The world's religions provide a variety of examples of how water has been regarded as part of a sacred life process, not simply another product for consumption. At the same time, our increased comprehension of the story of evolution as understood by science gives us a renewed appreciation for the role of water in sustaining life. To see water as a source of life, not merely a resource, is the challenge of a new synthesis of science and religion in our times. — Mary Evelyn Tucker, co-founder and co-director of the Forum on Religion and Ecology, in a talk at the 2001 annual meeting of the Geological Society of America
Gather the Spirit is an eight-session, multigenerational program that teaches stewardship with a focus on water. Stewardship can take many forms: donating money to our congregations and to causes we care about; volunteering to teach, to lead or to physically maintain our congregations; helping to meet the needs of others and protecting our shared resources in our local and global communities. Perhaps, today, there is no more compelling focus for our stewardship than the clean, drinkable water all life on Earth requires. Through a lens both scientific and religious, using activities a wide range of ages can do together, this program addresses the importance of water, the inequity of access to clean water, and actions we can take as Unitarian Universalist stewards. It asks: Can water sources be owned? Why is clean water scarce in parts of the world? If clean water is abundant where I live, what difference does it make if I conserve it? What can I do to promote global water equity?
Participants learn that stewardship of Earth's water resources is not just critical, but possible. They learn how to link with other progressive, caring forces to promote protection and fair sharing of Earth's clean water.
This program will:
- Cultivate gratitude for the access to clean drinking water available to many of us, most of the time
- Highlight the importance and scarcity of clean water and explore why its distribution is not equitable
- Nurture stewardship of the Earth and its resources as an expression of Unitarian Universalist faith and values
- Promote just sharing of the planet's clean water
- Build multigenerational community
- Affirm the seven Unitarian Universalist Principles, particularly the inherent dignity and worth of each individual and respect for the interdependent web of all life.
This program can be led by either lay leaders or religious professionals with group leadership skills and the time and energy to prepare workshops. Experience leading multigenerational programs is, of course, a plus. However, we all have to start somewhere. Most professional religious educators will be able to help new leaders. And many resources are suggested in the Resources section, below.
Since Gather the Spirit contains more activities and ideas than most groups will use, choose only those that seem most appropriate for the group.
It is recommended that two (or more) committed adults lead the program. Multigenerational programs are also an excellent opportunity to engage youth co-leaders in the leadership team. If you are leading this as a children's or youth program, safe congregation practice requires at least two adults to be present. What characteristics should you seek in leaders? The ability to plan tight and present loose (see Leader Guidelines, below) is important. Comfort with and respect for people of all ages is essential. Experience with the Internet is helpful. Compatibility among co-leaders is significant. A sense of humor can add a lot. Most of all look for somebody with enthusiasm, commitment and the time and energy required for the job.
Stewardship of water is a crucial, timely topic relevant to people of all ages, and Gather the Spirit is a multigenerational program, with information and activities designed for multi-age groups. The program might serve children as young as seven and adults as old as anybody in your congregation. In publicizing the program, be clear that people of all ages are welcome — indeed, needed — including singles and families of any configuration. Too often, multigenerational events are interpreted as "for families with children at home."
This program is an opportunity for congregations to build multigenerational community by engaging adults, youth and children fully as Unitarian Universalists heeding the call to action in service to Earth.
Integrating All Participants
As Unitarian Universalists, we seek to be an inclusive religion, and Gather the Spirit is designed to be an inclusive curriculum. Nobody should be excluded from the program or its activities by real or perceived physical or other limitations.
Inclusiveness sometimes requires adaptation. Some activities suggest specific adaptations, in an Including All Participants section which follows activity descriptions. Some suggestions are very simple, such as providing varied work surfaces so people can work while standing or seated.
The most essential tool in the process of inclusion is awareness that adaptation may be needed. Anticipating the small child who simply must move in order to remain engaged or the older person who must be near the speaker in order to hear can help you create an inclusive program.
Gather the Spirit offers simplicity and depth simultaneously, with varied participants in mind. Workshop activities speak in a voice the young will understand but which still engages and challenges the more mature. Individual adults or youth can participate in various activities either independently or together with family groups. If you mix family clusters with individuals who are on their own, make sure individuals and families engage each other often and well. Communication and shared experiences are essential to making your multigenerational Gather the Spirit group a cohesive, caring community.
The Taking It Home section for each workshop suggests a range of ways participants can extend their involvement with Gather the Spirit ideas and values. A Taking It Home blog can help you continue the engagement beyond the Gather the Spirit program; see Before You Start.