Our ancestors organized themselves around loving one another in service of God. How does someone become a UU minister? 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.” Our people successfully navigated the profound theological shifts of the last three hundred years. 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. And yet these leaders are deeply concerned with how to stay in relationship with other Unitarian Universalist communities of faith. For more information contact [email protected] They liken people leaving to pulling pieces of timber from a building or limbs from a whole person. The Congregational tradition was brought to America in the 1620s and 1630s by the Puritans—a Calvinistic group within the Church of England that desired to purify it of any remaining teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. Placing congregational polity in theological perspective clarifies the basic meaning and value of congregationalism as an expression of … A Report by the Commission on Appraisal, Unitarian Universalist Association. When did voting overtake covenanting as the means to our associational end? But they were not, as many believe, theological radicals. In exactly the same way, a person can claim Unitarian Universalist beliefs. The documents quickly totaled well over one-thousand pages, coming in at … All UU churches are governed with “congregational polity.” This form of governance means that each local congregation has the power and responsibility to establish its bylaws, set its own mission, call and hire its own clergy, and elect a Board of Trustees to oversee policy and financial matters. Congregational Polity; Congregational Polity. The individual church claims that minister but the larger movement does not. And yet the way we meet has become one of the idols we have placed at the center of our shared religious life. That is the beating heart of congregational polity. A minister who is ordained but not fellowshipped may call themselves the minister of that specific church, but they may not call themselves a Unitarian Universalist minister. So let’s get this out of the way. Rev. Traditions believing that humans are stained by original sin or that humans must be saved by a personal relationship with the Savior will have polity that is organized at least partly around naming and correcting sinful behavior. In the early 1990s, the Rev. Our church, like other Unitarian Universalist churches, is governed under the “congregational polity” model, meaning our members make ultimate decisions including the adoption of church bylaws, the election of the Board of Trustees, the adoption of … Learn More. Over this time, growing diversity and emphasis on individual rights and conscience—the hallmarks of liberalism—emerged to challenge collective accountabilities. So when our friends at Wikipedia define congregational polity as “self-governed voluntary institutions” they are defining it in opposition to dominant religious culture, in which churches are governed by priestly authority and denominational hierarchies, and people participate because the safety of their souls depend on it. Congregational Polity. Many persons have helped immeasurably in the preparation of this work on polity. But are we not responsible to the call to manifest the interdependent web by co-creating beloved community? Congregational polity is a bird grounded with a broken wing. Covenant lives on as a vestigial metaphor for interconnection in our movement, but that is all. See “The Etymology of Religion” for a marvelous treatment of the origins of the word “religion”. Which is why we desperately need a movement-wide process for reengaging Unitarian Universalism’s collective covenant. Meanwhile, other congregations and communities use covenant as a way to express their deepest aspirations and values. 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. But people within these worshipping communities want to feel and be connected, and their leaders are asking how. These promises are remarkably similar to the ones modern-day Unitarian Universalist congregations make via their Associational connection. But somehow over the last several hundred years the vital practices of mutual covenant weakened, both within and among our congregations. 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. 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. 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". Unitarian Universalist Community Polity UU Santa Fe is self-governing. In plain English, we govern ourselves. Anyone who has ever tried to live in religious community knows how important it is to have clear expectations about how we will try to be with one another. Many are answering with covenant. We might refocus General Assembly’s “Service of the Living Tradition” away from celebrating ministers and toward a ritual recommitment to covenant among Unitarian Universalist people and communities. Democracy without covenant is governance manifesting the hubris of individual opinion. 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. We all honor the Spirit of Life, the Spirit of Compassion, the Spirit of Justice, the Spirit of Love, Unitarian Universalist Association And yet we are a people of competing commitments. This reflects core theological assumptions about human nature, revelation, authority, and about who and what God is. Congregational polity is not the autonomy of individual congregations but the covenanted communion of autonomous churches. They promise to tell hard truths if they see folks acting in ways that are unhealthy. This is, in the words of the great Conrad Wright, a significantly different thing.ii Let me repeat that. It was in Puritan New England where congregational polity reached its developmental zenith, and the strengths and weaknesses it revealed in that initial phase continue today. What are the rights of a member? There are all sorts of religious practices that can be done alone, but religion by definition takes place at the intersection of self, community, and the Sacred. The stakes could not be higher. © Copyright 1996-2021 Unitarian Universalist Association.All Rights Reserved. American Unitarianism emerged out of the culture that the Cambridge Platform described. This congregation lays out in delicious detail the ways they will show up for their neighboring congregations. If the conflict becomes intractable, this community recognizes that someone might need to leave, since the peace and well being of the whole is more important than that of any single individual.x But they also promise one another that they won’t just leave—they promise not to remove themselves from fellowship on a whim. Participation in our congregations and communities is “voluntary” in the sense that it is not strictly required by external authority. And as soon as people come together in groups they have to work out how they will be together. But the two are connected by a web not a rope, and our ancestors knew this. As congregations, we covenant together through the Canadian Unitarian Council, which provides resources for Unitarian churches to grow and develop. Congregational Polity is an important part of our theology, declaring congregations the final word on what is good for us, collectively. Peter S. Raible of Seattle’s University Unitarian Church created a collection of materials relating to Unitarian and Universalist polity. Unitarian Universalist polity is essential to who we are precisely because our theology is so broad. 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. They are not Unitarian Universalist. Sort of right, but almost exclusively defined in contrast to dominant religious culture, and failing to express vital dimensions of meaning that are absolutely core to who we are as Unitarian Universalists. 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. To understand what polity is we have to understand what values it manifests. Behavioral covenants are the only way most of our congregations experience covenant, and there’s no mistaking the function—to manage unhealthy individual behavior. System of ecclesiastical polity in which every local church congregation is … The call to covenant is there at the heart of our faith, an echo from our collective past. Rev. Refusal to consider wisdom from the larger community of congregations. We would all agree that congregational polity locates the freedom to determine who can join and how squarely within each congregation. There is no higher authority that dictates policy to the congregation. 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. By My favorite congregation, which I can’t name because, well, as Regional Lead I’m not supposed to have favorites, is so wise. Congregational polity is the form of government practiced by the historic congregational churches, including those now associated with the UUA. I encourage you to consider where on this continuum the core practices and of your congregation or community fall. We sense that interconnection, we preach it, and we rely on it. 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 Church of Arlington, VA We join the country in lighting a flame at this National Moment of Unity and Remembrance. We have inadvertently taught our people that covenants are about getting other people to stop behaving badly. It is a guy-wire for exciting new models of ministry. attending seminary at a non-UU theological school? 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. For example, before the 40 members of Fort McKinley United Methodist Church voted to be… 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 Our ancestors navigated the American Revolution, the creation of civil democracy, and the separation of church and state, not to mention profound theological shifts. Regardless of theological orientation or denominational polity, there are certain basics of creating congregational history that apply. By Conrad Wright. Central to Congregational Polity is the Annual Congregational Meeting. Today, the materials in this packet continue to be used in UU … Over-empowerment and even protection of bullying voices. Members are expected to participate in congregational polity by attending meetings and being informed about issues involving the congregation. It must be activated intentionally for the full power of liberal religion—and congregational polity—to be revealed. It also means we choose to be interdependent with other congregations in the Association. Central to Congregational Polity is the Annual Congregational Meeting. Polity is a word that points to who has authority to make decisions or how decisions are made. But these aren’t even the best reasons. Individual beliefs may constitute spirituality but they are not religious. It was a declaration of covenant. If you are interested in how our church is governed, then click here. Congregational Polity in Theory and Practice. 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. These people are not anarchists after all, no matter what Wikipedia says. We hope that this enables lively discussions for your congregational leaders. We have managed to stay connected as communities of faith through radical changes to our collective beliefs. Unlike many mainstream Protestant churches, we have no denominational hierarchy of authority. As congregations we “covenant to affirm and promote” the Principles. Template:Christianity Congregationalist polity, often known as congregationalism, is a system of church governance in which every local congregation is independent. That said, scholars are quick to warn us that this notion is quite different from democracy by any modern definition. This understanding repels healthy people, weakens connections among churches, and perpetuates widespread suspicion about leadership. 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. This controls everything from how worship is done to what leadership is and how decisions are made. The three main forms of church governance, or polity, are congregational, Episcopal, and Presbyterian. ... Institutionally we have congregational polity; we make our own decisions. This, my friends, is a community that understands congregational polity, where independence and covenant alchemize into precious religious life. Our Association only exists because congregations intentionally decided that they need a way to enact collective religious vision beyond the unit of individual congregations. Students will discover the mechanics of governance by observing Unitarian Universalist polity in action. Undervaluation of associational connection. The UU leadership style comes from the ground up. Copyright © 1997 by the Unitarian Universalist Association. We have managed to stay together even as the core Christian story receded as one among many wisdom stories. Polity is a doctrine of church, specifically the way churches are connected to one another. So while the Wikipedia definition might describe a little piece of congregational polity, it misses the larger story. The only people who want to join communities that deify individual voices are people who want to be deified. They promise to look out for their neighbors’ welfare, and consult with them when they ask for help. Every denomination has a polity. Students will discover the mechanics of governance by observing Unitarian Universalist polity in action. Across the country, bells will toll as we remember all those who lost their lives to COVID-19. Skinner House, 1997. But covenant is more than impulse and echo. Successful missional churches make some fundamental assumptions about how they operate. “Joining” happens only once. How does someone become a UU minister? There is no such thing as a Unitarian Universalist by themselves. Countless faithful people have left our faith after being turned off, demoralized, or even victimized by these behaviors. I showed such promise in my not-knowing that the second thing I was asked to do was serve on the ministerial search committee for my congregation’s assistant minister. Our UUA is often the only way congregations reach out to one another, and to starve it is to starve our associational interconnection. This means that ultimate organizational authority is vested in the local congregation rather than the national association, though even the local congregation cannot … The Polity Intensive Class will happen June 19-23 at the site of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly in Spokane, WA. Joining and covenanting are different in the way a wedding is different from a marriage. 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. Congregational polity is a system in which every local church or congregation is independent and ecclesiastically sovereign. Our ancestors knew this in their bones. Because we claim and are claimed by our faith, participation in Unitarian Universalist community is much richer than the notion of “voluntary participation” conveys. 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. The Cambridge Platform was not a declaration of independence. In a religious association organized according to congregational polity, each local congregation has the sole authority to govern itself. 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. Ours is not some generic story of democracy, poetic self reliance, or liberal religion. This is called the offering. 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. Dominant religious culture in the West tends to be more hierarchical, more authority-driven, more top-down that Unitarian Universalism is. We typically hold an Annual Meeting of UU Santa Fe in late May. This failure means that the next time a sister congregation needs help they are less likely to receive it. For Unitarian Universalists, ministry is not a supernatural state of any kind. Even though they add their name to a long list of other names, there is no reaching back—nothing mutual happens in that moment. There is no such thing as a disconnected UU—to eschew associational connection is to repudiate our polity. Not just internal covenants among participants, but many sincerely want to be in covenant with the larger UU community. That preaches, doesn’t it? We share this polity with churches in the Baptist, Congregational (UCC), and Disciples of Christ traditions among others. Annotated, with a new introduction by Alice Blair Wesley. Share. So, in some ways, is our faith. 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. Spirituality can be practiced alone but by definition religion can’t. I want to explore this idea of covenant a bit further, because in many of our congregations the meaning of “covenant” has been compressed into the means by which we convey expectations and exercise a degree of control over individual behavior. The bishop appoints the spiritual leader (priest, vicar, minister, rector), and a person becomes eligible for such appointment by seeking ordination from a bishop. Yes, I just called it heresy. As individuals and groups we want to belong but are reluctant to be claimed. Peter S. Raible of Seattle’s University Unitarian Church created a collection of materials relating to Unitarian and Universalist polity. /files/includes/snippet-important-message.txt, Congregational Polity and the Myth of Congregational Autonomy. Unitarian Universalists use Congregational Polity, which empowers congregations to be entirely independent. 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 is the beliefs, doctrines, and structure that hold local churches together with whatever denominational chain exists of authority and doctrinal accountability. Unitarian Universalist Association. Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) is a liberal religious association of Unitarian Universalist congregations. Hanson was ordained by our church, exercising the right of congregational polity. 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. This way of practicing covenant puts tepid mutual agreement at our collective center. We value interconnection but are cautious about asking much of each other. Congregational what?, I asked. Fundraising for Congregations, Congregational Polity . Inderdependence: Renewing Congregational Polity. 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. Puritans had tried for decades to reform the Church of England. They know that they are united in covenant with each other so that they can help each other increase the sum of Love in the world.vi, This community doesn’t do “membership”. 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. In a creedless faith that has grown away from the trunk of our original theological trees, this tradition is absolutely essential. Occasionally a special congregational meeting may be called. attending seminary at a non-UU theological school? 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. We must revitalize that which connects us as individuals and religious communities. They must be discovered. UU social justice priorities, global religious traditions, and congregational administration. 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 covenant I have been talking about this morning is not just between people. Polity, she said. This call, wherever it comes from and however it manifests in our individual lives, is that which compels us to come together. And here’s my favorite part. If Unitarian Universalism is going to survive in the coming time—much less thrive—our center must hold. 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. "Congregational Polity sees no power that extends beyond those who elected them, that is, the congregation. Theological Perspective; Unitarian Universalist Tradition: A Short History; Comparative Congregationalisms; The UUA Bylaws: A Study in Ambivalence; The Spiritual and Cultural Ethos of Unitarian Universalism; Part Two. The religious leaders who came together in Cambridge in 1648 arrived there voluntarily. In a few of our congregations, people become part of the community when they formally enter and are welcomed into mutual covenant with the rest of the community. (UUA.org) Congregational Polity: A Historical Survey of Unitarian and Universalist Practice. The “congregational way” can help all of us discover the way forward—even in the wide world beyond congregations. Defining oneself by one’s institutional or personal identities—now that may be dying among some of our younger generation, especially the ones who can afford to untether themselves from their communities of origin. This practice of membership falls on the interdependent end of the continuum. It is no wonder that independence is all that remains of our beloved congregational polity. Rev. Without continual reaffirmation, the sense of volitional association erodes. It is also among communities—which are always greater than the sum of their parts—and with the greater Love that surpasses all our understanding. We were chartered with the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1988. Congregationalist polity is similar to these topics: Ecclesiastical polity, Congregational church, Episcopal polity and more. It is, in the words of UU scholar Conrad Wright, “part of the consensus that holds the denomination together.”xviii. Congregational Polity in Theory and Practice, Pressure Points: Issues and Concerns Related to Congregational Polity, Toward a New Community of Autonomous Congregations. The most vital of these beyonders are trying to create new kinds of communities where membership in the traditional institutional sense is irrelevant. Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religious tradition that was formed from the consolidation of two religions: Unitarianism and Universalism. 24 Farnsworth Street | Boston, MA 02210 This is ironic because I don’t actually drink coffee and to this day I have no idea how to make it. 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. There are those who say that identity—especially identity that is mediated by institutions—will cease to matter in the coming age. * Here is a definition of congregational polity by Earl Holt, writing in Redeeming Time: Endowing Your Church With the Power of Covenant, edited by Walter P. Herz: Skinner House Books, UUA, Boston. Charles Conrad Wright (February 9, 1917 – February 17, 2011) was an American religious historian and scholar of American Unitarianism and congregational polity.He served on the faculty of Harvard Divinity School from 1954 to 1987 and continued to write for another decade. The covenant calls both the individual and the larger community to specific purpose, with specific practices, and the covenant is regularly renewed and reinterpreted. Because they are emerging and new, these ministries don’t have such strong institutional DNA. Our polity makes us ready for the emerging spiritual-but-not- religious world, providing handholds to move confidently into the future. Unitarian Universalism proudly identifies congregational polity as a bedrock organizational commitment. The ways we choose to connect with one another IS our center. But this freedom can be exercised in ways that emphasize either independence or interdependence. 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.