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The meaning of freedom and tolerance is revealed more clearly by the way people behave than by the generalizations they utter. — Conrad Wright, Unitarian Universalist historian

This workshop provides an overview of congregational polity and covenant, the foundational principles upon which Unitarian Universalist congregations are gathered and continue to exist as institutions. It will focus not on the mechanics of congregational structure and governance, but, rather the spiritual underpinnings of those structures, highlighting the role and importance of membership in a congregation.

Two activities require advance preparation. For Activity 2, research the story of how your congregation was founded. Invite the president of your congregation to join you for Activity 4.

If your congregation is medium- to large-sized, and especially if you take a particular approach to decision making, such as policy-based governance, consider using Alternate Activity 2. It will require some preparation, but a Leader Resource is provided to assist with that.

Before leading this workshop, review Accessibility Guidelines for Workshop Presenters found in the program Introduction and make any preparations needed to accommodate your group.

If you only have an hour for the workshop, omit Activity 4 and shorten Activity 2 by five minutes and Activity 3 by ten minutes.


This workshop will:

  • Explore the covenantal basis of Unitarian Universalist congregations
  • Introduce the concepts of free church and congregational polity
  • Raise awareness of the connections among Unitarian Universalist congregations.

Learning Objectives

Participants will:

  • Share ideas about a free church
  • Compare and contrast contemporary understandings of covenant in Unitarian Universalism to those from our early history in North America
  • Gain knowledge of the covenants within and beyond the congregation
  • Listen to a personal story about leadership.

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