As far back as the mid-nineteenth century, Unitarians and Universalists discussed merging their two separate denominations. In 1947, a commission was formed that led to a vote in which 75% of Unitarian and Universalist congregations approved the formulation of a plan for a federal union. Still, it wasn’t until 1961 that the two organizations were merged. It took a while to work it all out.
At the time the new bylaws were created, in 1961, The Commission on Appraisal was inaugurated as a nine-member body. They were charged to “review, study, and report on any function or activity of the Association that would benefit from an independent review, and to report the results at least once every four years to the General Assembly.”
These reports come published in the form of a soft-cover book, and sometimes are not that exciting to read all the way through, given the complex subject matter and difficulties of writing as a nine-member group. But the newest report, just produced and presented this past June, is quite readable and very relevant, not only to congregations at large, but to our congregation here in Hayward. The title, Who’s In Charge Here?: The Complex Relationship Between Ministry and Authority, is likely to pique the interest of many of us who have a role to play in the congregation, whether that role is to tack something up on the bulletin board, decide on a church rental, or determine the music. The report not only considers who has authority and what kind, but how it is that we are together.
Lately, we’ve been talking here about the time that things take at church, time different from that of how things operate in other areas of our lives. I like how the report asks us to consider our relationships:
“We suggest that congregational leaders set aside time to struggle together, in order to reach a common understanding about how they are able to authorize each other to do their work. Within these discussions, we might move away from seeing authority and power as limited resources to struggle over. Instead, we might look for the ways in which strong authority given to one person or group in a congregation can strengthen the authority of others. Ministers are more powerful and have more authority when their work is supported, amplified, and grounded by the work of strong lay leadership. Lay leaders are more powerful when ministers have the authority to do the work of ministry, thereby allowing lay leaders to focus on visioning, goal setting, and discernment about mission. We are all more powerful in the world when we see ourselves as on the same team and celebrate each other’s strengths.”
Struggling together takes time, and something that we have the ability to do well here in the congregation. This is the kind of work that leads to transformation, of ourselves, and hopefully, therefore, to the good of the world.
In the faith,