The Very Model Of A Bad Congregationalist…or Why You Should Know How Your Church Works

<this is being written in rant mode, so if you don’t want to read a rant, choose another blog to read.>

Kinsi, in responding to a comment that I made on the Spirituality and Sunflowers blog, wrote the following:

Church is going to a worship service, building community, and for some doing social justice and religious education. No where in that process is a quiz on the bylaws – guess what folks, most people *don’t care* about what committees are in the bylaws.

This is a problem with UUism if this is the prevailing attitude of the UUA. People are not going to join a church because they got a theological boner from the bylaws. (I’m starting to get sick, first thing to go is self-censorship.) People are not attending UU services because of what they heard are in the bylaws. It’s to worship. It’s to build community.

aiiiight…if you wanna go there…I’m gonna nip this bullsh*t in the bud. First off, I have had the church in my life from birth. My father is a deacon. My uncle is an ordained minister. My aunt is a youth programs coordinator. I know why people join churches. And I know it’s not the by-laws. I never said that it was. Don’t put words in my mouth.

I can just about guarantee that anything I think about UUism is not a prevailing attitude. Most of the time I’m in a minority of the minority. Comes from being a traditionalist.

Wanna know why I think everybody should have a gander at the UUA by-laws? Because there are things in there that can (and do) directly affect our associational/congregational life. Here’s an example.

There’s a UU seminary student that I know whose congregation wants to ordain them. Said congregation is worried that they will somehow be in bad stead with the UUA if they ordain this person before they receive fellowship. Now, if you don’t know the UUA by-laws, you would probably think that there is the possibility that the congregation could get into bad sted with the UUA. But, if you know the UUA by-laws, then you know that they say this:

Section C-11.1. Ministerial Fellowship.

Each member congregation has the exclusive right to call and ordain its own minister or ministers…

Think the UUA by-laws don’t have anything to do with you or your congregation? Think again.

Kinsi goes on to say:

I haven’t read the bylaws. That’s right – I haven’t. I haven’t read our church bylaws either. Do I need to whip out another “bad unitarian” post about not reading the church bylaws?

Whether or not you need to write another “bad unitarian” post is up to you, and while I think that it’s not in your best interest to not read the UUA by-laws, I have to say that I feel sorry for the leadership of your church. You haven’t read your own church’s by-laws?!?!?! Then how do you know how your church works? How do you know what the requirements for membership are? How do you know what committees are committees of the Board or the congregation?

Does your church have an endowment? How can it be used? How will you know if it’s being misused unless you’ve read the by-laws?

How many members does it take to call a special meeting of the congregation? Or how many members need to cast an affirmative vote in order to call a minister? How will you know unless you’ve read the by-laws?          

How do you know how your church works unless you read the by-laws?

We’re CONGREGATIONAL in polity, people; not Episcopal or Presbyterian. This only works right if all members know how their church is supposed to work. This is why I think it’s important to read the UUA by-laws. While it’s dry reading, it’s fundamental to our associational life together.

Congregationalism is not easy. It takes lots of hard work. But how will you know if your work is coming to anything if you don’t know HOW your church is supposed to work?

<rant over>

Now…before you jump on me….I’ll qualify this. Do I think you need to know every word of either the UUA by-laws or  your home congregation’s by-laws? No, of course not. Do I think you need to know the basics about  membership, money and ministry? Damn straight. Congregationalism only works when everybody is reasonably well-informed. And I don’t think it’s asking too much of the typically over-educated UU to know as much about how their church is supposed to work as to know the plot line of Harry Potter.

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You’ve Never Heard Of The Commission On Appraisal? Really?

I know that I’m nosy, so I try to find out as much as I can about things that interest me. And when I first encountered UUism, I tried to learn as much as I could as fast as I could.

So I’m really shocked that there are so many UUs out there who’ve never heard of the Commission On Appraisal. One of the few committees that is explicitly mentioned in the UUA by-laws, its job is to study issues that are relevant to the wider UU community.

If you are interested in what the COA does, here’s what the by-laws state:

Section 5.8. Commission on Appraisal.

The Commission on Appraisal shall consist of nine elected members. A member shall not during the term of office serve as a trustee or officer or hold a salaried position in the Association. The Commission on Appraisal shall:

  1. review any function or activity of the Association which in its judgment will benefit from an independent review and report its conclusions to a regular General Assembly;
  2. study and suggest approaches to issues which may be of concern to the Association; and
  3. report to a regular General Assembly at least once every four years on the program and accomplishments of the Association.

There is a reason that the COA has put out an alert about its funding. Unfunded mandates don’t work (as anyone who has dealt with them knows). To require the COA to do a study and not fund it makes no sense.