Session One: Call to Vision

Hand holding a lit firecracker with american flag in the background


  • Chalice, candle, and matches or LED battery-operated candle
  • Cloth and any chosen decorations for the chalice table, such as stones, shells, or flowers
  • Newsprint, markers, and tape
  • Reading: “Let America Be America Again” by Langston Hughes
  • Video: “Let America be America Again” read aloud by Bill Sinkford, Marta I. Valentín, Marlin Lavanhar, and Mimi Bornstein at the UUA 2008 General Assembly
  • Computer with Internet access and large monitor or projector, speakers, and screen


  • Find some quiet time before beginning the session. Ground yourself in whatever spiritual discipline you practice, or simply take a few minutes to breathe and release your day, and any associated concerns.
  • Set out cloth, decorations, and chalice.
  • Write on newsprint and post:
    • My name is __________.
    • I am part of or claim these communities _______________________.
    • I am here today because__________________________.
  • Cue video and test equipment.

OPENING (15 minutes)

Welcome participants. Share information about an introduction process called Mutual Invitation, developed by theologian Eric Law, using these or similar words:

Introductions begin with the leader, who holds power in the group. The leader introduces themself, then gives away the power by inviting someone else to introduce themself and to then invite another person to do the same. The process of self-introduction and invitation continues until everyone has been invited to speak. Today’s self-introduction will include your name, what community(ies) you claim as yours, what brought you here today.

Invite a participant to light the chalice. Read these words from the Rev. Theresa Soto, used with permission, or invite someone else to read them:

Bring your broken hallelujah here

Bring your broken hallelujah here.
Bring the large one that is beyond
repair. Bring the small one that’s
too soft to share. Bring your broken
Hallelujah here. I know that people
have told you that before you can give
you have to get yourself together. They
overstated the value of perfection by a
lot. Or they forgot. You are the gift.
We all bring some broken things, songs
and dreams, and long lost hopes. But
here, and together, we reach within.
As a community, we begin again. And
from the pieces we will build something new.
There is work that only you can do. We
wait for you.

FOCUSED CHECK-IN (18 minutes)

Invite participants to take a deep breath together and sit in silence, taking in the words just spoken. Then, begin the focused check-in using the question, “How is your spirit?” Invite participants to respond as they are ready. It is okay to have some silence while participants are thinking about this question. As the check-in ends, acknowledge all of the feelings in the room, whatever they may be. Offer the wish that your time together will offer hope and a glimpse of a vision which can guide us forward.

SPOTLIGHT (10 minutes)

Introduce the poem, “Let America Be America Again." Tell participants that Langston Hughes wrote it in 1935, during the Depression. Say that the poet was a leader of the Harlem Renaissance, which lifted up cultural expressions of Black people in the U.S. who had been part of the Great Migration from the South to Northeastern and Midwestern cities. Invite the group to hear, through the poem, the dissonance between U.S. American ideals and the actual experiences of those people on the margins.

Show the video of the poem, “Let America Be America Again,” read aloud by Reverend William Sinkford, Mimi Bornstein, Reverend Marta I. Valentín and Reverend Marlin Lavanhar during worship at the UUA 2008 General Assembly.

Call attention to the poem’s text for those who may want to refer to it during the reflection time, or later, at home.

Optional: If you are not able to show the video, read the text aloud, asking a participant to help. One person reads the plain text and another reads what is in parentheses, so that two distinct voices are heard in the poem.

SILENCE (2 minutes)

REFLECTION (60 minutes)

Invite participants to reflect on the Hughes poem as well as the Soto poem you used as chalice lighting words, responding one at a time, as they are moved, without cross-talk or discussion. Use all three questions below or choose one that speaks to the group and go into more depth with it.

  • Hughes’ poem offers hope, but it also offers a portrait of a country that has fallen short of its ideals. Think of the United States today, and share one thing that makes you angry, sad, or ashamed and one thing that is bringing you hope, and possibly joy.
  • What constitutes a “great” America to you? What words and images from the Hughes poem speak to a vision you have for our country?
  • What small broken hallelujahs might you bring forth? What pieces do you bring as gifts to help our community begin anew?


Invite participants to take a few moments to quietly reflect on what they have appreciated about their time together and what longings they are left with, then share with one another in the group or in pairs.


Share these words by Victoria Safford, used with permission. Invite participants to share in reading it aloud by each, in turn, taking a portion.

Map of the Journey in Progress

Here is where I found and chose to be brave.

Here’s a place where I forgave someone, against my better judgment, and I survived that, and unexpectedly, amazingly, I became wiser.

Here’s where I was once forgotten, was ready for once in my life to receive forgiveness and to be transformed. And I survived that also. I lived to tell the tale.

This is the place where I said no, more loudly than I’d thought I ever could, and everybody stared, but I so no loudly anyway, because I knew it must be said, and those staring settled down into harmless, ineffective grumbling, and over me they had no power anymore.

Here’s a time, and here’s another, when I laid down my fear and walked right on into it, right up to my neck into that rolling water.

Here’s where cruelty taught me something. And here’s where I was first astonished by gratuitous compassion and knew it for the miracle it was, the requirement it is. It was a trembling time.

And here, much later, is where I returned the blessing, clumsily. It wasn’t hard, but I was unaccustomed. It cycled round, and as best I could I sent it back on out, passed the gift along. This circular motion, around and around, has no apparent end.

Here’s a place, a murky puddle, where I have stumbled more than once and fallen. I don’t know yet what to learn there.

On this site I was outraged and the rage sustains me still; it clarifies my seeing.

And here’s where something caught was wrong with my eyes, that I see the world strangely, and here where I said, “Yes, I know, I walk in beauty.”

Here is where I began to look with my own eyes and listen with my ears and sing my own song, shaky as it is.

Here is where, if by surgeon’s knife, my heart was opened up – and here, and here, and here, and here. These are the landmarks of conversion.

Extinguish the chalice.

About the Author

Marta I. Valentín

Marta I. Valentín is the Professional Development Director in the Ministry and Faith Development staff group. Her former shared ministries were the Unitarian Universalist Church of Medford, MA; First Church Unitarian in Littleton, MA, and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, VA. Her...

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Black and white photo of american flag
A Portrait of Langston Hughes

Among many things, James Mercer Langston Hughes was an American poet, social activist and writer of various forms. Hughes not only wrote poetry, but also authored a number of novels, short stories and plays.

Headshot of Rev Victoria Safford

The Rev. Victoria Safford is minister of the White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. She is the author ofWalking Toward Morning: Meditations (Skinner House, 2003) and a contributor toThe Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear (Basic Books, 2004).

Rev. Marta I. Valentín at 2008 GA

Rev. Marta I. Valentín at 2008 GA