The Great Reformation (Dialectical Theology, Part 10 of many)

Women. Women remade Unitarian Universalism from the early 70's on. That process is still going on.

I can't recount that history; I just want to more accurately frame it. The transformation has been so big, so comprehensive, that it is hard to see. Like the weather and climate: people see the blizzards, the drought and the storms, but can't see the magnitude of the ongoing change.

Women were marginalized in Unitarian Universalism before the 70's. They contributed most of the volunteer labor that sustained the congregations, and all the denominational structures. UUism was no different, in that regard, from most religious denominations. But women were not the ministers, and not at the highest level of denominational leadership. But in process that took decades, women rose to leadership. Not just in the professional ministry, but in lay leadership of local congregations.

Unitarian Universalist theology, liturgy and hymnody were radically changed:
Whereas the main themes of preaching in the 40-50's were the deconstruction of traditional Christian orthodoxy and the religious liberty of the individual. In the early 60's, the demands of racial liberalism came to the fore. But in the 70's, under the influence of women, our theological concerns turned more to building community, relationships, daily life, and self-actualization. A critique of hierarchy, of all types, was attached to the traditional UU concern with liberty. Women brought a renewed emphasis on the pastoral.

Liturgy included more ritual elements, especially the water communion. 

Women in the UUA started the process that led to the Seven Principles and the Sources, the first formal redefinition of Unitarian Universalism since Merger.

If you want to see the transformation that the women's reformation of UUism wrought, just compare the 1963 Blue hymnal, Hymns for the Celebration of Life, and the 1993 hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition. Songs by women composers and lyricists are throughout the book: Holly Near, Alicia Carpenter, Rev. Kendyl Gibbons, Shelly Jackson Denham, Betsy Jo Angebranndt, and of course, Carolyn McDade, the composer of the signature song of the era, “Spirit of Life.” These new songs by women were as remarkable as all the songs from the African American tradition and the Black Freedom struggle now included.

The new songs had a different impact. The aim of the old hymns were to be teaching songs: the
person singing the song was to learn something from the lyrics. The aim of the new songs was to create community by being sung together. The change in the purpose of hymns in the liturgy was part of an evolution in the purpose of the liturgy for worship. Whereas the worship service had been to educate and stimulate, worship was becoming a celebration of the community. We started chanting. We started building our services around texts from Mary Oliver, and Denise Levertov, and Marge Piercy. The Marilyn Sewell anthologies of Women’s poetry became a go-to source.

Of course, all of this occurred in the context of the Women's Movement in the USA. So, this is a story of how an social movement in the society was rippled through Unitarian Universalism with transformative effects.



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