Newly-welcomed congregations greeted Synod delegates and visitors. W. Evan Golder photo.
'On any Sunday morning there are 27 languages spoken in congregations across the UCC'
First, the big band caught the attention of the audience. Then came a parade of colorful paper stars held high above the marchers' heads. But most engaging was the jubilation expressed on the diverse faces of those who were celebrating their decision to become part of the UCC.
Strutting to tunes of a marching band, representatives of 74 congregations, all received into the UCC since the previous General Synod in 2001, showcased their enthusiasm at being a part of a denomination that welcomes and affirms them as Christians.
The Rev. David Schoen, minister and team leader for the UCC's Evangelism Ministry Team, spoke words of welcome on behalf of the General Synod. "These congregations boldly witness to a new Pentecost in our church and world today," he said. Schoen, who said he was born on the way to a new-church meeting, greeted the Synod in several different particilanguages. "On any Sunday morning, there are 27 languages spoken in congregations across the UCC," he said.
New church growth is sprouting across the country because people are finding answers to their spiritual growth in the UCC, Schoen said. From Hawaii to Puerto Rico and in many states in between, Christians are embracing fellowship in the UCC.
They are joining in a variety of ways—as new church starts, as existing churches formerly without denominational ties, and as congregations seeking to change their denominational affiliation.
The Rev. Kelly Sisson, pastor of Glade Baptist Church in Blacksburg, Va., explained why her formerly Southern Baptist congregation chose affiliation with the UCC. "The UCC placed a comma in our lives where the Southern Baptists had placed a period," she said.
Michael Erwin of New Hope Church in Owensboro, Ky., said his church is "open and affirming, multiracial and multi-lingual."
An interdenominational church founded in 1883, Mill Plain Union Church in Waterbury, Conn., chose to join the UCC in 2002 through the leadership of its pastor, the Rev. Michael Ciba. While the congregation was seeking a new pastor, the UCC was supportive. As a result of this relationship, Ciba said, the church found it fitting to embrace a denomination that brought resources to them for ministry without pressuring them into membership.
According to Schoen, new church growth is all about evangelism. Ciba agrees. He attended the Evangelism Event that preceded Synod. "It was so good to see the diversity of the wider church of which we are a part," he said, adding that the gathering offered participants tools and resources for spreading the Good News in the diverse communities where, increasingly, UCC congregations can be found.
Claudette J. Spence, who operates her own business communication firm, is editor of the New York Conference edition of United Church News.