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Purpose: Writing Congregational Bylaws
Purpose: Writing Congregational Bylaws
Governance for Congregations, Bylaws & Policies

The purpose provision of the bylaws is important, as it distinguishes the congregation from other institutions in the community and sets out the basic parameters for all the activity of the congregation. Each and every program should be able to be justified by, and encompassed within, the purpose section of the bylaws. Therefore, the purpose section should be drawn broadly enough to incorporate the dreams and visions of the congregation, while also being tight enough to provide focus for the work of the congregation.

The congregation must decide whether it wishes to incorporate the language of the UUA's (Unitarian Universalist Association) Principles (Article II, Section C-2.1, of the UUA Bylaws) in its own bylaws. A wide diversity of opinion exists on this practice. Some people feel that this practice ties their congregation more strongly into our larger Association and that the Principles provide a good focus for their congregational life. Others feel that the Principles used in such a manner are too close to a creed, challenging our historic approach of nurturing freedom of belief without the hindrance of a creed. Each congregation will need to wrestle with this question, as well as with the question of whether or not God, or any named manifestation of God, is named in its purpose. If a congregation does decide to include the Principles of the UUA, it should pay careful attention to the language it uses. (Frequently, people erroneously refer to the Principles as the "Principles and Purposes." Although this is the name of Article II in the UUA Bylaws, the Purpose of the UUA is to "serve the needs of its member congregations, organize new congregations, extend and strengthen Unitarian Universalist institutions and implement its principles" [UUA Bylaws, Section C-2.2]. Congregations should be careful not to commit themselves to activities they have no intention of fulfilling by the use of sloppy nomenclature.)

Further, particular attention must be paid to ensuring that the language of the congregation's purpose complies with whatever legal restrictions are necessary to protect the congregation's status as both a religious institution and a nonprofit organization at the state and local levels. Likewise, as congregations enter into strategic or long-term planning, add new programmatic elements, or reduce major initiatives, they should take care to ensure that the purposes provision does not require revision.

Sample Provisions

Example 1: The purpose of this fellowship is to further individual freedom of belief, discipleship to advancing truth, the democratic process in human relations, brotherhood and sisterhood undivided by nation, race or creed, and allegiance to the cause of a united world community.

Example 2: The purpose of this church is to foster liberal religious living through worship, study, service, and fellowship.

Example 3: The _____ _____ _____ Church, Unitarian-Universalist is a congregation of families and individuals organized to function as a spiritual community that promotes opportunities for liberal religious growth and expression for children, youth, and adults, with a special emphasis on people of African descent. We promote and affirm the principles and purposes of the Unitarian Universalist Association. We intend to carry out this mission by:

  • Placing specific emphasis on the recruitment of persons of African descent and working for their cultural, economic, political, social, and spiritual empowerment;
  • Providing opportunities for children, youth, and adults to learn about cultural and religious issues within an open, caring, and enriching environment;
  • Creating a spiritual environment in which people of diverse cultural, ethnic, racial, economic, and religious backgrounds can learn to understand, respect, appreciate, and love one another; and
  • Promoting social justice in all arenas as an imperative for the development of an economically just, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-religious, sexually equitable, and environmentally conscious democratic society.

Example 4: We unite in the free quest of high values in religion and in life.

Example 5: In the love of truth and in the spirit of Jesus, we unite for the worship of God and the service of humanity.

Example 6: Relying upon reason as our guide, and upon freedom as our method, we seek to grow in understanding of ourselves and our world, to promote and serve the Universal human family.

Example 7: We are a fellowship of religious seekers united in love of truth and spirit of Jesus. We are bound together in religious fellowship for the worship of that God which is eternal in every place and time, and we are bound together through service to humanity.

Example 8: The purpose of this society shall be the enjoyment and practice of religion founded upon devotion to individual freedom of belief.

Example 9: The purpose of this church is to organize as a religious community which has at its heart these beliefs: a commitment to accept one another and encourage each other's spiritual growth; a recognition of the inherent worth and dignity of every person; a belief in the need for justice, equity and compassion in human relations; a commitment to a free and responsible search for truth and meaning; acceptance of the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregation; a desire to further the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all; and a deep and abiding respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Example 10: The purpose of Birmingham Unitarian Church is to improve the quality of human life by seeking truth wherever it may be found, to strive for an interpretation of religion in harmony with modern knowledge, and to satisfy the spiritual needs of its members and friends, while doing justice to their intelligence. People of the congregation deepen and develop spiritually, feel connected to this religious community, and use their talents to live out their gifts and values in the home, workplace, and larger community.

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