Our Congregational Autonomy

Unitarians don’t base their theology on any single book.  A Unitarian worship leader’s message sources are unlimited.  On any given Sunday, UU minister Anthony Mtuaswa Johnson, might base his sermon on a song lyric, an inspiring story, an episode in history, or on poems presented by congregation members.

UU Music Director, Susannah Martin, might include in the service a song from another culture, a traditional American folk song, a pop standard, a protest anthem, a hip-hop lyric, a Native American chant, or a hymn.

Moreover, the texts and topics that UU clergy explore in sermons are limited only by their conscience. That’s because UU’s tradition is to foster congregational autonomy.  UU values congregants’ and clergy’s freedoms to: choose, question, think critically, and take risks. Accordingly, UU ministers are granted freedom of the pulpit — so they can best serve the spiritual, ethical, and moral needs of their community.

The flip side of this extraordinary freedom is responsibility. UU spiritual leaders have an ethical responsibility to weigh their words carefully and to discern when to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

The UU congregation also has the freedom to disagree.  One UU minister affirms that “We encourage everyone ‘in the pews’ on Sunday morning to filter the sermon through their own beliefs, experiences, and understandings, and then to form their own opinion. That opinion may ultimately be in line with the sermon, vary in a few ways, or differ completely. But freedom of the pew is central to what it means to be Unitarian Universalist.”

[SUUF Member Paul Friedman continues to provide weekly articles for publication in the Red Rock News. This article – or a variation thereof – appeared in the Oct 28, 2022 issue]