First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia ~ Welcome home!

Adult Religious Education - Spring 2014

Adult Religious Education at First Unitarian Church is a community endeavor where staff, the Adult Religious Education Ministry Team, and other Ministry Teams develop programs to enliven and inspire. Activities include:

Orientation (UU & You)
One-Time Events
Ongoing Groups

For more information, click the link above or continue to scroll down to find more details.


Register now! 


Unitarian Universalism & You
First Sundays (except January): January 12, February 2, March 2, April 6, May 4, June 1
12:30 PM
Parish Room

Are you interested in learning more about Unitarian Universalism and how to become a member of the congregation? If so, drop-in for a free brunch and orientation held on the first Sunday of every month (except in January when it’s on the second Sunday). Participants will gather to learn more about the history of the Unitarian Universalist movement, our shared values and beliefs, and the membership process. For those who are interested in joining, we hold New Member Ceremonies on the third Sundays of each month.

Classes & Forums

For the following classes and forums, we ask for a $20 suggested donation for the first class, and $5 for any additional class. Some classes may require additional fees for books, if noted. For all classes, you are welcome to attend one or all sessions.

God Told Me So: How the Shield of Liberty Became a Sword
Co-facilitated by Rev. Nate Walker and Ed Greenlee
Three Saturdays: February 1, 8, & 15
10:00 AM to 12:00 PM
Shared Ministry Suite

In this three-part series, participants will explore the intersection of religious rites and the civil and human rights of children, women, and homosexuals. In the first session, participants will explore how religious rites have been used to cause substantial harm to children and consider questions like these: Will the state stop me if God tells me to put my children to work, to deny them medical treatment, to justify child marriages, to tattoo their bodies, or to permanently alter their genitials? In the second session, similar questions will be explored on the subject of women: Can teachers in religious private schools be fired for being pregnant and unmarried or for having admitted to having an abortion? Can a for-profit corporation refuse to pay for an employee’s contraception coverage in objection to subsidizing what it believes to be a sin? What are the legal ramifications of religious divorce or marital rape? In the final session, participants will explore how a similar conflict is playing out with the question of gay rights: Why were sodomy, military service, and civil marriage illegal for homosexuals and what civil and religious laws were used to overturn them? If religious laws have been used to trump civil rights, can they be used to advance them? In this last session, participants will explore how the diverse religious debates over gay rights are currently shaping the question of employment discrimination in the United States and other issues such as capital punishment abroad. Together, these case studies about children, women, and homosexuals will set the stage for the primary question: how did the shield of religious liberty become a sword?


A Balancing Meditation
Facilitated by Reverend Jody Whelden
Two Mondays: February 10 & 17
6:30 PM to 8:30 PM
Third Floor

In this meditation class, you will learn a body/heart/soul practice which can be used any time of the day. You can use it in the busy grocery line or in the sanctuary of your quiet time at home. In this two evening class, we will explore our need to breathe in and out with both our lungs and our consciousness. This meditation practice includes awareness of how our mind uses visual/kinesthetic/auditory images for centering and how our body/spirit work in unison. We will learn the practice one week, apply and practice it in between, then return the next week to practice together, ask questions, and integrate our learnings. Any participant is welcome to be in touch for clarification or guidance between classes and for the month following the class. This meditation form does not preclude other meditation practices you may do.

Rev. Jody Whelden, Board Certified Counselor from the Association of Professional Chaplains, is a facilitator, educator and counselor from a foundation of faith in the integration of the body, heart, and soul. She was a hospital chaplain for eight years and ran a psychotherapy/counseling business for twenty years. Jody works with individuals and groups locally, and co-leads national workshops with Vida Groman,, of Madison, Wisconsin. These workshops are called Heart and Soul Living: Workshops for Women. The current schedule is posted on Jody’s website,, along with her local contact information and blog.

Facilitated by Ranwa Hammamy
Every other Wednesday: February 19, March 5, March 19, April 2, & April 16
6:30 PM to 8:30 PM
Third Floor

The oneness of God and the divinity of all. Religious pluralism and the truth inherent in multiple traditions. Reason and science as necessary elements of faith. The constant search for and revelation of meaning. Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. Sounds like a pretty good way to explain some of the essentials of Unitarian Universalist theology, right? Some of it comes straight out of our principles! But these phrases are not just about Unitarian Universalism, they also describe central ideas in Islam. They represent just some of the intersecting pieces within these two traditions. Curious to learn more about these and other overlapping theological ideas that create "Uuslim?" This course will explore scriptural excerpts, theological analyses, and iconic writings in both Unitarian Universalism and Islam, and place them in dialogue with one another. No book purchases will be required as any readings will be distributed electronically or in paper printouts.

Lightening Darkness: Coping with Life Through Religion & Spirituality
Facilitated by Lisa Schilansky
Tuesdays in March: March 4, 11, 18, & 25
6:30 PM to 8:00 PM

Everyone experiences stress, and almost everyone finds their lives impacted by this force. Significant scholarship has been completed to demonstrate the beneficial impact that religion and spirituality can have on one’s stress level and outlook on life. In this four week class, we will look to reshape our outlook on life, to learn how to take a pause when everything seems overwhelming, to understand practices shaped by various religions from around the world, and to acquire means of self-grounding through progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery. In an extension of her Summer 2013 sermon, Lisa will explore the themes that negatively impact everyone’s lives and the internal and external spiritual practices that can eradicate one’s pain.

The Global Struggle
for Religious Freedom

Facilitated by Rev. Nate Walker.
Four Mondays: April 7, 14, 21, & 28
7:00 PM to 9:00 PM
Shared Ministry Suite

Participants will explore how the international community has come to affirm and promote religious freedom as a fundamental human right. This course is based on the research Reverend Nate will present at the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva in March 2014. The course is designed to explore issues and opportunities for religious freedom around the world. Topics include blasphemy, defamation, apostasy, religious profiling, religious violence, religious places, and tensions related to private devotion in public places. Special attention will be given to legal questions about child marriages and religious rites that result in permanent alterations to children’s bodies, such as alterations of genitalia, footbinding, and tattooing. Other cases will focus on religion and women as well as protections afforded to those practicing in native religions, new religions, and minority religions. Participants will leave having been exposed to a human rights framework for examining the question of religious freedom and to dozens of contemporary case studies about the unfortunate tension between religious rites and human rights.

One-Time Events


The following are one-time adult religious education events. All but the Freedom Seder are free.

Theater Discussion Group: Gidion's Knot
Play: Friday, January 24, 8:00 PM - Interact Theatre, 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia
Discussion: Friday, January 31, 6:30 PM - Shared Ministry Suite
Sermon: Sunday, February 2, 11:00 AM - Sanctuary

The Theater Discussion Group invites you to attend Gidion's Knot with Reverend Nate on Friday, January 24 at Interact Theatre. The group will then meet to discuss the play on Friday, January 31, and Rev. Nate will reference the play in his sermon on February 2. If you cannot attend the play on the date Rev. Nate is going, you are still welcome to attend the Discussion Group if you see the play at another time before it meets.

Gidion’s Knot by Jonna Adams tells the story of a grieving mother who arrives at her son’s school looking for answers following his sudden death. She is met by his bewildered and fragile teacher. As their tense, emotionally-charged parent/teacher conference unfolds, reasons for the boy’s death become more complex and alarming. Adams’ gripping drama draws us into an intensely personal battle to understand the vivid imagination and tortured soul of one extraordinary ten year-old boy. Runs through February 9, 2014. Tickets:

Vignettes from the Criminal Justice System in Philadelphia
Facilitated by Karen Wolfe
Sunday, February 2
12:30 PM to 2:30 PM

Inspired by the issues raised in Michelle Alexander's book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, First Church Board President Karen Wolfe will share her experiences as an attorney with the Defender Association of Philadelphia. Whether you choose to read the book or not, come hear an attorney share her experience on relevant issues that need to change. The event is co-sponsored by the Social Justice Ministry Team and the Young Adults.

Focus: The Hidden Ingredient in Excellence
Leadership Retreat
Monday, February 3
7:00 PM to 9:00 PM
Shared Ministry Suite

Please join Reverend Nate in exploring the work of Daniel Goleman, who explains why leaders need to cultivate a triad of awareness—an inward focus, a focus on others, and an outward focus. “Inner” focus refers to self-awareness and self-management: how well we can tune in to our guiding values, know our strengths and limits, handle our distressing emotions so they don’t interfere with getting things done, marshal our positive emotions to stay motivated in working toward our goals, and bounce back from setbacks. “Other” focus describes how well we attune to people, our empathy, which allows us to understand how people perceive things, how they feel, and what we can do to help them be at their best. Tuning in to others this way provides the basis for competencies like motivating employees, persuasion and influence, negotiation and conflict resolution, and—increasingly important—teamwork and collaboration. “Outer” focus has to do with how well we can sense the large forces that shape our world—whether organizational dynamics, such as whose opinion matters most for a decision, or economic forces, such as how a new technology will roil a market, or environmental trends, such as the new value placed on lower-carbon processes. Outer awareness allows a leader to formulate a winning strategy that anticipates what’s coming.

Wilderness Journey:
The Struggle for Black Empowerment and Racial Justice within the Unitarian Universalist Association, 1967-1970
Friday, February 28
7:00 PM to 9:30 PM

Two shocks jolted the Unitarian Universalist Association soon after its formation. Both were related to the struggle for racial justice, but while one unified the denomination, sustaining its self-image of being on the right side of the struggle, the other shattered this easy assumption and inflicted wounds that still have not healed. First, in 1965, came the murder of the Rev. James Reeb, a Unitarian Universalist minister, while he was in Selma, Alabama, demonstrating for black civil rights. Second, only four years later, many black delegates and their white supporters walked out of the General Assembly in Boston to protest what they considered a racist vote. What had seemed so obvious after Selma—that in the fight for racial justice it was “us” (the good guys) vs. “them” (the racists)—suddenly wasn’t so obvious after all. The line between “us” and “them” no longer seemed so clear. Why? What had happened? Thirty years later, we’re still struggling with these and related questions. Ron Cordes filmed these interviews of many Unitarian Universalist leaders who lived through those complex times and created this essential historical record, a film called Wilderness Journey. Film showing sponsored by the Multicultural Ministry Team with discussion facilitated by Reverend Nate.

Theater Discussion Group: Don Juan Comes Back from Iraq
Play: Friday, March 21, 8:00 PM - Wilma Theater, 265 S. Broad Street, Philadelphia
Discussion: Thursday, April 3, 7:30 PM - Shared Ministry Suite

The Theater Discussion Group invites you to attend Don Juan Comes Back from Iraq with Reverend Nate on Friday, March 22 at the Wilma Theater. The group will then meet to discuss the play on Thursday, April 3, and Rev. Nate will reference the play in his sermon on Sunday, April 6. If you cannot attend the play on the date Rev. Nate is going, you are still welcome to attend the Discussion Group if you see the play at another time before it meets.

Don Juan Comes Back from Iraq is written by Pulitzer Prize-winner Paula Vogel (How I Learned to Drive) and directed by Wilma’s Artistic Director Blanka Zizka. This World Premiere production plays with time and space. It is a tale of one soldier’s return home from war and discovery that his lover is missing. Searching for her, he embarks on a surrealistic tour through the streets and history of Philadelphia. This collaborative project is inspired by Don Juan Returns from the War (written in 1936 by Bertolt Brecht’s younger contemporary Ödön von Horváth) and is grounded in the experiences of recent veterans who often return from Iraq or Afghanistan to a home where most of the population has little direct connection with war. Tickets:

Freedom Seder
Friday, April 18 (RSVP by April 1)
6:00 PM
Parish Room
Max of 40 participants
$30, or $50 for a family of three or more

Aware that we derive from traditions that were born of violence, slavery, and persecution, and aware that we derive from legends that promote retribution through violence, we gather on this holy day to reflect upon the meaning of true freedom. We seek to understand the meaning of true freedom by reflecting upon patterns of enslavement and violence in our lives and in our way of thinking. We embody the essence of true freedom by intentionally decorating the Passover table with items that promote and affirm wholeness. We do so by telling stories of our own liberation from enslavement and express our hopes for a world community with equality and liberty for all.


Ongoing Groups

The following groups meet throughout the church year. All are offered free of cost.

Meditation Group
10:15 to 10:45 AM

Breathing in, we breathe in peace. Breathing out, we breathe out love. Center yourself before the main service by gathering in the Chapel Sunday mornings.


Women’s Reading Group
First Mondays of every month
7:00 PM

The Women’s Reading Group meets monthly in members’ homes. Books are chosen by participants in the group. Book titles and meeting places are listed in the Beacon, the E-Beacon, and the worship announcement sheet. For information on the next book and meeting place, please call program contact Ginny Beier at 215-545-7831.


Singing as Spiritual Practice
7:30 PM
Parish Room

The choir is open to all who love to sing and who have found singing for church services a significant part of their worship experience. Rehearsals are on Thursday evenings from 7:30 to 9:00 PM in the Parish Room, and on Sunday mornings from 10:00 to 10:45 AM. We are a multi-generational group of singers who enjoy each others’ company and enjoy making “a joyful noise.” Singers must be able to read music. For more information e-mail


Depression Support Group
One Sunday per month
12:30 PM
Emerson Room, Third Floor

A small group ministry is available to those who are struggling with depression. Members and friends of the church gather after service one Sunday each month to provide support by listening to one another and sharing problems, ideas, and resources. Organized by Wynne Preble. The first meeting for the Winter and Spring will be Sunday, January 5.



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