We will cover how covenant is the center of UU faith, how our congregational polity works, and how we can create strong, healthy communities. (UUA.org) Congregational Polity: A Historical Survey of Unitarian and Universalist Practice. Covenant is not coercive, which is why the tendency to assign duplicitous motives to the pull toward interconnection in our system is blasphemous. In Wikipedia, congregational polity is defined as a collection of “self-governed voluntary institutions”, which I suppose is at least vaguely accurate, but then the article calls this form of polity “a type of religious anarchism.” You gotta love Wikipedia. They invented, or rather reinvented, what we call congregational polity, that doctrine of the church that insists that each congregation is to be governed by its own members. Peter S. Raible of Seattle’s University Unitarian Church created a collection of materials relating to Unitarian and Universalist polity. Unitarian Universalist congregations are in fact “self-governed.” Each congregation names its own conditions for membership, calls and ordains ministers, and controls its own budget. The UU leadership style comes from the ground up. Covenant is both the call and the answer to living a life within all of these dimensions. How can we say yes to something—much less do it—if we don’t know what we’re being asked to do? Unitarian Universalists, members of the United Church of Christ and Reform Jews are all members of a wider faith, but each has congregational polity. Topics similar to or like Congregationalist polity. “[One person” alone, they say, “is incapable of being a church”].v Right there, front and center in their founding document. These covenants are engaged liturgically so that the worshipping community regularly remembers the greater good to which they are collectively called. Correcting misinterpretation and healing congregational systems from past damage are reasons enough to reinvigorate our collective reengagement with congregational polity. Unitarian Universalists, our cousins the United Church of Christ, and several other smaller denominations are congregational in our polity, which means that congregations are both independent and connected to one another through covenant. Refusal to consider wisdom from the larger community of congregations. And, if so, the members would be called, compelled, bound to proclaim it and try to bring it to bear in their whole society.”xv “For any who might suppose our 17th century free-church ancestors talked mostly about original sin, predestination, and hellfire, I am glad to be able to tell you, not one of those topics is even mentioned”xvi in the records of the founding churches. Congregational Polity is the form of government that makes congregations the basic unit of the denomination. Contemporary edition of the 1648 Cambridge Platform, the historic document that articulated the foundational principle of congregational polity. As a practice democracy emphasizes the wrong things—namely debate and polarization by design in which some win and some lose. Does our faith not require us to help increase the sum of love and justice in the world? We have inadvertently taught our people that covenants are about getting other people to stop behaving badly. Countless more have visited our congregations and never come back. This is called the offering. We might stop “signing the book” as a mark of membership in our communities and begin a continual process of discernment that begins and ends with the community and individuals re-committing to one another. But people within these worshipping communities want to feel and be connected, and their leaders are asking how. Polity is a general term for the form of church organization adopted by a religious tradition. But the two are connected by a web not a rope, and our ancestors knew this. The covenant calls both the individual and the larger community to specific purpose, with specific practices, and the covenant is regularly renewed and reinterpreted. Unitarian Universalist polity is essential to who we are precisely because our theology is so broad. Certainly Unitarian Universalist congregations are organized congregationally, but it is the people and activities, not the polity, that is the focus of this essay. That is the beating heart of congregational polity. A congregation has the right and responsibility to choose and ordain its own clergy, elect its own officers, direct them in the course of … In most of our congregations, joining the community happens when people “sign the book”—an individual act of an individual person in a single moment in time. Without continual reaffirmation, the sense of volitional association erodes. The Unitarian Universalist Church in Reston (UUCR) is governed by congregational polity, meaning that the members of the congregation independently make their own decisions regarding UUCR policies, programming and finance. By Conrad Wright. Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religious tradition that was formed from the consolidation of two religions: Unitarianism and Universalism. Democracy without covenant is governance manifesting the hubris of individual opinion. In addition to the requirements described above, community ministers must also be affiliated with a local UU congregation to progress from Preliminary Fellowship to Final Fellowship. They must be discovered. Questions like: Polity enstructures a community’s assumptions about how the world, God, and people work. Unitarian Universalist churches practice congregational polity. And as soon as people come together in groups they have to work out how they will be together. We sense that interconnection, we preach it, and we rely on it. Suspicion enters the space where faithful connection should be. Congregational Polity and UUism; Governance at UUCWC; Board of Trustees. UU FaithAction NJ; UUJusticePA; Governance . But it’s also about so much more. If we are indeed Unitarian Universalist, and not Generic Religious People or even worse Generic Spiritual people, then by definition we claim and are claimed by a specific tradition. It’s a choice, a process, and an ongoing relationship. The faithful people who gathered in Cambridge that sweltering summer knew absolutely that they needed one another if they were to serve God. Annotated, with a new introduction by Alice Blair Wesley. We have congregational polity, which means the congregation is responsible for making its own decisions about how we will live out our values. ... Institutionally we have congregational polity; we make our own decisions. Our ancestors navigated the American Revolution, the creation of civil democracy, and the separation of church and state, not to mention profound theological shifts. 24 Farnsworth Street | Boston, MA 02210 But we are also explicitly and formally united in mutual covenant with other congregations. Without some kind of vital, clear center around which we convene ourselves, we will not hold. What are the rights of a member? So while the Wikipedia definition might describe a little piece of congregational polity, it misses the larger story. Our ancestors organized themselves around loving one another in service of God. Which is why we desperately need a movement-wide process for reengaging Unitarian Universalism’s collective covenant. If Unitarian Universalism is to survive even the next century, we must change again—this time by countering forces of individual isolation and institutional dissolution. A summary of current UU conversations; a quick refresher on the basics of congregational polity, where covenant is the central organizing principle; and a history of … The covenants are revisited and reinterpreted, and every time new folks become covenant partners the entire community re-commits to their collective purpose and practices. For more information contact conglife@uua.org. Endless rethinking of decisions that well-informed leaders have already made. Traditions believing that scripture is the infallible, literal word of God will by necessity have strict rules about who can be admitted to fellowship, and will concentrate power and authority in the hands of people who adhere to and correctly interpret that Word. They do this not because they want to punish each other but because they believe no one should ever “be cut off from the privileges of the covenant.”vii, Their organizing document says explicitly that while officers and ministers can be helpful they are not absolutely necessary for the congregation to be healthy.viii Admittedly, there is a long section in there too speculating about possible roles for ministers, deacons, pastoral visitors, teachers, treasurers and all that. Every denomination has a polity. People become part of communities, which in turn become religious communities when they share answers to fundamental questions about self, community, and Spirit. Unitarian Universalist communities connected in covenant via our associational polity can be just like that—providing the architecture for networked connection no matter how individual people define themselves. There’s some disagreement about the origins of the word religion, but all of them relate to how and why people are connected to each other. The most vital of these beyonders are trying to create new kinds of communities where membership in the traditional institutional sense is irrelevant. Because the covenant our congregations have entered into is not with “the UUA” as an institution, but with each other. At our initial meeting, the senior minister explained that in Unitarian Universalism congregations choose their own ministers, and that this combination of responsibility and authority is congregational polity. For Unitarian Universalists, ministry is not a supernatural state of any kind. I mean in the literal way—like apostasy—the renunciation or abandonment of a religious principle. Today, the materials in this packet continue to be used in UU … As described in the section on congregational polity, in our tradition authority lies within local congregations. Its first articulation in writing is the Cambridge Platform of 1648 in New England. On our continuum, this approach to membership falls way down toward independence. Sue Phillips was our UUA's Regional Lead for New England. This controls everything from how worship is done to what leadership is and how decisions are made. Placing congregational polity in theological perspective clarifies the basic meaning and value of congregationalism as an expression of … UU social justice priorities, global religious traditions, and congregational administration. I encourage you to consider where on this continuum the core practices and of your congregation or community fall. They intentionally and explicitly avoid using the term “independent” to describe their relationship to other congregations.xii They celebrate that each church is distinct, with special gifts and challenges, and that while churches certainly don’t have control over each other they are nonetheless all connected. Skinner House, 1997. It’s also the commitment to connect, the means to connect, the content of the connection, and how we maintain the connection. Students will discover the mechanics of governance by observing Unitarian Universalist polity in action. Absent the Cambridge Platform’s abiding focus on faithful relationship to holiness and grace, the potential depth and breadth of our modern covenants are hobbled to roam the realm of interpersonal relationships. Hanson was ordained by our church, exercising the right of congregational polity. Let’s look at some examples. Our congregations may be self-governed but there is literally no such thing as a Unitarian Universalist congregation which is not connected by covenant to the community of Unitarian Universalist congregations. (617) 742-2100 | info@uua.org. We intentionally come together to learn together, support one another, and to accomplish together what we cannot accomplish alone. Yes, I just called it heresy. In plain English, we govern ourselves. It was a declaration of covenant. It’s a bold thing to claim that people can’t really be Unitarian Universalist by themselves. This tension between freedom and connection is also our birthright. Privacy Policy. As Unitarians and Universalists and Unitarian Universalists, we have allowed our beliefs to change over the long years according to conscience and science and revelation. UU social justice priorities, global religious traditions, and congregational administration. Covenant is multidimensional, working horizontally from person to person but also from that community to individuals and around to the Sacred however we define it. But this freedom can be exercised in ways that emphasize either independence or interdependence. Covenant—mutual covenant—is the missing link in our understanding of congregational polity. If you’re willing, challenge yourself to consider what values are being served by practices that land on the independent side of the scale, and consider what beautiful things might emerge if your congregation’s practices were more firmly rooted in interdependence. There is no church hierarchy that seeks our obedience. Regardless of theological orientation or denominational polity, there are certain basics of creating congregational history that apply. This understanding repels healthy people, weakens connections among churches, and perpetuates widespread suspicion about leadership. There is no road map for the future they are creating. Unitarian Universalist ministries living in the “beyond” of Congregations and Beyond seem to know this. We can ignore those claims, but they endure anyway. It also means we choose to be interdependent with other congregations in the Association. Our polity makes us ready for the emerging spiritual-but-not- religious world, providing handholds to move confidently into the future. But they absolutely rely on Facebook to nurture and energize the connections that make them who they are. These promises are remarkably similar to the ones modern-day Unitarian Universalist congregations make via their Associational connection. We will also cover a deeper understanding of being a committed member of our congregations and the wider UUA. They promise to look out for their neighbors’ welfare, and consult with them when they ask for help. Rev. Activated by covenant, our polity is more than the simple fact of our connection as individuals, groups of practicing UUs, and congregations. /files/includes/snippet-important-message.txt, Congregational Polity and the Myth of Congregational Autonomy. Polity is how our little ragtag band of heretics and liberals communicates across time to tell us who we are and why. They promise to tell hard truths if they see folks acting in ways that are unhealthy. But if they are not a part of a covenanted community they have not been claimed back. We were chartered with the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1988. Puritans had tried for decades to reform the Church of England. Sue Phillips, New England Region of the UUA. Their theology was virtually indistinguishable from the churches they left behind in Europe. The rich dimensionality of mutual covenant and interdependence has been sheared off, leaving only the barest bones of isolated self-governance and independence. Somewhere along the line, congregational polity became conflated with the autonomy of individual congregations. In the early 1990s, the Rev. For more information contact info@uua.org. She led vision and strategy for the New England staff team as they served the 231 congregations in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.... For more information, see the UUA.org page about the New England Region. In a creedless faith that has grown away from the trunk of our original theological trees, this tradition is absolutely essential. When referring to an association such as the Unitarian Universalist Association, it points us to what holds congregations together with common direction and shared identity and purpose. It is here, in each of us, in our DNA as Unitarians, Universalists and Unitarian Universalists, for the congregations whose story I just told came together in Cambridge in 1648. Unitarian Universalist Community Polity UU Santa Fe is self-governing. Congregational polity is not the autonomy of individual congregations but the communion of autonomous churches—a significantly different thing. Our faith is practiced in covenanted community. Students will discover the mechanics of governance by observing Unitarian Universalist polity in action. They specifically say that being mad at another member is not reason enough to leave. Amos' question sets the theme for Wright's newest collection of essays on congregational autonomy in Unitarian Universalist churches. Congregational polity is the form of government practiced by the historic congregational churches, including those now associated with the UUA. The answers to these questions cannot be told. Our faith is practiced in covenanted community. We value interconnection but are cautious about asking much of each other. Spirituality can be practiced alone but by definition religion can’t. But are we not responsible to the call to manifest the interdependent web by co-creating beloved community? Our people have integrated the rationalism of science, the intuition of transcendentalism, and the ethics of humanism. We designed this certificate for you! The call to covenant is there at the heart of our faith, an echo from our collective past. Our theologies may differ about what or who is calling us, but we are united in a belief that we are part of an interdependent web of existence. Polity is a doctrine of church, specifically the way churches are connected to one another. Most people don’t make “Facebook user” an aspect of their identity. Marcus Fogliano will speak on the subject of Congregational Polity, the 1600’s document that defines how our faith is organized, and how … They promise to worship and celebrate together, to share resources, and to work together to expand their faith in the world.xiii. Over-empowerment and even protection of bullying voices. One of the important decisions is the election of leaders, generally a governing board and the call of the minister (s). Together, we have worked theological miracles. As part of their reforms, Puritans desired to replace the Church of England's episcopal polity (rule by bishops) with another form of church government. And here we have exposed a major challenge of defining congregational polity—that it is so often understood only as compared to other people’s polity. Topic. Congregationalist polity, or congregational polity, often known as congregationalism, is a system of ecclesiastical polity in which every local church congregation is independent, ecclesiastically sovereign, or "autonomous". My favorite congregation, which I can’t name because, well, as Regional Lead I’m not supposed to have favorites, is so wise. Every one of our flourishing congregations and communities knows this way. Unitarian Universalist Polity Congregational Polity sees no power that extends beyond those who elected them, that is, the congregation. Peter S. Raible of Seattle’s University Unitarian Church created a collection of materials relating to Unitarian and Universalist polity. Hanson went on to serve a celebrated ministry in subsequent churches and, in 1992, was awarded the Angus Maclean Award for outstanding contributions to religious education by the UUA. It is the way people choose to organize themselves around their collective purpose. Many persons have helped immeasurably in the preparation of this work on polity. Unitarian Universalists use Congregational Polity, which empowers congregations to be entirely independent. The stakes could not be higher. The call to covenant might be a theological imperative, but our collective covenant isn’t worth the paper it isn’t written on, for there is no such covenant. The ways we choose to connect with one another IS our center. And yet these leaders are deeply concerned with how to stay in relationship with other Unitarian Universalist communities of faith. We share this polity with churches in the Baptist, Congregational (UCC), and Disciples of Christ traditions among others. There is another way. But we are nonetheless called to engage in religious community. Church Governance Overview. So, in some ways, is our faith. Believing that congregational polity is primarily concerned with supporting and protecting individual voices and congregations is nothing less than heresy. Copyright © 1997 by the Unitarian Universalist Association. The United Church of Christ (UCC) is a mainline Protestant Christian denomination based in the United States, with historical confessional roots in the Congregational, Reformed, and Lutheran traditions, and with approximately 4,852 churches and 802,356 members. We will also cover a deeper understanding of being a committed member of our congregations and the wider UUA. Polity is one of those hard-core geeky religious words we think we should know the definition of but most of us only carry around an echo of meaning, a reaction, or some vague historical association. This is not covenanting. That preaches, doesn’t it? As congregations, we covenant together through the Canadian Unitarian Council, which provides resources for Unitarian churches to grow and develop. Because we claim and are claimed by our faith, participation in Unitarian Universalist community is much richer than the notion of “voluntary participation” conveys. The problem is that we aren’t clear about the demands our covenant places on us, so it’s no wonder so many of us feel at least vaguely resistant. Unitarian congregations elected their own leaders, determined their own membership (which was often how a congregation could be known as Unitarian), selected their own clergy, and paid their own way. Are humans essentially good or fundamentally sinful? Equating congregational polity with autonomy undermines our interconnectedness, erodes our covenant, and endangers our communities. They were radical because of their polity, which was based according to historian Perry Miller on “The pioneer formulation of the principle that a corporate body is created by the consent of its constituent members.”xiv This was a new idea in 1648, that members of a community could freely gather according to their will and mutual consent and together exercise a stake in the collective mission of the body. "Congregational Polity sees no power that extends beyond those who elected them, that is, the congregation. The bishop appoints the spiritual leader (priest, vicar, minister, rector), and a person becomes eligible for such appointment by seeking ordination from a bishop. The moral problem with this is not that the institution of our UUA suffers, but that those who do not share resources have turned away from the community of congregations with whom they have covenanted. As Unitarian Universalists we live in a particular stream of history with particular songs, sacred texts, theologies, liturgical practices, justice commitments, ancestors, and yes—polity. Many are answering with covenant. We come by this honestly! Undervaluation of associational connection. Fundraising for Congregations, Congregational Polity . /files/includes/snippet-important-message.txt, Unitarian Universalist Tradition: A Short History, The Spiritual and Cultural Ethos of Unitarian Universalism, Interdependence: Renewing Congregational Polity. But they were not, as many believe, theological radicals. New congregations promise to offer the “right hand of fellowship” to existing ones, and large congregations pledge to propagate new ones. Unitarian Universalist churches are governed with “congregational polity.” This form of governance means that the members of our congregation have the power and responsibility to establish its bylaws, set its own mission, call and hire its own clergy of their choice. These are the sins inspired by our collective tolerance for this heresy. Share. Unitarian Universalists operate under a particular form of polity called congregational polity, defined as “the rights and responsibilities of each properly organized congregation to make its own decisions about its own affairs without recourse to any higher human authority.” Members annually vote on incoming leaders and on the operational budget. Here’s why we should care: this pervasive misinterpretation of congregational polity, with its emphasis on individual conscience and direct democracy, is a major cause of decline and source of ill health in Unitarian Universalist congregations. 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