By gabrielle farrel, natalie fenimore, and jenice view

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Description of Activity

Before you begin, ring the chime (or other noisemaker). Make eye contact with each participant. Introduce the story:

Today Unitarian Universalists talk about many other religions and not just Christianity, but Christianity is a part of our history. The founders and early believers of both Unitarianism and Universalism were all Christians. They came from Protestant religions, such as Methodist and Presbyterian.

But these early Unitarian and Universalists believed in following your conscience in matters of religion—deciding for yourself and not simply believing what others in authority tell you to believe. This led our faith community to become something different from a Christian faith. We encourage one another to look to many faith traditions each for their own truth. We find wisdom to feed our faith in many religions and philosophies. We welcome people who have religious roots or find faith wisdom in Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Humanism, Wicca and many other traditions, including Christianity.

Thomas Starr King was one of those early believers, raised in a Christian faith. Let's see how he changed and what he did as he grew up.

Read or tell the story. Sound the chime (or other noisemaker) again at the end.

Invite the children to think silently on their own about the story.


Now we are going to practice listening and discussing skills—both are needed to better understand the story from the multiple perspectives in the room as we find out what each other thought about the story.

Ask everyone to use "I think" or "I feel" statements. Remind them not to assume others think or feel the same way. You may suggest that a brief silence be maintained after each person's comment.

Invite the children to retell the story, briefly, in their own words. What children recall and relay tells you what they found most meaningful or memorable. Then, use these questions to facilitate discussion. Make sure every child who wants to speak has a chance:

  • Do you think it was an easy or a difficult decision for Starr to leave the Unitarian religion and become a Universalist?

  • Why do you think his friends were upset?

  • Do you think it was easy or hard for him to move to California , leaving his friends again, this time to move far away?

  • Is it scary, or exciting, to think that your beliefs might change as you learn and grow and experience life? Why?


Materials for Activity

  • All participants' Window/Mirror Panels

  • Handout 1, Faith Symbols (included in this document) , for all participants

  • Basket(s) of Window/Mirror Panel materials:

    • Sheets of Mylar(R) in several colors, shiny gift wrap, aluminum foil and other reflective paper

    • Sheets of plain or construction paper

    • A variety of drawing and writing materials, including color markers (permanent markers work best on Mylar)

    • Glue sticks, tape (including double-sided tape) and scissors, including left-hand scissors

    • Optional: Stick-on sequins, a hole-puncher, yarn, ribbon, scraps of fabric and a variety of old magazines to cut up

Preparation for Activity

  • Have materials easily accessible, including copies of Handout 1 you provided to participants in Activity 1.

Description of Activity

Say, in your own words:

Today we have spent some time examining our beliefs and where we learned or discovered them. We talked about how our family's faith heritage and our Unitarian Universalist Sources can help us as we keep exploring our beliefs. We have shared some of our own beliefs and seen how different and individual they can be, even just among the people in this room.

Now you have a chance to express who you are in your beliefs by adding to your Window/Mirror Panel.

Ask the children to bring their Window/Mirror Panels to work tables. Distribute Window/Mirror Panel basket(s). Invite the children to:

  • Draw on paper or Mylar, or cut out and decorate, one or more religious symbols you find meaningful because of family or friend connections or because they are important sources for your own beliefs. Add the symbols to your panel.

  • Write a statement of a belief that is important to you and add it to your panel.

  • Make a drawing to show the faith heritage you come from, your beliefs now, or your life's faith journey up to this point.

  • Represent your faith future, the Sources or faith traditions you want to explore, and how these might relate to your Unitarian Universalist journey of faith.

  • A combination of any of the above suggestions.

Walk around and assist. Some participants may need to engage verbally before they find direction.

Give the group a two-minute warning so they have time to complete their image, affix it to their Window/Mirror Panel, clean up, and store their panels.

Including All Participants

Affirm it is perfectly okay to invent a faith symbol, not use a faith symbol, or use a question mark. Remind children they may use the flaming chalice symbol to represent Unitarian Universalism as a faith heritage, a set of shared beliefs learned or practiced in our congregation, or simply where they come to church.


Materials for Activity

  • Newsprint, markers and tape

  • Taking It Home handout

  • Optional: A copy of Session 1, Leader Resource 2, Namaste (included in this document)

Preparation for Activity

  • Identify a place for participants to store their Window/Mirror Panels between sessions. Keep in mind, there may be times the panels are not entirely dry when the session ends.

  • Write the closing words on newsprint, and post.

  • Download and adapt the Taking It Home section and copy as a handout for all participants (or, email to parents).

  • Review the leader resource so you can briefly explain the origin and meaning of Namaste and demonstrate the accompanying gesture.

Description of Activity

Explain that the session is almost over and we will now work together as a community to clean the meeting space. Ask everyone to first clean up their own area and the materials they were using, then clean another area or help someone else. No one should sit in the circle until the meeting space is clean.

Then bring the group back to the circle. Ask them to think about what happened today that was good or what they wish had gone better. If you are running short of time you can ask them for a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" on the session.

Invite each participant to say, in a word or sentence, why it is important for them to be a part of this faith community. You may go around the circle for responses, allowing individuals to speak or pass.

Then ask everyone to hold hands and say together:

Keep alert;

Stand firm in your faith;

Be courageous and strong;

Let all that you do be done in love. — 1 Corinthians 16

If this is the first time the group is using "namaste," briefly explain its origin and meaning. Then, lead the group in the word and bowing gesture. Or, substitute "thank you." Invite each participant to bow their head to the individuals on either side and then bow to the center of the circle and say "thank you" together.

Distribute the Taking It Home handout you have prepared. Thank and dismiss participants.


Materials for Activity

  • Notebooks and pencils

  • Newsprint, markers and tape

  • Congregational information such as newsletters, flyers, website pages, orders of service

  • Appropriate arts and crafts materials, including copies of Handout 1, Faith Symbols (included in this document)

Preparation for Activity

  • Gather information about worship and other activities which children can examine for evidence of different faith and denominational traditions and beliefs represented in your worship and other congregational activities.

  • With your director of religious education and/or minister, plan a time for participants to interview members about the faith and denominational traditions and beliefs they bring to your congregation.

  • Arrange for a time for participants to assemble a three-dimensional "faith family tree." Obtain the arts and crafts supplies you will need and invite any volunteers with special skills.

  • Arrange a place in your congregation for the display of the faith family tree. You may wish to coordinate this with an exhibit of participants' Window/Mirror Panels.

Description of Activity

Participants build a three-dimensional "family tree," representing the faith and belief traditions in your congregation, in a design and medium of the group's choice. You will need at least three meeting times to:

1. Assign research roles (can be brief).

2. Conduct research.

3. Build the congregational faith family tree.

Even if you think you know all the faith and belief traditions members bring to your congregation, an essential part of this Faith in Action activity is to dispatch participants to look for diversities which may not be obvious. All participants should help in "appreciative inquiry," even if they simply ask their parents about the faith and belief traditions they bring to their practice of Unitarian Universalism. You may wish to assign some children to survey members at a coffee hour and allow others to observe worship services or tour the facility to read posted flyers and analyze art, architecture, etc. for the faith traditions represented.

Offer the group or lead a discussion to develop a concept for a three-dimensional, Congregational Faith Family Tree. How can participants represent what they have learned about religious diversity among congregational members? Make Handout 1, Faith Symbols, available. Other items for the tree might include photographs of congregational celebrations, flyers or cut-outs from flyers for events marking different faith traditions, or "I believe... " statements written on index cards in different handwriting.


Engage congregational members to co-create the Congregational Faith Family Tree. To introduce the project, ask the children to brainstorm the many religious traditions represented in their Unitarian Universalist congregation. Point out that there may be additional faith traditions and beliefs, too. Say:

Let's celebrate our religious diversity by asking members of the congregation to add to our Faith Family Tree.

Guide the children to:

1. Make a Congregational Faith Family Tree structure or two-dimensional poster for display in a well-traveled place in your congregational facility where it can remain for several weeks.

2. Announce to the congregation (newsletter, worship announcements, etc.) that members are invited to represent themselves on the tree. The announcement and the display itself should clearly indicate what members may do—for example, "Take one of the blank tree leaves provided, list your religious background, your current faith orientation, or a particular Unitarian Universalist Source that is important to you and affix the leaf to the Faith Family Tree."

Once the congregation has had time to interact with the Faith Family Tree, make time for the group—or perhaps a wider, multigenerational group—to respond to the evidence of religious diversity that has been gathered. Encourage sharing about the various faith traditions and how they appear, or do not appear, in congregational worship and other activities. You may find Alternate Activity 1, Listening Activity — Supporting Theological Diversity, useful for such a meeting.


Reflect on and discuss with your co-leader(s):

  • How did the timing go today? What might we do to make it work better?

  • What worked well? What didn't?

  • What connections did children make with the activities and/or the central ideas? How could you tell that was occurring?

  • What connections did you make with the children? What connections did the children make with each other? How was this evident? How could a sense of community be improved with this group?

Approach your director of religious education for guidance, as needed.


We need not think alike to love alike. — Francis David

To different minds, the same world is a hell, and a heaven. — Joseph Priestley


We explored diversity of faith heritage and religious belief as a desirable and welcome feature of a Unitarian Universalist congregation. The activities helped children practice active affirmation of each individual's faith heritage and personal religious beliefs. The children learned that when we affirm each other's meaningful faith traditions and their theological questions and beliefs, we affirm each other as individual truth-seekers (our fourth Principle) and show that we accept every individual and encourage their spiritual growth (third Principle). The session introduced the six Sources that support and nurture Unitarian Universalist faith. Children will explore how the Sources embrace a variety of faith traditions, including Unitarian Universalism itself. A story about Thomas Starr King illustrates that to follow one's own faith path is not only allowed but a core value in Unitarian Universalism.

Children learned symbols of Unitarian Universalism and several other major faiths. Some children used these symbols to represent their faith heritage in an art activity.


Ask your child what they shared about their faith heritage today. Ask if they learned anything surprising about themselves when it was time to think about what they believe about God or another religious topic. Were they surprised by anything a peer contributed? If your child learned that a friend holds a different belief or comes from a faith tradition that is different from yours, ask how it felt to discover this difference. Ask them what they think about the religious diversity around them and the ways this diversity is celebrated in your congregation and/or your home.

Share your thoughts on religious diversity, inside and outside your congregation. Share your feelings about freedom of religious belief.



Do you have friends whose religious beliefs differ from yours and are comfortable articulating their faith choices? Arrange for your family to join them for a religious service or celebration and some conversation about their beliefs. Bring along a copy of the Unitarian Universalist Sources and find out which Sources, if any, resonate religiously for your friends.


Discuss the theological diversity within your family. Sketch your family's faith heritage "family tree" and discuss the faith journey(s) that led you to your Unitarian Universalist community.


Materials for Activity

  • Paper and pencils for all participants

  • A timepiece

Preparation for Activity

  • Consider your beliefs about God, what happens to us after we die, or another religious question. Prepare a short statement about a belief of your own to use as an example.

Description of Activity

Participants practice supportive listening by affirming personal belief statements each child shares with a partner or small group.

Distribute paper and pencils. Ask the children to develop a belief statement to share. Allow one or two minutes for each child to develop a statement about God or something else that they consider a religious topic. This statement may be written down or the child may choose to represent their belief in a drawing.

Now, say:

Our faith tells us that anything you believe is okay here. We all know that. Now we will practice how to show it. Everyone will have a chance to share their belief statement. The other(s) will listen in the respectful, supportive way everyone in our congregation should when discussing our beliefs.

You may wish to establish some tools for showing respectful listening. Ask the group for suggestions, and/or suggest:

  • Look at the person who is talking.

  • Ask questions in a respectful way if you do not understand something the person says or shows you.

  • Keep your agreement or disagreement with the person's beliefs to yourself. Do not challenge or criticize their beliefs.

  • Save your sharing about your own beliefs until after the person's turn to share theirs.

Form pairs or small groups and invite children to practice telling their beliefs and listening respectfully to those of others. Monitor time and groups to make sure each child has a turn to talk and to listen. If you observe disrespectful listening, gently step in and redirect.

Re-gather the group and debrief. You might ask:

  • How did it feel to be sharing your belief statement?

  • How did it feel when you were listening to someone else?

  • Did anyone feel they wanted to ask or discuss more about the belief the other person shared? What would be some ways to pursue further conversation if your beliefs were different? If they were similar?

  • How did you, as a listener, help someone feel their belief is accepted?

  • As a talker, how confident did you feel that your belief was accepted? Why do you think you felt as you did?


Materials for Activity

  • A large sheet of poster board

  • Appropriate arts and crafts materials, including copies of Handout 1, Faith Symbols (included in this document)

  • Optional: Photos or other items participants have brought from home to represent their faith heritage

Preparation for Activity

  • Identify a place where the group can work on a large poster (such as several work tables, pushed together) and a place to display the Faith Family Tree. You may wish to coordinate the display with an exhibit of participants' Window/Mirror Panels.

  • Optional: Prepare the poster board by writing "Windows and Mirrors Faith Family Tree" as the title. You might cut out and attach a flaming chalice from Handout 1 (it could serve as the trunk of a Faith Family Tree).

Description of Activity

Tell the children they will make a Faith Family Tree to show the diversity of faith traditions represented in the group.

Show the group the poster board. Explain that the flaming chalice will be part of the poster. Children may use other faith symbols, including more flaming chalices, or images they draw or have brought from home to show the diverse faith traditions that feed the Unitarian Universalism we share in this group.

Invite volunteers to share information about their faith heritage and tell how they want to represent it on the Faith Family Tree. Allow the group to suggest symbols for one another to use, as well as suggest ideas for the design of the tree and where the flaming chalice ought to go.

Invite children to cut out, draw and/or decorate their own faith heritage images. As children finish, help them attach their pieces to the Faith Family Tree. You might have some children assemble the tree instead of making their own individual faith heritage images.

As the Faith Family Tree nears completion, encourage conversation about the various faith traditions represented. Invite children to share about how they experience them at home and/or in the congregation.

Including All Participants

Children will need to know something about their faith heritage to represent it on a poster. If you have not sent the Faith Heritage Letter to Parents (Leader Resource 1) or you have reason to believe some children will not describe their faith heritage, invite just a few volunteers to share orally about their faith heritage. Make sure you have assignments—e.g., attaching faith symbols to the poster, decorating the poster title or hanging the poster for display—for children who opt not to add a faith heritage image.


Materials for Activity

  • Newsprint, markers and tape

  • Optional: Paper and pencils, crayons or markers for cards or letters

  • Optional: Information about Unitarian Universalist Partner Churches

Preparation for Activity

  • Visit the Unitarian Universalist Partner Church Council website (at and choose materials to share with the group.

  • Find out about your congregation's Partner Church activities. If appropriate, invite your minister or a lay leader to come talk with children about how your congregation participates.

Description of Activity

Say, in your own words:

The Unitarian Universalist Association Partner Church Program connects Unitarian Universalist congregations in the U.S. with congregations outside the U.S. to provide assistance, encouragement and partnership. These congregations in India, the Philippines and Hungarian-speaking areas of Romania represent minority religious communities, often facing misunderstanding and sometimes persecution because of members' religious beliefs.

Tell the children that Partner Churches outside the United States may include people whose beliefs are not exactly the same as theirs, but who, like Unitarian Universalists in the United States, choose freedom of conscience in matters of faith.

If your congregation has a Partner Church, tell the children how the congregation participates and brainstorm ways the group can become involved. Guide them to think of ways they could help the Partner Church children, for example, by sending cards, letters or emails to them or by holding a bake sale to raise funds for school scholarships.

If your congregation is not active in the program, make a commitment to initiate a Partner Church relationship. Lead the children to petition the larger congregation. Brainstorm reasons why you should support a Partner Church, and then write them down in a letter to your congregational leadership.


From A Lamp in Every Corner by Janeen K. Grohsmeyer (Boston: Unitarian Universalist Association, 2004).

A Bright Star

A long time ago, when railroad trains were still brand new and the United States had only twenty-four stars on its flag instead of fifty, there lived a boy whose name was Starr. That may seem like an odd sort of name to us today, but his mother's last name had been Starr before she was married, and back then, children were often given their mother's maiden name as their middle name. Starr's full name was really Thomas Starr King, but there were lots and lots of boys named Thomas around, and so his family called him Starr.

Starr was bright, just like his name. He was bright in school, learning his lessons well. He was bright at home, helping out cheerfully and doing his chores without complaints—not too many, anyway. And he was bright at the Universalist church his family went to, where his father was a minister. Starr was always happy to help. He carried the hymnals, he polished the candle holders, and he helped dust the pews.

But most of all, Starr loved to ring the church bell. On Sunday mornings, bright and early, he'd climb the stairs to the bell tower. He'd grab the rope with both hands and pull! And then: bong! would go the bell, and up would go Starr. That rope would pull him right off his feet! And then down he'd come with a thump, and the bell would go dong! Then Starr would give that rope another pull, and up! he'd go again, even higher this time, and the bell would go bong!

Starr loved ringing that church bell. He loved other music, too. He loved singing, especially at church, where lots of people sang in harmony. Some sang high, some sang low, some sang in-between, but all the different voices worked together to create one glorious song.

Starr liked everything about church. "When I grow up," Starr said, "I'm going to be a minister in a church, just like my father." And Starr was. When he was twenty-one, he was a minister in a Universalist church. But then, when he was twenty-four, he changed churches. He became a minister in a Unitarian church. (Back then, the Universalists and the Unitarians were still separate. Starr was ahead of his time. He was a Universalist Unitarian over one hundred years before the rest of us became Unitarian Universalists.)

Some of his friends weren't happy to see him change. "Starr!" they said, "how can you leave Universalism?"

"I'm not leaving Universalism," Starr said. "I can be a Unitarian and Universalist at the same time. I'm just singing a different part. We all sing together to make one glorious song."

In 1860, when railroads went from state to state and there were thirty-three stars on the American flag, Starr left Boston, Massachusetts, and moved all the way across the country to San Francisco, California . His friends weren't happy to see him go. "Starr!" they said, "how can you move so far away?"

"I'm not leaving our country," Starr said. "I'm just moving to a different state. All the states work together to make one great nation." But the year was 1860, and not everyone agreed. The Civil War was coming, and the nation was being torn apart, some states to the North and some states to the South. The stars were coming off the flag. California was in the West, and no one was sure which way it would go.

Thomas Starr King was sure that the states should stay together, "one nation, indivisible," and he set out to convince everyone in California of that, too. He was a minister at his church in San Francisco , and he preached there on Sundays, but he also traveled around the state and made speeches. He made speeches in towns and in mining camps, in great lecture halls and in canvas tents. He made speeches in front of thousands and thousands of people. He didn't convince all of the people, but he convinced enough, and in 1861 California voted to stay in the Union and to keep its star on the American flag.

"He saved California for the Union," said a general in the Union army, and that helped the North win the war. The people of California still remember him for that today. California put a statue of him in the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and sent another statue to Washington, D.C. He has two mountains named after him: one in California's Yosemite National Park and one in New Hampshire's White Mountains. Both the Unitarians and the Universalists still remember him, and we've set his name on the school where some of our ministers go: the Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, California .

So you may hear his name from time to time, and now you know why: Thomas Starr King was a bright and shining star.

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