Our Core Identity

Written by Rev. John H. Thomas

Third Sunday after Pentecost
June 20, 2004
Galatians 3:23-29

From the time of our founding, the United Church of Christ has struggled to articulate its identity. The names of predecessor denominations identify important elements: Evangelical suggests a piety shaped by personal encounter with the Gospel. Congregational reminds us of the centrality of the local church for discipleship and mission. Reformed teaches us that church and society are subject to sin and must therefore be reshaped by the prophetic word. Christian connects us to those who cherish the simplicity of a commitment to Jesus who invites all to the Table.

Since 1957 other phrases have helped us articulate our distinctive vocation: We are a "united and uniting" church seeking renewal through the vision of Christ's prayer "that they may all be one that the world might believe." We are a "just peace" church committed to overcoming violence and oppression. We are a "multi-racial, multi-cultural church" yearning for the day when our congregations more fully reflect the vision of Pentecost. We are an "open and affirming" church where no one's baptismal identity can be denied because of his or her sexual identity. We are an "accessible" church cherishing the gifts of all regardless of physical or mental abilities. More recently we have been thinking about what it means to call ourselves "the church of the still speaking God," a church that believes God has yet more light and truth to break forth from the Word.

Each of these phrases captures an important dimension of our life together. But Paul also tells that our core identity transcends human categories. In Christ we are all children of God through faith, heirs according to God's promise. In the end identity is about belonging, and it is to Christ that we belong before any party or agenda. As we celebrate the birthday of the United Church of Christ this week, we give thanks for those distinctive gifts that mark our unique contribution to the Christian witness in the world. But even more, we give thanks that through this church we have received our inheritance with all others who are one in Jesus Christ.

Rev. John H. Thomas
General Minister and President
United Church of Christ 

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