A continuing concern of mine is what makes a Universalist church Universalist. I’ve gotten hints from liturgies and speeches, but nothing helps so well as polity documents, which tell more than they intend.
So when I found the badly-typeset 1873 constitution and bylaws of the (extant) Halifax, Nova Scotia Universalist church, I was touched and interested by its combination of boilerplate and local additions. There’s quite a bit to unpack within it, so first the document itself, below the fold. I welcome unpacked observations, and I’ll be adding my own in the comments, too.
Act of Incorporation and Constitution of the Church of the Redeemer, Halifax, Nova Scotia
adopted June 29, 1873
Church of the Redeemer
Believing in the Church as an association of Christian believers, for religious culture and christian work, we hereby unite for the formation of a Parish therein, and adopt for our government the following Constitutions and Bye-Laws. —
Name. — This organization heretofore known as “The First Universalist Church of Halifax,” shall hereafter be designated as the Church of the Redeemer.
This Parish acknowledges itself part of the Universalist Church of America, recognizes the ecclesiastical authority of the United States General Convention of Universalists, and the jurisdiction of the Maine Universalist Convention; — regards itself a pledges to enlist and co-operated in such measures for raising funds and fostering and extending all the interests of the Church, as the General Convention may adopt or prescribe; — and accedes to and shall comply with the conditions of fellowship establised by the said General Convention; provided always, that all monies raised in the Parish be under its immediate control.
Membership. — [I.] An expressed assent to the Confession of Faith adopted by the General Convention of Universalists, at Winchester, N. H., A. D. 1803, shall be essential to membership in this parish, to wit.
Art. I. We believe that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament contain a revelation of the character of God, and of the duty, interest and final destination of mankind.
Art. II. We believe that there is one God, whose nature is Love, revealed in one Lord Jesus Christ, by one Holy Spirit of Grace, who will finally restore the whole family of mankind to holiness and happiness.
Art. III. We believe that holiness and true happiness are inseparably connected, and that believers ought to be careful to maintain order and practice good works; for these things are good and profitable unto men.
II. — Any person who assents to said Confession of Faith and contributes to the support of the Parish, becomes a member thereof, provided that a majority of members do not object.
The Pastor. — No Minister shall be call to, or continue in, the Pastoral charge of this Parish unless he has the fellowship of the General Convention.
II. — The Pastor shall be chosen by a majority of the congregation at a meeting called for that purpose, and three months notice shall be given on either side to terminate the connection.
V. — Baptism.
While this Church does not regard Water Baptism as essential of Christian discipleship, it recognizes its propriety as a symbol; and the Pastor, in case it shall be desired by one admitted a member, shall administer it or [cause] it to be administered in such a form as may be preferred.
VI. — The Communion.
The Communion of the Lord’s Supper shall be regularly observed quarterly in each year, in the months of January, April, July and October; it being provided that its participation therein shall not be made obligatory upon any member; and further, that at every such service all present who may feel it to be a duty or priviledge to do so, shall be invited to join its observance.
VII. — Children and the Church.
1. Believing that Children are born into the Church by virtue of their birth of Christian parents, this Parish regards its the duty of all christians to endeavor to train their children in a [consciousness] of their Christian obligation, and it recommends that they bring their children forward for Baptism or dedication, as a token of the recognition of this duty.
2. To this end the last Sunday in June of each year shall, of practicable, be observed as Children’s Sunday.
VIII. — Statistics.
A Book or Register shall be provided, in which shall be recorded by the Pastor, in the manner and form prescribed by the laws of the General Convention, all Baptisms, Dedications, Marriages, Funerals, etc., performed or attended by him, or by another for him.
IX. — General Committees.
The Parish shall be divided in the following General Committees, which shall be appointed by the Pastor and Vestry, annually, on the first Sunday in April, viz: Committee on Hospitality; Committee on Visitation; Committee on Sunday School and Mission.
The Committee on Hospitality shall seek out the strangers in the Parish, call upon them, introduce them to the Pastor and members of the congregation, and endevor to make them feel that they are among friends.
The Committee on Visitation shall visit the sick in their respective district, — do all in their power for their comfort, — devise and put in operation the means as they deem suitable to reach and help the needy, and report the cases to the Pastor. They shall also endeavor to make the acquaintance of all members of the congregation who reside in their respective districts, call upon every person, and exert themselves to unite the Parish as one great family.
The Committee on Sunday School and Missions shall be charged with the superintendence of these great departments of Christian work in the Parish. They shall visit the Sunday School as often as one a quarter, and report on its condition at the quarterly meeting othe Society. They shall also interest themselves in the establishment of Mission Sunday Schools, distribution of Books and Tracts, and in all other work which related to the spread of the Gospel and the good of man.
These Committees shall adopt such regulations and plan of organization as shall seem to them advisable, shall keep a full record of their work, and be ready to report at any regular meeting of the Society, at the request of the presiding officer.
X. — Quarterly Meetings.
The Parish shall hold regular quarterly meetings for the purpose of hearing reports of the above named Committees, and the transaction of business connected therewith, on the first Sunday in the months of January, April, July and October of each year, at three o’clock in the afternoon.