Members of Wider Church Ministries' board of directors participate in "laying on of hands" during a commissioning ceremony for missionaries of the Common Global Ministries Board (UCC/Disciples of Christ) during its Nov. 3-5 meeting at the UCC Church House in Cleveland. Global Ministries sponsors 166 missionaries serving in 40 countries. WCM photo.
There are some advantages to being small.
That's one of the lessons that the Rev. Sheila Maxey has learned through her work with the United Reformed Church (URC) in the United Kingdom, one of the UCC's global partner churches.
Unlike the major churches in her country—the Church of England or the Roman Catholic Church—the URC, with 90,000 members in 1,750 congregations, has some unique strengths because of its small stature, says Maxey, the church's moderator.
"[The large, prominent churches] are more cautious, more careful than we would be," Maxey maintains.
Maxey and her husband, Kees, were visiting the UCC's Church House in Cleveland on Nov. 3-5, in addition to visiting Plymouth Congregational UCC in Framingham, Mass., as part of a two-week, bridge-building mission to several U.S.-partner denominations.
While empathizing with the UCC's smaller size, something she sees as comparable to her own denomination's stature in the U.K., Maxey believes it actually enables the church to be "under the radar" and to be faithful in ways that larger churches can find impossible, because of public scrutiny and the too-often immobilizing fear of schism.
"Size is too narrow a way to de- fine what it means to be the church," Maxey says. "In a way, being powerless is a traditional Christian place and it requires us to ask, ÔHow do we proclaim the gospel from a place of obscurity?'"
For the URC, she says, that reality translates into "total faithfulness," not necessarily fame.
"The press is not interested in the URC," she says, "and that's a freedom we should be using, because it requires us to be ecumenical, to work with partners, with those in the community who are not necessarily Ôchurch.' It's a humble place to do things without a big song and dance."
For example, she says, 500 URC congregations worship and serve as part of local ecumenical partnerships—or single congregations—with Methodists, Baptists and other Protestants.
"Part of our identity is to be flexible," she says, a trait that, unfortunately, does not lead many to know about a church's particularities. But that's okay.
"The gospel that we should be proclaiming should be New Testament Christianity, not organizational Christianity," says Maxey.