Governance is the system by which we exercise our authority. At the First Religious Society we have a tradition of congregational polity, carried over from our colonial ancestors who decried that there would be no authority higher than the collective members of the congregation who would rule on decisions made within our walls. As a church we choose to have membership in the Unitarian Universalist Association; however, we maintain complete autonomy with regard to how we govern ourselves.
The foundation of our governance structure is our Constitution and Bylaws. This document is the frame upon which all major decisions are built and reflects our deep roots in Congregational Polity. It is the collective wisdom of all who came before us. Like all documents of its type, it is both vague and clear. It gives structure but leaves the details to the current membership, knowing that details change over time, but the underlying structure remains intact. Changes to this document are rare, and are undertaken with seriousness.
The members act either directly or indirectly through the elected Parish Board. Parish Board members are elected to serve as officers by the membership at the Annual Meeting and they meet monthly during the church year. They practice a policy based governance model, which means that their primary role is to create policies which support the staff and other constituents of the church in understanding the will of the members. They also give direction to the staff on a strategic plan for the organization.
The Vision and Mission of the FRS is the instrument that the Parish Board uses to discern the will of the congregation. Creating a Vision and Mission for the FRS is a huge undertaking because it requires hearing all of the voices of the membership. Our current Vision and Mission was constructed over a two-year period that involved the entire congregation from start to finish. The Parish Board uses the Vision and Mission to inform the strategic plan that the staff implements.
The Governance Committee is a standing committee that has the responsibility of ensuring excellence in governance and congregational leadership. It does this by focusing on ongoing Board development, Board effectiveness, Board leadership, and succession planning for the Board and other FRS officers. The Chair of the Governance Committee is a member of the Parish Board.