In 1980, two Unitarian Universalist women—Carolyn McDade and Lucile Schuck Longview—were asked to create a worship service for the Women and Religion Continental Convocation of Unitarian Universalists.
As they shaped that service, McDade and Longview wanted to create a new ritual “that spoke to our connectedness to one another, to the totality of life, and to our place on this planet.” They included a new, inclusive symbol of women’s spirituality: water.
“Water is more than simply a metaphor. It is elemental and primary, calling forth feelings of awe and reverence. Acknowledging that the ocean is considered by many to be the place from which all life on our planet came—it is the womb of life—and that amniotic waters surround each of us prenatally, we now realize that [this worship service] was for us a new story of creation... We choose water as our symbol of our empowerment.”
The November service, held in East Lansing, Michigan, was called “Coming Home Like Rivers to the Sea." As its creators, McDade and Longview enacted their ritual in the liberating space of a semicircle around a large earthenware bowl. They asked eight different women—each coming from distant places—to bring water, and they did: water from the Rio Grande and Assiniboine Rivers, rain water from Maryland, water from the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and others were poured into the earthenware bowl as each bearer described its significance.
"As the ritual is continued," says Carolyn McDade, "water deepens in meaning for us, just as water deepens during its long and winding journey to the sea."
For more on the 1980 water ritual and the women who created it, please read Rev. Dr. Susan Ritchie's detailed history.
Many thanks to Carolyn McDade, Rev. Dr. Susan Ritchie, and Marian Shatto for their assistance in building this