Movement that arose among English Protestant Christian churches in the late 16th and early 17th century. It developed as one branch of Puritanism and emphasized the right and duty of each congregation to govern itself independent of higher human authority. Its greatest influence and numbers were in the U.S., where Puritans first established it at Plymouth Colony. The Half Way Covenant (1662) loosened requirements for church membership, and the Great Awakening led U.S. Congregationalism away from its Calvinist roots. Many churches defected to Unitarianism. In general, Congregationalists eschew creeds and emphasize preaching over sacraments, accepting only baptism and the Eucharist. English Congregationalists are now part of the United Reform Church. Most American Congregationalists are now part of the United Church of Christ. Baptist, Disciples of Christ, and Unitarian Universalist churches also practice congregational polity.
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