Workshop 3: Repentance and Repair to Transform Our World

A Note to the Facilitators

This is a 90-minute workshop, designed to follow Workshops 1 and 2. Read the core workshop and the optional activities. Then, schedule one, two, or three meetings for this workshop, depending on which activities you plan to use.

Optional Activities

  • "Who Was Maimonides?” (15 minutes)

    Workshop 1 of this UU Common Read introduced On Repentance and Repair; Workshop 2 took a deeper dive. If your group has done neither, please include this activity. It gives some grounding on Jewish thought (ancient and contemporary) to orient a UU exploration of a resource informed by another faith.
    ○ If you use “Who Was Maimonides?” your workshop will run nearly two hours, including a break, so you might prefer to do this workshop in two sessions. This will also allow more expansive discussions in other activities. At a second meeting, make your introductions and covenant review brief. You can repeat the Opening and Closing from the first meeting or choose your own.

  • Congregation-specific “Finding Our Repentance and Repair Work” (60+ minutes, additional session)

    NOTE: This optional session is not yet published! Come back for a link to it in December 2023.

    A shorter version of this activity comes just before this workshop’s Closing. Participants explore how a UU congregation can take some accountability locally for harms that are part of a national or systemic pattern. You can invite the congregational book group to keep going.

    If there is interest, add a session after this workshop. The added time invites participants to dig into the congregation’s concrete, local opportunities for repentance and repair and make plans and commitments.

    The work of this additional session will be challenging. It calls for pastoral support. If the group might choose this option, have a plan in place:
    ○ To ensure a pastoral presence, before setting dates check the availability of your religious professionals or lay pastoral leaders. Invite them to co-facilitate the extended activity and/or act as chaplains for the group.
    ○ Reach out to potential peer and mentor supporters for participants who hold marginalized identities. Many of us with intersectional identities find it complex and painful to untangle where we are harm-doers and where we are victims in certain contexts.
    ○ Engage in advance with justice leaders and activists in your congregation. In the framework of Maimonides, the actions and partnerships currently underway may be your congregation’s “repair work.” Participants will want to discuss it, and may wish to join and deepen it.


    ● Chalice or candle and lighter, or LED battery-operated candle
    ● Computer with Internet connection
    ● Covenant from this group’s previous gathering
    ● Optional: Timer
    ● Optional (in-person, congregational group): 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 meeting. 
    ● If this group has met before, locate the group’s behavior covenant as affirmed in the previous gathering. If this is a new group, prepare a document with the suggested community agreements below. Be ready to quickly paste this text into the Chat and to screen share the document to help the group tweak the agreements if needed and then affirm them.
    We each promise to:
    o share from our own experiences and perspectives
    o listen generously to the experiences and perspectives of others
    o resist making assumptions about one another
    o “take space” or “make space” (“move up/move back”) to ensure everyone has opportunities to share and to listen
    o expect and accept non-closure (questions may linger!)
    o respect the confidentiality of personal information and stories shared here
    ● On the UUA website (if you are not here already!) open the UU Common Read Discussion Guide for On Repentance and Repair.
    ● Set out a chalice.
    ● Open your Zoom meeting 10 minutes before your group’s start time. 
    ● Optional: If you think you may want a Jamboard for idea-sharing, create one for this group now.
    ● Optional: Enable Live Captioning to generate a transcript of your session. If you do so, be sure to inform participants at the start of the workshop that you are doing this to document ideas that they will generate later.

    Welcoming and Entering

    As participants enter, you may wish to play music. Here are two versions of “Come, Come, Whoever You Are” available on YouTube:
    ● Sung by Eleuthera Diconca-Lippert, choir director at Unitarian Church of Montreal 
    ● Sung by Christopher Watkins Lamb, Sara Edwards, Jenn Powell, Sally Lee, Kara Shobe, and Amber Lamb from Foothills Unitarian Church

    Chalice Lighting (5 minutes)

    Read these words:

    We kindle the fire of our faith,
    Ritual that calls out across time and space
    giving new life to the promise:
    To put an end to injustice,
    To heal what has been broken and,
    To create love in its every form.
    - Rev. Alison Miller
    Alternatively, or additionally, share the words adapted from Rumi or invite the group to join in singing “Come, Come, Whoever You Are,” including the phrase “though you’ve broken your vows a thousand times.”

    To introduce the song, say that the song in our UU hymnbook, Singing the Living Tradition, takes its words from the American poet and translator Coleman Barks, inspired by the 13th century Sufi Islamic scholar and poet, Rumi.

    Tell the group:
    The song arrangement by the Rev. Lynn Ungar emphasizes an important phrase that reflects Rumi's Islamic beliefs: “Though you've broken your vows a thousand times.” This phrase affirms that mistakes, including harmful ones, are human nature. Also, the phrase affirms the Muslim belief in a merciful God.
    Read the words, and then, if you wish, lead the song:
    Come, come, whoever you are
    Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving.
    It doesn’t matter.
    Ours is not a caravan of despair.
    Come, even if you have broken your vows
    a thousand times
    Come, yet again, come, come.
    -- [inspired by] Jalāl al-Dīn al-Rūmī (Sufi mystic poet, 1207-1273 CE)

    Check-In/Covenant review (10 minutes)

    Explain any “housekeeping” for this session. Ask participants to have journaling materials at hand. Remind online participants how to use the Chat and how to raise a virtual hand.

    Remind the group that in breakout group discussions they should use Mutual Invitation: When the first speaker is finished, they invite someone else to speak, pass, or “pass for now.” This ensures participant equity in a group discussion.

    Invite the group to re-introduce themselves. 
    ● On Zoom, invite everyone to post their name, pronouns, and geographic location in the Chat.
    ● In person, lead self-introductions practicing Mutual Invitation. Introduce yourself, then invite someone else; from there they will use Mutual Invitation.

    You may also suggest participants include a one- or two-sentence response to this check-in prompt:
    ● What opportunities or regrets about repentance and repair have come to you, since we last met?
    If you are online, share out any check-ins participants post in the Chat.

    Remind the group that the purpose of this gathering is to continue exploring Maimonides’ five steps of repentance and repair, as presented by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg in her book. Say, in these words or your own:
    In previous meetings, we looked at repentance and repair in personal relationships and in our chosen, covenanted communities. Now we will consider how nations and societies might repent and repair.
    Then add:
    The author shares from Jewish tradition. She invites people of all, any, and no religious faith to find useful tools to become more whole, to create more wholeness, after doing harm in their relationships, communities, and world.
    If the participants are of your own congregation, take a minute to explain how this gathering came about. (For example, this group may be a gathering of Board members or lay leaders, or it could have been requested by a right relations or social justice committee, etc.) If someone other than a co-facilitator is better equipped to do this, invite that person to briefly do so now. Tell the group what the facilitators hope will be the outcomes of this gathering.

    Affirm the group’s behavior covenant. Post their group agreements as a screen-shared document and/or in the Chat. Read the agreements aloud. Invite participants to offer any changes they feel are needed and edit the agreements to reflect changes. Invite everyone to affirm the agreements with a thumbs up or a “YES” in the Chat. Save the agreements for any future meetings of this group. (If this group is new, provide the group the suggested covenant points you will find in Preparation, and lead them to adapt and then affirm them.)

    Optional: Who Was Maimonides? (15 minutes)

    Include this activity if your group hasn’t done previous workshops in this UU Common Read.

    Remind the group that On Repentance and Repair is a modern interpretation of the writings of Maimonides, a medieval Jewish scholar. Invite “popcorn” responses (n the Chat if you’re online):
    • What do we know about Maimonides, and the purpose of his writing? How does it relate to Jewish sacred texts?
    • What had you heard of Maimonides before?
    • What surprised you about him and his story?
    Fill in Maimonides’ background, as needed, from page 22-23 of the book.

    In Judaism, the Hebrew Bible is sacred text. Also sacred is the centuries-long, ongoing work of interpreting the text, with the goal of understanding what God wants the Jewish people to do. Maimonides’s writings are a foundational contribution to Jewish thought. With her book, Rabbi Ruttenberg interprets Maimonides’ interpretations of sacred text, for modern times, continuing a sacred Jewish tradition.
    In Unitarian Universalism, we, too, keep searching for truth, wisdom, and meaning so that we can choose actions that speak our faith.
    What are YOUR sources (Sources) that help shape your values and guide your actions?
    Invite participants to reflect:
    • What is one of your guiding sources?
    • What is one example of when you used that guidance in choosing a course of action?
    Give participants up to three minutes to reflect silently. Suggest they journal their thoughts and turn off their cameras if they wish.

    Regather the group. Use Mutual Invitation to allow any volunteers to share briefly.

    Next, say:
    Exploring a wisdom source from another faith asks us to acknowledge what we do not know about that faith.
    Invite the group to check in with themselves about any questions they have -- while understanding that there may be no answers in the room! Invite participants to write in their journal or share in the Chat:
    • What questions do you bring, as you consider how a 12th century Jewish philosopher may have wisdom to help you choose faithful actions?

    Nurturing Shared Accountability (45 minutes)

    Say that this workshop takes us “beyond”—meaning, we are no longer considering just our individual selves, nor our small, covenanted communities. Now we explore how the Maimonides framework comes into play for global, national, societal harms--collective harms that demand collective repentance and repair.

    Invite the group to first take a theological moment with the concept of “transformation.” It is key to Maimonides’ Steps 2 and 5. Say, in these words or your own:
    The idea of transformation is a key component of Maimonides’ framework. True repentance and meaningful repair both require it.
    Transformation also resonates deeply with Unitarian Universalists. We value growth and change. We understand that our beliefs can change over a lifetime. We deeply believe that society can change, for the better–that’s what feeds our work for justice.
    In our first meetings we reflected on how it can be hard for an individual to change, and how it can be hard for a covenanted community, even a Unitarian Universalist congregation. So then, what are the challenges when asking a whole society or nation that has done harm to change, to deeply correct itself?

    Remind the group that Danya Ruttenberg, in the book, explores some well known harms perpetuated by nations in modern history. Invite the group to recall the book’s stories of national repentance.

    Use the Questions and Notes below to prompt and guide this conversation. You can read the Notes aloud to recall the stories of South Africa, Germany, and Canada in the book. Invite the group to consider which steps of repentance and repair were attempted. Online or in-person, allow volunteers to contribute by raising their hands. If online, also ask for contributions in the Chat.

    Take no more than 10 minutes for this whole group discussion.


    • What efforts were made?
    • Which steps of repentance and repair were attempted?
    • Where did it succeed, where did it fall short?


    South Africa
    In South Africa, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission formed in 1995 shortly the African National Congress and Nelson Mandela were elected. How did South Africa do, with Maimonides' steps?

    Step One - Naming and Owning Harm. Full confession, naming the harm, was required of each individual apartheid perpetrator in order to become eligible for a pardon: The author writes:

    A person [an apartheid perpetrator] wouldn’t be eligible for a pardon unless they fully disclosed all of the facts surrounding any human rights abuses in which they played a part.

    The televised public hearings validated victim experiences; everyone who had benefited from apartheid learned more about its harms.

    Step Three - Restitution and accepting consequences. In the end, government reparations only included the victims and families who had testified. So, some restitution was made, to some people, but no reparations were made for the vast numbers of other people, individuals and communities, harmed by the apartheid system. 

    Steps Two and Five - Starting to change, changing so the harm never happens again. What do we know about how South Africa has attempted or accomplished these steps? Danya Ruttenberg writes that 19 years after the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission convened, Archbishop Desmond Tutu claimed that the country had fallen “tragically short” of its goals.


    Along with South Africa, the author lifts up Germany’s restitution for the Holocaust as an example of what might be possible, although incomplete. She writes:
    …although it has been imperfect, inelegant, and insufficient, a reckoning and a naming of harms has been undertaken; work to become different has progressed; amends, apologies, and different kinds of choices have been made…It has required both agitation at the grassroots level and bold steps from national leaders, but it has been done, and in a deeper way than many other countries can claim.
    In 1951, West Germany stated that “unspeakable crimes had been committed in the name of the German people.” They pledged to “make moral and material amends,” and promised reparations to Jewish organizations helping survivors as well as the newly formed State of Israel, home to half a million Holocaust survivors.

    However, in the early 1950s, only five percent of West Germans in a survey said they felt “guilty” toward Jews. Only 29 percent agreed the nation owed restitution to the Jewish people.

    Years later, younger Germans pushed for more accountability. By the 1980s, a new attitude of self-criticism led to public admissions of the Holocaust history, such as monuments at local sites of atrocities.


    Danya Ruttenberg writes:

    Here’s one example of what it can look like when a country tries to jump from public confession to apology and reparations without interrogating the ways in which it needs to create profound internal change, so as not to continue perpetrating the same harm, again and again.

    In 2011, Canada’s prime minister at the time issued a formal apology to the country’s Indigenous peoples for the government’s role in cultural genocide, abuse, and deaths through the boarding school network. …A Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2105 published 94 “calls to action”… on things like health, education and child welfare in order to improve Indigenous lives now and to adjudicate justice on harm perpetrated earlier.
    Yet the government acted hypocritically. At the same time, it pushed for development of oil and gas pipeline projects on Indigenous treaty land.

    Ruttenberg writes,
    Harper didn’t help his country do the transformational work, and when the opportunity to behave differently arose, he wasn’t ready or, perhaps, willing.
    ...The government is still committing harm, environmental injustice, colonialist land theft, and more… Without transformation, there’s no repentance. There’s only the same harm, again and again, perpetrated in different ways.

    Next, move participants into Breakout Groups for 15 minutes to discuss:
    ● How can Maimonides’ prescription for accountability work in a national or societal level?
    Post the question into the Chat, along with Maimonides' five steps as a reminder:
    1. naming and owning fully the harm
    2. starting the process of inner change
    3. accepting consequences, making amends, and restitution
    4. the apology only comes once real effort has been undertaken

    5. Making different choices
    After 15 minutes, invite volunteers from the small groups to share insights with the large group.

    If a prompt question is needed, ask:

    What are the challenges a nation or society might have in becoming meaningfully accountable?

    If needed, suggest these possible roadblocks:
    • all the people not on the same page
    • inadequate care for victims
    • no clear statement of harm done
    • apologies before significant, transformative changes

    Invite people to turn their thoughts to the role of an individual in a society or nation that has done harm. Ask them to raise a hand or type “yes” in the Chat as a time comes to mind when they gave personal time, treasure, or talent to help repair a large, national harm or a pattern of societal harm.

    Ask them not to share what they did or why, but simply to say “yes.” Say the action can be a small, one-time thing or something more. Examples: a monetary donation to stop government misuse of Indigenous tribal land, joining a march to seek reparations for people harmed by slavery and racism, sending a postcard to a legislator to protest immigration policies.

    Now invite participants to hold their repair action in mind and take a minute or two for personal reflection and journaling. Invite them to turn off their camera if they wish. Read aloud, then paste into the Chat:
    ● As a member of the society or nation that caused harm, where do you fit in a scenario of repentance and repair?
    ● Is it possible to apply Maimonides’ steps to your individual role? Thinking of a harm you tried to repair, is it possible to name your complicity in the harm? Is it possible to do Step One now? How might you name your personal piece of the harm-doing? Try to write words of confession that fully name the harm you did, name your contribution to the collective harm-doing.

    After two or three minutes, bring the group back together. Invite reactions to the reflection exercise. You might ask:
    • What thoughts came to mind?
    • What’s the point, or benefit, of naming your individual role? Is there any movement toward wholeness in doing it?
    • Could you use Maimonides’ steps personally in this situation? What more actions could you take to “start to change” or make restitution?

    Invite responses in the Chat. If there is time, invite a few volunteers to raise their hands.
    Then say:
    It can be powerful to join with others to accept complicity and begin repair. How would it be to work Steps 2, 3, 4, and 5 with others?
    Share, in these words or your own:
    We’ve talked about how systemic or national harms often act themselves out locally. We might have special opportunities for repent/repair of national harms by working in our local communities.
    Many UU congregations take their justice work to this deep level, naming their complicity in local versions of a national harm and doing the work in their local communities. Few (until now!) are following Maimonides’ steps. Yet we often find a spirit of accountability, repentance, and repair.
    Ask participants to mention examples in the Chat or popcorn-style if in person. If you have time, invite a few volunteers to raise a (virtual) hand and say more.

    Share these examples:
    • All Souls in Tulsa, OK – site of a race massacre in 1921 destroying the Black community of Greenwood; the UU congregation initiated a reparations project, the first reparations paid to survivors of the massacre; the congregation’s white founder was a newspaper publisher who sparked the massacre; now a multiracial congregation, having merged with a Black church; culture change, despite resistance of some members
    • UU congregations sometimes seek out local, Native American community leaders for partnership as they pursue repair work for Native American people’s displacement by the founding congregation. At least one congregation in New England voted a statement that declared the congregation’s history of stolen land and labor.

    Finding Our Repentance and Repair Work (15 minutes)

    Invite participants to join one final Breakout group. Say:
    The question is, “What commitment can you make to connect Maimonides’ five steps of repentance and repair to your own justice and repair priorities?”

    Tell the groups they will have 10 minutes. Instruct them to use Mutual Invitation. In the first round, each person may speak for up to 2 minutes. Encourage participants to jot down specific actions they think of that could deepen a repentance and repair process.

    After 10 minutes, bring the group back together. Invite volunteers to share in the Chat any concrete actions that came up, especially actions that might become commitments.

    Closing (15 minutes)

    Say you will offer two check-out questions. Participants may choose either.

    Post the following questions into the Chat. If you have time, give the group a minute to reflect on their answers.

    ● What do you take away from this book and our conversations that can help you find your place in accountability for collective harm-doing?
    ● What are your current feelings about how to apply Maimonides’ steps for meaningful repentance and repair for our shared collective harms?
    Invite any person to raise their hand to go first when they are ready. From there, use Mutual Invitation. You may wish to limit each speaker to a minute, maximum and use a timer.

    Thank all the participants for sharing their time and thoughts.

    Share this quote from Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg. It is from her blog post, “Like a Goat Outta Hell,” May 1, 2023:
    The only path to t'shuvah, to true t'shuvah—to doing the work to face who you have been, to mend what must be mended, and do the work of growth and transformation needed to make tomorrow truly different from yesterday—requires incredible bravery. It requires climbing a great mountain—the mountain of our deepest fears, the mountain of everything we hold most sacred. It requires preparing to sacrifice the thing we are most terrified to lose, the thing we think we can’t live without.
    To close, offer these words from community activist Grace Lee Boggs:
    You cannot change any society unless you take responsibility for it, unless you see yourself as belonging to it and responsible for changing it.
    Extinguish the chalice.