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Other Meeting Provisions: Writing Congregational Bylaws

Some congregations choose to refer to their worship services as "meetings" in their bylaws, whereas others choose to articulate what authority will be used to conduct the meetings of the congregation.

Sample Provisions

Example 1: Services of worship shall be held regularly at such time and place as shall be determined by the Board.

Example 2: Public meetings for the purpose of worship shall normally be held each Sunday throughout the year, except from July first through Labor Day. However the Board of Governors, by the affirmative vote of three-fourths of its members present at a meeting, may omit scheduled services, or authorize additional services, within the limits of budget appropriations.

Conduct of Meetings

Some bylaws include provisions about how discussion will be managed at congregational meetings. These provisions can include the following:

  • an expressed philosophy that discussion should be as representative as possible of a diversity of views
  • specific procedures to be followed (such as those in Robert's Rules of Order)
  • provisions for the inclusion of dissenting opinions in the meeting report

The provisions for discussions at congregational meetings should have these characteristics:

  • be as flexible as possible
  • be explicit
  • be detailed enough to provide information that new members can use to feel engaged in important decisions

In some instances, the procedures in Robert's Rules of Order can be misused and can shut down productive discussion. When controversial issues are on the agenda, it may be useful to have a series of informational meetings prior to the meeting where the actual vote is taken. If the procedures in Robert's Rules of Order are used, it is important that a person familiar with that method of conducting a meeting be present. Additionally, if a consensual decision-making process is used, the people at the meeting must understand that process and be committed to its success.

Committee of the Whole

A committee of the whole is a decision-making process that uses a consensus-building model. Some congregations choose this model and train their members in the use of consensus building as their means of decision making. To our knowledge, this model of governance is used only in a few congregations that were founded using it. It is certainly easier to train the members of a new congregation in a new discussion and decision-making process than it is to teach this method to a congregation that has used more traditional processes.

This model has the strength of affording a voice to all those present at the meeting while respecting minority viewpoints. When it is practiced well and when those present are committed to the health of the community, this model can be very successful. When some of those present are not familiar with the model or are working to further personal agendas rather than the health of the community, this model can prevent decisions from being made, resulting in congregational stagnation and discord.

Sample Provision

Example 1: Authority with respect to the governance of the congregation and the conduct of the Congregation's business and administration of its affairs shall be vested in the active membership of the congregation, or the Committee of the Whole, subject to the provisions of law, any limitations imposed in the Articles of Incorporation, the articles of Association, or these By-laws, and as may be amplified in the organization's Policy and Procedures Manual.

A Committee of the Whole quorum shall consist of at least thirty-five (35) percent of the membership. Members present at a duly called and held meeting at which a quorum is initially present may continue to do business notwithstanding the loss of a quorum at the meeting provided that any action taken after the loss of a quorum is approved by at least a majority of the members required to constitute said quorum.

The Committee of the Whole shall retain and not delegate to any congregational committee the authority and responsibility to (1) ordain a minister, (2) call a minister to serve the congregation, (3) dismiss a minister, (4) approve contracts and other matters related to the purchase, sale, or mortgage of real property, (5) adopt the congregation's operating budget, and (6) amend the Articles of Association and By-laws.

For more information contact growthresources @ uua.org.

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Last updated on Thursday, February 7, 2013.

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