Why ministers get votes at General Assembly

Lacking direct evidence, I think the reason that some ministers have a vote at General Assembly is because the Unitarians and Universalists consolidated. Those who criticize the practice seem to think the Unitarians merged with the Unitarians.

Not to pick on the UU Enforcer, but he broached the subject and better to get this off my chest now rather than wait until someone says something silly about it later.

First, here’s the UUA bylaw in question. (Unblockquoted as it was ruining my valid XHTML. Dunno why.)

(b) Minister Delegates and Religious Education Director

Delegates. Each certified member congregation is also entitled to be represented at each General Assembly by the ordained minister or ministers in full or associate ministerial fellowship with the Association settled in such congregation, and by any minister emeritus or minister emerita of such congregation in ministerial fellowship with the Association designated as such by a vote at a meeting of the member congregation not less than six months prior to the General Assembly, provided that such minister has been settled previously in such congregation, and by the director of religious education who is accredited by the Association and employed in such congregation.

Why ministers, and now DREs? Because, like the congregations, ministers have a fellowship-relationship with the UUA. Voting is a right based on the relationship. I think Universalist ministers would have had a right to vote at state convention by the right of the membership in the Convention whether or not they were actively serving a parish. The alteration in the polity of the UUA undid that relationship, but I gather the minister emeritus relationship is something of an analogue. That ministers are delegated from a congregation realigns the membership from the State Convention to the local congregation. Since that’s no difference for the Unitarians, the other alterations must seem like a novelty to them, rather than an adaptation of Universalist polity.

I’m still not happy about the DRE voting provision because the relationship between uncalled persons and a church is different than one who is called. I suppose I could make a theological case, but that’s not likely to convince many people. Pragmatically, the relationship is harder to intitate and end. But at least it is based on the same dynamic of UUA vetting and congregational (for lack of a better term) mutuality.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. Unfortunatly, I think the DRE provision (and it reads accredited DRE) is part of the continuing process to control and centralize the formation of religious educators. If you are accredited you are real, and if you are not accredited you are a fake. The accredited DRE’s get a vote, and the non-accredited ones get marginalized. I know of no denomination outside of Roman Catholicism which so heavily regulates religious educators.

    As an aside I predict an increasing number of cookie-cutter DRE’s, enslaved to the exclusive use of UUA published education programs, and indoctrinated into the ideology / idolatry of the whole Anti-Oppression Movement (a movement doomed to failure because it can’t come to terms with the trans-personal behavior of evil and human nature).

  2. I wouldn’t assess the situation as dire as Derek has, or in quite that direction. There does seem to be tendency (as opposed to a plan) to create a two-tiered UUA based on size and program, but that the smaller tier is probably going to get the shaft. They’re going to be the ones with the undercompensated part-time ministers (with or without fellowship), the unaccredited DREs, and little programmatic support from Boston. If that’s the fruit of decentralization, give me more centralization.

    Or at least small-church empowerment.

    Which means my tech-support/program alternative projects on this blog have a secure future.

  3. It’s intriguing to watch accredited DREs get delegate status, because there are other moves as well to professionalize music directors and perhaps even church administrators. (The UUA’s Department of Ministry is now the Professional Leadership Staff Group, for example, and there are conversations about eventually providing settlement services for these positions, too.) Could it be that there will come a time when people will see compelling reasons to give all professional staff in a congregation voting status?

    I’m intrigued as well by the Enforcer’s suggestion that ministers vote separately or in a bicameral Assembly, if only because it would be fascinating to see differences between the ways volunteer leaders and employed leaders voted.

  4. The call is recognized by the church; it is not a feeling or life-orientation (with or without an education) without outward referent. The language used — and it isn’t mine — for DREs is “hire” which puts them in a different ecclesiatic standing. Who brings that DRE into relationship with a congregation. Put another way, an ordained minister hired by a called minister as an assistant would be in the same boat: no vote. The matter isn’t of skill but of the nature of a relationship. That the low churches have such a muddy idea of what a minister is (usually expressed in terms of what a minister does or is prepared) is a terrible impediment here.

    The unspoken scandal is what has happened, continues to happen, and shall continue to happen to MREs, who now look like an endangered species. (And who, if called to a church, should have voting rights at General Assembly.)

  5. So, if ministers & credentialed educators are automatically delegates, then I think it is fair to assume they will vote a certain way (fair compensation guidelines jump to mind) as opposed to lay members of the congregation (perhaps) who do not have such a built-in conflict. Regardless, this “class” of delegate has far more influence than their numbers alone warrant. Not that this is all bad, after all the professional class will likely be far more institutional minded than a the average lay delegate, I believe. But if the GA rules, in effect, “stack the deck” in delegate selection by automatically selecting professionals and since these professionals attendance is likely subsidized by their congregationsas opposed to the lay membership, can we stop pretending GA is really democratic? While it is not by any means a “Supreme Soviet” it is hardly a representative body. The bi-cameral idea presented earliier by the UU enforcer is intriguing.

  6. I’m not sure why there’s a presumption that ministers vote one way and in a bloc. The ministers I know are widely and evenly divided on just about all matters pertaining to the UUA.

    But, yes, they (I’m not in that “we” since I don’t have a vote presently) have a particular vested interest in the welfare of and experience in the UUA, something that self-selecting (by self-funding) lay participants may or may not have. In that way it is representative. The local congregation is the place for democratic.

    Not that there’s all that much to vote for any more at General Assembly, except every eighth year.

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