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Introduction: Writing Congregational Bylaws
Bylaws are important in laying the groundwork for any organization. Although written in legal language to satisfy governmental requirements, bylaws also tell the story of a congregation. They encapsulate the vision, hopes, and dreams of the congregation and are also a last resort in cases of disagreement on legal matters. They help the congregation govern day-to-day functions such as committees and board structure, as well as deal with infrequent situations such as the calling of a minister and the purchasing of real estate. For all members, bylaws provide a roadmap for getting involved in key decision making, which is particularly important to groups historically underrepresented in Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) congregations.
Bylaws exist to support and enhance the functioning of the congregation. They can be a good resource, providing direction and counsel, or they can be used to stifle change and growth. They can be inclusive or exclusive. In a congregation where trust and goodwill are predominant, badly drawn bylaws are benign; in congregations in crisis and conflict, however, bylaws can be wielded as a stumbling block or weapon. All these characteristics should be kept in mind as you draft your initial bylaws and again when you revise them.