Unitarian Universalist Tradition: A Short History

Our tradition of congregational polity comes from the Reformation, and the movement of people from Europe to the colonies in America for religious freedom. Our current practices reflect that tradition. Each UU congregation owns its own property, selects its own leadership, controls its own finances, and sets its own criteria for membership.

  1. "The Cambridge [Mass.] Platform [of 1648] notes six duties that congregations owe to each other: care, consultation, admonition, participation, recommendation, and relief. . . . These intercongregational duties are mainly absent from American Unitarian Universalism."
  2. "[Prof.] Conrad Wright. . . has pointed out that 'congregationalism meant [from its beginnings among the New England Puritans], and should still mean, not the autonomy of the local church, but the community of autonomous churches.'"
  3. Gordon McKeeman said: "Someone once said in commenting upon Unitarian and Universalist polities that the Universalists were organized like Presbyterians and acted like Congregationalists; Unitarians were organized like Congregationalists and acted like Presbyterians."


  • What similarities do you see between the duties of congregations (a. above) and the duties of individuals within a congregation?
  • Do you see these as "mainly absent" in your congregation and district?
  • In what ways do you see them expressed?
  • How does our congregational polity contribute to our valuing of the individual and individual choice?