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United Church of Christ

From Academic Kids

The United Church of Christ (UCC) is a mainline Protestant Christian denomination in the United States, generally considered within the Reformed tradition, and formed in 1957 by the merger of two denominations, the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches.

  • The Congregational Christian Churches trace their roots to:
    • The primarily reformed/Calvinist Congregational churches, whose organizational structure was Congregationalism, this separating them from the theologically similar Presbyterians. This denomination was centered in New England (essentially being the state church of both Massachusetts and Connecticut in colonial times). The church spread wherever New Englanders migrated, including significant numbers in the Great Lakes region and upper Midwest (states like Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, etc.) The Congregation churches, in turn, traced their colonial era origins to:
    • A portion of the American frontier Restoration Movement known as the Christian Churches. This group was comprised of a number of frontier movements that broke away from more established denominations (Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist) because they desired less rigid requirements of doctrine and church polity/organization. They saw the Bible as their only doctrinal guide and claimed "no creed but Christ." This movement is part of the family of similar movements that generated the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denomination
  • The Evangelical and Reformed Church hails from two distinct, yet related, waves of immigrant German Protestantism:
    • the Reformed Church in the United States, the German version of the Reformed/Calvinist movement. They looked to the Heidelberg Catechism as their primary confession and hailed primarily from areas near the Rhine River in Germany and also from parts of Switzerland. These mostly 18th century immigrants settled heavily in Pennsylvania and northern Maryland, but also in a few other scattered areas.
    • the Evangelical Synod of North America. These 19th and early 20th century German immigrants settled primarily in the Midwest, especially Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan. They came from the Evangelical Church of the Union, which was the result of a 1817 union between Lutheran and Reformed churches in Prussia. The group often identified as primarily Lutheran, but held a mixture of both Lutheran and Reformed beliefs and practices (so much so as to prevent this group from merging with other Lutheran bodies). They looked to both the Reformed Heidelberg Catechism and the Lutheran Luther's Small Catechism as their confessions (and eventually developed an "Evangelical Catechism", which merged views of both).

The UCC therefore unites one of the earliest Protestant denominations in the United States with various other mostly Reformed traditions that sprang up in the United States in the 1700s and 1800s.

The UCC uses four words to describe itself: Christian, Reformed, Congregational and Evangelical. The church's diversity and adherence to covenental polity (rather than presbyterian or episcopal) gives individual congregations a great deal of freedom in the areas of worship, congregational life, and doctrine.

The motto of the United Church of Christ comes from John 17:21: That they may all be one. The UCC uses broad doctrinal parameters, honoring creeds and confessions as "testimonies of faith" rather than "tests of faith," and emphasizing freedom of individual conscience and local church autonomy. Indeed, the relationship between local congregations and the denomination's national headquarters is covenantal rather than hierarchical; local churches have complete control of their finances, hiring and firing of clergy and other staff, and theological and political stands.

As a whole, the denomination is considered among the more liberal of the mainline Protestant denominations in the United States, although some individual UCC congregations can be very conservative. In its 48 year history, the United Church of Christ has taken a number of controversial progressive stances and actions. These have ranged from its ardent support of the Civil Rights Movement (including famous organization and victory against the FCC resulting in broader access to broadcast media) and its support of immigrant worker rights to its stances on human sexuality, calling for the full inclusion of lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender people in the life of the church.

Since the mid-1990s, the Church has been headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio. Previously, its headquarters were in New York, New York.

Contents

UCC Statement of Faith

In the United Church of Christ, creeds, confessions, and affirmations of faith function as "testimonies to faith" around which the church gathers rather than as "tests of faith" rigidly proscribing required doctrinal consent. As expressed on the United Church of Christ website, "The United Church of Christ embraces a theological heritage that affirms the Bible as the authoritative witness to the Word of God, the creeds of the ecumenical councils, and the confessions of the Reformation." The denomination therefore looks to a number of historic confessions as expressing the common faith around which the church gathers, including the Apostles and Nicene creeds, the Reformation-era Heidelberg Catechism and Luther's Small Catechism, American confessions such as the Congregationalist Kansas City Statement of Faith and the Evangelical Synod's Evangelical Catechism, and, of course, the current Statement of Faith of the United Church of Christ.

The Statement of Faith of the United Church of Christ was originally adopted in 1959 (two years after the denomination's founding General Synod) and was updated into inclusive language in the late 1970s. It is fairly unique among denominational statements of faith (or confessions) in that it describes God's deeds rather than God's attributes:

We believe in God, the Eternal Spirit,
God of our Savior Jesus Christ and our God,

   and to whose deeds we testify:

God calls the worlds into being,
   creates humankind in the divine image,
   and sets before us the ways of life and death.

God seeks in holy loveto save all people from aimlessness and sin.

God judges all humanity and all nations by that will of righteousness
   declared through prophets and apostles.

In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Lord,
   God has come to us
   and shared our common lot,
   conquering sin and death
   and reconciling the whole creation to its Creator.

God bestows upon us the Holy Spirit,
   creating and renewing the church of Jesus Christ,
   binding in covenant faithful people of all ages, tongues, and races.

God calls us into the church
   to accept the cost and joy of discipleship,
   to be servants in the service of the whole human family,
   to proclaim the gospel to all the world
   and resist the powers of evil,
   to share in Christ's baptism and eat at his table,
   to join him in his passion and victory.

God promises to all who trust in the gospel
   forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace,
   courage in the struggle for justice and peace,
   the presence of the Holy Spirit in trial and rejoicing,
   and eternal life in that kingdom which has no end.

Blessing and honor, glory and power be unto God.

Amen.

Polity / Organizational Structure

To quote the United Church of Christ Constitution, "The basic unit of the life and organization of the United Church of Christ is the Local Church." The ethos of local autonomy within wider interdependence characterizes the organization of the UCC. Each "setting" of the United Church of Christ relates covenentally with other settings, their actions speaking "to but not for" each other.

While the ethos of UCC organization is considered "covenental," the structure of UCC organization is a mixture of the congregational and presbyterian polities of its predecessor denominations.

Local churches are gathered together in regional bodies called Associations. Local churches often give financial support to the association to support its activities. Local churches send delegates, ordained and lay, to their associations. In the UCC, the association provides primary oversight and authorization of ordained and other authorized ministries. The association ordains new ministers, holds ministers' standing in covenant with local churches, and is responsible for disiplinary action.

Local churches also are members of larger Conferences, of which there are 39 in the United Church of Christ. Typically a conference comprises multiple associations (although a few conferences contain only 1 association). Conferences are supported financially by a portion of each local church's denominational support money (know as "Our Church's Wider Mission"). Conferences are the primary support for the search-and-call process by which churches select ordained leadership and also typically provide significant programmatic resources for their constituent churches. Conferences, like associations, are congregationally-representative bodies, with each local church sending ordained and lay delegates.

Each conference sends delegates to the denomination-wide General Synod, which meets every two years. General Synod considers both organizational legislation and resolutions on social witness. While General Synod provides the most visible voice of the stance of the denomination on any particular issue, the covenental polity of the denomination means that General Synod speaks to, but not for, local churches, associations, and conferences; these settings are therefore not bound to agree with or follow General Synod stances.

As agents of the General Synod, the denomination maintains national offices comprised of 4 "covenanted ministries": the Office of General Ministries, Local Church Ministries, Wider Church Ministries, and Justice and Witness Ministries. These structures carry out the work of the General Synod and support the local churches, associations, and conferences. The head executives of these ministries comprise the Collegium of Officers (the Office of General Ministries is represented by both the General Minister, who serves as President of the denomination, and the Associate General minister).

Ecumenical relations

The United Church of Christ is in a relationship of full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the Reformed Church in America through a formal declaration known as the Formula of Agreement, with the Union der Evangelischen Kirchen (Union of Evangelical Churches) in Germany, and with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) through an ecumenical partnership.

The church is a founding member of Churches Uniting in Christ and is in dialogue about deeper relations with the Alliance of Baptists.

It is a member of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC), the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC), and the World Council of Churches.

United Church of Christ Institutions

The following are institutions officially related to the United Church of Christ:

Current issues in the UCC

Branding Campaign

In 2004, the UCC joined the United Methodist church and others in using paid commercial advertising to reach potential members. The "God Is Still Speaking" branding initiative featured "the comma," the colors red and black, and a quote by Gracie Allen warning, "Never place a period where God has placed a comma." In keeping with their covenental rather than authoritarian structure, individual congregations were able to opt in or out of this initiative.

In December 2004 several US TV networks, including NBC and CBS, refused to air an advertisement by the UCC, deeming it too controversial. The "Bouncers" advertisement (http://www.stillspeaking.com/resources/) showed bouncers allowing into the church building a white, well-dressed family consisting of a heterosexual couple and two children but rejecting a number of other people, including two men holding hands, an African American female, a Latino male, and person using a wheelchair. The text displayed on the screen says: "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we." (CBS claimed that "Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations, and the fact the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast on the [CBS and UPN] networks.") The President of the denomination stated that commercial communicates that the UCC welcomes all persons, speaking to the sense of alienation from the institutional church felt by many in American society.

Items before General Synod

"Matters of concern to members of the United Church of Christ may be presented in the form of formal motions for consideration by a General Synod. Formal motions are Proposed Pronouncements, Proposals for Action, Resolutions, and Other Formal Motions." (From the Constitution and Bylaws of the United Church of Christ)

[As described in the above section on organizational structure and polity, the General Synod is the United Church of Christ's denomination-wide deliberative body. In United Church of Christ polity, the General Synod speaks "to, but not for" congregations and other settings of the denomination. Each conference sends delegates to the General Synod, which meets every 2 years. The next meeting is July 1 to 5, 2005 in Atlanta, GA.]

  • Pronouncements: Link to: Pronouncements before this year's General Synod (http://www.ucc.org/synod/resolutions/pronouncements25.htm). A Pronouncement is a statement of Christian conviction on a matter of moral or social principle and has been adopted by a two-thirds vote of a General Synod.
  • Proposals for Action: A Proposal for Action is a recommendation for specific directional statements and goals implementing a Pronouncement. A Proposal for Action normally accompanies a Pronouncement. (See link above regarding Pronouncements.)
  • Resolutions and Other Formal Motions: Link to: Resolutions to be debated at this year's General Synod (http://www.ucc.org/synod/resolutions/)
    • Resolutions of Witness: A Resolution of Witness is an expression of the General Synod concerning a moral, ethical, or religious matter confronting the church, the nation, or the world, adopted for the guidance of the officers, Associated, or Affiliated Ministries, or other bodies as defined in Article VI of the Bylaws of the United Church of Christ; the consideration of local churches, Associations, Conferences, and other bodies related to the United Church of Christ; and for a Christian witness to the world. It represents agreement by at least two-thirds of the delegates voting that the view expressed is based on Christian conviction and is a part of their witness to Jesus Christ.
    • Prudential Resolutions: A Prudential Resolution establishes policy, institutes or revises structure or procedures, authorizes programs, approves directions, or requests actions by a majority vote.
    • Other Formal Motions include actions other than those provided for above by majority vote.

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