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Name: Writing Congregational Bylaws

Choosing the name of the congregation is an important decision, for it will help shape the congregation's vision and image. The possibilities are endless, and the questions are plentiful. Do you name the congregation according to its prominence in the community, such as First or Second? Or do you name it after geographic features, such as Eno River, Paint Creek, or Mount Diablo? Do you name it after significant people, such as Thomas Starr King or Sojourner Truth? Or do you name it for values or images you admire, such as Community or Spirit of Life?

Each of these possibilities has positives and negatives. You can claim prominence if you are the first church of a particular community, but what happens if you later move to an adjacent community with a different name? What happens if the geographic feature goes away or becomes politically problematic? Can you imagine being the First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Love Canal? What happens if disturbing things are discovered about the important person for whom you name your congregation? Will the images or associations you chose be welcoming to people of different races, socioeconomic classes, and sexual orientations, as well as historically marginalized groups? None of the answers to these questions should necessarily hold you back in choosing your name, but it is good to pay attention to such questions as you decide.

Similarly, many descriptive words can describe a group that gathers together: congregation, church, society, and fellowship are just some of the more prevalent examples. Church sometimes poses difficulties for people who come from a non-Christian background; congregation is neutral to most but sometimes feels like a mouthful; society may be confused with names of other nonreligious organizations in the area; and fellowship, in UU (Unitarian Universalist) circles, historically meant a group that chose to be lay led (that is, not to have a professional minister). Again, there is no right or wrong answer, but just several issues to discuss and sort out.

Do you want to include Unitarian Universalist in your name? Many congregations are still debating whether to add the second U, even forty-plus years after the merger of the Unitarians and the Universalists. Some congregations have chosen to honor their historic Universalist heritage by naming themselves Universalist Unitarian congregations. Some church growth gurus say that people aren't looking for "brand loyalty" when they choose a religious home, and thus they argue against the use of a denominational indication in the name. Others state that people who know about Unitarian Universalism look for that clue as they travel from community to community. Some congregations choose to hyphenate Unitarian-Universalist; however the UUA (Unitarian Universalist Association) does not use a hyphen either in the legal name of the Association or in common usage. Again, the possibilities are endless, and each congregation must decide for itself.

One last issue that needs attention as you choose your name is what the abbreviation will be. First Unitarian Churches have to pay attention to where they locate their building so as not to have a very unfortunate abbreviation. Remember, you're not always going to want to say the whole name, so pay attention to the most logical shortening. Congregations need to be recognized, but not for the wrong reason.

Sample Provisions

Example 1: The name of this religious society shall be ________________ (for example, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of city, town, or county.)

Example 2: The name of this church is the ___________________ Church, Unitarian-Universalist.

Example 3: The name of this religious society is the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Inc. of Sometown, Somestate.

For more information contact growthresources @ uua.org.

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Last updated on Thursday, February 7, 2013.

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