Session 1: Every Congregation Has a Story


  • Chalice or candle and lighter, or LED battery-operated candle
  • Computer with Internet connection
  • Optional: Timer
  • Optional (in-person): Newsprint, markers, and tape; paper and pens or pencils


  • Send an email to participants a week ahead of time. Include the date, time, and location/link for the upcoming meeting. Include these questions that you will pose at the start of the session:
    • Where did you recognize yourself, our faith community, or our Unitarian Universalist movement in the book?
    • What in the book made you curious to learn more?
    • What felt challenging? Affirming?
  • Prepare these Session 2 questions. You will share them during the Closing and in your next reminder email.
    • [Include only in the reminder email.] What thought or question has come to you since we last met, about your faith community’s road to Beloved Community?
    • How do you see yourself expressing power in your life? Who else (individuals or groups) has power in your life?
    • Who in our congregation has some power to begin to make change?
  • Be ready to share these suggested covenant points by pasting this text in the Chat:
    We each promise to:
    • speak from our own experiences and perspectives
    • listen generously to the experiences and perspectives of others
    • resist making assumptions about one another
    • be mindful of “taking space and making space” to ensure everyone has opportunities to speak and to listen
    • expect and accept that questions may linger
    • respect the confidentiality of the personal information and stories shared here
  • On the UUA website (if you are not here already!) open the Discussion Guide for the Mistakes and Miracles UUA Common Read.
  • Open Jamboard (or other online workspace). Set up a page where the group can work together. Be ready to share links and passwords with participants in the Chat.
  • Set out a chalice.
  • Open your Zoom meeting 10 minutes before your group’s start time. Enable Live Captioning.

Chalice Lighting (5 minutes)

Say, “Our chalice lighting words are from a blog post of the UUA’s Southern Region, written by Natalie Briscoe, Nancy Combs-Morgan, and Kathy McGowan.”Then, read:

As Unitarian Universalists, we hold our relationships at the center of our faith tradition. Because of this, how we are together is most sacred. Our promises of how we are going to be are held in our covenants. Our covenants are our aspirations of how we are going to make ourselves and the world a better place.

…We live with multiple covenants all the time. Some people have many covenants within their congregation and some are aware of only one, beautifully written and said during worship. People also have covenants that they created outside of congregational life; wedding vows would be an example. We can also live a covenantal life without having anything written down or said at all.

If you are truly willing to live a life of reverence and respect beyond yourself, then you can live a covenantal life. If you strive to have healthy relationships and intentionally attend to them, you know when you are out of covenant; you know when something is wrong, when something is broken, when you are out of right relationship. It is up to each one of us to pay attention to these most sacred bonds and to do our part to aid in the healing of any brokenness.

Light the chalice.

Introductions and Creating a Covenant (10 minutes)

Introduce Mutual Invitation as it will be used throughout the group’s time together:

Mutual Invitation is a process for sharing power in our conversations developed by Rev. Eric Law. With Mutual Invitation, the facilitator invites a first person to share. That person can share or “pass for now”—but whatever they decide to do, they get to invite the next person. This process continues until everyone has spoken. It’s a great practice for honoring different cultures and personality styles. In some cultures, folx need to be invited before they feel there’s space for them to speak; in others, especially dominant cultures, some folx feel empowered to jump right in.

As we use Mutual Invitation, don’t worry if you haven’t been called on, or if you can’t remember who all has spoken yet. Everyone gets their space to share, and often I invite you to put me last. If you need to know who hasn’t gone yet, you can just ask all those who haven’t spoken to raise their hand.

So let’s try using Mutual Invitation as we introduce ourselves.

Ask each person to introduce themselves briefly and share in a sentence why this Common Read got their attention. Say that there will be time later for more sharing.

Post the covenant points you have prepared. Propose them as guidelines and read, or have volunteers read, the points aloud. Ask if any need to be clarified, amended, or added. Note changes in your document. When the covenant is complete, screen-share your edited document and paste the final text in the Chat. Invite participants to voice or signal their agreement.

Keep your covenant document to revisit at the beginning of subsequent sessions.

Say that to keep our covenant with one another we may at times experience discomfort. Point out that the practice of Mutual Invitation may be a new and uncomfortable practice for some people. Say that if we can listen in this way and share power in this way, this will deepen how we hear one another’s stories.

First Impressions (15 minutes)

Invite the group to share their very broad reactions to Mistakes and Miracles. Select a participant to begin and remind them to use Mutual Invitation. Consider the size of the group and suggest a time limit for each speaker. You may wish to use a timer and offer a hand or voice signal to use shortly before someone’s time is up.

Offer the group these questions and invite each person to respond to one or more when it is their time to speak:

  • Where did you recognize yourself, our faith community, or our Unitarian Universalist movement in the book?
  • What in the book made you curious to learn more?
  • What felt challenging? Affirming?

Sharing: Learning from Our Story (20 minutes)

Say that Mistakes and Miracles reflects the authors’ trust in the power of stories to engage and teach. The five congregational stories lift up complexities, awkward turns, and redemptive moments that could surface in any congregation. Yet it is the specifics of each story that draw us in.

Offer this quote, from the book:

Storytelling… takes time, and in that sense, it is an act of resistance in a culture like ours, which values the quick and efficient.

Ask for volunteers to name a moment or a “plot point” in one of the stories in the book that hooked them and to say why. Guide participants to discuss how their examples moved the congregation’s story along as “plot points.”

Offer this example:

In Phoenix, congregant Julie Erfle, a white woman, lost her spouse Nick, a policeman who was shot and killed by an undocumented immigrant during a routine traffic stop. Julie’s reaction to the backlash against immigrants influenced the next actions of the congregation.


The co-authors of Mistakes and Miracles, Nancy Palmer Jones and Karin Lin, believe every congregation has a story and could write its own book. Two of the five congregations were, at the time of writing, Nancy and Karin’s home congregations. Each co-author has their own take on these congregation’s journeys toward Beloved Community.

For Nancy, when she meets with members of Spanish-speaking ministries during her Candidating Week in San José, she experiences themes that will shape her ministry there.

In Cambridge, Karin attends a worship service where ministerial intern Elizabeth Nguyen, who is Vietnamese American, gives a Lunar New Year greeting and then acknowledges her imperfect knowledge of her own culture and language, due to assimilation. Karin recognizes her own self and her own experiences in the pulpit.

Then, invite people to consider:

  • What is our story?
  • What have you experienced in this congregation? If you’re new-ish, what is a story you’ve heard?
  • Is there one shared story of our congregation? Multiple stories?

Ask them to think of one story that seems important or meaningful to them. Say you will give them a few minutes to choose and then invite them to share. Use the Mutual Invitation practice, reminding participants that it is always okay to “pass.”

Say that the next discussion will go deeper into one of the book’s stories to see what we can learn about the congregation at the center of it and about ourselves.

Optional Break

You may wish to offer a break. Be mindful that a break will extend the 90-minute session.

Discussion: What Are Our Intentions? (35 minutes)


As Karin and Nancy discovered the stories of these congregations, they found Common Threads running through all of them (see Chapter 2). “Intention” is the first Common Thread Karin and Nancy identified among the congregations moving toward multicultural Beloved Community. So let’s look at how intention plays out in the Tulsa story, and then see where it shows up in our own stories.

Invite participants to recall the Tulsa story. Ask:

Did the Tulsa congregation actively move into antiracism, or did the opportunity fall into their lap?

Say that the book suggests that at first, Rev. Marlin was expressing interfaith hospitality to a mostly Black, universalist Christian church that needed worship space. Later, the vision statement of the merged congregation expresses intention to build multiracial, multicultural Beloved Community. Ask:

When did intention begin to play a role in Tulsa’s story?

Invite the group to recall moments they remember from the Tulsa story.

Now invite the group to begin thinking about what their faith community’s “intentions” are at this moment, with regard to becoming an antiracist, multicultural congregation, a Beloved Community. Then say it is a good idea to come to a shared understanding of where we are and where we have been as we begin to dream of where we want to go.


So it’s good to ask, Where are we now on the road to multicultural, antiracist, anti-oppressive Beloved Community?

Acknowledge that looking at our congregation’s journey can get discouraging. Some participants may feel they’re not even on the road at all. Remind them: The fact that this conversation about this book is happening is a valid starting point. As they think about it, they may realize the road began much earlier.

Share a Jamboard page (or, if in person, post several sheets of newsprint).

Ask participants to list moments in which the congregation has or has not been intentional about creating multicultural, antiracist, anti-oppressive Beloved Community. Invite them to use the Jamboard to post their contributions or use the Chat.

Say that people may remember events differently; someone may have experienced an event quite differently from someone else. Acknowledge that different versions of the same moments all belong on the Jamboard; all are part of the congregation’s path.

As the Jamboard fills, encourage conversation with these questions:

  • Where do you find an intention? Where have things seemed to “just happen”?
  • What do you think our community’s intentions are, at this moment?

Close out this conversation by saying:

The book’s co-authors, Karin and Nancy, hope that as an outcome of this Common Read our community discerns more fully what we need to grow in intention and action toward Beloved Community.

Closing (5 minutes)

Say that next time the group will dig into the congregations’ stories from the book. Say that the next discussion will be theme-focused, and the theme will be “power.” Invite participants to revisit the chapters about the congregations with these themes in mind, and make note of anything they may wish to share during the next meeting. Offer the discussion questions for the next session and invite participants to give these some thought in advance.

Remind the group that this is the first of four meetings. Confirm the day, date, time, and place to reconvene.

Make sure to set aside the covenant that the participants affirmed so you can post and quickly review it at the start of the next meeting.

Offer these closing words, from the late Reverend Dr. Hope Johnson:

“One Love”

We are one,

A diverse group

Of proudly kindred spirits

Here, not by coincidence—

But because we choose to journey—together.

We are active and proactive

We care, deeply

We live our love, as best we can.

We ARE one

Working, Eating, Laughing,

Playing, Singing, Storytelling, Sharing and Rejoicing.

Getting to know each other.

Taking risks

Opening up.

Questioning, Seeking, Searching…

Trying to understand...


Making mistakes

Paying Attention…

Asking Questions


Living our Answers

Learning to love our neighbors

Learning to love ourselves.

Apologizing and forgiving with humility

Being forgiven, through Grace.

Creating the Beloved Community—Together

We are ONE.

Extinguish the chalice and thank participants.