direct the group's attention to the newsprint you have titled RELIGION. Invite participants to contribute one- or two-word ideas they associate with the word. Have them call out their ideas, or ask them to raise their hands. Record all contributions on the newsprint without editing or commenting.

Now turn to the newsprint titled FAITH." Ask the group, "What comes to mind when you hear this word? What do you think it means?" Record all responses.

Finally, ask the group to consider spirituality: "What does this word mean to you?" Record responses on the sheet titled SPIRITUALITY.

Invite the group to consider all three sheets of newsprint. What phrases or ideas appear on more than one sheet? Circle the similar and repeated items, using a different color marker, to help the group visualize.

Now focus on the ways the three words differ. Ask: Which items appear only on one sheet?

Lead a discussion using these questions:

  • What is the difference among religion, faith and spirituality?
  • In what ways are they related?
  • (for each word) In what ways do we bring it with us when we come to our congregation?
  • (for each word) In what ways do we find it when we come here?

Affirm contributions that are in tune with these explanations. As needed, draw from these explanations to help the group understand each term:

  • Religion: A religion is a tradition or organization that provides guidelines for how to approach the big questions and how to live an ethical life. A religion has ritual practices and traditions to reinforce shared beliefs and to celebrate belonging. Within a religion, people who share beliefs come together according to agreed-upon procedures and rituals. Religions have leaders to support or enforce the beliefs and practices, and have sacred texts or oral traditions to serve as a foundation for beliefs and practices. Religions often also have sacred or special meeting spaces (churches, temples, synagogues) and other sacred places (rivers, mountains, birthplaces of prophets, etc.).
  • Faith: The word "faith" is used in more than one way. Some people use the word "faith" to mean the same thing as "religion." For example, someone might say "the Catholic faith" meaning "the Catholic religion." Some use the word "faith" to mean "beliefs." For example, "the Buddhist faith" meaning "the Buddhist belief." In Unitarian Universalism, we share a faith even though we do not all have the same beliefs about the big questions. We do all believe in the freedom to seek our own answers to the big questions in a responsible search for truth and meaning. Faith includes beliefs, but it is much more. Faith can be defined as "making meaning." Faith also includes finding purpose in our lives, determining what is right and what is wrong, and knowing what is true about life and the universe. Faith is about what we trust, and what we most value. Whether we are aware of it or not, we act on our faith all the time - on what we trust and believe to be true. You do not need to be part of a religion to have faith and make meaning in your life. But when we are part of a religion, a congregation - a faith community - we have each other's support in exploring and expressing our faith; we have other people and an inspiring tradition to help us seek answers to big questions and live our lives with meaning and purpose.
  • Spirituality: Spirituality is a human quality inside everyone. It is the capacity inside you to experience wonder, mystery and awe, and a feeling of connection, whether to the universe, to nature, to other people, to all living things, to God or the divine. Each of us experiences spirituality in our own way. Meditation, walking, gardening, running, praying, singing, marching for civil rights, working in a homeless shelter, yoga - the variety of spiritual experiences is unlimited. Elements that seem common to a spiritual experience are the acts of paying attention, being in the moment, and reflecting on the experience. Your religion can nurture your spirituality by providing knowledge and experiences that are helpful. But like faith, humans can experience spirituality without a formal religion.
  • The concepts of religion, faith, and spirituality are all both simple and difficult at the same time. They are simple because you can give easy definitions and think that you know what they mean. They are difficult because other people will understand these concepts differently and they also think they know what they mean. Communication about these words may be complicated.

Conclude by saying that the way in which each of us is a Unitarian Universalist combines religion, faith and spirituality in some way. The combinations and even the definitions of these words will be unique for each of us and will likely change over our lifetimes.