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Dr Misty SheehanThe UUA has been our stalwart supporter and our challenge as we bring women and religion concerns and goals into the Unitarian Universalist system of religion. With changes in the UUA that have recently occurred, UU Women and Religion (W/R) needs to look at what our role will be under the new affiliates' changes.

UU Women and Religion is not an official organization of the UUA, but falls under the category of being recognized as a part of the UU faith tradition. W/R is a free, associated group. Along with a large number of previously UUA affiliated groups, we are no longer given slots for workshops at General Assembly, and must pay more for booth space, crimping and cramping our previous style (in recent years) of having a strong General Assembly appearance.

The UU Women’s Federation has turned their goal from supporting individual women’s groups in churches/congregations to that of a fund-granting organization, leaving no support from them of women’s groups in the individual churches/congregations or in district activities.

To me, the biggest problem within the UU movement is the lack of response to women's spiritual issues. W/R has continued its strength over the years as a representation of women's issues. Focus groups that started around “Cakes for the Queen of Heaven” have continued in local congregations, and these groups are now thirty years old, and very tight in friendship and spiritual fellowship. I feel Shirley Ranck keyed into what was important to women -- a sense of well-being, an honest closeness with other women, and a concern with evolving relationships with family and friends. Hopefully, the republication of “Cakes…” will vitalize another generation of UU women.

On District levels, like Central Midwest, Pacific Central, and Joseph Priestley, to name the strongest, women, who were now, in modern times, outside-the-home, working and unable to attend monthly women's meetings at their local churches/congregations, were willing to attend District annual or semi-annual meetings. There, they listened to important female speakers (for instance, Margot Adler, Shirley Ranck and Frances Moore Lappe) on topics of interest to them, attended workshops and spiritual services, but most importantly played and communicated deeply with each other. To me, these District meetings were not about "power-over", which women, very often, sadly feel is an important aspect of their local church/congregation, but about "power-with", power with other women to discuss issues they might have and to find empower-ment to overcome them individually. The "play" allows a free range of emotion and spirituality that many feel they have no UU expression of, especially amongst their congregations’ older members who label themselves humanists. I don't know how many women have told me "I attend my local congregation out of loyalty, but THIS (the district women and religion convention) is where I get my spirituality each year."

I would say then that, assuming that women are the largest number of members in our congregations, continuing the status quo is dis-respecting those women-pillars of the local congregations. We need more women ministers who are willing to address women's issues (which really are human issues), and we need more ministers who attempt to understand these issues through the study of texts written by women and use of those texts regularly in sermons.

But, most important, I would say that the UU movement needs to support the continental Women and Religion committee and the District Women and Religion committees. We cannot have a workshop at GA any longer, no UUA funds support the committees, even the International Convocation of U*U Women is being publicized mainly through women's networks.

We need a budget from the UUA that provides for the W/R Core Group (our “board of trustees”) to attend one meeting during the year and one meeting at GA.

We need a budget from the UUA Districts that allows the District core committees to meet together once a year during the year and to meet at a District Women and Religion conference.

We need UUA funding to maintain our website

In return, the UU Women and Religion Core Group will pledge to:

  • provide a network for District Women and Religion committees
  • continue to bring forth curriculum for women and feminist men within the UU Association
  • work with local congregations to provide "power with" activities for women and men
  • develop "power with" curriculum for girls within each congregation
  • continue to periodically provide U*U Women’s Convocations on current topics
  • listen to District Women and Religion members to devise and maintain necessary services for them
  • provide a workshop for feminists at GA each year
  • provide a W/R booth at GA each year which will sell current and past curriculum, provide mini- seminars by women on current topics, and serve as a resting place and spiritual thinking place for women of our congregations.
How do we accomplish this? We need recognition from the UUA as to the necessity of our representation of over one half the members of individual congregations and we need the UUA’s financial support. That means communicating with the UUA Board and UUA President as to the importance of our empowerment work to enhance the strength and growth of individual churches/congregations.

Additional thinking built on this article is welcome.

Misty Sheehan


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