Our congregation, along with other Unitarian Universalist congregations around the world are organized according to a system of governance referred to as Congregational polity.
Congregational polity, or congregationalist polity, or just congregationalism, is a system of church governance in which every local church congregation is independent, ecclesiastically sovereign, or “autonomous”. Congregationalism can be traced back to the Pilgrim societies of the United States in the early 17th century and its first written formal documentation was the Cambridge Platform of 1648 in New England.
We are not alone in this form of governance. Most Jewish synagogues, many Sikh Gurdwaras, most Islamic mosques in the US, the Quakers, the Baptists, the Congregational Methodist Church, and just about any church with the word “Congregational” in its name would also be examples.
Congregationalism has no bishops and no presbytery, instead, we have a voluntary association with other Unitarian Universalist congregations (called the Unitarian Universalist Association or UUA for short) which provides support and resources to us in exchange for our financial support.
Each member agrees to govern himself or herself according to a covenant. None of us have any more or less religious authority than anyone else – including the minister. In congregationalism, the church is understood to be a truly voluntary association.
In terms of managing the affairs of the congregation, we have a system of checks and balances, laid out in our bylaws and our policies which constrains the authority of the clergy, the lay officers, and the members.
Congregational polity holds that ministers do not “rule”. In most Unitarian Universalist congregations, including this one, the minister serve by the approval of the congregation, but committees further constrain the pastor from exercising power without consent by either the particular committee, or the entire congregation. It is a contradiction of the congregational principle if a minister makes decisions concerning the congregation without the vote of these other officers.