UCC History and Polity Resources

UCC History and Polity Resources

bundle.jpgIn 2004, the UCC History and Polity Teachers Network, who meet annually to share materials and pedagogy, prepared a one-page description of essential elements in a (one term) UCC polity course. The materials on this webpage are organized around that description. This page is intended to serve as a library for polity teachers and others, providing easy access to materials that are often difficult to find. Additionally, a wide array of United Church of Christ documents are archived online.
 
Suggestions for new materials to expand the list of resources can be sent to Barbara Brown Zikmund (bbzikmund@gmail.com).
 
Please review copyright permissions for all resources, including those provided here, before reproducing them as handouts. Certain resources have been removed from the list below due to copyright restrictions, although the titles are still included on the list and are recommended for purchase.
 
Resources below marked "Living Theological Heritage" are drawn from the seven volumes of The Living Theological Heritage of the United Church of Christ; click here for a Table of Contents of all seven volumes. The full 7-volume set is available in searchable PDF of a thumb drive from UCC Resources.

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

History

  • 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

Theology

  • 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)

Polity

  • 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; emerging patterns for authorized ministry; ministry of all the baptized
  • Structures and patterns of accountability – i.e. standing and oversight
  • Ministerial ethics (Ministers' Codes 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

Recommended reading

  • The Shaping of the United Church of Christ by Louis H. Gunnemann.

  • American Originals: Homemade Varieties of Christianity by Paul K. Conkin, especially chapter 1 on Christians and Disciples
 


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 UCC tells our story beginning with our origins in the small community of those 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.
 
A History of the Christian Denomination (Morrill)
The classic history of the Christian denomination published in 1912.
 
History of the Reformed Church in Pennsylvania (Dobbs)
An early 20th century history of the German Reformed Church in Pennsylvania, 1902.
 
Key Dates in UCC History
An attempt to put key dates from United Church of Christ history on one page (bbz)
 
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, the Synod passed a message to the churches. (Living Theological Heritage)
 
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 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 ignored 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, Women’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.

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Theology Resources

Recommended Reading

  •The Shaping of the United Church of Christ by Louis H. Gunnemann.

  •The Stone-Campbell Movement by M. W. Casey and D. A. Foster, especially the essay by Nathan Hatch on the Christian movement.

  •Who Do You Say I Am? edited by Scott R. Paeth, especially the essay by Gabriel Fackre entitled "Jesus Christ in the Texts of the United Church of Christ."



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. (Living Theological Heritage)
 
Schaff Principle of Protestantism
A theological analysis of Protestantism written in 1846 by Philip Schaff, a leader in the Mercersburg Movement within the German Reformed Church.
 
Cambridge Platform
The 1648 statement expressing Congregational understandings of the church as local gatherings of “visible saints”
 
The Cambridge Platform and the Future of the Church
Theological reflections shared at the Cambridge Platform 350th Anniversary Conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
 
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 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; the movement asserted that Christians needed to agree on a handful of basic "principles."
 
Centennial of Religious Journalism 1908
A collection of materials from Christian publications to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Herald of Gospel Liberty
 
Bekenntnisparagraph
In 1848 an interconfessional group of German pastors in Misssouri, 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. (Living Theological Heritage)
 
UCC Statement of Faith
The three versions of the UCC Statement of Faith (1959, 1977, 1981) presented side-by-side, enabling comparisons.
 
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 practices. (Living Theological Heritage)
 
Steckel on the Preamble to the UCC Constitution
From the 2007 UCC@50 [italicized title] anniversary booklet, a brief reflection on the theological meaning of the Preamble to the UCC Constitution.
 
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.
 
12 Principles informing the UCC Book of Worship (Dipko)
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.
 
Gunnemann 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 article entitled "Eucharist: Sacrament of Discipleship" that 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." (Living Theological Heritage)
 
Ringe on Feminist Theology [underlined text links to http://www.ucc.org/education/polity/pdf-folder/ringe-feminist-theology.pdf]
A 1990 essay by Sharon Ringe, outlining the major concerns of feminist theology. (Living Theological Heritage)
 
Jackson on Indian Perspective
An article by Norman Jackson entitled "An Indian Perspective on the United Church of Christ" published in New Conversations. (Living Theological Heritage)
 
Essex on Black Theology
Excerpts from "The Unfinished Agenda: One Continual Cry," a reflection on Black theology by Barbara J. Essex. (Living Theological Heritage)
 
Hirano on Asian American Theology
Excerpts from a Prism article on Asian American perspectives on UCC theology, by David Hirano. (Living Theological Heritage)
 
Armijo on Immigrant Theology
Excerpts of an essay by Enrique Armijo about the ways in which immigration calls for a new kind of theology. (Living Theological Heritage)
 
Toward the 21st Century
A 1993 statement setting forth four ways in which the UCC 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.
 
Theological Worlds in the UCC
An article by Lee Barrett published in Prism (2008) exploring four different theological perspectives that are alive and well in the UCC. Permission is granted to UCC congregations, associations, conferences, covenanted ministries, and seminaries to photocopy single articles provided no more than 50 copies are made and the material is distributed free of charge. All others must have written permission to make photocopies. Photocopies must include this statement: "Reprinted from Prism: A Theological Forum for the United Church of Christ" and list volume, number, and date of the issue.  
 
Fisler Hoffman on Covenant
A small book by Jane Fisler Hoffman entitled Covenant: A Study for the United Church of Christ (2008), made available by permission of the author.

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Polity Resources

Recommended Reading

  •The Shaping of the United Church of Christ by Louis H. Gunnemann.

  •Patterns of Polity by Edward L. Long.

  •The Evolution of UCC Style by Randi Walker.
 


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. (Living Theological Heritage)
 
Spike on Two Anxieties
An excerpt from a 1963 article by Robert Spike describing the concerns of local churches weighing their decision to join the United Church of Christ. (Living Theological Heritage)
 
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.
 
Brueggemann on "Face to Faceness"
A paragraph from a 1977 presentation Walter Brueggemann made 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 to 1999. See also the free online archive of UCC historical materials for General Synod minutes, amendments to the Constitution and Bylaws, and more.
 
UCC Ecclesiology
A 1991 paper on UCC ecclesiology, prepared as background for restructuring the national setting of the UCC leading to the new 2000 Constitution and Bylaws. (Living Theological Heritage)
 
UCC Constitution and Bylaws
The UCC Constitution and Bylaws 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 Schmeichen entitled "The New Constitution: Achievement and Promise." Permission is granted to UCC congregations, associations, conferences, covenanted ministries, and seminaries to photocopy single articles provided no more than 50 copies are made and the material is distributed free of charge. All others must have written permission to make photocopies. Photocopies must include this statement: “Reprinted from Prism: A Theological Forum for the United Church of Christ” and list volume, number, and date of the issue.
 
Hulteen on Covenantal Relationships
A 1997 excerpt from an essay entitled "United Church of Christ Covenantal Polity" by William A. Hulteen. (Living Theological Heritage)
 
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 Conference of the UCC to explain the meaning of a covenant and a contract.
 
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 United Church of Christ polity. Permission is granted to UCC congregations, associations, conferences, covenanted ministries, and seminaries to photocopy single articles provided no more than 50 copies are made and the material is distributed free of charge. All others must have written permission to make photocopies. Photocopies must include this statement: “Reprinted from Prism: A Theological Forum for the United Church of Christ” and list volume, number, and date of the issue.
 
Manual on the Church
A 2005 manual exploring understandings of church based on the concept of "covenant."
 
General Synod Minutes
Minutes of General Synod since 1999, in PDF format. See also the free online archive of UCC historical materials.
 
The Church of Jesus Christ
An excerpt from a 2007 Prism article entitled "Maturing in Christ: A Theological Perspective for Conference Ministry" by John W. Lynes; it briefly defines the UCC using key quotations from the Constitution and Bylaws. Permission is granted to UCC congregations, associations, conferences, covenanted ministries, and seminaries to photocopy single articles provided no more than 50 copies are made and the material is distributed free of charge. All others must have written permission to make photocopies. Photocopies must include this statement: "Reprinted from Prism: A Theological Forum for the United Church of Christ" and list volume, number, and date of the issue.

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Ministry Resources

Recommended Reading

  •Theology and Identity edited by D. L. Johnson and C. Hambrick-Stowe, especially chapter 8 by Barbara Brown Zikmund entitled "Empowerment and Embodiment: Understandings of Ministry in the United Church of Christ."

  •Book of Worship – United Church of Christ (1986), especially the Service for the Ordination to Ministry and the Service for the Installation of a Pastor.
 


Historical and Theological Perspectives (MOM 1977)
An essay from the 1977 Manual on Ministry exploring historical and theological perspectives on ministry in the UCC.
 
Ordained Minister's Code
A two-page statement from the Manual on Ministry to guide clergy in professional responsibilities.
 
Charge to a Church
In many Ordination and Installation services there is opportunity for someone to challenge the congregation as it enters into covenant with a new pastor. (Living Theological Heritage)
 
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
Brief information sheets on useful topics like "theology," "pastor," "ordination," "ministry," "covenant," etc.
 
Steckel on Authorizing Ministry
A 1999 lecture given by Clyde Steckel on how the United Church of Christ has changed (and is continuing to change) the ways it authorizes ministry.
 
UCC Search and Call (The Ministerial Profile)
This link explains how persons seeking a call to authorized ministry in the UCC, and how congregations seeking pastoral leadership, find each other through the UCC “search and call” process.
 
UCC Ministry Opportunities
This website (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 Developing Abuse Prevention Policies
Awareness of abuse and safety concerns has led the UCC to develop guidelines for local congregations to set safe church policies.
 
Ministry Issues
A Ministry Issues Pronouncement was passed by General Synod in 2005, with constitutional amendments passed by General Synod in 2009 to implement the Pronouncement. Resources related to the Ministry Issues Pronouncement include materials for Committees on Ministry in "Draft 3.1" and reflection on the covenants of authorized ministry in the "Background Document."
 
New on Ministry Issues
A 2008 Prism article by Jonathan New entitled "Balancing Piety and Intellect," reflecting on the impact of constitutional changes related to authorized ministry in the UCC. Permission is granted to UCC congregations, associations, conferences, covenanted ministries, and seminaries to photocopy single articles provided no more than 50 copies are made and the material is distributed free of charge. All others must have written permission to make photocopies. Photocopies must include this statement: "Reprinted from Prism: A Theological Forum for the United Church of Christ" and list volume, number, and date of the issue.
 
Walker on Episcope
An analysis by Randi Walker of how oversight works in the UCC through Committees on Ministry, Associations and Conferences. (Living Theological Heritage)
 
Yordon on Ministry
Hank Yordon’s description of his own ministry embodies the way many UCC clergy see their calling. (Living Theological Heritage)
 
Steckel on 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.

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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
Niebuhr argues that Christians are responsible for society, condemning irresponsible religion and affirming the church as apostle, pastor and pioneer in this 1946 chapter from a book entitled The Gospel, the World and the Church.
 
Living Theological Heritage, Volume 7, Introductions to Parts 4 and 5
These introductions weave together documents linking UCC understandings of theology and social outreach.
 
Reinhold Niebuhr on Religiosity and the Christian Faith
A brief 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 (reprinted from Social Action). (Living Theological Heritage)
 
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. (Living Theological Heritage)
 
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 affirming the United Church of Christ as a Just Peace Church. (Living Theological Heritage)
 
Open and Affirming Resolution
In 1985 the General Synod passed a resolution upholding the UCC as an Open and Affirming Church (ONA).
 
Anti-Racist Resolution
A resolution of the 2003 General Synod "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 being a church that is accessible to all (A2A).
 
Marriage Equality Resolution
The 2005 Marriage Equality Resolution passed by 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 as evangelical, conservative, orthodox, or traditional (ECOT) churches. They reject the ONA position and reject the Marriage Equality Resolution.
 
Pastoral Letter on the Environment
A 2008 letter from John Thomas and the Environmental & Energy Task Force.
 
Pastoral Letter on Faith and Science
A 2008 letter by John Thomas and the UCC Science & Technology Network.
 
New York Times Ad
The UCC ad which rain in the New York Times in April 2008 in response to 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 World Council of Churches Faith and Order document exploring differences and commonalities around baptism, eucharist and ministry among Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Protestant Christians.
 
UCC Response to BEM
In 1985 the United Church of Christ prepared a formal response to Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry. The response was most concerned with issues related to ministry.
 
Ecumenical Partnership with the Disciples
A 1989 document spelling out the meaning of ecumenical partnership with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
 
UCC Response to the COCU Consensus Document
In the 1960s, the Consultation on Church Union (COCU) was an effort to overcome denominational fragmentation and to find new forms of church unity. COCU produced a "consensus" document in the 1980s, to which the UCC responded in 1989. (Living Theological Heritage)
 
Formula of Agreement
A 1997 agreement between the United Church of Christ (UCC), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of American (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.
 
"A United Church that Stands for Something"
A 2006 sermon by John Thomas highlighting his understanding of UCC identity and challenging UCC members to live up to what they say the UCC is.

 

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Contact Info

Kathy Clark
Minister for Members in Discernment
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44115
216-736-3842
clarkk@ucc.org