Unitarian Universalists and others live out their religious beliefs and values in their everyday lives. Indeed, many outsiders do not recognize the spiritual and religious nature of our faith, mistaking our sacred for others’ secular, and so perhaps it is even easier for us than for others to practice our religion all week long. At the same time, our congregations, like most religious organizations, are made up of administrative, financial, and interpersonal work. In this section, you will explore the connections between our values and the ways our religious organizations work. It is through our congregations and groups that we work to enact our religious ideas in the wider community, and it is through being with, supporting, and challenging one another that we deepen our personal spiritual lives.
□ 4.1 Becoming a Congregational Member
Find Out how many people belong to your congregation and what a member’s rights, privileges, and responsibilities are. Are there different categories of membership, such as voting membership or youth membership? How do new members join your congregation? Do they sign a membership book or other official document? If so, Access a copy of what people sign, and talk to your minister, religious chair, membership committee chair, or advisor about its importance. Are you already a member of your congregation? If not, would you be eligible for membership and would you want to become a member? Is there a special public ceremony when one becomes a member? Record you findings and thoughts in your journal or Talk them over with your advisor and/or your congregation’s minister or religious educator.
□ 4.2 Congregational Organization
Find Out how your congregation operates by selecting two of the four choices below (A, B, C, D), all of which include interviewing people. After each interview, Write a thank you note or email thank you and mention two or three things you learned from the interview. Keep Copies of your thank you notes to the people you interview as your record of what you learned.
Interview a Unitarian Universalist minister, religious educator, and music director. What sorts of education, interests, skills, and characteristics must these professionals have to get their jobs and perform well in them? Find Out how they spend their time during a typical week or month.
Interview the president of your congregation. What is her/his job? What board positions are there besides president? Obtain a list of board members and find out who each one is. How did they get to be on the board? Ask a couple of them why they chose to serve the congregation in this way, what is difficult about the job, and what is most rewarding. Attend a board meeting, letting the president know of your plans ahead of time and getting permission if needed. How are decisions made for the congregation? Later, Read a copy of the minutes of the meeting you attended and compare what you observed with the official record of the meeting. Find Out how minutes are stored and what they are used for.
Obtain a copy of the current congregational budget. Interview the treasurer or finance committee chairperson, asking questions such as: where does the money come from? what part goes to pay staff? what part goes to heat, light, building maintenance, and mortgage/rent? does the congregation have any debt? what part goes to community assistance and other social concerns? to religious education? to other programs and activities? to the UUA? How does the congregation decide what the budget will be? what happens if the congregation does not have enough money to meet the budget or does not spend all the money it budgeted?
What committees, subcommittees, task forces, councils, and other leadership structures does your congregation have? Which of these are “standing” (on-going) and which are “ad hoc” (formed for a particular task)? How big are they and who serves on them? Which work groups can anyone join and to which work groups must one be elected or appointed? How do the committees relate to each other, the staff, and to other UU congregations? Interview someone who has served on more than one committee and for a total of at least five years (if possible, try to learn about a committee whose focus interests you). Ask what they find most difficult and rewarding about committee work.
□ 4.3 Denominational Organization
Learn about how our denomination is organized beyond the congregational level by completing Choice A, B, C, D or E. If your activity choice includes an interview, Write the person a thank you note or email thank you and mention two or three things you learned from the interview. Keep Copies of your thank you notes to the people you interview as your record of what you learned. No matter which choice you complete, find a way to Share what you learn with others.
Interfaith work: Does your congregation (or a representative of your congregation) belong to any interfaith organizations in your community or region? Talk to someone who is involved in this way and Ask what the congregation wants to achieve by associating with other faith groups. Find Out how well the people from the different religions in the interfaith organization understand and show respect for each other’s religions. How are conflicts and misunderstandings resolved? What have they been able to accomplish by working together?
Find Out how many Unitarian Universalist regions and districts there are across the United States. What are the names of your region and district and what geographical areas do they cover? How do congregations, districts, regions, and the national UUA organization collaborate? Interview someone who is involved in district or regional activities to find out how congregations benefit.
Surf your way around the UUA’s website and Find Answers to the following questions. What sorts of information does uua.org provide? How big is the UUA? What other UU organizations exist outside the United States and is Unitarian Universalism the same all over? Interview someone in your congregation who is involved in UU activities at the national or international level.
General Assembly (GA) is both a conference and a group of people: it is an annual week-long gathering of UUs whose congregations belong to the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA member congregations are primarily, although not exclusively, in the United States. UUs in other parts of the world have different organizations). At this meeting, representatives of UU congregations serve as delegates: they meet to consider and vote on resolutions brought to national attention. Attendees trade information and resources with others working on similar projects in other regions of the country. This conference also includes worship services, lectures, and other events that help people grow spiritually. GAs may also focus on such issues as the environment, justice and civil rights, education, sexual orientation and gender identity, and how our collective movement behaves—how we collaborate and what we stand for as a group. Interview someone from your congregation or district, preferably someone who has served as a delegate, and learn about his or her GA experience. Find Out how your congregation prepares its delegates. Visit the General Assembly webpage and “attend” the last meeting by viewing some of the recorded materials. What resolutions were passed and not passed last year? Where and when is the next General Assembly? Find Out what youth activities are included at GA. What would you need to do if you wanted to attend a GA in the next few years? How does GA relate to our 5th UU principle?
Examine an issue of the UUA’s magazine, the UU World, looking at either the print copy or viewing the latest issue online. Can you identify items that relate to worship? District and congregational happenings? International concerns? Youth activities? Social justice concerns? The milestones of ministers and lay leaders? How do the advertisements relate to Unitarian Universalism? Choose one of the items in the publication that interests you and share it with your advisor. Discuss how the denomination’s magazine serves the interests of the UUA and congregations, religious professionals and the laity (=“lay people” or people who are not ordained ministers).
□ 4.4 Serving the World
Unitarian Universalists, like people in other religions, live out some of their ideas of right and wrong by performing service. To explore some of the ways UUs act on their faith in the world, complete Choice A, B, C or D.
Examine your congregation’s programs and Make a List of the ways in which your congregation provides service. Choose a congregational service activity that interests you and Help with it. Tell others how your actions relate to your Unitarian Universalist faith and how you felt doing this service.
Identify a local community group that provides service to others, perhaps one where another UU volunteers. Interview a volunteer there and ask how their volunteer work relates to personal beliefs or religious faith. Then, help that group with its work. Write a thank you note or email thank you after the interview and mention two or three things you learned from the interview and/or from your experience providing service.
The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) and the UU United Nations Office (UU-UNO) are two structures through which our denomination expresses its values in the world. Find Out when each of these organizations started, what their relationship to the UUA is, and what they do. For the UUSC, find out how this group is different from other religions’ mission groups. For the UU-UNO, find out what an “NGO” is and how NGOs relate to the United Nations. Find Out how individual UUs can participate in the work of these two groups and, if you wish, participate in one of their activities. Record or explain your thoughts and findings.
Concern for the world as a natural environment motivates many Unitarian Universalists to service. Look Up environmentalism and consider how it relates to the UU Seven Principles. Identify two people in your congregation who work on environmental issues and Find Out what they do. Participate in one of their projects if possible. Research an environmental issue of interest to you to find out what the problem is and how volunteers and professionals help to protect the environment. Share your findings with others.
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□ 4.5 Religious Guidelines and Problem-solving
Choose A or B.
Many people bring their religious values and beliefs into their work lives as well as into their volunteer service. Ask two UU adults how being a Unitarian Universalist affects the way they do their jobs or even what line of work they chose. Ask how being a UU affects the decisions they make, their leadership style, and/or how they interact with others at work. Find Out if religious conflicts ever come up at work and how they handle them.
How do your religious values guide you as you face difficult decisions or solve problems in your everyday life? Consider conflicts with friends and family, ethical dilemmas, and other choices. Have you ever looked to religious resources for guidance or inspiration? Share your thoughts and experiences with a UU adult and with a peer (UU or not) and Ask that person about how they apply their religious or moral values to everyday living.
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□ 4.6 Ritual and Worship
“Worship” comes from the Anglo-Saxon (Old English) word “wearðscipe” (pronounced “way-ARTH-shippa, with a hard “th” like in “them”) which translates as “worth-ship.” Basically, it means to give expression to one’s values. Ritual, on the other hand, means symbolic action, often but not always traditional or repetitive, which creates an experience and expression of one’s beliefs and values. People often use rituals to worship. To explore how these two terms operate outside of Sunday services, select and complete Choice A or B.
Find Out what worshipful activities your congregation sponsors other than the Sunday services. Consider, perhaps, activities that answer the spiritual needs of groups with particular spiritual leanings, such as UU pagans or UU Christians, a meditation group, or worship that is part of youth events. If possible, Participate in one of these activities. Also, Find Out whether there are any worship or ritual aspects of the committee meetings, small group or covenant group meetings, social justice or service projects, or religious education classes in your congregation. Record your thoughts and findings and find a way to Share them.
Individuals often conduct their own daily spiritual rituals such as prayer, meditation, “saying grace” at meals, maintaining a shrine at home, worshipping through art or nature, communicating about spirituality on the Internet, greeting others in a special way, or other activities. Identify two UUs with active ritual lives and Ask them about their practices. Try one of their activities yourself or Create your own ritual and try it out. Find a way to Express what you learn from the experience.
□ 4.7 Social Diversity and Inclusivity
Unitarian Universalist values lead congregations to strive to become evermore welcoming and inclusive of people with different religious backgrounds and beliefs, ethnicities, abilities, sexual orientations, gender identities, and socioeconomic classes. Identify which of the 7 Principles relate to our concern with diversity and inclusivity, then select and complete Choice A, B, or C to further explore one type of inclusivity.
Research what your congregation and the UUA are doing to welcome people of all classes, “races,” and ethnicities. What groups have formed to work on discrimination based on race, class, and ethnicity? What projects are currently underway and what resources are available? Record and share your findings.
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Unitarian Universalism stands out as a religion that welcomes and embraces of diversity in the areas of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. Find Out what a congregation must do to be designated a UU Welcoming Congregation. Is your congregation a Welcoming Congregation or working on becoming one? What are the steps to increase awareness and inclusion after becoming a Welcoming Congregation? If possible, ask someone who has been involved in equality and justice activities for people of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions what has been most difficult about the work and what positive results have occurred. Peruse the UUA website to see what resources on these topics are available for teens. Record your thoughts and findings and find a way to Share them.
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As a society, we have become more aware of the diversity of people’s physical, mental, and emotional abilities. Some people who would be excluded from opportunities in the past are now included with or without accommodations—sometimes all that’s needed is for people to be more open-minded about different abilities. Look Up the biography of Dorothea Dix and find out what she did to change how people of her day responded to people with mental injuries and illnesses. Find Out what “universal design” means. What does your congregation, school, or community do to make its space and activities accessible to people with a variety of abilities? What can you do to support the effort? If you or someone you know well has a disability or learning difference, how can you use your special knowledge and experience to break down the barriers? Record your thoughts and findings and find a way to Share them.
□ 4.8 How Outsiders See Unitarian Universalists
Most people in the world are not Unitarian Universalists. In fact, even though our denomination is in many ways very “American” (e.g. because of its use of the democratic process and its emphasis on freedom of religious thought), most Americans do not know much about Unitarian Universalists. Many have never heard of it, some have very limited knowledge or misperceptions, and some confuse us with other groups. Many call us “Unitarians” although we’ve been Unitarian Universalists for half a century! With your advisor, minister, or other UU adult, Discuss your experiences interacting with people who do not understand your religion. Practice describing your religion to others: What would you say if you only had a minute to speak? What would you add if you had more time? Would you change the wording depending on whether your audience is likely to want to become a UU or likely to think our religion is frightening? Find Out how two Unitarian Universalist adults describe their faith to others. Record your thoughts and findings and find a way to Share or express them.
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Next Page: Part Five: Issues for Girls and Young Women