Part Two of the Manual considers the overall organization and operation of the two denominations — The American Unitarian Associa­tion, and the Universalist Church of America. The five chapters deal in turn with comparisons of the two denominations In the nation­al organization, headquarters operations, financial resources, regions or state conventions, and national auxiliary bodies. Only sufficient detail has been included to provide a general understanding and make clear the significant similarities and differences between the two denominations. The Commission has on file considerable additional data which can be obtained by those concerned with the mechanics of the merger process.


The comparisons which the information presented in these chap­ters are particularly important because this is the point at which the merger, if voted, would immediately take hold.








This chapter deals with the A.U.A. and the U.C.A., how the re­spective headquarters are organized and concludes with a picture of the two headquarters' staffs. Many detailed matters concerning the two national bodies and how they operate are omitted and the reader is referred to the respective sets of by-laws in such instances.  Headquarters’ organizations are presented in two ways: by text and charts. The respective groups of personnel are shown in comparative lists according to functions and titles.


The American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America, respectively, represent the highest organized expres­sions of liberal religion in nationally institutionalized forms. There are some likenesses and differences between the A.U.A. and the U.C.A. These the reader will note as the following presentation is considered.



The American Unitarian Association


The principal center of all responsibility for the American Uni­tarian Association, incorporated in Massachusetts, resides in its delegate body, which meets annually and biennially. The annual meet­ing is generally known as the May Meetings while the biennial meeting is referred to in the by—laws as the General Conference. The members of these meetings are official delegates from churches, fellowships and other organizations. Each church and fellowship having a settled minister is entitled to send its minister and one lay delegate for each 100 of the membership or majority fraction thereof. While the ministers come regularly, the lay delegates change from time to time, depending on their election by the local parish. Each national aux­iliary is entitled to two delegates and each life member so consti­tuted prior to May 1, 1925 is entitled to one vote.


Since the laws of the state of incorporation require an annual meeting within the state, Boston has been, more frequently than not, the place of annual meetings. The biennial meeting or General Con­ference which occurs each odd numbered year is held wherever the Asso­ciation wishes and exists principally to counteract the Boston focus of the denomination and to make it easier for those Unitarians at considerable distances from Boston to attend.


In recent years, because the Universalists hold their corporate business meeting biennially in odd numbered years, there have been Joint Sessions of the two national delegate bodies. It should be noted that during every two year period the Unitarians hold three national meetings compared with the Universalists’ one. This makes for heavy responsibility for Unitarian officials, creating both administrative and program problems.


The annual meetings of the Unitarians are essentially business and the biennial meetings more of an appraisal—study nature, but the General Conference also has some specific important business functions. It is responsible for electing the members of the business, program, and nominating committees of the Association. The resolution to ap­point the present Merger Commission was presented at the General Conference in 1955, but due to lack of a quorum, it was again presented at the 1956 May Meeting and approved. While any resolution can come before any business meeting of the Association, because of the import­ance of May Meetings, many of them are presented on those occasions.


The Association has a set of by—laws, the main objective of which is to insure that procedures shall be regular, democratic and businesslike and at the same time to maintain control within the dele­gate body. Specific attention is given to the scope of activities and procedures of business meetings, provisions for nominations and elections, procedure for resolutions, duties of officers, and of di­rectors and committees.


Certain features of the Unitarian parent body need special men­tion because they differ from the Universalist parent body. One of the officers is a Moderator who presides at all meetings of the Association. Three Vice-Presidents are elected, who, in the main, act as general representatives or goodwill ambassadors and have no specific functions but operate as delegated by the Board of Directors. The Association elects a President who serves as its chief executive officer, directly responsible to that body only.



Universalist Church of America


The principal seat of authority and responsibility of the Uni­versalist Church of America is the General Assembly, which meets bi­ennially. Membership in the General Assembly is composed of officers of the U.C.A. and members of its Board of Trustees, officers of each State Convention, State Superintendents and Field Workers, all ordained ministers, two lay delegates from each church and one lay delegate from each fellowship, all of whom have the right to vote.  This is somewhat different from the composition of the Unitarian delegate body.


Attention is called to the fact that in the U.C.A. all ordained ministers have the voting privilege, whether settled, retired, in other positions, or currently without a church or a position, while in the A.U.A. only ministers settled in churches can be members. Where­as the A.U.A. requires but one test of its delegates from any church, that the church has made its annual contribution to the annual de­nominational appeal; in the U.C.A., a number of tests are required of churches including a specified number of public worship meetings, a proper church organization and annual meeting, annual denominational statistical reports and a conscientious effort to contribute to the annual appeal.


The Universalist Church of America is incorporated in New York, and the laws of that state permit corporate business meetings to he held anywhere in the United States as may be determined by the cor­poration. Thus the U.C.A. has an advantage in that it may hold its meeting in various cities and is not restricted to holding meetings in a particular state. The General Assembly, as the principal legislative body, has jurisdiction over all clergymen, state conventions, churches, parishes and fellowships in ecclesiastical fellowship with the U.C.A. This provision does not exist in the A.U.A.


The U.C.A. has recently revised its by-laws somewhat so that at present they are more comprehensive than the A.U.A. by-laws. More­over, these by-laws are generically related to the Laws of Fellowship, Government and Discipline of the Universalist Church of America which set forth the requirements by which Universalist ministers and churches shall he related to the denomination. The by-laws give much more at­tention to the powers and duties of the Board of Trustees than do the A.U.A. by-laws. There are two other principal features of time Universalist by-laws: they specify what departments shall exist in the head­quarters, and define the relationships with state conventions and local groups.


The Universalist denomination has certain other features which differ from those in Unitarianism.  Although the U.C.A. elects a President, who is titular head of the denomination, he is not also its chief executive officer. The Board of Trustees appoints a Gen­eral Superintendent who has direct charge of all headquarters opera­tions and is solely responsible to the Board and serves at its pleasure. The by-laws provide for a General Secretary, a full time paid position, the holder of which is appointed by and responsible to the Board of Trustees. The job of the General Secretary is to keep min­utes and records of the Board of Trustees, to maintain an accurate file of data on all ministers and to maintain up—to—date and accur­ate church statistics. The Universalist organization has a clear flow of responsibility from the General Assembly to its Board of Trustees, to the executives. All executives are responsible to one body — the Board of Trustees. There is no division in responsibility for executive personnel between the trustees and the general repre­sentative body as in the A.U.A. The by-laws give full and careful attention to individual freedom, democratic procedures and business­like handling of denominational affairs.






In general the number and kinds of functions in the headquarters of each denomination is similar. There are enough variations, how­ever, between the two headquarters to warrant separate treatment.


Unitarian Headquarters Organization


A diagram of the plan of organization of the Unitarian head­quarters may be seen in Chart 3. This is a simplified version, omit­ting details which have relatively little bearing on the picture of the general pattern.


These features are of main importance:


1. There are several separate streams of major responsi­bility, most of which come together in the annual meeting, but a few come to the biennial meeting.

(1) The President is responsible as the chief execu­tive officer and administrator for the headquarters operations, he reports to the annual meeting. (2) The Board of Directors, although responsible for the Asso­ciation’s business affairs, has nothing to do with how headquarters is run and reports separately to the annual meeting. (3) The Treasurer, responsible for financial records and for investment, is elected by the annual meeting and is responsible to that body. Note that he is partially responsible, with the Assis­tant to the President, for operating the building and common services such as the shipping room, mail room, etc. This arrangement of responsibility leaves the Board of Directors in a very awkward situation and places an undue burden on one man — the President, who must be related to each separate stream.


2. Because of its incorporation in Massachusetts, the A.U.A. has created two national delegate bodies: the annual meeting and the biennial meeting. While duties and powers do not conflict, divided responsi­bility becomes confusing. This divided organization, moreover, means an undue frequency of meetings.


3. One organizational feature — the Division of Churches, which at the moment is a paper arrangement since there is no head of this Division, adds an additional burden on the President who has had to act as head of this Division.


4. The A.U.A. Department of Publications contains the Unitarian Register, the Starr King Press and certain minor specially organized programs such as the Wayside Pulpit, but it does not contain the Beacon Press which is a separate corporation with its own Board of Trustees. The Department of Publications and the Beacon Press has had the same executive head, in the main responsible to the President. Except for the Register, whose personnel may be easily determined, the two Presses have a common staff. While having a common pool for the two presses offers an economical arrangement, it offers a problem in determining how many persons work for each press and this in turn affects true cost relationships.


5. Departmental organizations are fairly clear—cut, both in terms of their own operations and also in terms of the inter-departmental business of the denomination.


6. Regional Directors relate to the headquarters organization through the head of the department of extension and maintenance, an arrangement made by the former President. This is a cooperative relationship only.


7. In addition to the coordinating functions of the President, two bodies exist which are coordinative In purpose. These are the United Unitarian Appeal and the Denominational Planning Council. The U.U.A. is the fund raising organization, independently incorporated with its own Board of Directors, structured on the pattern of community chests. It raises funds from Unitarian churches and fellowships and other sources for the operation of the A.U.A, headquarters and 16 other organizations of the denomination such as the C.L.C., the General Alliance, etc. It does not raise funds for the Unitarian Service Committee which has Its own fund raising operation, seeking money annually from the same sources. Each of the 17 participating organizations presents an annual budget to the U.U.A. which is approved by its budget committee. This arrangement. has many advantages, but its chief dis­advantage is that by the nature of its budgetary powers, the U.U.A. can have much influence on pro­gram and operations. The other coordinating body is the Denominational Planning Council, which heretofore has mainly been an instrument of exchange of information about programs and progress among the various executives. Plans are underway to make it a much more effective instrument.

As of this writing, an A.U.A. Board of Directors appointed com­mittee is at work, studying the whole matter of the plan of head­quarters organization, needed by—law revisions, and relationships be­tween the headquarters and the regional offices.


Universalist Headquarters Organization


Chart 4 depicts the plan of organization of Universalist head quarters. Attention is drawn to these features:


1. The U.C.A has only one national body, the General Assembly, which is the locus of final responsibility for the denomination.


2. The Board of Trustees has both power and responsi­bility for all headquarters operations.


3. The President and General Superintendent are two separate officers with different functions. The former is elected by the General Assembly and is titular head of the denomination. The latter, appointed by the Board of Trustees, is the chief administrative officer of the Headquarters.


4. The service function and the fund raising function are integral departments of the U.C.A. whereas in Unitarian headquarters, these two functions are separate corporations.


5. The plan provides for an internal assistant treasurer and business manager who is responsible for administration to the General Superintendent and to the Treasurer for policy observation.


6. The State Conventions are independently incorporated bodies, but relate to the headquarters operation through the cooperation of the State Superintendents with the General Superintendent.


Both plans of organization are conceived to be democratic which is consistent with the philosophy of liberal religion. Both strive to have as much freedom as possible, with as little centralization as necessary to have a strong functioning denomination. In the last analysis, in either plan, final responsibility rests with the churches and their delegates.





The two headquarters differ significantly as to the number of staff members. This arises on the one hand because of greater availability of funds in the A.U.A. and on the other hand to the long re­sistance among Universalists to a strong, well staffed headquarters. Some Unitarians feel that their headquarters has been too strong and powerful, while numerous Universalist leaders are taking steps to strengthen their headquarters because they recognize it to be one of the basic requirements for denominational advance. The number of personnel at each headquarters appears on the next page.






General Administration



General Secretary



Dept. of Ministry



Dept. of Extension and Maintenance (including fellowships & Church of Larger Fellowship)

10 (2 pt. time)


Service Committee

independent c


Dept. of Publications



Fund Raising

independent f


Business Activities



(building operations)



Public Relations








a Covered by General Superintendent

b Effective Fall, 1958, when new Dept. head assumes duties; this is an increase in staff.

c Total Staff — 21

d Includes staff of 5 for Unitarian Register and an estimated 5 others for Starr King Press and other

departmental publishing and printing.

e Function as a department not staffed as yet; denominational magazine: the Universalist Leader, is published by the Universalist Publishing blouse, an independent body which has a staff of 3. Total staff of 5

g No formalized activity

h Function provided for but not staffed, as yet; Director of Service handling major needs as part of his responsibility.


The number of headquarters personnel at the A.U.A. is between 3 and 4 times as large as that at the U.C.A. With Unitarianism growing rapidly and Universalism making a comprehensive effort at resurgence, the sizes of the respective groups of personnel are very likely to in­crease in the foreseeable future.





This page was last modified Monday 13 November 2006.  Copyright © 1999–2006 Rev. Alicia McNary Forsey, Ph.D.
All rights reserved.  For comments or requests [ Webweaver at PacificUU dot org ].