Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Building Bridges: A World Religions Program for 8th-9th Grades

Alternate Activity 1: Engagement

Activity time: 90 minutes

Preparation for Activity

  • Identify a congregation, fellowship, society, or discussion group that identifies itself as Humanist and which sponsors gatherings that might be appropriate for the youth to attend. Some Unitarian Universalist congregations are explicitly Humanist. Alternatively, a Humanist Buddhist, Humanist Jewish, or Ethical Culture may meet in your area. While a worship service of a Humanist congregation is best for this engagement, a Humanist-sponsored discussion group, lecture, or social justice project may be easier to find. Your minister, a local interfaith group, or your community Chamber of Commerce may be able to suggest a local Humanist group. Online, the American Ethical Society provides links to affiliate groups in many states and information about Future of Ethical Societies, an affiliated online community for young adults (18-35).
  • NOTE: If you find no good opportunity for an engagement described above, arrange for a panel of guests from your own congregation who identify as Humanists, or have humanistic philosophies (many UUs are humanists without using the label) to speak to and with the youth. Make sure they can speak positively about what they believe and value, and what motivates them to make the world a little more peaceful, just and sustainable. In other words, do not have a panel whose primary message is, &quotI don't believe in God.&quot
  • Invite the guests to speak with the youth and then take questions about what humanism means to them, how their humanistic beliefs relate to their Unitarian Universalism, and ways they feel humanism is their religion.
  • Contact presenters and arrange a date and time for the youth to attend an event. Tell your contact the age group and the number of participants you wish to bring. Ask specifically about dress and behavior expected of visitors, including any particulars that pertain to youth.
  • Optional: Prepare observation questions as a handout, and distribute to all participants.

Description of Activity

Participants attend a Humanist gathering and process the experience, or engage with a panel of humanist Unitarian Universalists in your congregation.

Prepare the youth in advance. Describe the identity of the group you will visit: Are they a secular group, or do they consider themselves religious Humanists? Humanist UU groups often reject traditional Christian language; they may avoid words such as "church," "pulpit," "worship," "prayer," and "hymn." Many call themselves societies or fellowships instead of churches.

Invite youth to observe: What is the meeting space like? What is its character? What items are displayed? Does the architecture appear religious? Do the surroundings support quiet reflection, or do they seem designed to foster discussion?

If the youth will have a chance to talk with group members, you might offer them these questions to start:

  • Do members consider their group a religious organization? Is their meeting place a house of worship?
  • What do they think are the most important activities of the group? Which do they enjoy the most, and why?
  • What do they think of exploring Humanism in a program on world religions?
  • How did they, personally, come to be a Humanist?
  • Was this group always Humanist, or has its Humanist identity evolved over time?
  • How does the group get new members? Is the group growing?

When the engagement is over, ask participants for their immediate reactions. What was the experience like for them? How did it differ from other visits they have made? How was it similar?

How did the average age of this gathering compare with others the youth have experienced? If it was notably different, did that alter the experience? In what way?

Other possible questions:

  • What did you see?
  • Was there an altar? If so, what was on it?
  • Who participated in the gathering and in what way? Did genders have different roles?
  • Were any special garments worn?
  • Was there music? What was it like?
  • Were there children present? If so, how did they participate? Did the others seem welcoming toward children?
  • Did you notice any youth, besides yourselves? How did youth participate?
  • How were you welcomed by members?
  • Were there familiar themes in the sermon or discussion? Could you have heard similar ideas in a Unitarian Universalist worship service or meeting? Why or why not?
  • What ideas or practices were familiar from your study of Humanism?