Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: The New UU: A Program for Welcoming Newcomers to Unitarian Universalist Congregations

Activity 3: Covenants Within and Beyond Our Congregation

Part of The New UU

Activity time: 35 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Leader Resource 1, Background on Congregational Polity
  • Newsprint, markers, and tape
  • Copies of Singing the Living Tradition for all participants
  • A map of your District or Region large enough to show your UUA District

Preparation for Activity

  • Review Leader Resource 1, Background on Congregational Polity to develop a basic understanding of congregational polity.
  • Display the map, indicating the location of the various congregations that are part of your UUA District and/or Region.
  • Post blank newsprint.

Description of Activity

Briefly summarize congregational polity, drawing on Leader Resource 1, Background on Congregational Polity, and your own experience. Use words such as:

We have considered how covenant defines the relationships among members of the congregation and provides the foundation for how we work together. Now we're going to look more specifically at how congregational governance works. Because we believe people need to have influence over decisions that affect them, power is vested in the members of the congregation, rather than in a hierarchy beyond the congregation. While elected representatives of the people, including a governing board as well as a minister(s) called by the members of this congregation, make many day-to-day decisions, some decisions are reserved to the membership as a whole. Given what you know about the congregation from attending, reading the newsletter or website, and from conversations, what decisions do you think belong to the members of the congregation, rather than to the elected or called leaders?

Write the responses from participants on newsprint. If there are items on the list that are not reserved to the congregation, point these out and if possible, designate who would be responsible for those decisions in your congregation. Focus on the items that are congregational decisions, and add any significant items that have not been named, using Leader Resource 1, Background on Congregational Polity, to help you.

Focus now on relationships between and among congregations. Begin with these or similar words:

As the story of the founding of the Dedham church indicated, our congregations have a long history of covenantal relationships between and among themselves.

Invite participants to open their hymnbooks to the page before the first hymn, which begins with the words, "We the member congregations..," Invite a volunteer to read the first three lines, and then read the seven Principles in unison. Call attention to the word "covenant," saying something like:

Our Association, the UUA, is made up of more than a thousand congregations who have covenanted together, just as the members of our congregations covenant among themselves. Some things helpful to congregational life are difficult, if not impossible, to do alone. For example, the workshops we have been participating in were developed by the UUA. Can you think of other ways congregations might help one another through our Association?

If participants have difficulty responding, use the leader resource to suggest examples. Point out that the offices of the UUA are located in Boston at 24 Farnsworth Street. However, the UUA is a membership organization comprising all the member churches, fellowships, and congregations. A representative General Assembly elects a moderator, a president, and a Board of Trustees, who act on behalf of the congregations.

Explain that the UUA has Districts and Regions, determined by geographic proximity, in order to better provide the support and program resources to member congregations. Show the map and indicate the area and name of your District and/or Region. Point out the locations of other Unitarian Universalist congregations in your area.

Highlight any special relationships your congregation has with other Unitarian Universalist congregations, whether nearby or far away. Include Partner Churches, or special cooperative arrangements, such as shared social action projects.