Cakes for the Queen of Heaven: She Changes
General Assembly 2006 Event 4066
Speakers: Margot Adler, the Rev. Shirley Ranck, the Rev. Leslie Westbrook
In a room packed with veterans of the famous Unitarian Universalist (UU) Cakes for the Queen of Heaven curriculum and with women simply curious about it, positive energy put a buzz in the room. All were there to celebrate two women who brought the Cakes for the Queen of Heaven feminist theology curriculum into being 20 years ago. Interviewed by Margot Adler, NPR reporter and UU pagan, the Reverend Shirley Ranck and the Reverend Leslie Westbrook answered question after question about Cakes.
How did it start?
Ranck went to a goddess conference in 1977 and heard feminist theologian Carol Crist, who said women need the goddess for several reasons. They need to honor their bodies. They need to honor the relationship between themselves and their mothers, and they need to reclaim their power. Upon hearing Crist say that women need a sense of the feminine divine, she thought to her psychologist self, "yes!" Attending Starr King at the time, she began to study the goddess movement.
Leslie Westbrook headed the Unitarian Universalist Association's (UUA's) Women and Religion program at about that same time, and asked Ranck to write a study guide on feminist theology. The writing didn't take long. It was finished sometime during 1981. The publishing, however, took five years. Westbrook says there was a lot of fear around the curriculum—fear that it would exclude men.
How many UU congregations have used the Cakes curriculum?
Ranck has heard estimates that 800 out of 1,000 congregations have used the course.
Did Cakes change the UUA?
Westbrook says the curriculum followed a very rationalist, humanist phase in UUism in the seventies. The way Ranck remembers the writing process, she thought she needed to be careful not to put in too much ritual. All that was included, in fact, was a suggestion to light a candle and read a poem to start each class. Now she sees altars and goddess figures and elaborate rituals. "And how did you come to do this?" Ranck will ask a group. "We learned it from Cakes," they'll say. "No, you didn't, and I should probably know..."
What's in store for the next generation of women?
Ranck's response: "I'm of two minds. There's a tremendous need for Goddess 101, for those who've never heard of any of it. But then, there are a lot of things that the old Cakes classes did not address, such as sexuality, and perhaps those things need to be included in the next version."
Westbrook remembers the original fear of the feminist theology curriculum included a fear of homosexuality and women's sexuality. "A lot of women still struggle with self hatred over their bodies and all kinds of abusive behavior. So, when we think of the future, a lot more needs to be done to talk about personal issues."
Did Cakes result in more women getting involved in ministry? Westbrook points out there are now more women than men in UU ministry, but no one can prove cause and effect. Still, she says, Cakes increased women's impact and increased opportunities for women to be involved in the bigger picture.
How does Cakes help women?
Both Ranck, who's a psychologist, and Westbrook, who's a pastoral psychotherapist, say women can do a lot for each other if they're just real with each other and human with each other. Sometimes difficult personal issues surface in the safety of a Cakes class or among a group of women who've gone through Cakes together. "Often the most important thing for someone who's troubled is that someone cares about them—the most potent healing comes from sitting with others who care about you."
Prepared for UUA.org by Chris Sealy, Reporter; Jone Johnson Lewis, Editor.
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