REGIONAL CONFERENCES AND STATE CONVENTIONS
Each denomination, for essentially the same reasons, has highly important, key, intermediate level organization units between the oral church and the respective national headquarters. Unitarian units are known as Regional Conferences or Councils, while Universalist units are titled State Conventions. They exist principally because they coordinate home—rule and congregational polity and represent a good balance between centralization and decentralization. They enhance communication, advance solidarity and encourage cohesiveness. National meetings are highly necessary for denominational purposes and for attention to over-all questions and problems, but there are many questions which do not demand national attention. Moreover, a national office cannot meet all the needs and demands for service; hence the intermediate unit is quite necessary. State Conventions and Regional Conferences have become strong and very active, with considerable enthusiasm existing within them.
Intermediate units in the two denominations did not get started in quite the same way. Unitarianism practically started with a denominational status and after a time, as the movement grew, it became necessary to add to the national operation some intermediate level administrative units. On the other hand, for many years Universalism was characterized by a series of ‘denominations’ or State Conventions and has been shown, it took a long period to develop a national consciousness in an organized form. The two types of units have been in operation for a good many years. The Unitarian Western and the Meadville Conferences were established in 1852 and 1903, respectively, while all other regions date from 1939 onward. Some of the State Conventions were founded before any of the regions were created. The Maine Universalist Convention began in 1828 and by the turn of the century most of the others were in operation. Few have been established since 1900. State Conventions and all but three of the Regional Conferences are separately incorporated.
The differences in location and size of Regional Conferences and State Conventions were shown on Charts I and II in Chapter III. In like manner, the numbers of churches vary widely within intermediate units, as shown in Table 24. Unitarian Regions vary from 5 churches in Western Canada to 141 churches in Southern New England, while the number of Universalist churches per Convention range from 2 to 53. For a comparison of the number of churches in various areas, the Universalist State Conventions and unorganized areas were grouped on the same basis as Unitarian Regions, with the results appearing in Table 25. There it will he seen that in some areas, the number of Universalist churches exceed the number of Unitarian churches and vice versa, The Unitarians are ahead in the Southern New England, Western and Pacific Coast areas, whereas the Universalists have more churches in the Northern New England, Meadville and Thomas Jefferson areas. The same table shows the very significant numbers of Unitarian fellowships and in which activity in all areas, the Universalists are outranked. Data for Tables 24 and 25 were assembled nearly two years ago for the Commission’s initial study of comparative resources.
TABLE 24 — Distribution of Active Unitarian Churches by Regions and Active Universalist Churches by Conventions, excluding Summer, Occasional and Dormant Churches, February, 1957.
1. All data same as shown on Charts I & II; these are from printed denominational reports available, February, 1957.
2. Middle Atlantic Region data includes all churches in New York and Pennsylvania.
3. Meadville Region data include all churches in Ohio and Eastern Canada, and excludes any churches in New York and Pennsylvania.
4. ( ) denotes Uni-Uni churches.
TABLE 25 — Distribution of Unitarian and Universalist Units by the same Regional Areas, February, 1957.
In the U.C.A. there is some tendency already to create intermediate organization units larger than states. For example, the Midwest Convention was recently formed , which includes six states. This Convention has a superintendent who has some assistance. Its budget is gradually being increased and it is expected that ultimately the six individual state conventions as such will be dissolved in favor of the larger unit, which is very much like a Unitarian region.
State Conventions and Regions have their own legislative bodies and officers, Boards of Directors or Trustees, including executive committees and other committees as necessary. All these together take responsibility for promoting their denominations in their respective areas, for amassing and protecting resources (more particularly in the several State Conventions and the A.U.A. Western Conference), for determining with their Directors or Superintendents the annual and long-range programs and emphases and similar concerns. The churches and fellowships look to their Regional and Convention offices for help and advice on a great variety of problems. In a number of ways, they are replicas of the national headquarters. While no report is made here on Regional and Convention activities each year, a description of the number and scope of meetings, conferences, trips, workshops, etc., which occur would constitute a lengthy volume.
All Regions and most Conventions have paid full or part—time professional staffs who give advice and counsel, make visits to churches and fellowships, serve at special church functions, encourage extension, religious education and other activities, support their respective denominations at all points, and cooperate closely with national officers and headquarters staffs. The heads of Conventions in the U.C.A. are called State Superintendents. These men are responsible only to their Conventions in the sense that neither the U.C.A. Trustees nor its chief executive have anything to do with selection, appointment or supervision. On the other hand, A.U.A. Regional Directors operate in a duality; they are selected by their Regional Conferences as Executive Secretaries or some similar title and also are given the title of A.U.A. Regional Directors by the A.U.A. Board of Directors as administrative representatives.
Regions and State Conventions are similar as to staffing their offices, program making and execution and meetings or conferences. Where possible, in addition to having a full time Regional Director or State Superintendent, the respective offices have full time secretaries (sometimes several) and some of them have professional assistants to the top man — for extension or religious education or for general assistance.
Although the Regions and Conventions operate separately from their respective national headquarters, every effort is made to maintain a high degree of liaison between national offices and intermediate offices. The two levels support each other at. many points. Regional Directors cooperate closely with the A.U.A. through the Director of the Department of Extension who has been designated liaison officer. In the U.C.A., the State Superintendents and the General Superintendent cooperate closely. Both the Regional Directors and the State Superintendents, respectively, hold one or more group conferences of their own every year to exchange information, discuss programs, share new techniques and otherwise plan together. The Regional Directors’ meetings are less formalized than the Superintendents’ meetings which are known as the Superintendents’ Council . The latter group has provided considerable direction and denominational administrative cohesiveness. Both groups from time to time make suggestions and recommendations to the A.U.A. Board of Directors and the U.C.A. Board of Trustees, respectively. They are invited to attend all Board meetings except executive sessions.
The work in the Regions and State Conventions follows the broad policies and institutional emphases laid down by the respective national bodies. Care is exercised to avoid duplication between the national and intermediate levels of organization in the expenditure of money and effort. Regions and State Conventions provide the major service operations but they also do general promotion and extension. National offices operate more in the total denominational sense giving help and advice with vexing problems, maintaining coordination and communication among all the parts, striving to lift standards at all points and to provide special experience and know—how.
Financial data about Conventions and Regions were presented in Chapter VIII. A.U.A. Regions receive financial support through the United Unitarian Appeal, and Regional Directors are expected to play a major role in their regions in connection with the annual U.U.A. drive. On the other hand, the State Conventions do not look to the U.C.A. for financial support because many of them have assets of their own, several as much as $1,000,000. The U.C.A. receives annual contributions from some State Conventions in addition to gifts directly from churches within the Conventions. Very recently, the A.U.A. Western Conference decided to be responsible for fund raising in its area from which amount a substantial contribution will be made to the U.U.A. This is a major development in the total denominational fund raising pattern.
Both denominations depend heavily on their Regions and State Conventions and maintain close communication with them. As the numbers of churches and memberships increase, some concern is being shown that Conventions and Regions operate as effectively as possible. Currently both denominations are studying what constitutes the optimum size of a Region or Convention. Some have many churches, others have few, some are geographically compact, while others cover tremendous areas. Willingness on the part of Conventions and Regions to consider the possibility of altering the boundaries of some units is quite evident. Present studies arise out of problems encountered within each denomination and are unrelated to any merger eventualities. The question of the possibility of functional merger will be under study by the churches and in this all Regions and Conventions must come into serious consideration, such as the form and size of an intermediate organization unit, its relationships with the national headquarters, and how it is to be financed. If there should be a functional merger, a very large measure of its success would depend on the nature and operation of intermediate organization units.
The chief problem in any realignment of Regions and Conventions would be with funds. Those held in trust or for specified purposes would, of course, be continued to be so held. Realignment, however, is not envisaged as an insoluble problem.