Sunday, July 20, 2008

Polity and Autonomy

I am working my way through some UU blogs from various perspectives. I was just reading this post and was struck by it's connections with the UUA Polity book I'm reading right now.

In discussing theological perspective in the first chapters, the authors agree with Wells in the sense that they say that "ours is not a single, centralized church, but an association of churches..."

Wells says that "The Unitarian Universalist Association is essentially a service and coordinating body, not an ecclesiastical organization. Consider this: if the UUA Board of Trustees — even the General Assembly itself — adopted a resolution which defined what a Unitarian Universalist is, how would we collectively act?"

But I agree with the Commission of Appraisal, which (even when this book was written 10 years ago) points out that we are already defined - whether as Christian or not, by the fact that "total [congregational] independence is impossible insofar as the principle of congregational polity must itself be agreed on by a collectivity of congregations." They go on to say that we do indeed need a "new or renewed doctrine of the church - a conception of religious community that is integral, not incidental, to our total theological understanding" (9).

This is true today and still something that has not been achieved. it not possible to define, respect and address the needs of the various faiths that come under our one roof?

Even my 12 year old struggles with this. How can she define Unitarian Universalism and defend her "faith" or belief in the purpose of our church when it is so unclearly defined. It frustrates me when UUs get so caught up in the academic or the intellectual discussions of autonomy - we lose sight of the power of unity, whatever that means for each individual within the church. Is it not possible to have a wider covenant that ties together congregations more strongly without taking away autonomy or purpose?

These ideas and suggestions about congregational polity are coming to fruition now - this is an exciting, and difficult time for our religion, for how we continue to define ourselves. We are not a new tradition - and I think it is disturbing that Christian UUs feel disenfranchised. Even the commission admits this lack of connection with our Christian roots, and says that "we should affirm as much community with other religious bodies as we can" (12). And I would add that we need to affirm that community within our own tradition as well - we need to start at home.

Rambling thoughts I guess...but it's something I am anxious to explore and think more about, and to read others' ideas and dissensions.


Scott Wells said...

What the COA said is correct, but recall that on the Unitarian side, the "communion of the churches" was handled through locally convened one-off meetings, as for the ordination of ministers. Relations between ministers helped reinforce this relationship, and there wasn't the expectation of denominationalism we have today.

That said, the world is far more connected now -- more even when the report was written -- and one thing seems more clear: the desirability of, and the dependence on, a central bureaucracy to maintain those connections is now more in doubt than ever.

This discussion being a foretaste of that.

Kelly KH said...

Very true, as I'm learning more of the history (much of it recent) of our faith. Much of what has engendered my thoughts is my own congregation's resistance to and fear of connections becoming a heirarchy, and a misunderstanding of what polity could mean for our faith.

I have to wonder if in a more pluralistic world, Unitarian Universalism can survive without some sort of central "bureaucracy" to help manage connections within and outside of our church. Our desire for autonomy and our definition of such could become our downfall without some sort of continuing method of connection between congregations.

I agree that the technological connections that exist now will change the face of those connections, and of how we define autonomy and interdependence.

The connections between the individual, the congregation and the UUA - as the Commission said 10 years ago is to "enable the congregations to carry out their ministries more effectively" locally and globally - that seems like a well-defined goal - but how one achieves that goal will be the nexus of the ongoing discussion about how individualism can coexist with that interdependence that seems necessary to continuing existence as a faith.