Crowdfunding Completed: August 8, 2014

Amount Funded: $0

Project Owner: Tony Lorenzen

Short Description of Project

Firewalking is a deep spiritual formation program for Unitarian Universalists called to missional life and ministry. The purpose of Firewalking is transformation. We define transformation as a substantial change in one’s being and way of moving through the world, especially in terms of being better able to live a life on fire for one’s core values and beliefs. Our goal is to build a critical mass of practitioners of Unitarian Universalist missional spirituality.

How was this project connected to UU?

Unitarian Universalism has been moving toward being a more forthright spiritual tradition for over ten years. When then UUA President Rev. Bill Sinkford began speaking about returning to a "language of reverence", a spiritual renewal began in Unitarian Universalism. Up to now, the only wide-ranging and ambitious program in spiritual development has been the Wellspring program that originated with First Unitarian Church of Rochester New York. Firewalking is the next step in Unitarian Universalism reclamation of both the language and practice of spirituality that is specifically Unitarian Universalist. Beginning with the emergence of a Unitarian Universalist missional cohort called The Red Pill Brethren (many of whose members are involved in this project), Unitarian Universalism has been trending toward a more missional approach at the congregational and national level. Helping congregations develop mission and vision beyond being a gathering place for like-minded people is now a focus of Unitarian Universalist leadership development. Like wise, Firewalking is the next ambitious step forward in promoting a missional approach for Unitarian Universalism. A couple of years ago UUA President Rev. Peter Morales began talking about taking Unitarian Universalism "beyond congregations." Firewalking is not a congregational program, it is a spiritual formation program for Unitarian Universalists involved in a missional approach to living their life. The transformational approach of Firewalking will help those involved in any ministry, mission, or project, congregationally based or otherwise. Firewalking is not only a program that exists beyond congregations, it offers a specifically Unitarian Universalist approach to living out one's faith that will help people develop their own calling and mission. This in turn will produce more Unitarian Universalists capable of risking the creation of new incarnations of what it means to be Unitarian Universalist.
Firewalking is a particularly Unitarian Universalist formation program. It is deeply grounded in the theological umbrella of James Luther Adams’s “Five Smooth Stones of Liberal Religion.” Revelation is not sealed, yet many Unitarian Universalists act as if once they have arrived at Unitarian Universalism they need not do any more spiritual work. Because revelation is not sealed, neither individuals nor communities can rest in spiritual stasis. Good doesn’t just happen, we must be involved in it. Spiritual direction and formation assists us in discerning how we do the most good for ourselves, for others in our lives, and for the world around us. Likewise, our calling to create the beloved community can best be achieved by those who make its creation a spiritual practice and do the discernment work necessary to contribute in a way that matches their particular gifts, talents, and situation. The belief that there truly are enough divine and human resources to justify ultimate optimism can be difficult to realize and support in daily living, with so many struggles for peace and justice unresolved in both our own lives and in the world around us. The missional formation provided by Firewalking helps us keep hope alive on the journey. Firewalking seeks make spiritual formation and a mission focussed faith life accessible for Unitarian Universalists. Two essential elements of contemporary Christian religious life are the revival of the ancient practice of spiritual direction and the current missional movement. Both spiritual direction (and the spiritual formation that is its result) and living a missional, purposeful life are things that people of any (or no) religious tradition can access and practice. Spiritual Direction has its roots in the desert monastics of the early Christian church and has seen a large world-wide revival since the end of the 1960s. Within the last decade, the Wellspring program out of the First Unitarian Church in Rochester, NY brought the importance of both individual and group spiritual direction to Unitarian Universalists in those congregations that have run the program. Even the atheists in Wellspring found spiritual direction to be a huge benefit and many continued to work with their director after the program ended. Firewalking is, at its heart, a journey of both individual and group spiritual direction, deeply connected to the Unitarian Universalist tradition and seeking to use both our tradition and deep spiritual grounding to sow seeds of intentional, missional living as Unitarian Universalists.

Full Description of Project

Firewalking is a spiritual formation program for Unitarian Universalists who seek to live a life on fire for their faith. Unitarian Universalism currently offers many outstanding trainings and leadership development opportunities for both religious professionals and lay leaders, but none of these is a spiritual formation program. Firewalking seeks to provide individual Unitarian Universalists with a profound, transformative spiritual grounding from which people will be able to live and serve out of a deep spiritual center. Firewalking requires a deep, extended commitment to a journey of spiritual formation and renewal. Firewalking prepares individuals to lead focussed, intentional, lives and to assist others in doing so. Firewalking incorporates study, reflection, spiritual practices and both individual and group spiritual direction as tools and resources on this journey.
Firewalking graduates will be able to practice adaptive, creative, courageous leadership, but Firewalking is not a course in leadership theory. Firewalking participants will be more self-differentiated and self-aware, but Firewalking is not a course in systems theory. Firewalking graduates will be active contemplatives, prepared to live meaningful, purposeful lives of service and reflection. Firewalking helps its participants find an individual mission and connect that mission to the broader Unitarian Universalist movement. Firewalking will help people to know and own their WHY? and to be prepared to answer HOW? with YES!

A Spiritual Formation Program in Missional "Tensegrity"
“Tensegrity” is a word coined by Buckminster Fuller that combines the words tension and integrity: “tension” + “integrity” = “tensegrity.” He used the word tensegrity to describe the incredibly stable nature of the structures he could build by holding competing forces together while respecting their integrities. Firewalking seeks to push Unitarian Universalism past the tipping point where the majority of our leaders are steeped in and able to assist others in learning how to live a missional life that involves respecting and balancing the various tensions in our culture and in our faith tradition while respecting the integrity of these various forces. As more Unitarian Universalists are able to live missional lives with tensegrity, we will more clearly articulate our own theology and tradition, and be better examples of living it in our daily lives. Over the coming years this can help Unitarian Universalism realize its potential as a transformative force for good in our society.

We expect everyone who participates in Firewalking to be challenged with our conviction that human beings are called to love the hell out of the world. We are called to do this in small communities with others who are dedicated to creating the beloved community by living lives of service in solidarity with the marginalized and the oppressed. Firewalkers work for the common good restoring individuals, social systems, and institutions so that they are more egalitarian, democratic, inclusive, accessible, and sustainable.

This is a spiritual program. It is far more concerned with feeling than thinking. It requires a commitment up front, not after one “tries it out.” It is an action-reflection program. Firewalkers walk the talk. Firewalking is designed to make transformations in how people live life day to day. We seek to make missional spiritual leaders who are active-contemplatives.

Firewalking assumes that participants come to the program with some level of committed spiritual practice in their life. Yet, in order to live missionally, one must intensify one’s efforts at living intentionally as opposed to reactively. Part of Firewalking experience is to assist people in mapping out how they will intensify their own spiritual practice so that they have a disciplined way in which to stay committed to the life they are called to lead.

The reason most of us can’t live as Jesus did or Buddha did or Mohammed did or as Pope Francis does or the Dali Lama does or as Thich Nhat Hahn does is that we do not have the discipline of spiritual practice they did or do. Firewalking will help participants figure out and commit to a journey where they maximize their ability to practice a spiritual discipline that fits who they are and where they find themselves on their life’s journey. There is no one who is too busy, too committed, too stressed out or too overworked to improve their spiritual practice and maximize their spiritual discipline. If it is a priority, one figures out how to do it. .

Spiritual Formation and Spiritual Direction
The missional shift currently happening in American religious life comes out of the evangelical Christian world. The theology of mission and the approach to ministry that comes out of the missional movement is specifically Christian, rooted in the Miseo Dei (mission of God) and it seeks to help people make the mission of their lives the same as the mission of God. This can largely be defined as lifting up the oppressed, caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, and creating the kingdom of God.

Firewalking believes that spiritual direction is in itself a missional ministry. Please see Rev. Tony Lorenzen’s paper on Spiritual Direction as Missional Ministry, available as a download at his web site (

Recently, the Unitarian Universalists missional cohort called The Red Pill Brethren have lifted up the idea of Loving the Hell Out of the World as the broadly defined mission of our tradition. We love the hell out of the world by loving away the theology that says God sends people to a metaphysical place for eternal punishment as well as by using the power of love to alleviate the hells of this world, such as pain, violence, war, disease, oppression, and destruction of our environment. In many ways, Unitarian Universalism’s mission is the same as most people of good faith, whatever their faith - to create a more loving and just community. The mission of Unitarian Universalism and indeed of all humanistic religion is basically the same - end oppression, take the side of the powerless against the powerful, promote equity and inclusion, and create a sustainable world.

Each participant is required to meet monthly with a spiritual director. Each participant is also required to meet monthly with a Spiritual Accountability Group (SAG) of 4-5 people. Groups will be organized and facilitated by Firewalking. These meetings will use available video conferencing and webinar technology.

Firewalking requires a lengthy time commitment because intentional, deep, spiritual transformation needs time. Each person’s spirit and heart is different, but all of us reap more benefit from deep spiritual work with time for reflection, settling, and living into the new insights, awarenesses, and spiritual practices we acquire along the journey.

The cornerstone of the program will be three 3-day retreats held at churches or community centers. Participants are required to wait 9-12 months before taking the next level. The offerings will depend on how many people complete Firewalking 101 in year one. Although the commitment will be clear up front, we realize there will be attrition. The schedule will look something like this:

Year Winter Spring Fall Notes
start-up (2015) FW 101 FW 101 FW 101
1 (2016) FW 201 FW 201 FW 201
2 (2017) FW 301 FW 301 FW 301
3 (2018) FW 101 FW 201 FW 301
Once a Firewalker has completed Firewalking 201, that person is now prepared to help lead Firewalking 101 training. Once a Firewalker has completed Firewalking 301, the person is now prepared to help lead Firewalking 201 and Firewalking 301.

In order to keep cost under control and to show by example how to organize and lead these retreats at a local level, retreats will be held in local churches and community centers. We will ask local congregations to either host participants on site or find them home hospitality so lodging isn’t a major cost. Retreat facilitators will share and organize duties such as cooking meals, organizing child care, and cleaning the site.

Firewalking 101
THE WHY (Finding Your Spiritual Center)
The importance of spiritual practices and intensifying commitment to one’s spiritual practices.
Spiritual Practices and Transformation (What is your world? How might it change you? Transform you?).
Soul Types (how your Myers Briggs type can help you find a spiritual practices)
Engaged Listening
Creating a Safe Space for Spiritual Exploration
Parker Palmer’s Let Your Soul Speak
Johari Window
Shame, Vulnerability, and Spirituality
Our Religious Baggage
What it means to be fully human.
The radical obedience of living according to your values.
Spiritual Accountability Group (SAG) work between 101 and 201
Lectio Divina (Sacred Reading)
Sitting Meditation/Centering Prayer
Embodied Prayer (Walking, Labyrinth, Dance, Yoga, Martial Arts)
Creative Expression (Writing, Poetry, Drawing, Painting, Music, Dance, Sculpture)
Explore your Soul Type
Engage Spiritual darkness
Lay to rest religious baggage
Work on spiritual mastery
Firewalking 201
THE HOW: (Understanding Missional Spirituality and Ministry)
Everything you Know About Church is Wrong
The Great Emergence
Attractional vs Missional Church
The Missional Shift (People over Programs, Outward Focus over Inward Focus, Community Leadership over Church Leadership)
Reverse Church
What missional ministry Looks Like
John Perkins’s Three R’s Community Development
Community vs Communitas
The New Monasticism
Failing Forward
Simple Church
A Theology of Risk.
Spiritual Accountability Groups (SAG) between 201 and 301
Fear and Failure
Your Community and Your Communitas
The Three R’s in Your Life’s Context
Living the Spiritual Life You Want to Live
Continued Work on Spiritual Practices to include Weekly, Monthly and Yearly Practices
Firewalking 301
THE WHAT (Connecting Life and ministry, forming your own covenant for living and loving the hell out of the world)
Your Situation in Life
Knowing Your Neighborhood
What Calls to You That No One Else is Doing?
Balancing Life and Mission
Nuts and bolts of Creating Community Partnerships
Ministry Start-ups and RestartsStarting
Creating a Non Profit, How to facilitate spiritual accountability groups.
Spiritual Accountability Groups after 301
Supporting each other’s process of finding/creating/joining a missional project that fits the individual’s life circumstances and resources.
Spiritual Practices in Support of Living Your Life on Fire
Forming a Regional Team to Offer Firewalking
We are seeking $9,000 to fund an exploratory year of Firewalking. The funding will support three 3-day spiritual formation retreats. The objective of these retreats is to form a group of Firewalkers who are ready to engage a second and then a third year of formation. Our hope is that this group finds Firewalking so transformative that they will want to take a second level of the formation program. We believe that a first year class of Firewalkers will find the program so transformative that they will also become partners in promoting the program and finding funding to continue the program.

The biggest items in our budget are money for scholarships and website. Firewalking needs four facilitators for the retreats. Facilitators will donate their time, but we need to help subsidize their travel. We also need funds for participant registration scholarships, participant travel scholarships, and spiritual direction scholarships. Transformative spiritual programs can carry a price tag that puts the cost of a three day retreat and associated travel out of the reach of increasing numbers of people. We hope to make Firewalking accessible to anyone who has the desire and commitment to take the journey. We will charge a nominal registration fee of $100.00. Should a person complete Firewalking 101, we will hold the registration fee and apply it to Firewalking 201, and likewise rollover the registration to Firewalking 301. After completing Firewalking 301 the Firewalker will be offered the choice between receiving the refund of their registration or donating the money to the continuing scholarship fund of the program.

Our first year will rely on churches and community centers donating the use of their space and facilitators donating their time. Participants will be asked to pay a registration fee of $100. Most of this money will be used to feed the participants, cover the printing costs and help pay for the website.

We will need a versatile and multifaceted website which can serve as a closed social media platform for participants and facilitators as well as offer online learning and integrated video conferencing components.

A full budget for Firewalking would include twice as much scholarship money for registration, travel and spiritual direction as well as money to pay facilitators and a part time program administrator. If Firewalking’s exploratory year is successful, we will return to Faithify and seek out other sources of funding to fund a full three-year cycle of retreats.

This complete budget for a three full three years comes to an estimated $177,652.00 Upon completing a successful exploratory year, we will begin work on funding a three-year run. That gives us time to produce from 2 to 4 graduating “classes” who have completed a three-year cycle of formation in missional Unitarian Universalist spirituality.

BUDGET for Firewalking (PDF)

Targeted Program Participants
The target audience is religious professionals and others serving in leadership roles in Unitarian Universalism, although the program will be open to everyone who wishes to apply. Program applications will be evaluated by the coordinating team based on a number of factors including leadership role in Unitarian Universalism (congregation, project, or ministry at the local,regional and national level), previous spiritual development and formation, and region of the country. We will also seek to include a broad cross section of Unitarian Universalists in order to create as widely diverse a group of Firewalkers as possible.

Participants will be asked to make a three year commitment to the program and its formation curriculum. Thus, applicants will be asked how they will make this formation experience a priority in their life given their own particular situation in relationship to work, family, health, income, other on-going commitments, and other factors.

Participants are encouraged to attend Firewalking with a partner or a team so that when they return home they have a group with whom to work on building the Firewalking program in their area.

Firewalking 10-year Program Development Calendar
Exploratory Year
Seek Faithify funding
Recruit an initial five person coordinating team
Website and social media up and running
Recruit initial national facilitators
Secure initial national retreat sites
Finalize details of curriculum
Recruit UU spiritual directors to commit to taking on directees from the program for the coming year
Offer three 3-day retreats covering the Firewalking 101 curriculum to up to 60 Unitarian Universalists from around the country
Program Years 1-3
Offer the program to up to 120 people from around the country
Graduate as many as 60 from the three year program
Prep initial Firewalker graduates to run local versions of the program
Recruit commitment from Unitarian Universalist spiritual directors to work with program participants for three years
Pursue funding for years 4-6
Program Years 4-6
Offer the program in more localized settings at the regional or district level
The director will offer limited financial assistance to local retreats
Approach UUA board and staff about creating regional formation programs and staff positions of regional spiritual formation and mission directors
Pursue funding for years 7-9, including the money to make the director’s position full-time
Support those trained in the first three years as they offer Firewalking Regionally
Program Years 7-9
Make Firewalking a regional program in each region of the country

Work with to create a district minister for mission and spiritual formation
The director will also focus on being a support to the regional efforts underway