BITTER CONFLICT OVER AUTHORITY DIVIDES UU's;
TWO SEPARATE SO. MD. CONGREGATIONS RESULT

        The question of ministerial and board authority resulted in the division of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Southern Maryland into two separate congregations the summer of 2007, both now holding Sunday services at different locations in St. Mary's County. Both groups claim the Unitarian Universalist identity, though only one is affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association to date!

Over a period of months in 2007, questions were raised as to the extent of the minister's and the fellowship Board's authority to control the congregation, dismiss committee personnel and discipline individual members. The minister backed by the Board asserted her right to maintain a rather authoritarian dominance of the congregation and the operation of its program. Various "instruments" were used, such as the Committee on Ministry, to regulate members' conduct and force compliance. Failure to do so carried with it the threat of expulsion from the faith community.

The controversy reached its peak at the June 2007 annual business meeting of the UUFSM congregation where the majority refused to support the minister and lay leadership in their actions in suspending the membership of an elderly couple and barring them from all participation in the liberal religious community (see related news item elsewhere). Subsequently, as an outcome of additional congregational meetings during the summer, the minister, the Rev. Lori Staubitz, the Board chairperson, Linda Bodycomb, and all the other four Board members resigned their membership in UUFSM. A score of other members joined them in resigning.

In the fall of 2007, the splinter group of 26 persons organized as a separate society under the name of the "Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Chesapeake"(UUCC), retained the part-time services of the Rev. Ms. Staubitz and holds Sunday services in rented quarters in the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center on Airport Road in Hollywood, Md. The "Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Southern Maryland" (UUFSM) organized in 1993, having chosen new lay leadership from the 40 remaining members, continues to meet each Sunday in the Loffler Center of Chancellor's Run Regional Park on Chancellor's Run Road in Great Mills, Md. Both groups are endeavoring to provide a full-service religious organization with religious education programs for all ages, with their own web sites on the Internet.

Traditionally, Unitarian Universalist societies maintain "congregational polity" under which most major policies and decisions are made democratically by vote of the congregation, with the elected Board administering the week-to-week operation.