The United Church of Christ: A Family of Faith for a Global Community
"What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God." [Micah 6:8]
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself." [Matthew 23: 37-39]
Two words are often used to describe the United Church of Christ: freedom and responsibility. We have been described as "a church that is independent and subject to no temporal authority; but equally a church that is the servant of all and minister to everyone."
In today's world, where many voices compete for attention, it is difficult separate wheat from the chaff, to discern essential truth from passing fancy. Such discernment is a daily challenge for members of the United Church of Christ. The basis for addressing that challenge is clearly stated in the Constitution of the UCC:
The United Church of Christ acknowledges as its sole Head, Jesus Christ, Son of God and Savior. It acknowledges as kindred in Christ all who share in this confession. It looks to the Word of God in the Scriptures, and to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, to prosper its creative and redemptive work in the world. It claims as its own the faith of the historic Church expressed in the ancient creeds and reclaimed in the basic insights of the Protestant Reformers. It affirms the responsibility of the Church in each generation to make this faith its own in reality of worship, in honesty of thought and expression, and in purity of heart before God.
Freedom, responsibility, and covenant form the core of the UCC Constitution. These traits also impact individual members of the UCC. Each member has the freedom and responsibility, with the leading of God's Spirit, the use of one's mind, the devotion of one's heart, and the guidance of the historic traditions of the universal church, to work out a faith that is meaningful to her or him.
Local churches are the foundational communities in the organization of the United Church of Christ. There are more than 6,000 such congregations, and while they share a common bond, they evolved from different traditions. Those traditions include New England Congregationalists, German Evangelical and Reformed heritages, white American and African American Christian Churches, and ethnic churches organized by the American Missionary Association. They all came together as the United Church of Christ in 1957.
The UCC was begun as a united and uniting church. Its motto, "That they may all be one," guides its leadership in ecumenical and interfaith relations throughout the nation. In addition the UCC, along with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), has developed formal relationships with over seventy international partnership churches in Africa, Europe, East Asia and the Pacific Islands, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East, and Southern Asia. It is perhaps because of these diverse backgrounds and relationships that we have come to value two basic qualities of organizational life: covenant and dialogue.
Covenant is an essential part of the Church's theological understanding. Just as God initiated a compact of mutual promise and obligation with Israel, and just as Christ is the promise and bond of obligation for Christians, so the Church is organized as a community built upon mutual promises and obligations among diverse people. Covenant is also a way of describing relationships within the whole created order between nature and humanity, nature and God. These covenants are expressed sacramentally through Baptism and Holy Communion, or the Lord's Supper.
Dialogue continually renews covenant. It is in dialogue with one another and with God that we are able to comprehend our constantly changing world. As the UCC Constitution makes clear, each generation of the Church is responsible for making its historic faith its own. This means that the Church is always in dialogue -- among its members in a wide variety of meetings, with God in worship and prayer, and with the wider community within which it lives. A Church that is called to be the servant of all finds its ministry in dialogue with all.
Practical decision making in the United Church of Christ brings together the principles of freedom and responsibility with the practices of covenant and dialogue. For example, over the years, the biennial national General Synod of the UCC, made up of representatives from the thirty- nine regional conferences of the church, has taken positions on such issues as civil rights, equality for women, respect and dignity for gay and lesbian people, economic justice, urban life and rural life, accessible health care for all, support for the United Nations, and commitment to racial and ethnic diversity. Many of these subjects are submitted by churches and church groups for consideration by the Synod. The General Synod does not make decisions for the churches of the UCC. Rather, it attempts to apply the Church's historic principles and practices to new situations. The Synod serves to clarify issues and circumstances that need to be considered by the wider church and by society.
Some years ago, a UCC pastor wrote an article entitled, "The United Church of Christ: An Exasperating and Heady Mix." We are many voices, and harmonizing these voices can at times be perplexing. At its best, however, the UCC enters the 21st century in faith, hope, and love, seeking even wider diversity and a deeper understanding of God's purpose.