What Is The Purpose Of The UUA?

I had a long conversation today with a friend and that conversation helped me realize what I see as the question that hasn’t been asked in a while but should.

What is the purpose of the UUA?

Part of the reason I’m asking this question is because I’m seeing too many UU bloggers who are (or seem to be) questioning some of the basic tenets of the free church. This concerns me–as someone who grew up in radical congregationalism. But it also makes me think that the UUA, and by extension many UU churches, are not doing the job it/they ought to in educating people in what it means to be a member of the free church. Which makes me think that there is confusion as to purpose. Hence the question–which I’ll repeat.

What is the purpose of the UUA?


9 thoughts on “What Is The Purpose Of The UUA?

  1. Dare we accept as the raison d’être of the UUA the statement of purposes that is codified in the Bylaws of the UUA? Other purposes may or may not be desired or even performed, but no other purpose is explicitly legal:

    “Section C-2.2. Purposes.
    The Unitarian Universalist Association shall devote its resources to and exercise its corporate powers for religious, educational and humanitarian purposes. The primary purpose of the Association is to serve the needs of its member congregations, organize new congregations, extend and strengthen Unitarian Universalist institutions and implement its principles.”

    The first sentence exists for the sole purpose of satisfying the requirements of being a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt “charitable” organization. Interestingly, under that header we then have a “primary” purpose (or purposes) stated without any secondary or tertiary purposes listed and no means given for determining or implementing such secondary or tertiary purposes. Nor is there a statement about any implicit or derivative purposes.

    So, according to the document legally defining our purposes, what the UUA may legitimately set out to do is fourfold:

    1) serve the needs of its member congregations;
    2) organize new congregations;
    3) extend and strengthen Unitarian Universalist institutions; and
    4) implement the principles of the UUA.

    So far as I can tell, #2 has been largely either abandoned or put on long-term hold at the association level. The UU institutions the UUA exists to extend and strengthen under purpose #3 seem to have contracted and perhaps weakened – if only because of economic pressures. That leaves serving the needs of congregations. The UUA does provide information and curricula and access to lots of planning assistance. So, depending how you define the congregational needs the UUA should be serving, the UUA might be filling this purpose. That brings us to #4, implementing the principles of the UUA. The entire social justice platform of the UUA falls under this category, as does the congregational implementation of Welcoming Congregation, Safe Congregation, Green Sanctuary, and all those other certification programs, i.a.

    The word implement is not defined. So it could potentially include matters that, once decided at GA, might be assigned to the congregations – though without any mechanism for enforcement. That fourth phase of the UUA’s primary purpose covers a multitude of “sins.” Since the Principles are so general, implementing them can be seen as including nearly anything, so long as it vaguely fits with the Seven Principles.

  2. Kim and Paul – I’m wondering if the reason that we are not seeing much increase in the number of congregations is the current UUA requirement to have 30 individual members before a congregation is officially recognized as a UUA member congregation.

    During the post WWII fellowship movement, the minimum membership number was 10 individual members and we experienced growth that expanded Unitarian Universalism into communities where we had previously not existed.

    Whatever one thinks about the fellowship movement, one does have to acknowledge that it was an effective strategy for increasing the number of UU congregations in North America.

  3. A bureaucracy’s mission is to keep itself going. That’s why organizations need a reappraisal every so often to ensure the head’s mission hasn’t diverged to far from the body’s.

  4. @ Paul — I could add a couple more purposes. The old American Unitarian Association started out as an organization to publish tracts; Skinner House and pamphlets still carry out that core mission. On the Universalist side, one incentive for organizing was to gain legitimacy as a religious movement; that’s still a purpose behind the UUA today.

  5. Pingback: Holidays, congregationalism, and other UU blogging « uuworld.org : The Interdependent Web

    • I didn’t take count if that’s what you mean or are asking about. There just seems (to me) that a number of UU bloggers are commenting about some of the fundamentals of the free church in a way that sounds like they want congregationalism to be some other type of polity.

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