Planning and coordination are important to this program. Note that engagements (visits) are not included in the 90-minute workshop time. Schedule the placement of engagements, whether on Sundays or other days, as part of the flow of the program. Planning well in advance of engagement dates allows for recruitment of chaperones, notification of families, publicity for the events, and all necessary permissions and arrangements.
While appropriate or adaptable for a number of age groups, ideally participants in this program will be fairly close, if not in age, then in experience and maturity. Activities and discussions will work best if the age span in the group is not too wide.
If possible, begin to publicize the program before the end of the previous spring. Mention it in the congregation's newsletter or other publications, put up articles or one-page flyers in the church, and talk with enthusiasm about this important opportunity for the youth. Building enthusiasm will spur strong attendance, make volunteer recruitment easier, and generate family support.
Youth as Co-Leaders
Consider inviting youth to help shape the program as co-leaders. This option will not appeal to or be appropriate for all youth. Yet, it can help build leadership skills and illustrate theological diversity in the group.
If youth volunteer to co-lead a workshop, invite them to assist in planning, but remember that the final responsibility rests with adult leaders. You might start by inviting youth to co-lead an activity—one with little or no advance preparation. If you extend an invitation to co-lead, find ways to use every youth who volunteers, even those with little experience who may need more support.
The engagements with other religious communities are a prime feature of this program. Think them through carefully with your co-leaders.
Choosing your engagements. With the help of the youth, decide which communities you are interested in engaging. After the religions have been chosen, research contacts that already exist with this community through families of participants or communities your congregation has worked with. Contact the religious communities you have chosen and explain your program and your desire to engage with them. Be flexible.
No matter the method of engagement, you will need to include preparation, shared time with members of another religious community, and time for youth reflections after the shared time. It is important to include all three aspects in every engagement.
Preparation. Preparing for engagement helps participants feel at ease. The best way to prepare is to invite a member of the religious community you will engage with to speak to the group about what to expect. If this is not possible, you can prepare the group, using information from the workshop. You might do additional research by talking to religious leaders or reading books or websites that give information on what to expect when visiting different houses of worship. Information about what to wear, where to sit, how to behave, and what youth may hear or see will be useful.
Methods. There is more than one way to engage a religious community and share time with people of a different faith. The most common method is attending worship with another religious community. This is also the easiest. You will want to alert the church, temple, mosque, or other community that you are coming and bringing a group of youth. Ask if someone from the religious community can meet with the group before and/or after worship.
Another form of engagement is meeting with the other religion's youth group. This meeting should be informal. Consider providing food or snacks, but research the religious dietary restrictions. Be aware of any conflicts with holy days or other religious observations when suggesting dates.
A third option involves inviting members of your congregation who currently identify as a member of the religion being studied or have come from that religion. This kind of engagement helps youth understand our own UU theological diversity; Workshop 22, Neo-Paganism offers an engagement designed along these lines.
For religions that could prove difficult to engage, workshops will suggest other ways to experience the religion.
Reflection. Always process the engagement with reflection questions. Common topics for discussion include the nature of the sermon or message, appearance of the worship space, music heard, languages used, holy books quoted, any differences in expectations by age or gender, and how the experience compares to UU worship.
Logistics. Since not all religions worship on Sunday, some engagements might happen outside your regular workshop meeting times. Some engagements might replace meeting times. Keep this in mind when planning your calendar for the year. Other logistics to plan include parental permission forms to take youth offsite, transportation arrangements, chaperones, times and places for pre- and post-engagement discussions, and thank you cards for hosts. Let youth help with logistics and planning as much as possible. Parents can also help, as can other congregants with an interest in world religions. The religious educator will be a useful resource in your planning.