Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Resistance and Transformation: An Adult Program on Unitarian Universalist Social Justice History

Activity 1: A Resolution and a Revolution

Activity time: 30 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Read Handouts 1 and 2 and copy for all participants.
  • Optional: Pre-arrange for volunteers to read Handout 1 and/or Handout 2 aloud for the group, and give them the handout(s) in advance.

Description of Activity

Share this brief introduction from Leaping from Their Spheres: The Impact of Women on Unitarian Universalist Ministry, an unpublished collection of essays distributed by the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association:

Some of the first women to serve as ordained clergy in the United States were Universalist and Unitarian ministers, women such as Olympia Brown and Antoinette Blackwell, ordained in the 1860s and '70s. There was a brief surge in the 1890s when the Universalists extended credentials to 46 women and the Western Conference of Unitarians was heavily influenced by the work of women in the ministry. During the late 1800s there were many women leaders involved in social justice issues, working the lecture circuits and drawing crowds of thousands. Unitarian and Universalist women were at the forefront of the first wave of feminism and worked tirelessly for a woman's right to participate in the public sphere, from the pulpit to the ballot box. Unfortunately this trend did not last, and the women in religion movement suffered greatly in the first half of the 20th century. By 1968, out of 616 full ministers listed in the UUA's directory, only 17 were women.

Explain that second-wave feminism came roaring into Unitarian Universalism in the 1960s and 70s, along with social change related to race, gender, sexuality, and other aspects of American culture, many of which are discussed in other workshops in this program. By 1977, Unitarian Universalists were ready to adopt the resolution to examine the roots of patriarchal attitudes that existed both personally and institutionally.

Invite participants to share briefly what they know about 1960s and 1970s feminism on Unitarian Universalism. Some participants may have experienced events the workshop will address; others may have heard about them. Allow about five minutes for participants to share what they know. Then, distribute Handout 1, 1977 Women and Religion Resolution. Invite participants to read the handout silently, and then invite a volunteer to read the resolution aloud. Lead a discussion using these questions:

  • What do you think is the main purpose of the resolution? What was it trying to achieve?
  • How well do you think Unitarian Universalism has responded to this call for self-examination of gendered language, myth, and stereotypes?

Allow ten minutes for this part of the activity.

Then, ask participants to reflect: In your life and spiritual development, have you ever felt called to examine your personal religious background or belief system as it relates to gender? Invite them to consider the question for a minute and then turn to a partner to share their responses. Encourage participants to choose a conversation partner of another gender. Allow pairs five minutes.

Re-gather the group and explain that two concrete results of the 1977 resolution were a rewriting of the Principles and Sources and a re-examination of the hymnbook. Many "supplemental" hymnbooks featuring more inclusive language circulated until Singing the Living Tradition was published in 1993.

Distribute Handout 2, Thirty Years of Feminist Transformation. Invite a volunteer to read the article aloud. Ask: Why is the wording in the songs we sing so important? Invite responses, comments, and observations.