OUR CHURCH is a democracy. Its polity is congregational. The plan of organization is comparable to that of the United States of America. We start with the local churches which, of their own volition, band together to form state and denominational organizations, delegating to these larger bodies whatever powers they possess.
First, there are the men and women, young people and children, coming together for religious improvement and the support of public worship. This is the local church, the essential and basic unit of organization.
Second, all these local churches within a given state binding together in a state organization, which organization exercises jurisdiction within its provincial limits. This is the State Convention.
Third, all local churches and State Conventions uniting in one all-inclusive “parent body”, which organization has jurisdiction* over all Universalist clergymen, local churches, State Conventions, and denominational auxiliaries. This is The Universalist Church of America.
*In all matters concerning fellowship, government and discipline.
STATEMENT OF PURPOSE
THE UNIVERSALIST CHURCH of America was incorporated on March 9, 1866 under the laws of the State of New York. Its objects and purposes are:
“To conduct religious and educational operations in the United States and elsewhere; to promote, directly or indirectly, the establishment and maintenance of churches, parishes, state and auxiliary organizations of the Universalist denomination, missions, church schools, memorials, welfare organizations and kindred institutions; and to promote, directly or indirectly, the building, and operation of edifices for any such purpose.
“To promote unity among the churches, parishes, state conventions, auxiliary organizations and clergymen of the Universalist denomination wherever located, by the exercise of such jurisdictions as shall have been or may be conferred upon it by such as are now within its fellowship, or as shall hereafter submit thereto.
“To promote the training of candidates for the Christian ministry, to provide regulations for their admission to fellowship in the Universalist denomination, and for their discipline, through itself or through constituent state organizations, and to provide aid for needy clergymen and their families.
“To promote harmony among adherents of all religious faiths, whether Christian or otherwise.”
In furtherance of any of these objects and purposes, the church may:
“acquire by grant, gift, purchase, devise, bequest, or otherwise, and may hold, administer, transfer, convey, mortgage, or lease any real or personal property, and may invest and reinvest its funds in any securities approved by its governing board, or in the intervals between the sessions of the board, by the unanimous approval of a committee on investment of said board, in accordance with the terms, grants, or contracts relating to any properties, of which it may become possessed, . . . And . . . shall also be competent to act as trustee in respect to any devise, bequest, or gift pertaining to the objects of the (church); and devises, bequests, or gifts of real or personal property (may be made directly to (the church) or in trust for) any of the purposes comprehended in the general objects of the (church).”
THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY
THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY, a legislative body, is composed of:
Officers of The Universalist Church and members of its Board of Trustees;
The President, not more than three Vice-Presidents, Secretary, and Treasurer of each State Convention in fellowship;
State, regional, or provincial Superintendents;
All ordained ministers in fellowship; and
Two lay delegates from each parish in fellowship, who shall be members of the parish they represent.
To be entitled to such lay delegates each parish must maintain its legal existence and support public worship regularly, and make an annual contribution to The Universalist Church of America in such manner as the General Assembly may prescribe. The General Assembly is the judge of the election and qualifications of its members. Members from seven states, but not less in aggregate than twenty-five persons, constitute a quorum to do business, but a less number may adjourn and demand the attendance of absentees.
The Assembly meets biennially at such time and place as the Board of Trustees may direct. Special sessions may be called by the Trustees, or by a written request setting forth the reasons and signed by the Presidents of at least five State Conventions (the latter to be presented to the Secretary).
The Secretary of each State Convention must certify to the Secretary of The Universalist Church of America, previous to each regular session of the General Assembly, the names of its President, Vice-Presidents, Secretary, Treasurer and State Superintendent. The Clerk of each church must certify to the Secretary of The Universalist Church of America the names of its delegates. No person can be recognized as a member of the Assembly without certification except by special vote of the Assembly itself.
POWERS OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY
THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY SHALL:
“Be the legislative body of The Universalist Church of America, empowered to enact any and all measures neces- sary or incidental to the welfare of the church.
“On behalf of The Universalist Church of America, have jurisdiction over all organizations, including all general denominational auxiliary bodies, wherever located, which are now within its fellowship or which shall hereafter be organized. It shall have power to require all organizations and clergymen subject to its jurisdiction to furnish such statistical and other reports as may be deemed advisable. In states and territories where no State Conventions exist, and in the District of Columbia, it shall exercise the same immediate jurisdiction as is exercised by State Conventions where they exist.
“Have power to enact laws of Fellowship, Government and Discipline which shall be binding on all State Conventions, parishes and clergymen. It shall be the final court of appeal in all cases which are appealable in accordance with such laws.”
COMMITTEES AND COMMISSIONS OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY
- International Church Extension Board
- Church Architecture
- Social Action
- Jordan Neighborhood House, Suffolk, Virginia
- Universalist Service Committee
- Delegates to Congregational-Christian Council
- Trustees of the Universalist Publishing House
- Joint Committee on Theological Schools
- Central Fellowship Committee
- Central Planning Council
- Advisory Committee on Pastoral Supply and Placement
- Joint Committee of The Universalist Church of America and the Universalist Publishing House
- Pension System for Employees
- Techniques for Securing Church Members
- Joint Committee with Unitarians
- World Peace
- Wayside Pulpit (joint with Unitarians)
OFFICERS AND TRUSTEES
THE UNIVERSALIST CHURCH of America has seven officers: President, three Vice-Presidents, Secretary, Treasurer, and General Superintendent. President and Vice-Presidents are elected by the General Assembly at each regular session. Secretary, Treasurer and General Superintendent are elected by the Board of Trustees and hold office for such terms as the Board prescribes.
The Board of Trustees consists of the President and ten members elected by the General Assembly. Five Trustees are elected biennially to hold office for a four-year term; but no member is eligible to more than one re-election until an interim of four years succeeding the expiration of his term of office.
POWERS OF THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES
THE POWERS OF THE BOARD of Trustees are virtually those of the General Assembly, acting on behalf of the General Assembly between meetings of that body. The Board may replace any officer of the church, filling vacancies (however occasioned) until the next regular meeting of the General Assembly. In the election by the Board of a Trustee, a unanimous ballot is required.
The Board appropriates funds of the church for purposes designated by the Assembly; adopts and carries into effect measures promoting the interest, growth and welfare of the church; purchases, leases, or otherwise acquires for the church properties; sells, rents, mortgages, or otherwise disposes of properties; raises or borrows funds; appoints such officers, agents or committes and commissions as the work of the church may require, and vests them with authority to execute the duties entrusted to them. Full report of the state of the church is made at the regular meeting of the Assembly, together with such recommendations as the Board may choose to make. The annual budget is prepared by the Board and voted by the Assembly.
DUTIES OF OFFICERS
THE PRESIDENT PRESIDES at meetings of the General Assembly and Board, appoints all committees (unless the Assembly directs otherwise), performs such additional services as naturally pertain to such office.
The Secretary issues notice of all meetings of the Assembly and Board and keeps full records of the proceedings, keeps up-to-date register of clergy and parishes, records vital statistics, has custody of papers, books, minutes, and reports. The Secretary is bonded.
The Treasurer maintains full and accurate accounts of receipts and disbursements, depositing all money and other valuable effects in such places as the Board directs and in the name of The Universalist Church of America. He pays all bills as directed by the Board, has custody of all securities and title papers, and reports fully at each regular meeting of the Assembly and Board. Official audit once each year is obligatory. The Treasurer is bonded.
The General Superintendent is the executive officer, exercises supervision of policies and programs, recommends to the Board and Assembly such measures as, in his judgment, will deepen the spiritual life of the Church and increase its power to serve. He has direct supervision of churches located in regions where no State Conventions exist, and, through counsel, fosters co-operative action among the States.
COMMITTEES OF THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES
- Budget and Control
- Finance and Investment
- #16 Beacon Street, Boston (Headquarters Building)
- Gunn Fund Distribution and Pension Applications
- The Ministry
- Aid to Churches
- Revision of the Rules
STATE CONVENTIONS AND CHURCHES
A STATE CONVENTION may be organized in any State, Territory, or Province, whenever no less than four churches shall have been established for at least two years. To be entitled to Universalist Fellowship, the State Convention must be organized in conformity with the laws of The Universalist Church of America and with the conditions The Universalist Church of America may prescribe. The State Convention may exercise jurisdiction over Universalist churches located within its territory and may enact any measure necessary or incidental to the welfare of such churches if not contrary to the laws of The Universalist Church of America.
The State Convention is constituted as follows:
- All ordained Universalist clergymen in fellowship residing in the State;
- Officers of the Convention; and
- Lay delegates chosen by churches in its fellowship.
A State Convention, subject to the laws of The Universalist Church of America, shall, through its own State Fellowship Committee, exercise jurisdiction as to fellowship, ordination and discipline over the Universalist clergymen and churches within its territorial limits, and shall devote special attention to all matters of denominational concern.
Any number of persons of good moral character, acknowledging the authority of The Universalist Church of America and organizing for religious improvement and the support of public worship, shall be recognized as a Parish of The Universalist Church, when admitted to fellowship in the manner prescribed by the Laws of Fellowship, Government and Discipline. Every church shall conform in its organization to the laws of The Universalist Church of America.
CENTRAL PLANNING COUNCIL
THE CENTRAL PLANNING COUNCIL of The Universalist Church of America is exactly what its name implies. The General Superintendent is a member and the chairman ex officio. The Council’s membership consists of two representatives (one an officer or board member, the other a staff member) appointed by each of the following organizations: The Universalist Church of America, The Association of Universalist Women, The General Sunday School Association, The Universalist Youth Fellowship, and the Universa list Publishing House. With the approval of the Board of Trustees of The Universalist Church of America, the Council may also its membership such other organizations and representatives of such other areas of denominational work as in its judgment be desirable (those added to date are: Editor of “The Christian Leader”, General Field Worker, Director of Youth activities, and representative of the Universalist Ministerial Association).
The Council is charged with the duty of so organizing the relationships of the various activities of the denomination that the church may function as a unified whole. It formulates policies and endeavors to correlate the services provided by the departments and agencies of The Universalist Church of America and of the auxiliary bodies, preventing overlapping and duplication of effort. Under the leadership of the General Superintendent, it is a continuously operating agency for the formulating of co-operative programs, securing approval of them, and overseeing the carrying of them into effect. It is the Council’s responsibility to recommend to the Board of Trustees of The Universalist Church of America and to the auxiliary bodies such redistribution of existing functions or the establishing of new ones and such other measures for improving the administration of the whole church as it may deem wise.
The meetings of the Council are held in January and May of each year, or at such other times as the General Superintendent or the Executive Committee of the Council may direct. The Council’s Executive Committee, as specified in the organizing article, meets monthly and on call.
COMMITTEES OF THE COUNCIL
- Denominational Survey
- Plan Book for Churches
- Leadership Education
- Denominational Lecture
- Visual Education
- Special Observances
- Denominational Strategy
HEADQUARTERS OFFICES of The Universalist Church of America and of all denominational organizations are at Number Sixteen Beacon Street, Boston 8, Massachusetts. Here, in an attractive quaint old four-story building, located on Beacon Hill opposite the State House, are the Church’s executive offices, offices of the Association of Universalist Women, of the General Sunday School Association, of the Universalist Youth Fellowship, of the Universalist Publishing House, and the Massachusetts Universalist Convention. Offices of the Treasurer are at nearby Number Six, and of the Editor of “The Christian Leader” at Number Fourteen.
Housing of all these organizations under virtually one roof has greatly enhanced co-operation and efficiency. Thousands of persons each year visit Universalist Headquarters.
LOYAL DEVOTION on the part of Universalists to their Larger Church (the denomination) calls for cultivation. When intelligently informed, this loyalty is in no way inconsistent with the democracy and independence of the local churches. Local self-government and local pride are greatly enhanced by knowledge of those projects undertaken in common by all Universalists.
Universalists are called upon in these days to support with their minds, their means, and their characters the local churches with which they are affiliated. But there should be this same commitment to the organization of all Universalists. There is strength, both material and psychological, in that consciousness of togetherness which makes all Universalists and all Universalist organizations one.
This applies particularly to the relations between minister and church, between State Conventions and The Universalist Church of America. Each church, in calling a new minister, should inquire painstakingly into his record (a record which resides only at Universalist Headquarters), consulting both General and State Superin tendents. No minister should be called to any Universalist church until his qualifications in terms of fitness and denominational loyalty have been clearly established. This is far from anti-democratic procedure, or ecclesiastical hierarchy. It is good judgment, good churchmanship. Isolationism and complete independence leads to chaos and disintegration.
General and State Superintendents, denominational, auxiliary and state field workers should be welcomed by every minister and official of the local churches. These persons are skilled workers, servants of Universalist churches, friends and trusted leaders of Universalists everywhere. They are devoting their lives to the up-building of stronger churches and a more vigorous denominational strength.