After looking at some of the polity definitions from the Uniting Church of Australia, I thought I would look at the United Church of Canada’s polity documents, mainly drawn from the organic Basis of Union, with the paragraph numbers before each. The Methodist (pastoral charge as basic unit of organization) and Presbyterian (the powers and responsibilities afforded the Session, but see below) influences are very strong.
- 4.2 The unit of organization for the United Church shall be the Pastoral Charge. A Pastoral Charge may consist of more than one local church; a local church is a body of persons meeting for public worship in one place.
- 5.8.1 The members of the Church entitled to all church privileges are those who, on a profession of their faith in Jesus Christ and obedience to Him, have been received into full membership. The children of such persons and all baptized children are members of the Church, and it is their duty and privilege, when they reach the age of discretion, to enter into full membership. . . .
- 5.8.2 The members of a local church who are entitled to vote at all meetings are persons in full membership, whose names are on the roll of that church. With the consent of these, adherents who contribute regularly to the support of the church may vote on temporal matters.
- 5.8.4 The Session shall have oversight of the spiritual interests of the Pastoral Charge. The management of its temporal and financial affairs shall be entrusted to a Committee of Stewards. . . .
- 5.9 The members of the Session, other than the member(s) of the Order of Ministry settled in the Pastoral Charge, shall be chosen by those in full church membership, and shall hold office under regulations to be passed by the General Council.
- 5.10.1 It shall be the duty of the Session to have the oversight of:
(1) the admission of persons into full membership, their removal, and the granting of certificates of transfer;
(2) the conduct of members, with power to exercise discipline;
(3) the administration of the sacraments;
(4) the religious training of the young, and the organization of meetings for Christian fellowship, instruction, and work;
(5) the order of public worship, including the service of praise and the use of the church edifice; and
(6) the care of the poor, and the visiting of the sick.
- 5.10.2 expands on the duty of the Session, related to business with the Presbytery and the raising up of ministers.
- Pastoral charges as a basic organizing structure makes sense for the United Church of Canada because of its large rural base and (in 1925, the year of union; I don’t know today) paucity of ministers. But the organization is weighted towards ministers as the esse of the church, so if there’s any application to be done to Unitarian Universalists, all of the structures to the UCCan need to be collapsed into the local church, with advisory powers teased back out to the UUA and districts.
- Such a flattened “local Presbyterianism” would look much like the native historic English Presbyterianism that makes up the bulk of today’s English Unitarian churches. Interesting, no? (I wonder if the same polity is true of the Irish Non-subscribing Presbyterians?)
- The Session and Stewards closely describe the offices of elder and deacon in Presbyterian use, without giving those lay members elected to those roles those titles or formal status.
- Confirmation or an analog has the real function of giving childhood members full voting rights.
Let me leave it here and examine the Bond of Union and other documents for interesting tidbits later.