Earlier in January 2021, I finished teaching what we called “Seeker Class” for Adult RE. New seekers might be turning over a new leaf. Each seeker’s journey will unfold and grow in its own way. Maybe they have grown up pagan but want to pursue a different pagan path. Maybe they like their pagan path just fine, but want to incorporate Unitarian Universalism into their faith practice also. Or maybe they are leaving their family of origin’s faith tradition entirely and feel a call to something they just can’t quite name yet.
I wanted to offer the “Seeker Class” idea to other CUUPs chapters who might like to use this model to help educate their UU congregations and offer any “seekers” the chance to explore a little taste of what different pagan paths are like and what Unitarian Universalism might have to offer.
WHY THIS CLASS
Because of the challenges of pandemic, over at Mystic Grove CUUPs, we had to rethink what we usually offer as our introductory class. We like using Vancouver UU’s Paganism 101 curriculum. Our experienced teachers have taught it many times in person. It’s also our most expensive class to run. Adapting it for an online class environment would take us longer, so we wanted something to offer in Fall 2020 for digital programming over Zoom that didn’t require a text or as long of a commitment. Something we could offer tuition free but would still be meaningful for the students.
We also wanted something that could be given as a “team teach” to help train new Adult RE teachers. The experienced teacher would do the PR flier and other overarching jobs and the new teachers could confidently be in charge of just one lesson. They could put a toe into the shallow end of the Adult RE teaching pool and not feel overwhelmed that they had to be responsible for teaching all five in the series or do any hard lesson planning. The lessons and slides were already laid out for them. They could teach in the Zoom digital classroom with their mentor somewhere in the room to help if they got stuck presenting their online lesson.
I wrote to David Garland at Pagan Awareness Network in Australia and he graciously said to go ahead and freely use their publications. We set it up as a monthly online class for 5 sessions that would start out “broad pagan” and narrow down to “UU Pagan” and our particular church and CUUPs chapter. The flier description said “Are you curious about Paganism and/or Unitarian Universalism? Is this the path for you? Take this online class to find out what it is all about. Both newbies and long term UU’s and Pagans gather to share their questions and experiences in lively discussion in this 90 minute class.”
The lesson plan for each Zoom session was simple:
- My name is…
- Today I feel/my energy is…
- My hope for just today’s class is…
- (It is always ok to “pass.”)
Students were invited to light a chalice, candle, or use a “finger chalice” if attending online class from a space where open flame might be at risk. They were invited to recite our words with us from the slide. “In the light of truth, and in the warmth of love, we gather to seek, to sustain, and to share.”
Orientation (1st Class only)
We described how the class is organized and shared the classroom covenant. Because it was structured as a “drop in” friendly class where a student could come to all the topics or just the ones they liked best, it had the simplest covenant. In later classes, we would simply read the class covenant aloud rather than doing the whole orientation again.
- We welcome students with acceptance and respect for the differences among us, and to remain open to the richness and discomforts of diversity.
- We use good manners and take turns sharing the space/speaking.
- We assume the positive intent of others and keep our discussions to topics and issues rather than personalities.
- We tell our own stories, not other people’s.
- “Critique” not “criticism.”
The students shared what they did in the last month for their spiritual practice and thoughts if they explored any of the homework links from last time.
Read Brochures and Watch Video Clips
We would visit the two brochures by doing a group read aloud taking turns around the Zoom “virtual table.” Most brochures were paired with a short YouTube video on the subject that was 10 minutes or less in length. We arranged them like this.
The last session allows the CUUPs chapter to change it to be information about their own home congregation and their own CUUPs chapter.
During the discussion time, the students were asked what they thought about the topics presented. (Prompt questions below.)
Optional Homework Links
We provided the students with more links to explore. For example, when we read about “Sacred Knives” we shared links about the Florida knife laws since we are based in Orlando. For “Sacred Ground” we included links about the indigenous people of Florida. A CUUPs chapter based elsewhere could adapt the optional homework links to their own state.
- My name is…
- Today’s class leaves me with…
- For next class I hope to____ in my spiritual practice
- (It is always ok to “pass.”)
Students were invited to hold up their chalice, candle, or “finger chalice” and recite our words from the slide. “We extinguish this flame, but not the light of truth, the fire of commitment, or the warmth of community. These we carry in our hearts until we are together again.”
DISCUSSION QUESTION PROMPTS
These are the discussion prompts we used for each topic. You could adapt them as desired. Pagan Paths: An Overview
- How did you come to Paganism or exploring Paganism?
- What is your Pagan path? If seeking, which paths are you most interested in exploring?
- Have you been able to visit different rituals from different paths? What was the experience like? What made it memorable?
- Have you attended or held a public lunar ritual? What was the experience like?
- Have you attended or held a public solar ritual? What was the experience like?
- What do you need to feel safe and welcomed at a public ritual?
- Have you had ritual experiences that could have been improved in some way? What would you have suggested?
Paganism: Truth and Tales
- List some of the pagan misconceptions you may have noticed or bumped into in person, in movies, online, etc.
- How do you experience the Divine? What is your worldview? Do you have any deities?
- Describe your favorite pagan holiday or activity.
- What sort of pagan are you? (Or path you are most attracted to at this time?)
- Do you wear symbolic jewelry?
- What’s your take on spells? How about psychic abilities?
Wicca and Witchcraft
- “The arts of “Witchcraft” can refer to many things, most commonly the practice of divination, spellwork, healing, soothsaying, herbal knowledge, midwifery, and ritual. Often there is an overlap with many shamanic practices.” What’s been your exposure or experience of these types of activities?
- Do you have a sacred text that helps guide your moral compass? What are your spiritual values?
- How do you form and curate your ethics? Did any phrases that we read about resonate for you?
Safety in the Circle
- Share some of your experiences (positive or negative) with seeking a pagan group to join in person or online.
- What additional advice would you give a new seeker who is looking for a safe pagan group to practice with?
- What would you want to see in a pagan group’s anti-harassment policy/procedure?
- What would you want to see in a pagan group’s safeguarding policy/procedure?
- “Common sense” is not always common. List some things you do to help keep you safe at “in person” or online pagan events.
Skyclad – The Bare Facts
- Describe your favorite things to wear to ritual. Do they vary according to weather, season, location, etc?
- Is there a difference in what you wear when you are attending or when you are leading pagan ritual?
- Share your experiences or thoughts about working skyclad. Do considerations vary according to weather, season, location, etc? Any differences if you are leading or participating in a skyclad ritual?
- What advice would you give a Seeker attending a CUUPs ritual at your UU church? How could your CUUPs chapter help the newbie Seeker feel welcome and at ease?
- Even your group does not do skyclad, how would you help educate a Seeker so they know what to look for/feel welcome at a skyclad ritual elsewhere?
- Describe your pagan path and the tools you most use.
- Share some of your experiences with how your tools came to you — no tools, inherited, found, bought, and/or DIY.
- Describe how you cleanse or prepare “new to you” tools you may have gotten second hand. Describe how you “retire” old tools.
- Other than knives, what tools do you find need extra care in the home or around others? (Ex: allergies to incense)
- Any additional advice would you give a new seeker who is looking for good tools who may or may not want to be “out of the broom closet?”
- How do you usually create sacred space for ritual at home? What would you have to adjust for travel? Tips for those who are not out of the broom closet?
- If you were to include acknowledgment of land, in your part of the country what might that include?
- The brochure says “When practicing magic in a new location/ aboriginal country, introduce yourself to the space, the spirit of the land.” Share experience if you have done this. As a traveler, what other things might you do?
- Any advice for new seekers who might be visiting or traveling lands? Would travel method (by car, train, airplane, boat) change anything?
The Faith of UU Pagans
- What quote from the brochure resonated the most?
- Do any of the Unitarian Universalist 7 principles resonate for you?
- What is your path? What other things do you believe in according to that pagan path? (Ex: “I am Wiccan. I believe in the Wiccan Rede. It helps me because… I use it when…”)
- How have your personal beliefs and personal ethics evolved over time? Describe how you may have changed from child to teen to young adult to adult.
- Have you struggled with MISBELIEFS? (Ex: People thinking you worship the devil if you say you are pagan? That UU is not a “real” religion? )
- What advice would you give to a new seeker who is trying to figure out what to believe in or how to better articulate what they believe?
Brief History of CUUPs
- Did anything surprise you?
- What stuck out the most for you in CUUPs journey as an organization?
About the Home Congregation
- We gave a photo tour of our campus using “screen share”
- We gave a brief history of how our particular church came to be.
About the CUUPs chapter
- We did a group read of our CUUPs chapter’s brief history
- Present/past chairs who could come to the session shared stories from our founding
- We also did a “photo tour” down memory lane of our group’s past rituals, socials, and other activities.
FACEBOOK STUDY GROUP
We created a matching “Seeker Class” Facebook study group so the students could talk to each other in between the monthly sessions if they wanted to. We could also post a PDF of the class slides with the brochure, video, and homework links if the student wanted to review anything on their own once more.
My teaching team and I had a lot of fun designing and presenting “Seeker Class.” We are getting ready to do it one more time for the Spring 2021 reprise on 3rd Sundays. It has the side benefit of being something simple for new or emerging CUUPs chapters to try on even if they have never taught Adult RE before. Other simple things you might consider for your first Adult RE classes presented by your CUUPs chapter could be a book group for “Pagan and Earth-Centered Voices in Unitarian Universalism” or teaching “Spirit in Practice” from the pagan lens. If you decide to try doing your own version of “Seeker Class” feel free to let me know how it goes for you!