Written by Daniel Hazard
New book invites church to examine history, meaning behind UCC identities
You've heard the phrases. Perhaps you even use the lingo yourself. But, if you're a UCC newcomer, you may wonder what all those descriptive initials are all about - M&M, ONA, A2A and so forth.
So what does it mean exactly when the UCC says it is a "united and uniting," "multiracial and multicultural," "open and affirming," "accessible to all," "peace with justice" church?
Out of breath yet?
Exploring those oft-used monikers - and the history behind them - is the purpose behind a new church-wide study book being mailed to every congregation this month, as a way to invite denomination-wide conversation about the UCC's 50th anniversary year. The book will be included in the next all-church mailing, scheduled to arrive by early February.
"Shine, God's People," edited by the Rev. Sidney D. Fowler, is a 40-page study guide for lifting up UCC history, including some of the most noteworthy, identity-enriching milestones along the way.
Designed for use in group settings - church schools, board meetings, Lenten gatherings or at retreats - each of five sessions is organized around exploring a particular commitment of the UCC that has emerged since its founding in 1957. Each is denominationally significant and culturally shifting within the church's life and witness: united and uniting, multiracial and multicultural, open and affirming, accessible to all, and peace with justice.
But, most importantly, the book is designed to be a vehicle for lifting up and honoring the ways these phrases have "shined" in the mission and ministries of local congregations.
"[These identities] are a living reality among us, not just what a denomination says about itself," says the Rev. David Schoen of the UCC's Evangelism Ministry and one of the leaders of Local Church Ministries' Congregational Vitality Initiative (CVI), which co-produced the book with the UCC's Proclamation, Identity and Communication Ministry.
Schoen says the UCC's Collegium of Officers first envisioned the book as a way to encourage conversation about some of the most momentous themes that have emerged from past General Synods and how these identities are still shaping the church's present and future. In addition, he says, the project dovetailed nicely with CVI's commitment to produce materials that ask and assist churches to "shine" through renewed vitality.
"It's really inviting congregations to 'shine' and tell us, in their own words, how they 'shine' in their own communities," Schoen says. "We hope to spur some healthy dialogue about these very real issues and provoke some discussion among us."
Schoen says the discussion guide, along with the responses provided by congregations this winter and spring, will be used at General Synod.
"This will be the focus of the discussion of the community groups [at General Synod] on Sunday morning [June 24]," Schoen says.
As an important part of the "Shine" conversation, every UCC church is invited and encouraged to complete an online survey, sharing examples of how your local church "shines" through mission and ministry. Responses will be shared in community groups on June 24 at General Synod 26 in Hartford, Conn. Complete your church questionnaire at ucc.org/50/questions/.
Additional copies of "Shine, God's People" are available for $5 each, plus shipping/handling by calling 800/537-3394. Or download for free at ucc.org/50/studyguide50.pdf.
UCC@50 - Our History, Our Future, the 96-page commemorative 50th anniversary publication. $6.95 each, 10 or more at $6.45 each, 25 or more at $5.95 each. Order by calling 800/537-3394 or online at unitedchurchpress.com.