Part Two: Pressure Points: Issues and Concerns Related to Congregational Polity

Within our congregations and in the associations that link congregations and individual Unitarian Universalists, we experience many pressures for change-change in our lay and professional leadership, our ways of addressing social-ethical concerns, how we seek numerical and financial growth, or how we connect among our congregations. These pressures commonly generate tensions; sometimes they are met by counterpressures, because the changes are perceived as unwelcome or even destructive of cherished values. In this report we use the term "pressure points" to characterize the places in our institutional life where tensions and conflicts arise.

Part 2 examines tensions that have developed between the idea of con-gregational polity and important institutional needs, goals, and practices. We believe that an inadequate understanding or development of polity is often at the root of these unresolved institutional concerns and problems. Part 2 analyzes seven pressure points in our associational life and makes specific recommendations for action by various denominational bodies. These pressure points, which correspond to the seven sections of Part 2, include:

  1. the need to value the process of governance within congregational life as much as we value individualism;
  2. the need to strengthen cooperative relationships among our congregations at all levels for our mutual benefit;
  3. the need for increased communications among congregations through both print and new electronic media;
  4. the need to reshape our understandings of lay and professional ministries, both to resolve current tensions and to meet new needs for religious leadership;
  5. the need to develop new forms of religious community and cooperation to be more fully engaged in social justice concerns;
  6. the need to recognize that in spite of our professed desire for greater diversity many groups feel marginalized and excluded;
  7. the need to build structures that will facilitate the engagement of congregations with liberal religious bodies internationally.

We ask such questions as these: Does congregational polity, as Unitarian Universalists understand and practice it, enable them to deal effectively with these pressure points, or does it frustrate such attempts? To what extent is a congregation purely autonomous, and to what extent is it accountable to the larger community of churches and fellowships? Will greater accountability weaken congregations as self-responsible religious communities, or will it strengthen them?