Before You Start
Read through the entire program. Become comfortable with the program's eight-workshop sequence, the flow of each workshop, and the stories and other resources you will use in the workshops. Understand what is required for the interfaith service event.
Advance Work: Materials, Technology, Guests
Look ahead for materials you will need to obtain and invitations you will need to make in advance of workshops. For Workshop 1, you will need a collection of news articles that addresses religion in modern life, and you may choose to provide Juicy Fruit(R) gum, Cracker Jack(R) snacks, and/or oranges. Some workshops invite you to share online resources with the group; find out whether you will have a computer with Internet access and a monitor large enough for the entire group to see together.
Schedule and Promote the Program
Schedule the program. Consider: Over what time span will you hold the eight workshops? How will the workshops interact with other youth programming at your congregation? When might you hold the service event? How will your workshop schedule accommodate service event planning, pre-event meetings between youth and event partners, Faith in Action activities, and alternate activities you would like to include? Share as much schedule information as you can when you promote the program to youth and their families.
The Service Event
Familiarize yourself with interfaith service work by previewing the resources provided with this program, especially those related to the model of interfaith service promoted by the Interfaith Youth Core. Visit the websites of local and national interfaith organizations. One of the best actions you can take is to join the Interfaith Youth Core's Bridge-builders Network. You will gain access to background information about many aspects of religious pluralism and tools to help you guide the group's interfaith service event planning.
Identify people in your congregation and individuals and organizations in the wider community involved in interfaith work. You will need these resources as you plan Faith in Action activities, a speakers' panel in Workshop 3, and the interfaith service event itself.
Interfaith Service Event Step-by-Step Outline
The interfaith service event engages youth in common action for the common good—an essential component of religious pluralism. Planning and experiencing a service event with people of other faiths will help participants build interfaith leadership skills and experience the transformation that can come from acting on shared values with others.
The step-by-step process provided here assumes your program has enough co-leaders and participants with time to plan, in a community where you can find interfaith partners and a suitable service action to undertake together. However, you can plan a service event as a small group and/or with a small time commitment. For example, identify a service event another faith group is already planning and ask to partner with them. Call youth leaders in other faith communities and find out whether the Unitarian Universalist youth group might be welcome helpers or attendees. Or, contact a local service planner such as the Hands On Network, a YMCA, or a national fundraising walk with a local event. See if you can bring a religiously diverse group of volunteers to a service event they have already planned. Perhaps you can arrange for the Unitarian Universalist youth to facilitate interfaith dialogue afterward.
Step 1. Before the first workshop, co-leaders should meet. Include any other adults who will help implement the program, such as the religious educator, minister, or social justice committee members. Answer together:
- How much time can we commit to helping to plan this service event?
- What additional days/times, outside of workshops, are best for meeting?
- What skills are we currently missing and who can we invite to bring these skills?
Find out your congregation's safety guidelines (including whether drivers for offsite events will be covered by the congregation's insurance). Obtain permission forms, family contact information, and other material from the religious educator or religious education committee.
Sketch out a timeline for the service event. Perhaps you already know when you would like to hold the interfaith service event. More likely, much will be decided later, after research and input of youth in the workshop and identifying partners are decided. For now, get a sense of the "big picture." Do you have three months to prepare for the service event, an entire church year, or some amount of time in between? Remember to take holidays of various faith communities into account; check the Religious Tolerance website for guidance.
Prepare a list of possible service events. Include events already scheduled for your congregation or community (such as preparing/serving food at shelters or AIDS walks) and new, original ideas the youth might find interesting. This list is just a catalyst. You and participants will create a longer list together.
Step 2. Before the workshops begin, meet with youth, their parents/caregivers, and, if possible, the religious educator. Invite the families' support of the interfaith service event; make sure they understand the time involved, especially the likelihood of meetings beyond the workshops, possibly at sites away from the congregation. Explain the goals of the program and the purpose of engaging youth to plan and lead the service event. Seek the help you need, such as drivers. Provide permission forms. Present the preliminary calendar and timeline and discuss potential obstacles.
Step 3. With the youth, in Workshop 1, reflect on these questions and record the answers:
- How much time do you have and when will you be free?
- What service projects have you previously participated in?
- What contact information do you need? How will the group (including parents/caregivers) communicate outside of meeting times?
Step 4. With the youth, in Workshop 2, process these questions:
- Who could you partner with? (This question follows Activity 3, Community Asset Mapping. Assign youth and co-leaders to work together to make contacts. Expect this to take at least a week.)
- What service options are there in your community? (This question will generate a list of possible events to propose to partners.)
Step 5. This and all future steps can differ among programs. One variable is whether the youth are planning on their own or with their interfaith partners. Workshop 3, Activity 1, guides planning solely among the Unitarian Universalist youth. After Workshop 3, the activities to plan the event are alternate activities.
Here are guidelines to keep in mind when meeting with partners:
- If, by chance, your partners are able to meet during workshop time, continue planning using the alternate activities. Religious strictures such as not working on the Sabbath (Saturday or Sunday) and dietary restrictions may affect your meeting plans.
- After a group has agreed to partner with you, fill them in on conversations your group has already had, such as brainstorming possible projects and discussing a time line. A partner group might want to do the same before you meet together.
- Ideally, all youth will meet together to plan. However, because of scheduling conflicts, you may need to gather just a few leaders from each partner group. Encourage these leaders to assume responsibilities for various tasks, which they can then delegate among other youth and adults.
- When the partners meet, spend time getting to know one another. Post the calendar and timelines you have created. Set future meetings and a date for the event. Pick an event. It is okay to start small.
- List everything that needs to happen before the event: advertising, food and transportation, contacting and confirming with the service site, gathering materials, fundraising. Have youth or adults leaders volunteer their groups for each task. Remember that the youth will need support in carrying out their tasks.
Step 6. Confirm logistics. Make sure everyone involved—for example, people at the service site, transportation provider, chaperones—gets a call confirming the current plan and date. Do this three weeks before the event, and again three days before the event. If there are discrepancies, fix the plan!
Optional: Between Workshops 3 and 6, build momentum through advertising. Try to obtain local news coverage for any pre-events such as lunch dialogues. For help and ideas, consult the Days of Interfaith Youth Service Quick Start Guide or Bridge Builders resources via the Interfaith Youth Core website.
Step 7. Prepare for reflection; see Workshop 6, Activity 1. You have set aside time for reflection during the interfaith service event. The youth will need to be equipped to facilitate or participate in that reflection. Have an intentional conversation about the challenges of interfaith dialogue, and train any named facilitators in dialogue facilitation.
Step 8. Run the event.
Step 9. Celebrate! When the project is completed, affirm young people's service work and celebrate their contributions to building a better world. After the service project, make sure to report the tangible result of their service to the group.
Step 10. Debrief. Find guidance in Workshop 8, Activity 1. Make note of adjustments for next time. Send thank you notes or emails to everyone involved.
Because you are working with different faiths, and a potentially large group of youth, there are additional issues you will need to address throughout the event planning:
- Relevance. Is the service site clearly addressing a need in your community?
- Space. Is the service site set up in a way that encourages group interaction and conversation?
- Food. Are participants serving or packing food? If so, take into account religious restrictions and make sure all religious groups are comfortable with the activity.
- Group size. How many participants can the service site hold? There are benefits and drawbacks to having participants serve all together versus forming smaller groups.
- Transportation. Is the service site a reasonable distance from the group meeting place? Be sure to factor transportation time into the schedule.
- Insurance. Are participants covered by insurance at the service site?