Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Faith Like a River: A Program on Unitarian Universalist History for Adults


As connected as we are—to friends, to family, to each other—we often feel ultimately on our own as we make our way through life, and that can be a frightening prospect. We can overcome this fear only by reaching out to one another, and in our shared courage, we will learn. — Phoebe Eng, Asian American author

This workshop explores the history of how Unitarians and Universalists have gathered and organized into religious communities. It examines differences between the Unitarian and Universalist polity traditions and identifies sources that have influenced our current governance practices. Participants view our polity—the organization, association, membership, and leadership of our congregations, individually and as an association—as an important part of our liberal religious heritage. In what ways has this heritage served us well? How has it has proved challenging or limiting? Participants identify aspects of our heritage of congregational polity that can help us meet the demands of our own time.

Before leading this workshop, review the Accessibility Guidelines for Workshop Presenters in the program Introduction. Make preparations so you can accommodate any individual who may be in the group.


This workshop will:

  • Offer a definition of congregational polity and track its development in our Unitarian and the Universalist faith traditions
  • Explore the meaning and expression of congregational polity in contemporary Unitarian Universalist congregations
  • Invite participants to consider the wisdom and strengths our heritage of congregational polity offers to contemporary Unitarian Universalists and the congregations to which we belong.

Learning Objectives

Participants will:

  • Learn the meaning of "polity" and understand congregational polity in a Unitarian Universalist context
  • Explore the historical roots of our polity and compare contemporary practices rwith practices of our religious forebears
  • Examine topics related to polity, including membership, association of independent congregations, and professional and lay leadership
  • Explore their congregation's connections with other entities in Unitarian Universalism, including the UUA, their District staff and network of congregations, and other Unitarian Universalist organizations, affinity groups, and partner relationships
  • Consider their individual role in the governance of their religious community.