UUA supports alternative congregations

Delegates at the 2012 General Assembly in Phoenix, held June 20–24, approved a change to the UUA bylaws that was requested by the UUA Board of Trustees. The change relates to how congregations are referred to, and it opens the way for the creation of congregations that are not tied to a particular location.

Delegates approved changing all bylaw references to “churches and fellowships.” That phrase will be replaced throughout the bylaws with “congregations.” In addition, the word “local” will be dropped in bylaws in reference to congregations.

The Rev. Dr. Susan Ritchie, the UUA trustee who introduced the amendment at GA, said that removing “local” will support the creation of congregations that are not based in a particular building or location, such as the Church of the Larger Fellowship, which meets online and at GA. “We can gather as intentional religious community with people we do not share a particular geography with,” Ritchie said. “The board believes it serves the cause of justice to expand the definition of congregations.”

The term “congregation” is also more welcoming to many Jewish UUs than “church.” Congregations may, of course, continue to use whatever name they choose. The bylaws change simply changes how the UUA refers to congregations and provides space for the creation of other types of congregations. Youth and young adults have been especially supportive of the creation of non-traditional congregations.


Letter: On naming a congregation

To InterConnections:

This is in reference to your article, Things to Consider When Naming a Congregation.

Here in the Conch Republic (that’s the Keys section of Florida), we have been the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Key West since our founding in 1988.

Beginning in 2005, the Fellowship began a process of discernment about its identity. The first questions in that process focused on professional leadership. By 2009, with 2 years of full-time ministry informing the process, the Fellowship turned to its public identity: its name.

The first round of consideration was simply, “Do we want to explore the possibility of changing our name?” Long confused with the Unity congregation in town or not understood at all with the theological nomenclature of “Unitarian Universalist,” the members voted overwhelmingly to pursue a possible name change. In a subsequent Fellowship retreat, a name change was included in the top three priorities for focusing our energies.

By 2011, the members were ready to appoint a “Name Change Task Force,” charged with developing the process by which a name change would be proposed. Through a series of open membership meetings, a five-phase process was identified:

• decision on the entity we would be (e.g. congregation, fellowship, church, etc.)

• solicitation of suggested names

• winnowing of potential names to six

• further winnowing to three finalists

• finally a decision on one name

All decisions were by formal votes of members in open membership meetings. In late 2010, it was decided that whatever else would follow, we would change from Fellowship to Congregation. By mid-2011, it was determined that we would have a main name with a tag line to indicate our associational connection. Finally, at our January 2012 Annual Meeting, a clear choice among three options was selected. That choice was then affirmed by a unanimous vote of the members.

We became One Island Family, with the tag line being “The Southernmost Unitarian Universalist Congregation.” The other two names in competition were “One Human Community” and “Keys Kaleidoscope.”

This new identity incorporates a variation on the official philosophy of the City of Key West—”One Human Family”—and includes the locally familiar term of “Southernmost” which is short-hand for “southernmost city in the continental United States.”

Fortunately for us in Florida, we can use this new identity as a registered name without having to alter all the legal documents and other things (such as bank accounts) from the pre-existing name. This has made the transition much less cumbersome and expensive.

So, now we offer the community our new identity. Already there is a buzz on the streets about this identity, and we expect in the long term it will be a clearer presentation about who we are than a reference to ancient theological debates.

The Rev. Dr. Randolph W.B. Becker
One Island Family
Key West, Fla.