Six delegates from the United Church of Christ will spend three days in Toronto this week working with ecumenical colleagues from the United Church of Canada to continue bringing the denominations closer together. This first discussion toward full communion underscores the United Church of Christ’s promise of a General Synod 2013 resolution that calls for strengthening the relationship between the United Church of Christ and the United Church of Canada.
The church representatives gather from Feb. 12 through Feb. 14 as a 12-member committee to begin laying a foundation for a full communion agreement.
"This meeting in Toronto is the first of a series of meetings that follow the General Synod resolution regarding the ecumenical relationship with the United Church of Canada," said the Rev. Karen Georgia A. Thompson, United Church of Christ ecumenical officer and one of six people from the United Church of Christ on the trip.
"The hope is that this group of 12 persons will be able to bring back a common document that will go to the United Church of Canada’s General Council and the United Church of Christ’s General Synod, both of which will be held in 2015," Thompson said, adding that General Council takes place every three years compared to every two for General Synod.
While in Toronto, the 12-person Joint Full Communion Committee (sometimes referred to as the United Ecumenical Partnership Committee) will reflect on what a full communion agreement might mean for the two related, but nationally distinctive, denominations.
"We have to come to mutual terms to how we know ourselves and understand ourselves," Thompson said.
|Joint Full Communion Committee for each denomination|
|United Church of Canada||United Church of Christ|
|Prof. Mark Toulouse||Rev. Sue Davies|
|Rev. Daniel Hayward||Rev. David Greenhaw|
|Rev. Danielle Ayiana James||Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson|
|Rev. Cheryl-Ann Stadelbauer-Sampa||Rev. Campbell Lovett|
|Rev. Bruce Gregersen||Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson|
|Ms. Nora Sanders||Rev. Geoffrey Black|
The United Church of Christ has a full communion with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a Formula of Agreement with the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Reformed Church in America and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and a "Kirchengemeinshaft" with the Union of Evangelical Churches in Germany (UEK).
The partnership with the United Church of Christ would be a first for United Church of Canada. The Rev. Michael Blair, executive minister of Church Mission for the United Church of Canada, said after the resolution was approved in July that it was "a first for us because we work in partnership with many denominations, but no formal relationships like this resolution would produce."
The United Church of Christ and the United Church of Canada began a formal conversation in April 2012, when the United Church of Christ made a historical visit to the United Church of Canada offices in Toronto. The denominations met again in April 2013 at the United Church of Christ's National Offices in Cleveland.
The General Synod 2013 resolution on the ecumenical relationship outlined that each church would form a team of five members, in addition to the general secretary of the United Church of Canada and general minister and president of the United Church of Christ serving as ex-officio members of the committee. Each committee includes a seminary representative, a theologian, a conference representative, a pastor, a staff member and the head of communion.
There are likely two more meetings ahead this year between the United Church of Christ and United Church of Canada to have a communion agreement in place by the end of 2014. Thompson said that dates and locations of future meetings will be set this weekend "with respect to the timelines necessary to get the documents to General Synod and General Assembly." Later in the process, the United Church of Christ committee will find a way to hear from various constituents in the church.
Culminating nearly seven years of study and discourse, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) voted Nov. 16 during its fall general assembly in Baltimore to approve the "Common Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Baptism."
By a 204-11 vote, the agreement – among the USCCB, the United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church-USA, Reformed Church in America and Christian Reformed Church – is being hailed as a "milestone on the ecumenical journey," says Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, chairman of the USCCB Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.
"Together with our Reformed brothers and sisters, we Catholic bishops can affirm baptism as the basis of the real, even if incomplete, unity we share in Christ," says Gregory. "Our conference looks forward to seeing all four of the authoritative bodies of the Reformed communities approve the common agreement as we have today."
The Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, general minister and president of the UCC, says the church will discuss the USCCB's landmark vote with the entire denomination.
"My expectation is that we the issue will be placed before the Executive Council or the General Synod for official action," says Black, referring to the UCC's biennial conference, to be held next July in Tampa, Fla. "At this point, my preference would be to place it before the General Synod in order to give it maximum visibility in the life of the UCC."
The agreement has been ratified by the Presbyterian Church. The Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church are expected to consider the agreement at their national meetings.
"It was quite the journey – seven years," says the Rev. Sidney F. Fowler, Interim Senior Minister of Westmoreland Congregational UCC in Bethesda, Md. "I think it offers an opportunity for an amazing conversation among UCC folks who have deep ecumenical commitments."
"There were some rather tough moments," says Fowler, who has worked for the national settings of both the UCC in worship and spiritual formation, and has extensive experience developing lectionary-based and international ecumenical resources.
The two primary roadblocks to the agreement centered on language used during the baptismal rite and the manner in which water is used.
"At a moment of significant impasse, Geoffrey brought fresh eyes and asked crucial questions that helped the process move forward so all parties could sign off on the common agreement," says Kimberly Whitney, UCC minister for community life and assistant to the UCC's five-member Collegium. "Our general minister and president looks forward to charging us as a denomination toward continued groundbreaking and visionary connections – both interfaith and ecumenical – that are ahead of us."
Research found that nearly 20 percent of UCC churches were using alternative language for "the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" for baptismal formula, says Fowler. "Catholics don't recognize baptism other than 'in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.' "
Gregory says the agreement, after approval by the four Reformed denominations, will "allow Catholic ministers to presume that baptisms performed in these communities are 'true baptism' as understood in Catholic doctrine and law."
"The presentation of a baptismal certificate by Reformed Christians who wish to come into full communion with the Catholic Church, or to marry a Catholic, assures Catholic ministers that the baptism performed by a Reformed minister involved the use of flowing water and the biblical invocation of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit," says Gregory.
The agreement encourages local Christian communities to keep baptismal records, a practice already held in the Catholic Church.
The press release stated that other bishops' conferences worldwide have entered into similar agreements with local Protestant communities, but this document is "unprecedented" for the Catholic Church in the United States.
In an unprecedented public act of remorse for centuries of support for slavery, the Episcopal Church on Saturday (Oct. 4) held a dramatic service of repentance at one of the nation's first black churches.
Punctuated with the sound of a gong and the sung refrain of "Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy," the service began with a "Litany of Offense and Apology" detailing the ways that the denomination participated in human captivity, segregation and discrimination.
More than 500 worshippers, a multicultural sea of faces, spilled over into the aisles of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, founded in 1792 by Absalom Jones, a former slave and the denomination's first black priest.
"Through it all, people of privilege looked the other way, and too few found the courage to question inhuman ideas, words, practices or laws," said Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.
"We and they ignored the image of Christ in our neighbors."
Several of America's founding fathers - most notably George Washington - were Episcopalians and slave owners, and many of the nation's most historic and prominent steeples were built by wealthy donors who made their fortunes on the back of slave labor.
Yet Episcopalians were one of the few U.S. churches that managed to stay intact as the Civil War split Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists into northern and southern branches over the issue of slavery.
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the United States. Last June, the U.S. House of Representatives issued its own apology for slavery.
"Apology and acknowledgment are an incredibly important part of the process of coming to terms with history," said Katrina Browne, whose recent film, "Traces of the Trade," explores the wealth accumulated by her Episcopal ancestors in Rhode Island through the slave trade.
The service, and the day of workshops that preceded it, were the result of a resolution passed at the Episcopalians' 2006 General Convention that called slavery a "sin" and a betrayal of the "humanity of all persons."
The 2006 resolution asked dioceses to research instances in which they have been complicit or profited from it, and asked the presiding bishop to hold a "Day of Repentance." Each diocesan cathedral was also asked to hold its own service of repentance.
A number of African American participants emphasized that however moving the event, it was only one step in an effort to redress denominational and social inequities.
Noting that another General Convention resolution addresses oppression of "all people of color victimized by society over the past 300 years," Canon Ed Rodman, a professor at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., added that "until the whole story is told and everybody's voice has been heard we cannot begin the process of reconciliation."
"It is one thing to repent of our sin, but another to turn around and go in the right direction," said Franklin Turner, retired Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania.
"I don't think it's what the church does inside the church," added the Rev. Isaac Miller, rector of the historic Episcopal Church of the Advocate in North Philadelphia. "It's about what happens afterwards."
Everett Worthington, a professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University and a researcher in forgiveness, said public apologies can help usher in "some manner of justice back into a situation where there has been injustice."
Such apologies may narrow an individual's "injustice gap" - the space between the way someone would like to see an issue resolved, and the way they actually see it being resolved, he added.
The Rev. David Pettee, who oversees ministerial credentialing for the Unitarian Universalist Association, said he has also located slave owners and African and Native American ancestors in his own Rhode Island family tree.
"I was impressed by having the Episcopal Church make this move, and I personally hope that at some point we (the Unitarian Universalists) arrive at an act of redemption and apology," Pettee said after the service.
A joint resolution passed in 2001 by the UCC's General Synod and the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) called upon the United States government to "issue a national apology for participating in and supporting the kidnapping, exporting and enslaving of people of African descent."
The joint resolution also encouraged congregations, regions, ministries and national assemblies to "join in active study and education on issues dealing with reparations for slavery."
Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry -- historic step by divided Christian churches towards a common understanding
In 1982 the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches (WCC) published an historic theological statement titled "Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry" (BEM). The statement represents years of ecumenical study and dialogue on the the church's sacraments and offices of ministry. BEM explores what can be affirmed together by Christian churches of several (and historically separated) traditions—including churches of the Reformed, Lutheran, Methodist, Anglican and Orthodox families. It also recognizes that much more work remains before these traditions as they explore the many different accents in sacramental life and the understanding of ministry in the Body of Christ.
In 1985, General Synod received and committed itself to further study of the BEM statement. Both the BEM text and General Synod's response are available here, along with links to other WCC resources.
|Links to Resources|
Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry Statement [WCC website]
Faith and Order pages [WCC website]
General Synod action on BEM
UCC response to BEM
In 1989 the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) approved a historic partnership of full communion. The two churches proclaimed mutual recognition of their sacraments and ordained ministry.
Though remaining two distinct denominations, the UCC and Disciples have committed through their partnership to seek opportunities for common ministry, especially where work together will enhance the mission of the church.
The partnership is a unique experiment in U.S. ecumenism. In every setting of the two churches, UCC members and Disciples are serving Christ side by side. There are now more than 30 "federated" congregations affiliated with both denominations, and it is now common for Disciples and UCC ministers to serve congregations of the other denomination. The Common Global Ministries Board, formed by the UCC's Wider Church Ministries and the Disciples' Division of Overseas Ministries, unites the international mission work of the two churches.
|Links to Resources|
Report from Ecumenical Partnership Committee
General Synod: 1989 vote on Partnership
Common Global Ministries Board website
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) website
Partnership Website [unofficial]
The UCC's commitment to reconciliation among the separated branches of the Body of Christ includes our relationships of full communion. Among these relationships are the Ecumenical Partnership between the UCC and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the Formula of Agreement (FOA) among the UCC, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Reformed Church in America. Another relationship—which aims eventually to establish full communion among nine Protestant and Anglican churches in the U.S.—is Churches Uniting in Christ (CUIC). For the first time, CUIC offers hope that full ecclesial reconciliation will be possible between historically African American and European American churches.
Full communion means that divided churches recognize each others' sacraments and provide for the orderly transfer of ministers from one denomination to another. For example, Disciples of Christ ministers frequently serve UCC congregations, and UCC ministers can be called by Disciples congregations. While full communion opens up broad possibilities for cooperation among the national and regional ministries of participating churches, it is above all in relationships between local congregations that agreements of full communion become alive.
Some of these relationships are new; others date back to earlier centuries. In 17th-century Holland, the Pilgrims (who later founded the first Congregational churches in New England) were in full communion with the French and Dutch Reformed churches. We have for decades been in full communion with the worldwide Reformed family through the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. In recent years, we have entered into bilateral relationships with the Union of Evangelical Churches (Germany) and the Congregational Christian Church in American Samoa. We are also exploring a closer relationship with the Baptist tradition through dialogue with the Alliance of Baptists.
Links to Resources
A Journey to Full Communion (United Church of Canada)
Ecumenical Partnership (Disciples/UCC)
Formula of Agreement (Reformed/Lutheran)
Alliance of Baptists
Churches Uniting in Christ
Union of Evangelical Churches (Germany)
Congregational Christian Church (American Samoa)
World Alliance of Reformed Churches [WARC website]
Links to Websites of Our Ecumenical Partners
African Methodist Episcopal Church 2
Alliance of Baptists
Armenian Evangelical Union 1
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) 1 2
Christian Methodist Episcopal Church 2
Episcopal Church 2
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America 1
International Council of Community Churches 2
Presbyterian Church (USA) 1 2
Reformed Church in America 1
Union der Evangelischen Kirchen 1
United Methodist Church 2
1 Relationships of full communion
2 Churches Uniting in Christ. The African American Episcopal Zion Church is also a member of CUIC but at present does not have a churchwide website.
Our commitment to relationship with all the peoples of the earth has led the United Church of Christ has entered into dialogue with other faith traditions.
"What does it mean to profess Christian faith in a world of many faiths?" "How can I be fully a Christian and at the same time respect the faith of others?" "What does it mean to be 'saved'?" "How do I interpret in an interfaith society the Bible verses that understand Jesus as 'the way'?" These are questions with which members of our congregations wrestle every day.
General Synod's commitment to interfaith dialogue is expressed in part through the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches. Through the NCC we have been able to connect with leaders of many non-Christian faiths. Other settings of the church are engaged in countless interfaith dialogues, projects and relationships. In many communities, UCC congregations join other churches in organizing coalitions with members of other faiths on issues of shared concern. Our commitment to understanding among faiths is also international: Many missionaries called called by the Common Global Ministries Board are deeply involved in interfaith relationships—especially in societies where Christians are a minority.
In 1987 and 1989, General Synod adopted resolutions reinforcing our commitment to reconciliation with the Jewish and Muslim communities.
Links to Resources
Resource on Interreligious Relations
National Council of Churches Interfaith Relations Commission
General Synod: 1987 statement on Christian-Jewish relations
General Synod: 1989 statement on Christian-Muslim relations
National Council of Churches: Interfaith Relations [NCC website]
History of interfaith relations [WCC website]
Christian-Jewish relations [WCC website]
Christian-Muslim relations [WCC website]
Links to Websites of Other Faiths
The United Church of Christ is a founding member of the National Council of Churches, the World Council of Churches and many other ecumenical agencies and projects. The NCC and WCC began to take shape in the late 19th-century in response to the worldwide ecumenical movement.
The UCC is also a member of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches—the worldwide communion of churches in the Reformed, Presbyterian and Congregationalist traditions.
|Links to Resources|
In 1999 General Synod declared a "Partnership in Mission and Ministry" with the Congregational Christian Church in American Samoa (CCCAS) as a way of acknowledging the deepening relationship between the two churches and the rapid growth of Samoan congregations in the United States.
Today, there are more than 60 congregations of the CCCAS in Hawaii, Alaska, California, Washington and Oregon. Many of them related to the UCC through our regional Conferences and local Associations. The partnership seeks to strengthen the ministry of these congregations and the mission of both churches.
In many places, Samoan congregations are actively involved in the life and leadership of UCC Associations. Many UCC clergy and lay leaders have immersed themselves in the life of Samoan communities and have traveled to American Samoa to learn more about its unique and ancient culture.
|Links to Resources|
The Alliance of Baptists, an affiliation of more than 100 Baptist congregations, has been in official conversation with the United Church of Christ since the mid-nineties.
Historically, Baptists and the churches that organized the UCC in 1957 have had a close but at times painful history. Conflict between Congregationalists and Baptists in 17th-century New England resulted in the flight of Baptist dissenters from Massachusetts Bay Colony and their founding of a new colony in Rhode Island dedicated to religious freedom. The growing relationship between the Alliance and the UCC has offered an opportunity for both traditions to explore their their history, but more than that, it has helped both traditions discover a wealth of shared biblical and theological conviction.
UCC and Alliance congregations are beginning to form strong and enduring partnerships. Many of these relationships are growing in the Southeast, where the Baptist tradition is particularly strong.
General Synod in 2001 affirmed the continuing dialogue between the two churches, and invited the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to join the conversation as observers. We hope that in the near future Disciples will be able to enter the dialogue as full partners.
|Links to Resources|