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Definition of Relationship and Responsiblity of the Minister: Writing Congregational Bylaws

The bylaws document is the place for the general description of the relationship of the minister and the congregation. Specific details and promises are better left to the letter of agreement. Using the letter of agreement for specificities removes the necessity of bylaw amendments when a change of ministers occurs or the priorities, duties, and responsibilities of the incumbent minister change. One facet that is often mentioned in the bylaws is the provision of a free pulpit to the minister. The free pulpit is a long-standing tradition within Unitarian Universalism, in that we allow our ministers to speak their minds rather than be restricted by a particular tenet or creed.

Spelling out the relationship between the ministers of a congregation in multistaff settings is also important. Is the "second" minister a "co-minister," an "associate minister," or an "assistant minister"? Does the congregation call all subsequent ministers, or does the governing body of the congregation hire them? Are they initially hired for a specific time frame, subject to the possibility of a later congregational call? Are they given the same rights, privileges, and protections as the settled minister, or are there differences that apply? The Ministry and Professional Leadership staff group can provide advice and guidance on these and other issues to congregational leadership as they contemplate expanding their ministerial staff. (Please see the Ministerial Settlement Office webpages.) The bylaws should note any substantial difference in responsibilities and in call or hiring, for in the absence of language to the contrary, all the articles dealing with "the minister" would apply to all ministers, regardless of the intended relationship between and among the ministers and the congregation.

The following provisions presume that in multistaff settings, all ministers would be subject to the same bylaws provisions.

Sample Provisions

Example 1: The minister shall be responsible for the conduct of worship within the society and the society's spiritual interests and affairs. The minister shall have freedom of the pulpit as well as freedom to express his or her opinion outside the pulpit. The minister shall be an ex officio member of the governing board and of such committees as the board shall designate.

Example 2: The duties of the Minister shall be as prescribed by the Board of Trustees, agreed to by the Minister in writing and approved by the Congregation. In general the Minister shall provide overall religious leadership and guidance in accordance with the established purposes of the Church, and shall be guaranteed freedom of the pulpit. The Minister is an ex officio and non-voting member of the Steering Committee, and of all Committees other than the Nominating Committee, the Ministerial Relations Committee and the Search Committee. The minister will be employed under written contract which clearly stipulates the duties, compensation and other conditions of employment.

Example 3: The Minister is the religious and spiritual leader of the church. He or she shall have freedom of the pulpit and of speech. The Minister is an ex officio member of the Board and of all committees, except the Nominating Committee.

Example 4: The members of the Congregation acknowledge their need for the service of one prepared by education and personal commitment to serve as Minister. The Minister is responsible for: (1) the Sunday Morning Service, with the assistance of the Program Committee; (2) assisting in the development and implementation of the Religious Education program for youth and adults; (3) ministerial care, visitation, and counseling; (4) ordinances of dedication, union, and marriage; (5) funeral and memorial services; (6) such other religious observances as she/he may deem suitable; (7) his/her active participation in the denomination and community. The minister shall be an ex officio member of the Board, all Committees (except the Ministerial Search Committee), and church sponsored organizations, but shall have no vote. She/He may assist and advise officers, trustees, and committees in the performance of their duties. The Minister shall be free at all times to express his/her opinion on any subject both in and out of the pulpit.

Example 5: It shall be the duty of the minister to make a full report to the congregation at the annual meeting. The minister is expected to attend all Governing Council meetings, shall bring to the attention of the Governing Council all matters which seem pertinent to the general welfare of the congregation, and shall make such recommendations as seem proper. However the final decision in matters of policy and procedure shall remain with the Governing Council or the congregation through a regular or special meeting.

Example 6: The minister shall have responsibility for the conduct of worship services and shall serve as spiritual leader and advisor to church members. The minister shall have freedom of the pulpit. The minister shall also have the freedom to express her or his opinions outside the pulpit, but not to represent the church without authorization from the Board or the membership. The minister shall be an ex officio, non-voting member of the Church Board and of such committees as the Board designates. Other specific duties shall be negotiated between the minister and the Ministerial Relations Committee or the Ministerial Search Committee, be written into a job description, and be approved by the Board.

Example 7: The Minister(s) and the members of the Church share the responsibility for the Church and its spiritual interests and activities. The Church looks to its Minister(s) for spiritual leadership, for assistance in setting and articulating its vision, and for accomplishing its goals by providing professional, inspired administration of the Church. The Minister(s) has (have) the decisive responsibility for all services of worship conducted on Church premises. This principle includes religious rituals such as weddings, dedications, and memorials. It is a basic premise of this Church that any Minister has the right to express personal views and values when in the pulpit or through any other means of communication. The Minister(s) shall provide pastoral care as needed. The Minister(s) shall be encouraged to participate in those activities that enhance the Church's presence in the community as a liberally religious, socially responsible organization and shall be encouraged to increase the Church's awareness of these outside activities. The Minister(s) shall supervise all Church staff and programs. The Minister(s) is (are) ex officio members of the Board of Trustees and all committees. The Minister(s) shall bring to the attention of the Board of Trustees any matters that seem pertinent to the general welfare of the Church, and shall advise the Board with reference to Church policy, but the final decisions remain with the Board as set forth in these bylaws and as directed by meetings of the Church.

Example 8: The minister shall be a non-voting member of all Committees of the Church, except the Ministerial Search and Nominating Committee. The minister, in spiritual matters and in sermon content, shall be governed only by dictates of his or her own free mind and conscience, after considering the interest of all the membership.

Example 9: The Minister shall be in charge of the public worship services, and shall perform such other duties as are customary in liberal churches, or as may reasonably be prescribed by the Board of Governors. The Minister shall attend all meetings of the Board of Governors, and shall be an ex officio member without vote of all committees. The Minister shall be a full voting member of the Executive Committee. The Minister shall have freedom of the pulpit as well as freedom to express personal opinions outside the pulpit.

For more information contact growthresources@uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Thursday, February 7, 2013.

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