Correcting misinterpretation and healing congregational systems from past damage are reasons enough to reinvigorate our collective reengagement with congregational polity. how our congregational polity works how we can create strong, healthy communities a deeper understanding of being a committed member of our congregations and the wider UUA how being a member of a congregation is a “lab” for building Beloved Community In exactly the same way, a person can claim Unitarian Universalist beliefs. 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. In the “congregational way”, autonomy and interconnection cohabitate comfortably. And yet the way we meet has become one of the idols we have placed at the center of our shared religious life. The five sections of Part One speak to five basic dimensions of congregational polity: theological, historical, comparative, constitutional, and cultural. Polity is a word that points to who has authority to make decisions or how decisions are made. 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. They like a good committee as well as the next.ix. That preaches, doesn’t it? The Theological Grants Panel of the Unitarian Universalist Association, chaired by the Reverend Lee Barker and staffed by the Reverend Ellen Brandenburg, provided the finances which allowed the work to go forward and be published. I encourage you to consider where on this continuum the core practices and of your congregation or community fall. Our polity helps us tell our story and transmit our tradition. Congregational Polity. Both of these predecessor organizations began as Christian denominations of the Unitarian and Universalist varieties respectively. 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. To be an officially recognized congregation in our tradition is to join the Association of congregations. Countless faithful people have left our faith after being turned off, demoralized, or even victimized by these behaviors. Please, please, when citing external documents like Dr. Ortega’s “ 5-page essay preemptively defending CRT from its critics ” and “Congregational Polity and the Myth of Congregational Autonomy” by Sue Phillips, give a url link or other information about where to look for such references. 24 Farnsworth Street | Boston, MA 02210 And as soon as people come together in groups they have to work out how they will be together. For more information contact info@uua.org. But this freedom can be exercised in ways that emphasize either independence or interdependence. It is no wonder that independence is all that remains of our beloved congregational polity. I came to UU from Mormonism and have been consistently refreshed and enthused by congregational polity. Unitarian Universalist ministries living in the “beyond” of Congregations and Beyond seem to know this. Over this time, growing diversity and emphasis on individual rights and conscience—the hallmarks of liberalism—emerged to challenge collective accountabilities. Our UUA is often the only way congregations reach out to one another, and to starve it is to starve our associational interconnection. It also means we choose to be interdependent with other congregations in the Association. Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religious tradition that was formed from the consolidation of two religions: Unitarianism and Universalism. 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. [Religare Latin for “to bind”i Relegere, Greek for “to heed” Rak, Teutonic for “to have a care for”]. 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. Successful missional churches make some fundamental assumptions about how they operate. We have congregational polity, which means the congregation is responsible for making its own decisions about how we will live out our values. Hanson was ordained by our church, exercising the right of congregational polity. They are not Unitarian Universalist. The faithful people who gathered in Cambridge that sweltering summer knew absolutely that they needed one another if they were to serve God. This is because congregational polity means that we make our own decisions about local structure, leadership, ministry and bylaws rather than accept a structure handed to us. There is no higher authority that dictates policy to the congregation. And here’s my favorite part. Undervaluation of associational connection. Certainly Unitarian Universalist congregations are organized congregationally, but it is the people and activities, not the polity, that is the focus of this essay. Hardened and cynical from their years of orthodox ministry, they argued with him that he served the congregation first. Life. But they absolutely rely on Facebook to nurture and energize the connections that make them who they are. Our faith is practiced in covenanted community. The covenant I have been talking about this morning is not just between people. Congregational Polity. System of ecclesiastical polity in which every local church congregation is … The UU leadership style comes from the ground up. I n most Unitarian Universalist congregations (and many other religious traditions) there is a moment during the worship service when a basket or plate is passed to collect money. 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. It is parallel play. They promise to tell hard truths if they see folks acting in ways that are unhealthy. (UUA.org) Congregational Polity: A Historical Survey of Unitarian and Universalist Practice. Questions like: Polity enstructures a community’s assumptions about how the world, God, and people work. Even though they add their name to a long list of other names, there is no reaching back—nothing mutual happens in that moment. Does our faith not require us to help increase the sum of love and justice in the world? But we are also explicitly and formally united in mutual covenant with other congregations. Our congregations are voluntary associations in that members and friends participate according to their conscience—no one is compelled by creedal requirement, eschatological fear, or priestly mandate to join a Unitarian Universalist congregation. The most vital of these beyonders are trying to create new kinds of communities where membership in the traditional institutional sense is irrelevant. If Unitarian Universalism is going to survive in the coming time—much less thrive—our center must hold. Polity is the beliefs, doctrines, and structure that hold local churches together with whatever denominational chain exists of authority and doctrinal accountability. exploring the possibility of entering UU ministry? Congregational polity is not the autonomy of individual congregations but the communion of autonomous churches—a significantly different thing. As a practice democracy emphasizes the wrong things—namely debate and polarization by design in which some win and some lose. Just as religion thrives at the intersection of self, community, and Spirit, so too does covenant. Marcus Fogliano will speak on the subject of Congregational Polity, the 1600’s document that defines how our faith is organized, and how our faith and language has changed over the centuries. 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. We intentionally come together to learn together, support one another, and to accomplish together what we cannot accomplish alone. Somewhere along the line, our collective understanding of congregational polity became like that Wikipedia definition. Hubristic belief in congregational specialness. Polity with priests and bishops at the center make sense in sacramental traditions, where intermediaries are required to extend the gifts of God to the people of God, and where adherents are called to participate in specific sacraments as both a practice and requirement of faith. This practice of membership falls on the interdependent end of the continuum. These are the sins inspired by our collective tolerance for this heresy. Celebrates the big ideas and everyday moments that all children share... We all honor the Spirit of Life, the Spirit of Compassion, the Spirit of Justice, the Spirit of Love, Unitarian Universalist Association Board Agendas and Minutes – Past Church Years; Opportunities to Serve at UUCWC for 2021-2022; Leadership Resources; Committees / Ministries; Documents; Service Awards; Forms & Information; Connection . Our covenant makes demands, and. And yet we are a people of competing commitments. Everything their church does and is is about making Love manifest in this time and place.iii They know in their bones that how they are says everything about who they are. For example, before the 40 members of Fort McKinley United Methodist Church voted to be… 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. In our tradition, congregations ordain ministers but only the Association can admit ministers into fellowship. /files/includes/snippet-important-message.txt, Congregational Polity and the Myth of Congregational Autonomy. Let me draw a parallel. Congregational polity “Congregational polity” is the Unitarian Universalist technical term for the way in which churches, fellowships and societies of this denomination are governed. Congregational polity is the form of government practiced by the historic congregational churches, including those now associated with the UUA. To understand what polity is we have to understand what values it manifests. And thus began the perfect introduction to religious life—being asked to do something we’re not at all sure we want to do and have no clue how. Members annually vote on incoming leaders and on the operational budget. But it’s also about so much more. There is no road map for the future they are creating. I love it! They have a lovely process for being with each other in times of conflict, encouraging people to talk first directly to the person they’re having trouble with, and if that doesn’t work ask another person to help them reconcile. 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 … We value interconnection but are cautious about asking much of each other. 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. Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) is a liberal religious association of Unitarian Universalist congregations. However, given the fundamental principle of congregational polity, individual UU congregations make their own determination on ordination of ministers, and congregations may sometimes even hire or ordain persons who have not received UUA ministerial fellowship, and may or may not serve the congregation as its principle minister/pastor. Congregational what?, I asked. We come by this honestly! We offer a wide variety of online courses and short-term intensives in UU theologies, UU history and polity. It is a guy-wire for exciting new models of ministry. This is called the offering. Over-empowerment and even protection of bullying voices. The wise elders who gathered in Cambridge three hundred and sixty years ago heralded a long practice of coming together to explore our interconnectedness, and while the ways our people have connected over the years have varied greatly the fact of our coming together has not. Without some kind of vital, clear center around which we convene ourselves, we will not hold. All rights reserved.See also Provocative Propositions on Polity: a self-study course on congregational polity based on this report. Share. Occasionally a special congregational meeting may be called. Because we claim and are claimed by our faith, participation in Unitarian Universalist community is much richer than the notion of “voluntary participation” conveys. Amos' question sets the theme for Wright's newest collection of essays on congregational autonomy in Unitarian Universalist churches. Polity both reflects and creates that purpose. As individuals and groups we want to belong but are reluctant to be claimed. It’s time we remembered. They do “covenant,” and that covenant is so strong that each covenant partner accepts responsibility for reaching out in Love to those who wander from the covenant by word or deed. The three main forms of church governance, or polity, are congregational, Episcopal, and Presbyterian. 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. Polity Among the Unitarians and Universalists In the early 1990s, the Rev. The only people who want to join communities that deify individual voices are people who want to be deified. They promise to worship and celebrate together, to share resources, and to work together to expand their faith in the world.xiii. Touching on important historical material, Wright offers the reader stimulating reflections on vexing liberal religious matters that inform both our present and our future. Congregationalist polity is similar to these topics: Ecclesiastical polity, Congregational church, Episcopal polity and more. We sense that interconnection, we preach it, and we rely on it. Policy Governance and Unitarian Universalist Congregational Polity Eric Kaminetzky April 2006 “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to leave alone. This is why the prevalence of often-vituperative claims impugning the motives of our UUA is so ironic. Our ancestors knew this in their bones. In Episcopal polity, the chief authority over a local congregation is the bishop. Unitarian Universalist Polity Congregational Polity sees no power that extends beyond those who elected them, that is, the congregation. Our faith puts claims on us. Polity Our fifth principle states that we affirm and promote, “The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.” In the spirit of this principle, Unitarian Universalists practice what is called “congregational polity.” Good lord they are smart and soulful. It connects us to our ancestors and gives us practiced means to stay connected to one another even as those connections take new form. These promises are remarkably similar to the ones modern-day Unitarian Universalist congregations make via their Associational connection. Because they are emerging and new, these ministries don’t have such strong institutional DNA. So let’s get this out of the way. But this gift comes with great responsibility. Indeed our ancestors would be horrified to learn that their commitment to living by the consent of constituent members would one day lead to erode covenant, and that independence would overtake mutual reliance. Rev. Moral, ethical, and for some of us theological duty claims and compels us. Peter S. Raible of Seattle’s University Unitarian Church created a collection of materials relating to Unitarian and Universalist polity. Congregational polity is not fundamentally about autonomy or protecting individuals from spiritual coercion. Our church is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Association, through which the 1,000 UU congregations in the United States seek to help each other. “Joining” happens only once. They know that community without commitment is no community at all, and so they wonder about what to ask of participants in their ministries, what level of commitment to require, and how to engage in mutual covenanting. 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 have inadvertently taught our people that covenants are about getting other people to stop behaving badly. 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. This way of practicing covenant puts tepid mutual agreement at our collective center. This, my friends, is a community that understands congregational polity, where independence and covenant alchemize into precious religious life. But covenant is more than impulse and echo. 24 Farnsworth Street | Boston, MA 02210 Which is why congregations who fail to contribute generously to our UUA are out covenant. In a creedless faith that has grown away from the trunk of our original theological trees, this tradition is absolutely essential. A basic tenet of Unitarian Universalism is congregational polity, meaning each UU congregation is autonomous. As congregations we “covenant to affirm and promote” the Principles. 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. Somehow they’ve learned that people of all ages need help to live faithful, growthful lives, and that it is the congregation’s collective job to be that help.iv In their written materials they address this whole spiritual-but-not-religious thing head-on just in case any newcomers are confused. 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. Congregational Polity Like all Unitarian Universalist congregations, UUMAN governs itself through “congregational polity”. 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. That’s not how I read the future. This understanding repels healthy people, weakens connections among churches, and perpetuates widespread suspicion about leadership. And yet this amnesiacal interpretation of our tradition pervades many of our communities. Yes, I just called it heresy. Both are strictly consistent with congregational polity, but there is no question that a mutual covenanting practice lives more fully into the beautiful potential of beloved community. Whether by individual conscience, justice-seeking community, or by God, Unitarian Universalism teaches that we are called to create beloved community in community. Dominant religious culture in the West tends to be more hierarchical, more authority-driven, more top-down that Unitarian Universalism is. It’s also the commitment to connect, the means to connect, the content of the connection, and how we maintain the connection. It’s a bold thing to claim that people can’t really be Unitarian Universalist by themselves. This failure means that the next time a sister congregation needs help they are less likely to receive it. "Congregational Polity sees no power that extends beyond those who elected them, that is, the congregation. 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. And yet these leaders are deeply concerned with how to stay in relationship with other Unitarian Universalist communities of faith. Many are answering with covenant. The religious leaders who came together in Cambridge in 1648 arrived there voluntarily. In the early 1990s, the Rev. Perhaps you will recognize some of these manifestations. We all honor the Spirit of Life, the Spirit of Compassion, the Spirit of Justice, the Spirit of Love, Unitarian Universalist Association Peter S. Raible of Seattle’s University Unitarian Church created a collection of materials relating to Unitarian and Universalist congregational polity, or structures of church governance. It drives healthy people away, weakens connections among our churches and beyond, and perpetuates mind-boggling degrees of suspicion about leaders in general and our Unitarian Universalist Association in particular. They must be discovered. To be a Unitarian Universalist person or congregation is to claim and be claimed by covenant. How does someone become a UU minister? Skinner House, 1997. The call to covenant is there at the heart of our faith, an echo from our collective past. The “congregational way” can help all of us discover the way forward—even in the wide world beyond congregations. And not in the cute renegade sort of way. UU social justice priorities, global religious traditions, and congregational administration. There is another way. Our ancestors organized themselves around loving one another in service of God. Although a person’s sense of connection may well continue to deepen once they sign the book, the act of explicit commitment is over the moment their pen leaves the page. Church Governance Overview. The UU Church of Delaware County is highlighted in the current edition of the UUWorld, which will be hitting Unitarian Universalist members’ mailboxes at any moment. That said, scholars are quick to warn us that this notion is quite different from democracy by any modern definition. Meanwhile, other congregations and communities use covenant as a way to express their deepest aspirations and values. 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. They promise to look out for their neighbors’ welfare, and consult with them when they ask for help. We hope that this enables lively discussions for your congregational leaders. As congregations, we covenant together through the Canadian Unitarian Council, which provides resources for Unitarian churches to grow and develop. This is my favorite: [attendees at church meetings may not “oppose or contradict the judgment…of the elders without sufficient and weighty cause, because such practices are manifestly contrary unto order and government, and inlets of disturbance, and tend to confusion”]xvii So true! Our collective anxiety about this tension and the resulting deification of individual conscience have squashed the rich dimensionality of covenant until it has become synonymous with a vague sense of commitment to a vague set of principles. Democracy without covenant is governance manifesting the hubris of individual opinion. Inderdependence: Renewing Congregational Polity. 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. Copyright © 1997 by the Unitarian Universalist Association. The Unitarian Universalist minister replied, "No, actually we have something called 'congregational polity' which means that the congregation as a whole is the only one who can call or dismiss me." Students will discover the mechanics of governance by observing Unitarian Universalist polity in action. That is the beating heart of congregational polity. Today, the materials in this packet continue to be used in UU … Conrad Wright, Congregational Polity: A Historical Survey of Unitarian and Universalist Practice (Boston: Skinner House), 1997, p. 12. 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. 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. The answers to these questions cannot be told. (Google Books) My favorite congregation, which I can’t name because, well, as Regional Lead I’m not supposed to have favorites, is so wise. Across the country, bells will toll as we remember all those who lost their lives to COVID-19. There is an exact parallel between the way we understand congregations’ relationships to one another and individual UU’s relationships to their congregations and communities. Just a few years before they had escaped persecution and oppression of religious and secular authorities, coming to the new world to create a new way. exploring the possibility of entering UU ministry? Our polity will be revivified when we actually help our people enter and re-enter into covenant with each other and with the larger community of congregations. One of the important decisions is the election of leaders, generally a governing board and the call of the minister (s). Covenant is not coercive, which is why the tendency to assign duplicitous motives to the pull toward interconnection in our system is blasphemous. These include strong local and democratic involvement in each congregation, but also a fierce unwillingness to be organized in any authoritative ecclesiastical body. Congregational polity is a bird grounded with a broken wing. There are few things more damaging to our congregations than a systemic belief that individual voices rather than collective purpose belong at the center of congregational life. Alice Blair Wesley, “Love is the Doctrine of This Church” from Our Covenant: The 2000-01 Minns Lectures (Meadville Lombard Press, 2002), p. 20. The Polity Intensive Class will happen June 19-23 at the site of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly in Spokane, WA. The documents quickly totaled well over one-thousand pages, coming in at … There is no such thing as a disconnected UU—to eschew associational connection is to repudiate our polity. these cannot be ignored no matter how loud the voices resisting the accountabilities envisioned in our polity. Topics similar to or like Congregationalist polity. Unitarian Universalist Community Polity UU Santa Fe is self-governing. Congregational polity is a bird grounded with a broken wing. Template:Christianity Congregationalist polity, often known as congregationalism, is a system of church governance in which every local congregation is independent. The authors of our congregational way were extremely specific about the web of connection they wanted to weave. 1999. By Conrad Wright. It was formed in 1961 by the consolidation of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America. Our faith is practiced in covenanted community. 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