UCC History and Polity Resources

UCC History and Polity Resources

bundle.jpgA place for teachers, pastors, laity and students alike

In 2004 the Teachers of UCC History, Theology and Polity, who meet annually to share materials and pedagogy, prepared a one page description of what a course should cover. The materials on this page are organized around that description. This page is designed to give teachers and others easy access to materials that are often difficult to find. Please choose what is useful and download for handouts, or send students here to read. This is a library, don't assign everything, that would be "too much."

As the list expands, make suggestions for new materials to Barbara Brown Zikmund (bbzikmund@gmail.com)

Essential Elements in a (one term) United Church of Christ Polity Class
Click here for a pdf file of the Essential Elements outline 

Regional offerings of UCC History and Polity Courses are curated online by the UCC Polity Teachers Network in conjunction with MESA.


  • Origins, development, significant documents, major events, important persons in the four primary constituent traditions (Congregational, Christian, Evangelical, Reformed)
  • Selected other traditions and/or groups within the United Church of Christ (especially, but not necessarily limited to, African American, American Indian, Pacific Islander/Asian American, Hispanic)
  • Founding of the United Church of Christ
  • Developments in the United Church of Christ from 1957 to the present


  • Theological documents and texts (e.g. Statement of Faith, Basis of Union, Prism articles, various working papers of the national setting, ecumenical documents, pronouncements of General Synod, etc.
  • Worship (including Book of Worship, New Century and other hymnals)
  • Ecclesiology (the nature of the church)
  • Creeds and confessions ("testimonies, not tests" of what is commonly held among us)


  • Constituent parts of the United Church of Christ—i.e., local church, conferences and associations, national setting, General Synod (Constitution and Bylaws)
  • Past and present structure of the United Church of Christ ("covenantal polity")
  • Patterns of accountability and autonomy in the various settings of the church

Ministry  (Manual on Ministry)

  • Forms of ministry—licensed, commissioned, ordained; ministerial partners (CC/DoC); emerging patterns for authorized ministry; ministry of all the baptized
  • Structures and patterns of accountability—i.e., ordination, standing, discipline
  • Ministerial ethics (Ordained Minister's Code, in MOM; other ethics documents)
  • Understandings of ministry in the UCC: "embodiment" and "empowerment" models

The Ethos of the UCC

  • Diversity: commitment to be a multi-racial, multi-cultural church
  • Justice and witness concerns
  • Ecumenical commitments and partnerships (esp. partnership with Christian Church/Disciples of Christ
  • Mission


History Resources

Origins of the UCC
A chart showing the origins of the UCC in Christian history.

Short Course in the History of the United Church of Christ
A Short Course in the History of the United Church of Christ tells our story beginning with our origins in the small community who followed Jesus 20 centuries ago and continuing to the present.

Chart from Balaam's Unofficial Handbook
A one page chart showing the various Protestant groups that are part of the history of the UCC [Unofficial Hdbk]

Gunnemann Chap 6 Congregational-Christian history
A historical overview of Congregational history and the development of the Christian Movement that came together to form the Congregational Christian Churches

Coffin A Brief Outline of the Christian Church
A 15 page short history of the Christian Church written in 1925

Milo True Morrill A History of the Christian Denomination
The classic history of the Christian Denomination published in 1912. [Google bk 407 pps]

Conkin American Originals
A chapter from a book on religious groups rooted in American history. It examines "restoration Christianity" (a movement trying to go back to the simple faith and practices of the early church). The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the Christians that united with Congregationalists in 1931 and eventually became part of the UCC are described

Gunnemann Chap 7 Reformed and Evangelical history
An overview of the history of the German Reformed Church in the United States and the development of the German Evangelical Synod of North America

Dobbs History of the Reformed Church in Pennsylvania
An early 20th century history of the German Reformed Church in Pennsylvania 1902 [Google bk 357 pps]

Key Dates in United Church of Christ History
An attempt to put key dates from United Church of Christ history on one page [bbz]

Gunnemann Chap 5 Why the UCC?
This chapter is a good summary of the various movements and developments that led to the formation of the UCC

Chronology of Union Steps leading to the UCC
A chronology of the various steps leading to the formation of the United Church of Christ in 1957 [Gunnemann]

Message to the Churches from the Uniting Synod
In 1957 as the Uniting General Synod came to an end in Cleveland, Ohio the Synod passed a message to the churches

United Church of Christ Firsts
This list of UCC firsts is part of the "God is Still Speaking" identity initiative.

Women in the UCC
A 2007 pamphlet by Barbara Brown Zikmund entitled "Celebrating the Memories: Selected Stories about UCC Women 1957-2007"

Hidden Histories in the United Church of Christ: Volume I
Chapters telling the stories of people and movements often ignore in traditional UCC history: American Indians, Afro-Christians, Old School or Ursinus School Reformed history, Armenian Congregationalists, German Congregationalists, Blacks and the American Missionary Association, Deaconess Sisters in the German Evangelical tradition, Schwenkfelders, Hungarians, Woman's Mission Boards and Organizations, and Japanese American Congregationalists.

Hidden Histories of the United Church of Christ: Volume II
Chapters telling the stories of people and movements often ignored in traditional UCC history: Union Churches (Lutheran-Reformed), German Evangelical Protestants, Christians in New England, Biblical Criticism and the Evangelical Synod, Women's Mission Structures, Religious Journalism and the Christians, Otterbein and the United Brethren, Winebrenner and the Churches of God, The Congregational Training School for Women and Chinese Congregationalists.


Theology Resources

Heidelberg Catechism
Written in 1583, this moderate Catechism is at the center of German Reformed theology. Instead of celebrating the otherness of God, it reassures Christians that God is their only comfort in life and in death 

Good and Harbaugh on the Heidelberg Catechism
An 1849 interpretation of the Heidelberg Catechism by Jeremiah Good and Henry Harbaugh

Schaff Principle of Protestantism
A theological analysis of Protestantism written in 1845 by Philip Schaff--a leader in the Mercersburg Movement within the German Reformed Church [Google bk 215 pps]

Cambridge Platform complete text
The 1648 statement expressing Congregational understandings of the church as local gatherings of "visible saints"

Cambridge Platform
An article by Charles Hambrick-Stowe that interprets the importance of the Cambridge Platform for contemporary Christians 

Burial Hill Declaration
In 1865, as Congregationalists began to develop a national identity and national structures, the first General Council of Congregational Churches approved this declaration as a general description of Congregationalism

Kansas City Statement of Faith
Adopted in 1913 this statement summarized the beliefs and polity of Congregationalism at the beginning of the 20th century.

Principles of the Christian Church
In late 18th and early 19th century America, a popular "Christian movement", inspired by new political independence, declared religious independence. Traditional denominations and doctrines were unnecessary. They asserted that Christians needed to agree on a handful of basic "principles."

Theology of the Christian Movement
A contemporary essay by Nathan Hatch that explains how the theology of the Christian movement emerged out of the ideology of political freedom following the founding of the United States of America in the late 18th century

Centennial of Religious Journalism 1908
A collection of materials from Christian publications to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Herald of Gospel Liberty [Google bk 656 pps]

Jakob Spener on Pietism
The text of a classic on Pietism from the 17th century that influenced mission societies and German Evangelical thinking.

In 1848 an interconfessional group of German pastors in Missouri, who had founded the Kirchenverein des Westens (Church Society of the West) in 1840, formulated a "confessional paragraph" that summarized their beliefs about scripture and doctrine (from LTH VI)

Evangelical Catechism
The first edition (1947) of the Evangelical Catechism (in German) was a product of the unionist stance of German Evangelicals on the 19th century Missouri frontier. It was translated into English in the 1860s and revised in the 1890s and the 1920s 

Basis of Union with Interpretations
The basic agreement between the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church which led to the formation of the UCC in 1957

UCC Statement of Faith 3 versions
This shows the three versions of the UCC Statement of Faith (1959, 1977, 1981) side-by-side, enabling comparisons

Shinn Historical Reflections on the UCC Statement of Faith
A 1997 lecture at the UCC Historical Council Luncheon by Roger Shinn, who played a major role in the writing of the UCC Statement of Faith

Preamble to the Constitution of the UCC
The Constitution of the UCC was presented to the General Synod of the UCC in 1959 and approved at a special "adjourned session" of that Synod in 1960. The Preamble, especially the second paragraph, is an important expression of UCC faith and practice (from LTH VII)

Steckel on the Preamble to the UCC Constitution
A 2007 brief reflection on the theological meaning of the Preamble to the UCC Constitution that was part of the UCC@50 anniversary booklet

What We Believe
Twelve statements summarizing current theological principles held by most United Church of Christ members.

Introduction to the UCC Book of Worship
This 1986 introduction to the UCC Book of Worship puts worship in historic context and explains many of the common worship practices among Christians

Dipko on the 12 Principles informing the UCC Book of Worship
In the preparation of the UCC Book of Worship (1986) the working group and the designated writer, Thomas Dipko, were guided by these 12 principles

Gunneman on Baptism
A 1985 article by Louis Gunnemann entitled "Baptism: Sacrament of Christian Vocation" that was published in the Wisconsin Conference journal On the Way

Gunnemann on Eucharist
A 1985 artile by Louis Gunnemann entitled "Eucharist: Sacrament of Discipleship" that was published in the Wisconsin Conference journal On the Way

Crabtree on Inclusive Language
An excerpt from a 1985 presentation by Davida Crabtree entitled "Rock, Water and Word" (from LTH VII)

Ringe on Feminist Theology
A brief essay (published in 1990) by Sharon Ringe, a UCC professor of New Testament at Wesley Theological Seminary, outlining the major concerns of "feminist theology."

Jackson Indian Perspective
A article by Norman Jackson entitled "An Indian Perspective on the United Church of Christ" published in New Conversations (from LTH)

Essex Black Theology
Excerpts from reflections by a contemporary African American UCC writer on Black Theology (from LTH VII)

Hirano Asian American Theology
Excerpts from a Prism article on Asian American perspectives on UCC theology (from LTH VII)

Armijo on Immigrant Theology
Excerpts from an essay written by a Hispanic UCC member about the ways in which immigration calls for a new kind of theology

Toward the 21st Century
A 1993 statement setting forth four ways in which the United Church of Christ wished to describe itself: a "Church attentive to the Word," a "Church inclusive of all people," a "Church responsive to God's call," and a "Church supportive of one another"

Barrett Theological Worlds in the UCC
An article published in Prism 2008 exploring four different theological perspectives that are alive and well in the UCC

Fackre on Christology in UCC Texts
A 2006 essay by Gabriel Fackre entitled "Jesus Christ in the Texts of the United Church of Christ" in a book Who Do You Say I Am? edited by Scott R. Paeth

Fisler-Hoffman on Covenant
A small book by Jane Fisler Hoffman entitled Covenant: A Study for the United Church of Christ 2008 64pps (made available by permission of the author)


Polity Resources

Long on Patterns of Polity
Excerpts from a 2001 book by Edward L. Long entitled Patterns of Polity explaining the way UCC polity is a hybrid of several traditional ecclesiastical organizational patterns.

Statement on Pronouncements
In 1959 the General Synod debated how actions of the Synod should be understood. This Statement (reaffirmed in 1969) states that actions of one part of the UCC are morally binding, even when they are not legally binding (from LTH VII)

Spike on Two Anxieties
An excerpt from a 1963 article by Robert Spike that appeared in the Christian Century describing the concerns of local churches weighing their decision to join the United Church of Christ.

Toward an Understanding of Local Autonomy
A 1969 statement explaining the patterns of freedom and accountability in the concept of "local autonomy"

Delegate responsibilities at wider church meetings
A page from the 1965 records of First Congregational UCC, Washington, DC stressing the fact that delegates are not instructed when they go to wider church meetings. For this reason there cannot be any "proxy" voters.

Bruggemann on "Face to Faceness"
A paragraph from a presentation Bruggemann made in 1977 at the 100th anniversary of the German Evangelical Synod in North America. It highlights the personal engagement that nurtured Evangelical polity

Synopsis of General Synod Actions 1957-1999
An outline of major actions taken by each General Synod from 1957-1999

UCC Ecclesiology
A 1991 paper on UCC ecclesiology prepared as background for restructuring the national setting of the United Church of Christ leading to the new 2000 Constitution and Bylaws.

UCC Constitution and Bylaws
The UCC Constitution underwent major revisions in 2000.  Other amendments related to ministry were voted in 2005 and 2009.

Schmeichen on the UCC Constitution
A 2000 Prism article by Peter Shmeichen entitled "The New Constitution: Achievement and Promise"

Hulteen on Covenantal Relationships
A 1997 excerpt from an essay entitled "United Church of Christ Covenantal Polity" by William A. Hulteen (from LTH VII)


Autonomy in a Covenantal Polity
Don Freeman writes about "Autonomy in a Covenantal Polity."

Definition of Covenant
A one page explanation produced by the Northern California-Nevada UCC Conference to explain the meaning of a covenant and a contract

Walker on Covenant Community
A chapter on "covenant" from Randi Walker's book The Evolution of a UCC Style

Restructure Evaluation
A 2004 report of the Restructure Evaluation Oversight Committee to the Executive Council

National Ministries of the United Church of Christ
A chart based on the 2000 UCC Constitution showing the way the national setting of the UCC is organized

Articles on Conferences
Two 1994 articles published in Prism exploring the place of Conferences in UCC polity.

Manual on the Church
A 2005 manual exploring understandings of church based on the concept of "covenant"

General Synod Minutes
Minutes in pdf format since 1999

The Church of Jesus Christ
A 2007 three page excerpt from a Prism article entitled "Maturing in Christ: A Theological Perspective for Conference Ministry" by John W. Lynes. In a very short space it defines the UCC using key quotations from the Constitution and Bylaws of the UCC


Ministry Resources

Historical and Theological Perspectives MOM 1977 
An essay from the 1977 Manual on Ministry exploring historiccal and theological perspectives on ministry in the UCC

Zikmund Empowerment and Embodiment
An analysis by Barbara Brown Zikmund of the ways two very different understandings of ministry come together in the United Church of Christ

Nevin The Reformed Pastor Lecture I
A lecture outlining a very "high" view of ministry written by John Williamson Nevin, one of the German Reformed leaders of the Mercersburg movement in the mid-19th century

Order for the Ordination to Ministry
The Service for the Ordination to Ministry from the 1986 UCC Book of Worship

Order for the Installation of a Pastor
The Service for the Installation of a Pastor from the 1986 UCC Book of Worship

Ordained Minister's Code
A two page statement to guide clergy in professional responsibilities (from the Manual on Ministry)

Charge to a Church
In many Ordination and Installation services there is opportunity for someone to challenge the congregation as it enters into "covenant" to support a new pastor. (from LTH VII)

United Church of Christ Manual on Ministry
The Manual on Ministry is divided into ten sections moving from an overview of the covenantal relationships and underlying assumptions about authorized ministry through preparation and oversight.

Leaders Box
Short one and two page information sheets on useful topics like "theology," "pastor," "ordination," "ministry," "covenant," etc.

Steckel on Authorizing Ministry
A 1999 lecture given by Clyde Steckel at Andover Newton Theological School on how the United Church of Christ has changed (and is continuing to change) the ways it authorizes ministry

The UCC Search and Call (Ministerial Profile)
This link explains how persons seeking a call to authorized ministry in the UCC, and congregations seeking pastoral leadership, find each other through the UCC “search and call” process. A related page explains the Criminal Background Check

UCC Ministry Opportunities
This list (updated live) lists ministry opportunities in the United Church of Christ for clergy and laypersons, including short-term and volunteer positions as well as settled positions.

The Time is Now: A Guide to Preventing Abuse Prevention Policies 
New awareness about abuse problems has led the UCC to develop guidelines for local congregations to develop safe church policies.

Ministry Issues 
In 2005 a Ministry Issues Pronouncement was passed by General Synod. Four years later, in 2009, new Constitutional amendments were passed to implement the Ministry Issues Pronouncement.  This Ministry Issues resource has all of the documents developed during this process and a new background paper on “Ministry in the UCC”

Jonathan New on "Ministry Issues"
A Prism article (2008) entitled "Balancing Piety and Intellect" reflecting on the impact of the new Constitutional changes related to authorized ministry in the UCC

Walker Episcope
An analysis by Randi Walker of how oversight works in the UCC through Committees on Ministry, Associations and Conferences (from LTH VII) 

Yordon on Ministry 
Hank Yordon was an active urban pastor for over forty years. His description of his ministry embodies the way many UCC clergy see their calling.

Steckel UCC Ecclesiology at Fifty
After reviewing pre UCC historical understandings of the church, Steckel explores three themes in UCC ecclesiology since 1957: covenantal relationships, the mission of God and radical hospitality.


Ethos Resources

Aspiring to be a Multiracial Multicultural Church
A 1993 pronouncement of General Synod upholding the commitment of the United Church of Christ to become a multiracial multicultural church

H. Richard Niebuhr on the Responsibility of the Church for Society
A 1946 chapter in a book entitled The Gospel, the World and the Church. Niebuhr argues that Christians are responsible for society. He condemns irresponsible religion (its worldliness, false prophecy and false priesthood, and isolationism). He affirms the church as apostle, pastor and pioneer.

Living Theological Heritage volume 7 Intros to Parts 4 and 5
These introductions weave together documents linking UCC understandings of theology and social outreach [LTH 7]

Reinhold Niebuhr on Religiosity and the Christian Faith
A brief two page 1955 article by Reinhold Niebuhr published in Christianity and Crisis on the impact of religion in the world

Gallagher on Controversy
A 1963 essay by Buell Gallagher on the importance of healthy controversy in the life of the church (LTH VII, reprint from Social Action)

Thomas on Contemporary Commitment and Catholic Substance
A 1997 statement by John Thomas explaining how UCC social justice commitments flow from universal Christian convictions

Human Sexuality
Excerpts from the 1977 report Human Sexuality: A Preliminary Study (from LTH VII)

Biblical Witness Fellowship (BWF)
The Biblical Witness Fellowship (BWF), initially the United Church People for Biblical Witness (UCPBW), began in 1978 as a renewal movement in response to the Human Sexuality study and out of a desire to reclaim the biblical faith in the UCC. In 1983 it developed the Dubuque Declaration as its Statement of Faith; and in 1984 it reorganized itself into the Biblical Witness Fellowship (BWF). It offers resources for renewal, reformation, and missions in the Evangelical, United church of Christ.

The Dubuque Declaration
The 1983 statement of faith created by the United Church People for Biblical Witness (UCPBW). It remains the basic theological position of the Biblical Witness Fellowship (BWF).

Just Peace Church Pronouncement
A 1985 General Synod Pronouncement spelling out the commitments of the UCC as a Just Peace Church

Theological Foundations of a Just Peace Church
A 1986 statement at the beginning of a book affirming the United Church of Christ as a Just Peace Church (from LTH VII)

Open and Affirming Resolution
In 1985 the General Synod Resolution upholding the UCC as an Open and Affirming Church (ONA)

UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns 
The Coalition provides support and sanctuary to all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, their families and friends; it advocates for their full inclusion in church and society; and brings Christ's affirming message of love and justice for all people.

Anti-Racist Resolution
A 2003 General Synod Resolution "Calling the United Church of Christ to be an Anti-Racist Church"

Called to Wholeness Resolution
The 2005 resolution affirming the United Church of Christ's commitment to be a church that is accessible to all (A2A)

Marriage Equality Resolution
The 2005 Marriage Equality Resolution passed by the UCC General Synod

Faithful and Welcoming Churches in the UCC
Faithful and Welcoming Churches (FWC) was formed as a renewal movement within the UCC and identify themselves as evangelical, conservative, orthodox or traditional (ECOT) churches. They stand against the UCC Open and Affirming (ONA) position which welcomes gays, lesbians and bisexuals into church life and reject the Marriage Equality stance of the UCC.

Pastoral Letter on the Environment
A 2008 letter from John Thomas and the Environmental and Energy Task Force

Pastoral Letter on Faith and Science
A 2008 pastoral letter entitled "A New Voice Rising: A Pastoral Letter Engaging Science and Technology" by John Thomas and the UCC Science and Technology Network

New York Times Ad
The New York Times ad which ran in April 2008 in response to the criticisms of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago

Ecumenical Stance of the UCC 
A 1973 statement affirming the importance of the ecumenical vocation for the United Church of Christ

Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry
The 1982 text of a World Council of Churches Faith and Order document exploring differences and commonalities around baptism, eucharist and ministry among Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Protestant Christians. See UCC response to BEM.

UCC Response to BEM 
In 1985 the United Church of Christ prepared a formal response to Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry. It was most concerned about issues related to Ministry.

Ecumenical Partnership with Christian Church (DoC) 
A 1989 document spelling out the meaning of "ecumenical partnership" with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

UCC Response to the "Consensus" document of COCU
In the 1960s the Consultation on Church Union (COCU) was an effort to overcome denominational fragmentation and find new forms of church unity. This is the 1989 UCC response to a "consensus" document produced by COCU in the 1980s (from LTH VII)

Formula of Agreement 
A 1997 agreement between the United Church of Christ (UCC), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) and the Reformed Church in America (RCA) about sacraments and ministry issues

Relationship Between the UCC and the Jewish Community  
A 1987 General Synod resolution on UCC understandings of Judaism and the relationship of Christians and Jews.

Relationship between the UCC and the Muslim Community
A 1989 General Synod resolution on UCC understandings of the relationship between Christians and Muslims

A Study Resource on Interreligious Relations for the UCC 
A 2005 resource to help UCC people think through questions of interreligious relations

Statement of Mission
A 1987 Statement of Mission (sometimes called the Houston Statement) developed by the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries (UCBHM) and offered to the UCC as a contemporary interpretation of mission

Thomas "A United Church that Stands for Something”
A 2006 sermon given by President and General Minister John Thomas highlighting his understanding of UCC identity and challenging UCC members live up to what they say the UCC is.


Many of these documents are available in the seven volumes of 
The Living Theological Heritage of the United Church of Christ
click here for a pdf file of the Table of Contents of all seven volumes
The full, 7-volume set of The Living Theological Heritage is now available in searchable PDF on a thumb drive. Click here to order from UCC Resources.

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