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History of CUUPS

The Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, Inc. (CUUPS) is an independent affiliate of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) honoring goddess-based, earth-centered, tribal and pagan spiritual paths. UU Paganism is a liturgical and theological community under the umbrella of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Membership in CUUPS is open to Unitarian Universalists and those in sympathy with Unitarian Universalist Purposes and Principles.

UU Paganism is a community instilled with specific UU values that include the celebration of diversity and respect for all. UU Paganism does not tie a person to any particular dogma in the earth-centered religious traditions. Each person is free to choose their own spiritual "truth." It has a unique association with the UUA, whose roots began in two Christian denominations, the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America, which merged in 1960.

This history of UU Paganism, as such, runs back almost 10 years before the founding of CUUPS. In 1977, the UUA General Assembly passed the Women and Religion Resolution. This was in response to a growing feminist awareness that much of the imagery of Woman in this liberal denomination was actually rather illiberal, a heritage of previously unexamined patriarchal norms. The Resolution mandated an examination of those norms.

This liturgical reform became an undertaking of a population consisting largely of liberal Christians and religious Humanists. No one had put "UU" and "Pagan" together as a serious conjunction. UU Paganism of today firmly roots in the virtues and traditions of Unitarian Universalism, and earth-centered spirituality.

The earliest known organized UU Pagan worship was at the 1980 UU Continental Feminist Theology Convocation, held in East Lansing, MI, and sponsored by the Continental Women and Religion Committee. That committee formed after the passage of the Women and Religion resolution in 1977.

The Feminist Theology Convocation, preceded by some convocations at the District level, had mostly women in attendance and a few men. This Convocation saw: celebration of the first Water Communion, now a standard ingathering service in many UU churches; much Goddess discussion; a witchcraft workshop; and a Z. Budapest film.

The first known UU Pagan organizing effort was at the 1985 General Assembly (GA) in Atlanta. People there in the UUA interested in Goddess, Paganism or ancient religions gathered. A meeting was held by a small group to envision the organization and became The Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans. Among those folks were Dr. Christa Landon, Rev. Michael Boblett, Rev. Lesley Philips and Ms. Linda Pinti. These four people would become an integral part of CUUPS history. The not-quite-precise acronym CUUPS is a visual pun on the flaming chalice, the commonest UU religious symbol. Later in that year, UU Paganism introduced itself at the 1985 Covenant of the Goddess Grand Council, thus introducing UU Paganism to the larger Pagan community.

At the 1986 General Assembly in Rochester, NY, an announcement of an organizing meeting was in the daily GA newsletter. It produced a meeting of 22 people. As an outcome of that meeting, it was decided to form a UU Pagan network; seek UUA Independent Affiliate status; and produce a program at the 1987 General Assembly at Little Rock. A newsletter published four times per year was to have a rotating editorship. The long-time CUUPS double-chalice logo was created for the newsletter. A pair of chalices, side by side instead of the "UU" letters, led to the twin flaming chalices in a paired circle became the logo for the next ten years.

By the 1987 General Assembly, Margot Adler became a successful Beacon Press author, with the revised and expanded edition of "Drawing Down the Moon." Beacon Press donated two of its program slots for a program by that author. One of those programs was the keynote speech, "A Pagan Spiritual View" and introduced even more UU's to the word Pagan.

The attendance, totally overwhelmed the available space, providing clear evidence of the hunger within UU circles for earth-centered spirituality. Ms. Adler brought to the UU community the skills of a professional communicator; the background of a seasoned Pagan; and the knowledge of the North American Pagan community. Since then, CUUPS has sponsored many keynote addresses at General Assembly.

In that year, a draft statement of purpose was adopted. The Purpose of CUUPS was to include: networking of Pagan-identified UU?s, outreach to the larger Pagan community, and Pagan education and liturgical opportunities within UU congregations. The Bylaws became adopted in October 1987, and brought back to the 1988 General Assembly in Palm Springs, CA, for ratification. CUUPS secured UUA Independent Affiliate status, marking the first formal acceptance by the association of this new/old theological option within its ranks.

Another CUUPS sponsored activity began in 1990 at DeBenneville Pines UU camp in California: the annual Fall Convocation. In the coming years these convocations will become more regional events happening twice per year.

Leadership for much of the first decade of CUUPS was provided by Rev. Lesley Phillips and Linda Pinti, in Cambridge, MA and various coordinating committees including many from the original meetings. Lodged in some 60 UU congregations around North America are CUUPS chapters. Chapters intend to provide a community focus for earth-centered UU?s in the host congregation; an earth-centered resource for that congregation; and a gateway to UU Paganism for the larger Pagan community. A network of lay leaders sprang up with much wisdom and insight bringing depth and diversity to the UU Pagan movement. Some have encountered less than a warm welcome from their host churches, and others have been welcomed becoming a source of new membership in general congregations. Together the collective wisdom of addressing such problems has become part of the collective wisdom of CUUPS.

In 1993, UU Paganism achieved a major accomplishment, the inclusion of significant earth-centered and Goddess imaged content in the denomination's new hymnal, "Singing the Living Tradition." This material became supported by the UU Women's Federation and earth-centered UU?s irrespective of their affiliation in the association. It includes material found in the indexes under "Earth, God, Goddess and Spirit and Pagan."

Another accomplishment in 1995 brought earth-centered religion to the same institutional level as the other religious roots of Unitarian Universalism. A Sixth Source became adopted by the General Assembly in Spokane, Washington adding to the formally recognized roots of UU spirituality. It reads:

"Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature"

In 1996, after a spirited political campaign, new leadership for CUUPS became installed with a positive orientation to the information revolution, and a commitment to organizational professionalism. It welcomed lay leaders in the organization from chapters and members onto various committees instituted. The first democratic effort in CUUPS to elect a coordinating committee representing the organization spread to welcoming members onto committees of many different kinds. At the present time CUUPS has standing committees for bylaws, finances, publications, religious education, membership and ethics.

Presently, CUUPS has since divided its administration from its policy making functions. It has mandated an overhaul of the Bylaws and created far-reaching organizational conversations about confidentiality, membership development and fund raising. They are creating stronger communications with members, the UUA and the general Pagan community with an enlarged newsletter, Internet communications lists and this website. Religious educational material development specifically on Paganism and earth-centered religious experiences and traditions for adults and children are being created.

An Ohio incorporation of the same name purchased the association called CUUPS in the early part of 1997. The new incorporation has filed for 501c3 non-profit status from the IRS and received approval as an independent affiliate of the UUA.

For about five years following its inception, CUUPS doubled in size annually, reaching parity with the largest of the other Pagan organizations in North America despite being one of the newest of its size. For all that, it never was more than about one percent of the total UU population of record. For such a small organization to have guided an association, one hundred times its size, in a "new" spiritual direction indicates a remarkable accomplishment.

Written by David Burwasser / Edited by Jerrie Hildebrand