We intentionally come together to learn together, support one another, and to accomplish together what we cannot accomplish alone. Successful missional churches make some fundamental assumptions about how they operate. So, for instance, technically, you are only a UU if you belong to a congregation which belongs to the UUA. 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. 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. This is not covenanting. Unitarian Universalist polity is essential to who we are precisely because our theology is so broad. “Joining” happens only once. As individuals and groups we want to belong but are reluctant to be claimed. 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. Thus, in 1974, Rev. That preaches, doesn’t it? These include strong local and democratic involvement in each congregation, but also a fierce unwillingness to be organized in any authoritative ecclesiastical body. Today, the materials in this packet continue to be used in UU … This reflects core theological assumptions about human nature, revelation, authority, and about who and what God is. Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, VA We join the country in lighting a flame at this National Moment of Unity and Remembrance. We all honor the Spirit of Life, the Spirit of Compassion, the Spirit of Justice, the Spirit of Love, Unitarian Universalist Association The individual church claims that minister but the larger movement does not. Congregational polity is a bird grounded with a broken wing. They put covenant at the center because they believed, in the words of scholar Alice Blair Wesley, that “The task of the free church could be summed—in their terms—as loving God and loving one another so well that in their own study and discussion, dispute and conference, prayer, consultation and more discussion in the free church, the members might learn together the divine will of the loving God… [as it] relates to justice, peace, and reasonable laws. Democracy without covenant is governance manifesting the hubris of individual opinion. In Episcopal polity, the chief authority over a local congregation is the bishop. Touching on important historical material, Wright offers the reader stimulating reflections on vexing liberal religious matters that inform both our present and our future. Undervaluation of associational connection. 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. Polity is a doctrine of church, specifically the way churches are connected to one another. 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. I mean in the literal way—like apostasy—the renunciation or abandonment of a religious principle. 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. The faithful people who gathered in Cambridge that sweltering summer knew absolutely that they needed one another if they were to serve God. The clearest, most prophetic voices in our movement right now are from beyond communities asking to be in actual mutual covenant. Unitarian Universalist churches practice congregational polity. Puritans had tried for decades to reform the Church of England. /files/includes/snippet-important-message.txt, Congregational Polity and the Myth of Congregational Autonomy. Sue Phillips, New England Region of the UUA. Peter S. Raible of Seattle’s University Unitarian Church created a collection of materials relating to Unitarian and Universalist polity. But somehow over the last several hundred years the vital practices of mutual covenant weakened, both within and among our congregations. It also means we choose to be interdependent with other congregations in the Association. 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. 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. 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. The three main forms of church governance, or polity, are congregational, Episcopal, and Presbyterian. 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. Covenant—mutual covenant—is the missing link in our understanding of congregational polity. Our associational polity is a living tradition; a pathway for mutually covenanted religious life. Perhaps you will recognize some of these manifestations. Meanwhile, other congregations and communities use covenant as a way to express their deepest aspirations and values. Unlike many mainstream Protestant churches, we have no denominational hierarchy of authority. It must be activated intentionally for the full power of liberal religion—and congregational polity—to be revealed. 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. We offer a wide variety of online courses and short-term intensives in UU theologies, UU history and polity. And yet this amnesiacal interpretation of our tradition pervades many of our communities. 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. Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) is a liberal religious association of Unitarian Universalist congregations. Behavioral covenants are the only way most of our congregations experience covenant, and there’s no mistaking the function—to manage unhealthy individual behavior. Congregationalist polity is similar to these topics: Ecclesiastical polity, Congregational church, Episcopal polity and more. The stakes could not be higher. Alice Blair Wesley, “Love is the Doctrine of This Church” from Our Covenant: The 2000-01 Minns Lectures (Meadville Lombard Press, 2002), p. 20. Privacy Policy. Which is why we desperately need a movement-wide process for reengaging Unitarian Universalism’s collective covenant. We designed this certificate for you! Congregational Polity is the form of government that makes congregations the basic unit of the denomination. But the longing for connection, even those connections transmitted via institutions—that will never pass away. Our religion is a community of autonomous churches; each congregation elects its own leaders, determines their own membership, selects their own clergy, and pays their own way. These are the sins inspired by our collective tolerance for this heresy. Polity Among the Unitarians and Universalists In the early 1990s, the Rev. Diversity naturally emerges in polities when there is minimal hierarchy and standardization in systems, and that is certainly true in our case. 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. 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.” Privacy Policy. Covenant lives on as a vestigial metaphor for interconnection in our movement, but that is all. 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 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. Polity, she said. Covenant—the collective commitment to and practices of religious community—is how we have stayed together. In a creedless faith that has grown away from the trunk of our original theological trees, this tradition is absolutely essential. This structure of self-government is called congregational polity. Congregational Polity. (Google Books) There is no road map for the future they are creating. As congregations, we covenant together through the Canadian Unitarian Council, which provides resources for Unitarian churches to grow and develop. Rev. The bishop appoints the spiritual leader (priest, vicar, minister, rector), and a person becomes eligible for such appointment by seeking ordination from a bishop. 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. 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. In exactly the same way, a person can claim Unitarian Universalist beliefs. 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. Each congregation has the right to hire or call whomever Even though they add their name to a long list of other names, there is no reaching back—nothing mutual happens in that moment. We will cover how covenant is the center of UU faith, how our congregational polity works, and how we can create strong, healthy communities. Are humans essentially good or fundamentally sinful? As described in the section on congregational polity, in our tradition authority lies within local congregations. Congregational polity is not the autonomy of individual congregations but the covenanted communion of autonomous churches. Countless faithful people have left our faith after being turned off, demoralized, or even victimized by these behaviors. Unitarian Universalist ministries living in the “beyond” of Congregations and Beyond seem to know this. 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. 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. Copyright © 1997 by the Unitarian Universalist Association. 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. The covenant calls both the individual and the larger community to specific purpose, with specific practices, and the covenant is regularly renewed and reinterpreted. We were chartered with the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1988. While members cannot be consulted on every decision, they do vote on the most important issues. And as soon as people come together in groups they have to work out how they will be together. The authors of our congregational way were extremely specific about the web of connection they wanted to weave. 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. 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. If Unitarian Universalism is going to survive in the coming time—much less thrive—our center must hold. Where is this congregation? The ways we choose to connect with one another IS our center. UUA, 1997. For Unitarian Universalists, ministry is not a supernatural state of any kind. The rich dimensionality of mutual covenant and interdependence has been sheared off, leaving only the barest bones of isolated self-governance and independence. 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 part of their reforms, Puritans desired to replace the Church of England's episcopal polity (rule by bishops) with another form of church government. Every one of our flourishing congregations and communities knows this way. 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. It’s also the commitment to connect, the means to connect, the content of the connection, and how we maintain the connection. But if they are not a part of a covenanted community they have not been claimed back. The future of our faith is at stake. We hope that this enables lively discussions for your congregational leaders. 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 … One of the deepest convictions that unites us as Unitarian Universalists is a belief in the possibility of a beloved community among people, whether members of a family or the most diverse representatives o It is a guy-wire for exciting new models of ministry. People become part of communities, which in turn become religious communities when they share answers to fundamental questions about self, community, and Spirit. But it’s also about so much more. As part of the Unitarian Universalist Association polity, the ordination of ministers is a right and responsibility of member congregations and as such can only be conferred by congregations. My favorite congregation, which I can’t name because, well, as Regional Lead I’m not supposed to have favorites, is so wise. Theirs is not a story of independence, not even remotely. Contemporary edition of the 1648 Cambridge Platform, the historic document that articulated the foundational principle of congregational polity. There is no higher authority that dictates policy to the congregation. attending seminary at a non-UU theological school? It’s a choice, a process, and an ongoing relationship. Students will discover the mechanics of governance by observing Unitarian Universalist polity in action. They promise to worship and celebrate together, to share resources, and to work together to expand their faith in the world.xiii. 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 Polity; Congregational Polity. Our Association only exists because congregations intentionally decided that they need a way to enact collective religious vision beyond the unit of individual congregations. 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 … Unitarian Universalists use Congregational Polity, which empowers congregations to be entirely independent. Because the covenant our congregations have entered into is not with “the UUA” as an institution, but with each other. We designed this certificate for you! Amos' question sets the theme for Wright's newest collection of essays on congregational autonomy in Unitarian Universalist churches. Their theology was virtually indistinguishable from the churches they left behind in Europe. As congregations we “covenant to affirm and promote” the Principles. But they were not, as many believe, theological radicals. System of ecclesiastical polity in which every local church congregation is … The covenant I have been talking about this morning is not just between people. Most people don’t make “Facebook user” an aspect of their identity. 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. Polity is a general term for the form of church organization adopted by a religious tradition. This is why the prevalence of often-vituperative claims impugning the motives of our UUA is so ironic. Questions like: Polity enstructures a community’s assumptions about how the world, God, and people work. We have managed to stay together even as the core Christian story receded as one among many wisdom stories. Just as religion thrives at the intersection of self, community, and Spirit, so too does covenant. The first thing I was ever asked to do in a UU congregation was coordinate coffee hour. It is, in the words of UU scholar Conrad Wright, “part of the consensus that holds the denomination together.”xviii. 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. The only people who want to join communities that deify individual voices are people who want to be deified. 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. This is, in the words of the great Conrad Wright, a significantly different thing.ii Let me repeat that. Occasionally a special congregational meeting may be called. Unitarian Universalism proudly identifies congregational polity as a bedrock organizational commitment. Peter S. Raible of Seattle’s University Unitarian Church created a collection of materials relating to Unitarian and Universalist polity. It is flat-out ahistorical, not to mention wrong. Somewhere along the line, our collective understanding of congregational polity became like that Wikipedia definition. 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 . But people within these worshipping communities want to feel and be connected, and their leaders are asking how. Participation in our congregations and communities is “voluntary” in the sense that it is not strictly required by external authority. They specifically say that being mad at another member is not reason enough to leave. And I thought, oh dear—that definitely sounds more complicated than making coffee. Our ancestors knew this in their bones. 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. 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. So while the Wikipedia definition might describe a little piece of congregational polity, it misses the larger story. 24 Farnsworth Street | Boston, MA 02210 (617) 742-2100 | [email protected] 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. There is no church hierarchy that seeks our obedience. 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. Conrad Wright, Congregational Polity: A Historical Survey of Unitarian and Universalist Practice (Boston: Skinner House), 1997, p. 12. How can we say yes to something—much less do it—if we don’t know what we’re being asked to do? Our Committees. We will also cover a deeper understanding of being a committed member of our congregations and the wider UUA. The freedom of belief which has helped us remain flexible in light of new revelation and experience also weakens our binding ties.

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