To set the stage for greater visibility within the United Church of Christ, a group of 70 Faithful and Welcoming Churches are planning a presence at the upcoming General Synod this summer by working with the church’s national setting.
UCC Faithful and Welcoming Churches are often described as Evangelical, Conservative, Orthodox or Traditional (ECOTs) congregations. Even though the FWC doesn't agree with the UCC General Synod on certain issues, both sides agree that a spirit of cooperation, unity and commitment to the church prevailed during a recent gathering at UCC headquarters in Cleveland.
"We may have important differences with the direction of the national church, but the way to address those differences is to stay in touch and in covenant," said the Rev. Bob Thompson, president of the Faithful and Welcoming Churches and pastor of Corinth Reformed Church in Hickory, N.C.
The Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo, a national officer of the church, and Andy Lang, director of the UCC Open and Affirming Coalition, were among the 13 national staff members who spent time with 10 FWC board members Friday, Jan 16.
"We chose Cleveland to strengthen our connection and communication with the national staff, to pray with and for them, and to symbolize that one of our key objectives in FWC is unity in the church," Thompson said.
At this summer’s General Synod, from June 26-30 in Cleveland, the FWC has planned a formal luncheon, one of several optional dining events, as one way to network within the fellowship.
Thompson explained that the founding rationale for the fellowship was a response to churches and individuals within the UCC who identify themselves as ECOTs. The FWC offers a like-minded community to those individuals and churches that may not be as progressive as the UCC General Synod.
"Faithful and Welcoming Churches exist to advocate for principles and values that ECOTs hold dear," Thompson said. "Rather than leaving, Faithful and Welcoming Churches seek to offer ECOTs a voice and a network in a denomination in which they often feel isolated."
During their discussion, national staff members and FWC board members thought about ways ECOTs could be encouraged to stay within the UCC as valued congregations, and how both groups could productively cooperate while maintaining a spirit of Christian love and fellowship with each another.
"We would like to see more self-identified ECOTs working in the national setting of the UCC and serving on boards at the national and regional levels," Thompson said. "People feel they are welcome if they have meaningful input where decisions are made."
As the conversation shifted to human sexuality and same-sex marriage, Thompson helped break a momentary tension by acknowledging "the elephant in the room." But in the respectful dialogue that followed, FWC members voiced past guilt surrounding the treatment of LGBT individuals, though they still believe the Bible affirms marriage as only between a man and a woman. National staff agreed that many UCC members hold that view, and that the church’s welcome extends across a range of the theological spectrum.
"This was not a meeting in which all problems were solved and all divisions erased," Thompson said. "There are still many issues ahead, and many perspectives on each. However, the meeting was one peaceful, Christ-centered step on a journey of shared purpose. It was a moment when the UCC was all that it was designed to be—everyone was welcome at the table."
For more information on Faithful and Welcoming Churches, visit www.faithfulandwelcoming.org.