Service of the Living Waters

Reverend Shayna returns to the pulpit with a vision of our principles and how they might guide us through the year. Bring any water you may have gathered from places visited this summer and, with our living water, we will co-mingle our lives and visions with those of our ancestors!

Our Soul Matters theme for the month of September is “Vision.” What does it mean to be a people of vision? Come envision with us throughout September!

Our Sunday offerings in September will be shared with Edible Brattleboro! Follow the links to learn more about ASC’s Shared Offering Program and the organizations we support.


Sermon  “Gather Us In” 

The Original Water Ritual, from Water Rituals and Ingatherings, Revitalized.

The first Unitarian Universalist water ritual was an important part of the feminist movement inside of Unitarian Universalism, and it is closely related to the development of the current Unitarian Universalist Association’s “Principles and Purposes.”

In 1975, Lucile Shuck Longview, a devoted member of the UU Parish in Lexington, served as the UU delegate to the United Nations “Women’s Year” assembly in Mexico City.  She returned from that assembly convinced that religion, even her beloved Unitarian Universalism, was a chief culprit in the perpetuation of oppressive sexism.  Back in Lexington she gathered support and authored what became the “Women and Religion” Resolution passed by the 1977 General Assembly.  That resolution called for an intensive examination of the “sexism inherent in religious literature and institutions” –beginning with the UUA itself.

1 From “Water Rituals and Ingatherings, Revitalized.”


UUA President Paul Carnes put together a committee to work on the resolutions, and districts were encouraged to support related Women and Religion groups.  These groups quickly noted the necessity of rewriting the original 1961 UUA’s Purposes and Principles, which used male gendered language to express the concerns and dignity of “mankind,” and which failed to address the care of Mother Earth as a religious priority.  In 1985 the Principles and Purposes as we know them today were passed by General Assembly, complete with the inclusion of respect for the “interdependent web of existence” as a new principle…

…The path from Longview’s 1975 experience with the United Nations to the General Assembly in 1985 was long and difficult.  In between those two benchmark dates there were countless meetings, conversations, and worship services that served as profound spiritual explorations of the sought after transformations.  The first “water ritual” was part of one such worship service, “Coming Home, Like Rivers to the Sea,”  which was designed for the UU Women and Religion Continental Convocation held in East Lansing, Michigan, in 1980.   The worship was constructed by Lucile Shuck Longview and Carolyn MacDade.  This is what they later said about the significance of the service:

The water ceremony became the central part of a religious service that broke with tradition in significant ways. It was created by lay women, women who had long been silent in the pews. The ritual space was also made sacred by the women themselves. We gathered to worship in a way authentic and liberating to us, not as in a church but in a semicircle around a large common earthen bowl. It was a ritual of women’s being connected by a universal symbol, water, a ritual of women being connected to the totality of life.

Here is the exposition of the theme from inside of the worship itself:

Making our way like rivers from places distant and near, we come together to give shape to a new spirituality. For there is no theology that calls women to strength rather than to support the strength of others; that calls women to action rather than to passivity; that calls women to full expression rather than to meek acceptance.  Recognizing that, we see we must question every box, every definition, every assignment from an authority outside our own beings so that we can create and re-create for ourselves the rituals and symbols that give meaning to us. So we come together to question. To hear. To share. To speak. To inspire. And to celebrate through new rituals, knowing that our energy and our love are transforming.  Celebrating now our connectedness, we choose water as our symbol of our empowerment. As rivers in cycle release their waters and regain new beginnings, so do we cycle. For us as women these beginnings are powerful, but not easy. But still we come to create and to celebrate and to live by the only spirituality worthy of our devotion—a spirituality that uplifts, empowers and connects.

Just like in contemporary water celebrations, different participants had been asked to bring to the service water that held special meaning for them.  Those waters were then co-mingled as the women shared.  Unlike many contemporary celebrations, however, the original ritual noted that it was important for those participating to have the opportunity to take some of the co-mingled waters home.  Indeed, they invited the women present to empty out any bottle of cosmetics or perfume that they might have brought with them and to use it to convey some of the water home–thus abandoning a product that exploited perceived feminine inadequacies to make room for that which might remind them of their shared power.  But most of all, persons accustomed to the current practice of water celebrations might be surprised by the depth of sharing that took place as the waters were mingled.

Here is an example of what one participant shared as she poured her water into the common bowl.  This is from the typescript of the original service:

How appropriate is it then that we should come together this morning and reconstitute our communal life by sharing in this service of Living Waters?  How fitting is it that, in a year which will see a good amount of worship time at ASC devoted to our UU Principles, we should engage in a ritual that inspired their transformation?  How apt is it that we come in out of the chaos and upheaval of our time – with hearts yearning to midwife a new world community, with peace, justice and liberty for all – and invoke a symbol that connects us to the totality of life?

Making our way like rivers from places distant and near, we come together to begin again. To celebrate our gifts, to envision a future for our selves, our church, our community and our world, to deepen our faith journeys and those of the next generation, to hope, to pray, to give thanks, and to always be giving shape to a new spirituality.

 [Walk to the bowl of Living Water…]  


It was at a gathering of white women

when this gathering of the waters first came to pass.

White women in a second wave of gender self-awareness;



making new meaning,

shifting the old ethos.

The solidarity of these white women was reflected in the waters each brought,

waters that became a liquid harmony of each sweet voice and intention.

Today, we gather as a community of humans in a new wave of gender and racial awareness;



making new meaning,

shifting the old ethos.

Today, we seek more than solidarity and harmony.

We seek inclusion.

We seek mutuality.

We seek reconciliation.

We seek justice for all people.

Today, may our gathering of the waters reflect the gathering of our collective courage

in service of the grace and love that is promised by our liberal faith.