National staff and UCC clergy welcomed members of the Fellowship to the Church House in downtown Cleveland for the Leaders in Koinia Event (LinK Event), in which both groups will spend a few days working toward common goals and a more formal partnership.
"This is an unprecedented opportunity for people to come to the United Church of Christ," Bishop Yvette Flunder said. As senior pastor of City of Refuge UCC in San Francisco, Calif., she is a member of both organizations, joining the UCC 17 years ago and later founding the Fellowship. The Fellowship is made up of more than 200 multi-denominational churches in the U.S., Africa, Mexico and Asia.
The Rev. Ben Guess, UCC executive for Local Church Ministries, said the denomination is eager to learn more about the Fellowship, which was invited to a LinK event for the first time after both sides had small-scale conversations on their shared work.
"We thought the LinK format was the perfect opportunity to bring this particular group together to have the conversation we wanted to have," Guess said.
The UCC and the Fellowship will move toward an agreement on a working document that will be sent to the UCC's executive council in early October for approval, then to General Synod 29 in June 2013 in Long Beach, Calif., to adopt a formal resolution of partnership.
'There was a pair of panel discussions that were educational in nature during the first day about how the Fellowship and the UCC function. Those both followed the opening worship service in the Amistad Chapel, with Flunder preaching to a full crowd.
She told the story of the Good Samaritan, the parable of a man who comes across a stranger who was beaten, robbed and left for dead on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem, and the Samaritan helps the stranger.
"I chose the Good Samaritan, first of all, to remind me and us of the importance of not allowing religion, denominationalism, race, culture, orientation to divide us, and that the love of God transcends all of that, and to invite us in to the extravagant welcome of the table of the lord," Flunder said. "I think that often times we -- as people of God -- we react instead of acting. We react to what happens in the world, and I think we ought to get ourselves more involved to prevent some of the issues that have plagued the most marginalized people in our society for way too long."
Flunder founded the Fellowship in 2000 to support religious teachers and laypeople embracing a theology of radical inclusivity that serves everyone in need. She said the UCC is the most represented church in the Fellowship, a coalition of multi-denominational Christian churches and ministries that is self-governing and self-supporting. The group is a resource for unity and support for churches and ministries that are welcoming of all people without prejudice or discrimination.
LinK events, which began in 2001, were created to identify different configurations of people who might benefit coming to the national setting to expand their relationships with the UCC. "One LinK event was for some of our more conservative/evangelical pastors and churches," Guess said. "By talking, sharing and worshiping together we find we have more in common than one might think. That is church at its best."