CongPolIntel. How’s that for a bureaucratic neologism? I just made it up. It means Congretational Polity Intelligence. I’m not sure what that means, but it’s got the right feel, I think. The UUA is an association of congregations, you see. CongPolIntel feels right, because it sounds like it means something, but it means something only from the inside. The UUA is an insider’s thing, it seems to me, at this point. Friendly-seeming, to be sure, but it’s an association, you see.
Congregational polity means that each congregation is its own thing. It self-organizes, self-funds, and finds its own ministers. There are other ways of organizing a religion. Roman Catholics, for instance, have carved up the world into dioceses of varying geographic coverage, ruled over by bishops (Princes of the Church) loyal to the first among equals–the Pope, and then within each diocese are the parishes, which are like children in a family independent but subordinate to the bishop.
The UUA is more like the Chamber of Commerce.
And this is where the 7s and 6s really come into play. Because, you see, they begin, not with a list, but with a promise: “There are seven principles which Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote.” See that thing there? The UUA doesn’t lay any direct responsibilities on individual UUs. Non-creedal. Some future series on this blog will be me looking at the 7s and then the 6s, digging into the UUA web site, and all like that.
Like the Chamber of Commerce, the UUA is group of groups (businesses on the one hand, congregations on the other). There are some things that the congregations have in common (currently articulated in the 7s and 6s), and finding that those things are worthy, they got together and created the association. It wasn’t that simple, of course. The roots of the UUA run deep, and in the US, go back to the Pilgrims (which I continue to find jaw-dropping, and go on about why in the future).
However the UUA came together, it is, in theory, a body organized by and for the benefit of congregations. In practice, like so many other groups, it has a life of its own now, and even acts as a gate-keeper. Congregations have to get approval to enter the association from the UUA. And that’s OK–it’s not an association if just anyone (or just any congregation) can walk in the door and say “here I am! Serve me!” That’s a tavern. Or a brothel.
But the gate-keeping function can sometimes look like a franchiser–that the UUA creates (somehow) the congregations as subordinate units. The gate-keeping is where the insidery feeling I mentions above comes from–all those organizational questions about board membership, geographical disbursement, staff support, offices open and closed. And so on. But that said, I have found directly helpful support from the UUA in working with religious questions. So the Intel part of CogPolIntel isn’t totally ironical.
Just because the UUA is a congregational-level entity doesn’t mean it doesn’t support the individual. Can you be a UU congregation without being, at least tangentially in (or near-to in) the UUA? Can you be a UU individual without being in a congregation?
But enough about theory, let’s talk about me (and look at those questions). Next time.