Hindsight, humor, and hope

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An Adult Tapestry of Faith Program

Author: Karin Peterson

Developmental Editor: Gail Forsyth-Vail

Copyright © 2015 Unitarian Universalist Association, Boston

Table of Contents

Workshop 1: Elderhood – A Work In Progress 12

Workshop 2: Solitude and Connection – The Stuff of Life 23

Workshop 3: Diving Through the Layers – The Fabric of My Life 33

Workshop 5: Making Friends with Mortality 49

Workshop 6: Hindsight, Humor, and Hope 58

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About the Author

Karin Peterson, a Unitarian Universalist minister, is a spiritual director who has served as a college chaplain, parish minister, Unitarian Universalist Association Massachusetts Bay District Administrator, and affiliated community minister with First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Framingham, MA. She has created and led adult workshops on aging and spirituality for several UU congregations. Now retired and living on the Massachusetts coast, she appreciates a relaxed schedule that allows her to write, paint, explore the natural world, and connect with family and others. Karin holds a B.S. in Art Education, an M.A. in Counseling Psychology, and completed the training in spiritual direction group leadership at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation.


A decade ago, when a parishioner asked if I had any good books on aging, I replied with confidence, “Yes, I’ll bring some from home.” When I searched for resources, I was surprised to find that I had purchased many good resources on aging at least ten years earlier. I had bought them when it felt safe to buy them—meaning: “Oh, these are interesting writings on aging. I am glad to have them for reference, but personally I don’t need them now—I won’t be an older person for a long time.” Well, that long time happened while I wasn’t paying attention! It was a jolting epiphany to reread them and reflect on being age sixty-seven. I had a fresh and unexpected understanding about my human lifespan.

Until then, I hadn’t paid much attention to my age as I moved into higher decades. I was busy doing other things. Then, for the first time, I had to honestly acknowledge my personal accumulation of years lived on this planet, and I didn’t particularly like it. I didn’t feel old, but maybe my calendar age was. The status of being an elder was not appealing because our society has a negative outlook on being older. Folks in their senior years are not considered important resources despite their earned treasure of wisdom. So, of course I didn’t want to think about my growing older. I had thought of myself as middle-aged, living a very busy, multitasking life. I began to realize that somewhere, sometime along the way I had morphed into that next developmental stage called “older person.” For the first time, up close and personal, I realized that I am living at the further end of my lifespan.

Whatever your life circumstances, be aware that elder years are spiritually creative and wait for you as a gift. In talking with other elders I’ve learned to keep the door open to life’s possibilities. Even one’s limitations invite exploration and invention. So, forgive the old hurts and let go of grudges and feelings of guilt after you have done what you can to make amends. They are too heavy to carry. Elder years can be an enriched time of personal reflection and perhaps an opportunity to mentor someone younger.

If you are retired, stay tuned for your further development. I invite you to walk with me for a while and use your own personal hindsight, humor, and hope.

With thanks

Almost a decade ago I found that personally taking hold of my life experience was a creative challenge. It led to the development of the Hindsight, Humor, and Hope program. With deep appreciation I acknowledge the congregations that graciously welcomed me to lead workshops: First Parish Unitarian Universalist in Framingham, MA (two times); the UU Congregational Society of Westborough, MA; the Unitarian Church of Marlborough and Hudson, MA; First Parish in Dedham, MA; and First Parish Church in Beverly, MA. As proof of the expanding average lifespan of humans, the lowest age for the workshop has now moved from 50 to 55. I have always had someone representing the ninth decade of life in the workshops as well. What warm and caring interactions transpire when a multiage group comes together to grow!

I am grateful to Gail Forsyth-Vail, my editor at the Unitarian Universalist Association Faith Development Office, for her interest and thoughtful critiques, and to my colleague, the Reverend Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson, for his encouragement to give this workshop its wings. To my family, now three generations of adults, thank you for being you and for your love and interaction.

—Karin Peterson

June 2015

Facilitator Feedback Form

We welcome your critique of this program, as well as your suggestions. Thank you for your feedback! Your input improves programs for all of our congregations. Please forward your feedback to:

Faith Development Office
Ministries and Faith Development
Unitarian Universalist Association
24 Farnsworth Street
Boston, MA 02210-1409

Name of Program or Curriculum:


Number of Participants: 

Age range:

Did you work with (a) co-facilitator(s)?

Your name:

Overall, what was your experience with this program?

What specifically did you find most helpful or useful about this program?

In what ways could this program be changed or improved (please be specific)?

Did you enrich the program with any resources that you would recommend to others?

What impact, if any, do you think this program will have on your life going forward?

What impact, if any, do you think this program will have on your congregation going forward?

Participant Feedback Form

We welcome your critique of this program, as well as your suggestions. Thank you for your feedback! Your input improves programs for all of our congregations. Please forward your feedback to:

Faith Development Office
Ministries and Faith Development
Unitarian Universalist Association
24 Farnsworth Street
Boston, MA 02210-1409

Name of Program or Curriculum:

Congregation or group:

Your name:

Overall, what was your experience with this program?

What specifically did you find most helpful or useful about this program?

In what ways could this program be changed or improved (please be specific)?

What impact, if any, do you think this program will have on your life going forward?

What impact, if any, do you think this program will have on your congregation going forward?

The Program

Imagine … that you are having your portrait made, your face carved in beautiful wood. Not all of us would feel comfortable, especially as we grow older, with someone noticing our wrinkles and spots. At times we fear that our faces will betray us, showing our soft spots and weak places …

But if we trust in the force that created us—the force that knows us at our core and cherishes us the way an artist cherishes her creations—we may feel less afraid. If you’ve ever made anything, you know that mistakes can lead to new discoveries and unintended beauty. If you’ve ever carved, you know that the grain, the natural material you work with, is as fascinating as anything you could imagine. — Eliza Blanchard, in The Seasoned Soul: Reflections on Growing Older

Unitarian Universalist congregations are actively intergenerational. We value and encourage interaction between the age groups. But, sometime after the age of sixty, adults begin to sense having moved over a threshold into older folk territory. That can be startling to the soul and the ego! They may be contemplating retirement from paid employment and find it a difficult adjustment. They may be assessing the volunteer or paid commitments they want to continue, which ones they want to renegotiate or change, and what new experiences they are eager to embrace. If they are healthy, they certainly don’t feel old. They may wonder, “How did I get here? … I can’t be that old!”

For some people, retirement from the workforce means that their adult identity and day-to-day life appear to vanish as familiar habits and connections are no longer there. For some, a lessening of family or work commitments opens time and energy for trying new roles and experiences. Hindsight, Humor, and Hope journeys with people as they begin to redesign their later years into a time of reflection, discernment, soul stretching, and new life possibilities. This gift of extended years finds many people becoming elders with deep personal questions such as, Who am I now? and What will I do that is meaningful? In six two-hour workshops, this program invites participants to develop deeper understanding and appreciation of their elder stage of life and the path they traveled to reach it.

Demographers say there will be a large increase in the number of people reaching elderhood in the years ahead. Older people have an opportunity to redesign their personal time from doing 24/7 to being 24/7. They may still be employed, often part time, but for many the senior years present a gift of reclaimed time to read; experiment with personal expression like painting, photography, and music; connect with family and friends; engage in a hobby; and/or discover new ways to reach out to others.

People hold attributes in their senior years that young folks have yet to develop. There is no fast track for obtaining wisdom; it comes via life experience and discernment. Elders may not move as fast as young folks or have the stamina to stay up late socializing as they do, but they are rightfully valued in roles that draw on their wisdom, experience, and skills. Those reaching this life stage need tools to help them better understand their rightful place in the community and accept it for the gift that it is. There are ways to live this stage of life with meaning and intention. Each of us is much more than a physical body. Each of us also is a spiritual being holding faith, hope, and love within. It takes thought and reflection to discern what to bring forth from the deeper, spiritual self to deal with what is happening in the community, the family, and the world.

The elder treasure of wisdom and insight is grounded in experience and a deepened understanding. As elders become aware of and bring forth inner gifts, as they commit to caring for themselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually, they can proudly wear the tee shirt that says, “Aging Is the Ultimate Extreme Sport.”


This program will:

  • Encourage participants to support one another and not be alone

  • Identify and explore the positives about being an elder

  • Use journaling as well as color and line as expressions of spirituality and creativity

  • Lead participants to claim inner wisdom

  • Help participants come to understand being an elder as a time of spiritual richness

  • Invite participants to remain adventurous in thinking about the future

  • Challenge participants to find ways to mentor others.


A team of two or more adults should facilitate these workshops. It is recommended that one of the leaders be a minister or another leader or staff member with a counseling background, because some of the activities may bring back memories of a past sorrow, a grudge, or another out-of-control part of their life and a participant may seek pastoral support. It is also recommended that at least one leader be an elder themselves.

Leaders must also nurture community in the participant group. With others “walking with them” in a supportive group, participants have the opportunity to become stronger by putting a painful part of their past to rest or identifying the wisdom and experience they have gained over time.

In addition, seek leaders who are:

  • Knowledgeable about Unitarian Universalism

  • Committed to the Unitarian Universalist Principles, to the congregation, and to the faith development components of this program

  • Willing and able to thoroughly prepare for each workshop

  • Effective at speaking, teaching, and facilitating group process

  • Flexible and willing to modify workshop plans to support the full inclusion of all participants

  • Able to listen deeply and to encourage participation of all individuals

  • Able to demonstrate respect for individuals, regardless of age, race, social class, gender identity, ability, and sexual orientation

  • Able to honor the life experiences each participant will bring to the program.

Leaders need to be part of the group as well as its facilitators. Create your own Life Map or Lifescape before the program begins (see Workshop 2), so that you deeply understand this interesting and challenging process. Fill in your Five Wishes booklet before participants do (Workshop 5). Do the take-home journaling exercises, and briefly share your thoughts as appropriate to keep the group process moving along, without dominating the conversation.

A shared lunchtime is part of the program. Leaders should eat before the group arrives in order to be able to begin with the opening reading while the group finishes eating. During the workshop, keep your beverage cup nearby to visually be part of the group.


This program is intended for anyone over the age of fifty-five and is equally suitable for first-time visitors and longtime members of the congregation. Members should be encouraged to bring a friend.

Leaders need to keep in mind the differences in knowledge and life experience participants bring to the group, particularly if the group includes a wide age span. Ideally, the program should have between eight and twenty participants; you will need to adjust small group activities or number of leaders for a group smaller or larger.

Ahead of time, be aware of participants with accessibility issues: Use a microphone if needed, provide large print copies of handouts and songs, and allow space for wheelchairs at the table. Review Accessibility Guidelines for Adult Workshop Presenters before each workshop and implement as appropriate for your group and space.

Program Structure

The program has six workshops. The two-hour time frame for each workshop includes 20 minutes for lunch, either brown bag or a lunch you have arranged. It is recommended that the program be offered midday, because some potential participants may not drive at night or may avoid evening activities.

Each workshop has at-home activities that follow. Each workshop builds on the previous one and integrates at-home projects and journaling activities.

Participants are asked to assemble their own simple art kit as homework between the first and second workshops. Experience has shown that assembling their own kit encourages deeper participation in the art activities in the program and encourages people to continue creative spiritual practices after the program has ended.


A number of materials require advance preparation or purchase, as follows:

  • Order copies of Five Wishes (include one for yourself) well in advance of the program and be familiar with the document before Workshop 5. Ordering information can be found at www.agingwithdignity.org. There is a modest cost for the booklets.

  • For Workshop 1, purchase 8 1/2x11-inch spiral composition books, one for each participant, and assorted stickers or decorations.

  • For Workshop 1, prepare the large Blessing Cards, using Leader Resource 2, Blessing Cards. Download the file, print on 8 1/2x11-inch cover stock, and cut along the lines. Cards are used in each workshop, so plan to store them where they will not be damaged or bent.

  • For Workshop 4, assemble and prepare materials for tactile mandalas if you have visually impaired participants. On a piece of cover stock, draw a 10-inch circle. Glue a length of thick cotton cord or twine along the perimeter of the circle. Cut out shapes (triangles, circles, and rectangles) no larger than the circle from materials such as wide wale corduroy, satin, mesh, sandpaper, or velvet. Provide buttons with flat undersides and lengths of twine, rickrack, and other textured materials. Provide white glue or strong glue sticks and scissors so a participant (with assistance, if needed) can make their desired modifications to the materials and use them to create a tactile mandala.

  • For Workshop 6, purchase polished, light-colored river stones and black, medium-point permanent markers. (Note: flat stones offer more writing space.) These supplies are available in craft stores.

  • For Workshop 6, create portable mandala sketch books. For each participant, purchase a 4x6-inch, spiral-bound drawing pad (24 sheets) and a 4x5-inch envelope from a local or online art store. Obtain or make a stiff, 3-inch circle for each participant to use as a tracing template (a plastic lid works well). Store the template in the envelope. On a table, lay the open envelope to the left of the drawing pad to verify that they match in size. Attach envelope to book by taping the flap with its inside facing the front cover’s backside. Close envelope over outside of the front cover.

Consult with your minister or religious educator about how to cover the cost of materials and supplies.


Preregister participants for the program, making sure they understand that each workshop builds on the one before, and there is some preparation for participants to do for each workshop. If you charge a small materials fee, make sure that there are scholarships available.

Make it as welcoming as possible for elders to be part of the group. Encourage ride sharing so anyone in this age range can attend. Invite people to ask a friend to do the program with them. Your personal invitation may make a difference for someone who is hesitant. (Tip: Quietly allow registration up to the workshop’s beginning. Prepare extra materials.)

Decide how you will handle lunch. It is recommended that you ask participants to bring a brown bag lunch for the first five workshops. Provide coffee, tea, and water to supplement what they bring for themselves. For Workshop 6, arrange for a potluck or catered lunch. Ask the congregation’s Caring Committee or other appropriate group to manage the food items as they come in, set up the buffet table, and clean up after lunch as a gift to the elders in your program.

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