The United Church of Christ Archives announces the 50th Anniversary Oral History Project. This exciting project will capture the experiences of those who participated and witnessed the events surrounding the formation of the United Church of Christ, from 1946-1961.
The UCC Archives has contracted Mr. Oloye Adeyemon to manage the first phase of the project. Mr. Adeyemon brings to the project his many years of expertise in oral history. Mr. Adeyemon has served as an independent contractor with the Federal Government; has founded and directed the Legacy Program at the University of Cincinnati Raymond Walters College; directed the 50th Anniversary “Brown v. Board” Oral History Project for the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program; and has conducted oral history training sessions across the country, including a three-day seminar at the National Archives in Washington, DC.
The first phase of the 50th Anniversary Oral History Project includes the identification of participants and witnesses of the events during the time of the formation of the United Church of Christ from 1946-1961. Background interviews of all those identified will be conducted. Due to the limited funding, staffing, and time-frame, we can only conduct between 20-30 oral history interviews during this phase. It is a difficult decision to make. The interviews will be transcribed to provide greater access to the valuable history and insights gathered.
We hope to conduct the rest of the interviews in future phases, but that is entirely dependent upon funding.
The project is funded in part by a grant from The Louisville Institute and a donation from Mr. Oloye Adeyemon.
UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST CALLED TO BE AN ANTI-RACIST CHURCH
ADOPTED 2003 GENERAL SYNOD MULTIRACIAL/MULTICULTURAL ADDENDUM TO 1993 PRONOUNCEMENT AND PROPOSAL FOR ACTION
WHEREAS, racism is rooted in a belief of the
superiority of whiteness and bestows benefits,
unearned rights, rewards, opportunities,
advantages, access, and privilege on Europeans
and European descendants; and
WHEREAS, the reactions of people of color to
racism are internalized through destructive
patterns of feelings and behaviors impacting
their physical, emotional, and mental health and
their spiritual and familial relationships; and
WHEREAS, through institutionalized racism,
laws, customs, traditions, and practices
systemically foster inequalities; and
WHEREAS, the United Nations World
Conference against Racism, Racial
Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related
Intolerance affirmed that racism has historically
through imperialism and colonization created an
unequal world order and power balance with
present global implications impacting
governments, systems, and institutions; and
WHEREAS, the denomination has shown
leadership among many UnitedChurch of Christ
conferences, associations, and local
congregations by initiating innovative antiracism
programs, by developing anti-racism
facilitators, and in general have made
dismantling racism a priority, there is still much
to be done. As we continue in this effort, the
work we do must reflect the historical and
present experiences and stories of all peoples
impacted by racism. We must work from a
paradigm reflective of the historical
relationships of racial and ethnic groups and
racial oppression within the UnitedChurch of
Christ and society; and
WHEREAS, the United States finds itself in
increased racial unrest during this period after
the tragedy of September 11, 2001. New studies
show that hate crimes and blatant acts of racial
violence doubled in number during the last half
of 2002 and are continuing to rise. These
outward acts, combined with continued
institutional racism, emphasize the need for antiracism
mobilization within church and society as
we seek to do justice; and
WHEREAS, there are growing movements of
peace that have people of all races, backgrounds,
and ages involved, urging us to expand our
knowledge of what racism is and study its
ramifications on all people; and
WHEREAS, General Synods of the United
Church of Christ have, since 1963, voted eleven
resolutions, statements, and pronouncements
denouncing racism, and it is time to honor
mandates and expectations of this body and of
THEREFORE LET IT BE RESOLVED, that the
United Church of Christ is called to be an antiracist
church and that we encourage all
Conferences and Associations and local
churches of the UnitedChurch of Christ to adopt
anti-racism mandates, including policy that
encourages anti-racism programs for all United
Church of Christ staff and volunteers; and
LET IT BE FURTHER RESOLVED, that
Conferences and Associations and local
churches facilitate programs within their
churches that would examine both historic and
contemporary forms of racism and its effects and
that the programs be made available to the
LET IT BE FURTHER RESOLVED, that
Justice and Witness Ministries provides
leadership in the development and
implementation of programs to dismantle
racism, working in partnership with the
Collegium, Covenanted Ministries, Affiliated
Ministries, Associated Ministries, Conferences,
Associations and local churches in developing
appropriately trained anti-racism facilitators; and
LET IT BE FURTHER RESOLVED, that the
Covenanted Ministries of the United Church of
Christ work in concert to dismantle racism in
church and in society and partner with
Conferences and Associations in sharing
resources and costs associated with doing antiracism
LET IT BE FINALLY RESOLVED, that the
Justice and Witness Ministries will report the
progress of the development and implementation
of these programs at the Twenty-fifth General
Funding for the implementation of this
resolution will be made in accordance with the
overall mandates of the affected agencies and
the funds available.
Multiracial and Multicultural Church
Resolution "Statement of Christian Conviction of the Proposed Pronouncement Calling the United Church of Christ to be a Multiracial and Multicultural Church"
93-GS-33 VOTED: The Nineteenth General Synod adopts the "Statement of Christian Conviction of the Proposed Pronouncement Calling the United Church of Christ to be a Multiracial and Multicultural Church."
Statement of Christian Conviction of the Proposed Pronouncement Calling the United Church of Christ to be a Multiracial and Multicultural Church
IV. STATEMENT OF CHRISTIAN CONVICTION
A. The Nineteenth General Synod calls upon the United Church of Christ in all its settings to be a true multiracial and multicultural church. A multiracial and multicultural church confesses and acts out its faith in the one sovereign God who through Jesus Christ binds in covenant faithful people of all races, ethnicities and cultures. A multiracial and multicultural church embodies these diversities as gifts to the human family and rejoices in the variety of God's grace.
B. The Nineteenth General Synod recognizes the following as marks of a multiracial and multicultural church:
1. CONFESSIONAL: A multiracial and multicultural church is called by God through Jesus Christ to acknowledge and confess its sins of racism and to repent and refrain from all acts of racial discrimination and bigotry.
2. THEOLOGICAL: A multiracial and multicultural church affirms Christian unity while celebrating the theological and liturgical richness that arises from its racial and ethnic diversity.
3. MISSION: A multiracial and multicultural church is called to participate in God's mission of doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God through Christ in all communities with all peoples in all places.
4. INCLUSIVE MINISTRY: A multiracial and multicultural church uses an inclusive and equitable procedure for the calling, placement and standing of ministers in the church while providing equal access to employment in all settings of the church: locally, regionally, nationally, globally and ecumenically.
5. RACIAL JUSTICE STRUCTURE: A multiracial and multicultural church has a full-time national racial justice agency that seeks to coordinate programmatic strategies and involve the entire membership of the church in making racial justice a reality in church and society.
6. MONITORING BODY: A multiracial and multicultural church has a racial and ethnic body to monitor all settings of the church on issues of racial and ethnic inclusivity in the ministry, mission and programs.
7. PROPHETIC ADVOCACY: A multiracial and multicultural church engages in effective prophetic advocacy and public policy development on the issues of racial, social, economic and environmental justice with particular concern as to how these issues impact the quality of life of people of color communities.
8. MULTILINGUAL: A multiracial and multicultural church supports the development and dissemination of multilingual resources for use throughout the church and facilitates the translation of all official church documents such as the constitution and bylaws, creeds or statements of faith into languages that are spoken fluently in the local churches.
9. AFFIRMATIVE ACTION COMMITMENT: A multiracial and multicultural church affirms acommitment to accomplish specific affirmative action goals and objectives.
10. CHRISTIAN EDUCATION, EVANGELISM, AND NEW CHURCH DEVELOPMENT: Amultiracial and multicultural church develops, supports and implements strategies concerning evangelism and new church development in racial and ethnic communities; challenges and invites every member of local congregations to move beyond traditional comfort zones in living out God's multiracial and multicultural mandate; and prepares Christian education resources relevant to the diversity of racial and ethnic Christian faith traditions and cultures within the church.
11. SEMINARY TRAINING: A multiracial and multicultural church encourages related seminaries knowledge concerning the diversity of cultural heritages and theological traditions of the racial and ethnic constituencies of the church.
12. FAITHFUL AND EQUITABLE STEWARDSHIP: A multiracial and multicultural church plans and implements strategies to help ensure and promote a faithful and equitable stewardship and sharing of the financial resources of the church in regard to the empowerment of all local churches, and in particular the empowerment of local racial and ethnic congregations that have been marginalized due to racial discrimination in society.
15. RECOMMENDATIONS REGARDING A PROPOSAL FOR ACTION ON CALLINGTHE UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST TO BE A MULTIRACIAL AND MULTICULTURALCHURCH
Assistant Moderator Malaski asked Ms. Bagley to continue with the report of Committee One. Ms. Bagley asked the delegates to find the appropriate materials in Report Pack C. She explained that, in addition to the Pronouncement, the Committee was assigned the Proposal for Action and the resolution entitled Resolution of "Affirmation of Previous Declarations, Pronouncements, Resolutions and Proposals for Action Pertaining to Institutional Racism and a Request to Implement the Recommendations of the Pastoral Letter on Contemporary Racism Throughout the United Church of Christ." Ms. Bagley stated that many of the issues the Committee discussed were contained in both the Resolution and the Proposal for Action. Consequently, after contacting the submitters of both pieces of business, the Resolution was consolidated into the Proposal for Action. She then spoke to the recommendations.
The Rev. Ronald Kurtz proposed a friendly amendment to add the Stewardship Council to #11 of the directional statement. The committee accepted the amendment.
Mr. Robert Sandman (OH) proposed the following amendment to the directional statement: To insert a paragraph after paragraph 2, section 3, Directional Statement. The paragraph to read: Believes furthermore that when each member and setting of the United Church of Christ acknowledges and confesses the sins of racism, God does forgive us and does love us still. God's forgiveness, however, is no license to go and sin again. Instead, this state of forgiveness and love is the beginning of the journey toward learning to become a multiracial and multicultural church.
Mr. Sandman spoke to the amendment. A discussion and vote followed.
93-GS-34 VOTED: The Nineteenth General Synod defeats the amendment.
There was more discussion regarding the original recommendation, and some questions of clarification were asked.
93-GS-35 VOTED: The Nineteenth General Synod adopts the "Recommendations Regarding a Proposal for Action on Calling the United Church of Christ to be a Multiracial and Multicultural Church." as amended.
A PROPOSAL FOR ACTION ON CALLING THE UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST TO BE A MULTIRACIAL AND MULTICULTURAL CHURCH
Ill. DIRECTIONAL STATEMENT
Whereas the Nineteenth General Synod has adopted the Pronouncement on Calling the United Church of Christ to be a Multiracial and Multicultural Church, and whereas General Synod in the Statement of Christian Conviction recognized the marks of a multiracial and multicultural church, the Nineteenth General Synod:
1. Calls upon the United Church of Christ in all its settings to be a true multiracial and multicultural church and to affirm a commitment to achieve this goal;
2. Calls upon all members, congregations, associations, conferences, instrumentalities, other national bodies, and related institutions of the United Church of Christ to acknowledge and confess faithfully their sins of racism, to repent and refrain from all acts of racial discrimination and bigotry, to confront indifference, ignorance and neglect, and to participate in deliberate study and action to stem the resurgent tide of racism in American society by identifying the root causes of racism as well as other forms of discrimination and oppressive acts that preclude our fulfillment of our covenant with God and each ocher;
3. Calls upon all members, congregations, associations, conferences, instrumentalities, other national bodies and related institutions of the United Church of Christ to affirm consistently the necessity of Christian unity while celebrating the theological and liturgical richness that arises from the racial and ethnic diversity of the United Church of Christ; and to participate actively in God's mission of doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God in all communities with all peoples in all places;
4. Calls upon all congregations, associations, conferences, instrumentalities, other national bodies, related institutions and future General Synods of the United Church of Christ consciously to elect, now and evermore, significant numbers of persons of all races, ethnicities and cultures to policy- making positions throughout the church;
5. Calls for an ethic of accountability in our relationships with each other in all settings of the church by empowering the national instrumentalities to collaborate and work collectively to develop and implement the study and action process of the "Pastoral Letter on Contemporary Racism" throughout the United Church of Christ; to incorporate the concern for institutional racism in all future plans and program implementation, and to request Council of Racial and Ethnic Ministries (COREM) to monitor continually the implementation of this Proposal for Action throughout the United Church of Christ, reporting to each General Synod through the Executive Council on the church's efforts, progress, and status in eradicating intentional and unintentional acts of racism in church and society;
6. Calls upon the Office for Church Life and Leadership, associations, conferences, and all other pertinent local, regional and national bodies to use an inclusive and equitable procedure for the recognition of calling, determination of placement and standing of ministers in the United Church of Christ; and to ensure equal access to employment in all settings of the United Church of Christ;
7. Calls upon the Commission for Racial Justice, in close consultation with COREM and its constituent bodies, to continue to coordinate the implementation of programmatic strategies in all settings of the UCC to challenge racial injustice, discrimination, and bigotry; and to provide leadership in helping to mobilize and involve the entire membership of the UCC to make racial justice a reality for all peoples in church and society;
8. Calls upon the Office for Church in Society, Commission for Racial Justice, Coordinating Center for Women, United Church Board for Homeland Ministries, United Church Board for World Ministries, other national bodies and all other settings to engage in effective prophetic advocacy and public policy development on the issues of racial, social, economic and environmental justice, in particular as to how these issues impact the quality of life of people of color communities in the United States and throughout the world; and that these bodies seek new creative opportunities toexperience the multiracial and multicultural realities of our world;
9. Calls upon all settings of the United Church of Christ to support the development and dissemination of multilingual resources for use throughout the UCC and where appropriate tofacilitate the translation of all official church documents such as the UCC Constitution and Bylaws, Statement of Faith and Statement of Mission into languages that are being spoken fluently in UCC local churches;
10. Calls upon the Executive Council and all settings of the United Church of Christ to reaffirm a commitment to accomplish the affirmative action goals and objectives that have been adopted by the General Synod; and to conduct a church-wide affirmative action audit to ascertain the current status of affirmative action within the life of the UCC;
11. Calls upon the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries, the Stewardship Council, associations and conferences, in close consultation with COREM and its constituent bodies, to develop, support and implement new programmatic strategies concerning evangelism and new church development in racial and ethnic communities across the nation, particularly in those areas undergoing rapid demographic changes with increased populations of communities of color;
12. Calls upon the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries, in close consultation with COREM and its constituent bodies, to prepare and make available Christian Education resources and materials relevant to the diversity of racial and ethnic Christian faith traditions and cultures within the United Church of Christ;
13. Calls upon the colleges and seminaries related to the United Church of Christ to expand curriculum development and educational programs to include awareness and knowledge concerning the diversity of cultural heritages and theological traditions of our multiracial and multicultural world;
14. Calls upon the Stewardship Council, Commission on Development, United Church Foundation, Pension Boards and other national bodies of the United Church of Christ to plan and implement a strategy to help ensure and promote a faithful and equitable stewardship and sharing of the financial resources of the UCC in regard to the empowerment of all local churches and in particular the empowerment of local racial and ethnic congregations that have been marginalized due to racial discrimination in society;
15. Calls upon the Office of Communication to communicate the United Church of Christ's multiracial and multicultural diversity policy and the multiracial and multicultural realities of the United Church of Christ and to promote the transition of the United Church of Christ into a truly multiracial and multicultural church; and
16. Calls upon the President of the United Church of Christ, the Secretary, the Director of Finance and Treasurer, the Executive Council, Council of Conference Ministers, Council of Instrumentality Executives, pastors and lay leaders of local congregations of the United Church of Christ to provide leadership, nurture and support towards the fulfillment of the Pronouncement and the implementation of this Proposal for Action Calling the United Church of Christ to be a Multiracial and Multicultural Church.
The Nineteenth General Synod directs the Commission for Racial Justice and the Office for Church in Society to coconvene an Implementation Committee which will coordinate the implementation of this Proposal for Action and requests a report to be made to all subsequent General Synods. The Office of the President, the Commission for Racial Justice, the Office for Church in Society. Stewardship Council, United Church Board for Homeland Ministries, United Church Board for World Ministries, the Office for Church Life and Leadership, Coordinating Center for Women, Council of Racial and Ethnic Ministries and the Council of Conference Ministers are to have representatives on the Implementation Committee.
Subject to the availability of funds.
The United Church of Christ Historical Council was created in 1975 by the Tenth General Synod of the United Church of Christ. The Historical Council expresses concern for all archival collections related to the denomination and reminds the United Church of Christ of its traditions.
Each year, the UCC Historical Council makes an appeal to support the Congregational Christian Historical Society, the Evangelical & Reformed Historical Society, and the United Church of Christ Archives. Respond to the appeal and make a donation here.
The UCC Historical Council advocates on behalf of the following institutions that care for various aspects of United Church of Christ history and heritage:
The Archives of the United Church of Christ
Located at Church House in Cleveland, the UCC Archives preserves the records of the church's national setting since 1957. All questions concerning parish and family records, the work of General Synod, and the history of the national setting of the UCC should be directed to the UCC Archives.
Evangelical and Reformed Historical Society
Located at Lancaster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, the Society cultivates interest in the heritage of the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS), the Evangelical Synod of North America, and the denomination founded in 1934 as a result of the merger of these two bodies: the Evangelical and Reformed Church. Lancaster Seminary also maintains the Reformed Church archives, plus a collection of records from the Evangelical and Reformed Church. The archives for the Evangelical and Reformed Church Historical Society (Southern Chapter), formerly housed at the Catawba College Archives, is now housed at the Evangelical & Reformed Historical Society. Most of the information in the archives is about the churches in North Carolina that were former Reformed Church in the United States/Evangelical and Reformed Churches. Please click on the link above for more information.
The Society is located at the Congregational Library and Archives in Boston. The library and archives are administered by the American Congregational Association and was founded in 1853 "for the purpose of establishing and perpetuating a library of religious history and literature of New England." The records of the General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches are maintained here. Formed in 1853 with the gift of 56 books from its owners' personal collections, the Congregational Library now holds 225,000 items documenting the history of one of the nation's oldest and most influential religious traditions. Please click on one of the links above for more information.
The Archives at Eden Theological Seminary collects, preserves and makes available the historical records and manuscripts related to Eden Theological Seminary and the Evangelical Synod of North America, a predecessor denomination of the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the United Church of Christ. Also held at the Archives at Eden Theological Seminary are the Deaconess Archives, which cover the period from the Society's founding in 1889 to the sale of Deaconess Hospital in 1997.The Archives has the records of many congregations with roots in the Evangelical Synod of North America, with emphasis on those in the St. Louis metropolitan area and other communities in Missouri and southern Illinois. Please click on the link above for more information.
The Church History Collection at Elon Archives contains the archives of the Christian Church until 1965 when the denomination became part of the United Church of Christ. Please click on the link above for more information.
Amistad Research Center
The Amistad Research Center holds the records for the American Missionary Association as well as for the United Church Board for Home Missions offices that continued the work of the A.M.A. Please click on the link above for more information.
What is the United Church of Christ Archives?
What the UCC Archives Does:
- Collects, preserves, and provides access to the records of the UCC from around the time of the creating Union in 1957 onward.
- Acts as the office of records management for the national setting of the denomination.
- Provides guidance for how to manage current and historical records to all settings of the denomination.
What is in the UCC Archives:
The records, photographs, resources, and objects from around the time of the creating Union in 1957 onward.
A selection of a few of the vast resources include:
- Records from the national offices
- UCC Yearbooks
- General Synod Minutes
- Executive Council Minutes
- Resources developed by national offices
- Documentation about the formation of the UCC
- Records of projects and innitiatives
- Collections from national UCC organizations, committees, councils and groups
- Council for Health and Human Services
- UCC Historical Council
- Personal papers of people involved in the work of the national setting of the denomination
- Rev. Arthur Clyde's collection of hymnals
- Rev. Harold Wilke's papers documenting his work in the UCC
- Conference publications and newsletters
- Written histories of local churches, associations, conferences, and other UCC-related ministries
Electronic versions of General Synod Minutes, The Constitution and Bylaws and New Conversations are now available at rescarta.ucc.org.
All documents are searchable by keyword, and are complete to present.
Partnerships with other Historical Organizations:
The UCC Archives works closely with other archives that hold the records of the denominations that united to form the UCC. Please visit the Historical Council page to find more information about those institutions.
A monthly feature about the history of the United Church of ChristMost of us spend many hours each week watching television or listening to the radio. In 18th-century New England, however, the most important form of public oral communication (even entertainment) was the "sermon."
People read many newspapers and tracts, but they heard hundreds of sermons. The average weekly churchgoer (most people attended, even though only a small number were church members) listened to over 7,000 sermons in a lifetime, amounting to over 15,000 hours of listening.
Unlike sermons in the Church of England, which were supposed to "please and inspire," New England Congregationalists inherited a rational tradition and argued that a good sermon was to "inform and convince." In colonial New England, the words of the preacher carried great influence.
Not only did pastors in each town preach every Sunday, but in keeping with the Calvinist belief that all human activity falls under the jurisdiction of God's Word, sermons were preached at significant public events—anniversaries, thanksgiving days, fast days and election days. Published colonial sermons show that most ministers did not mix religion and politics on Sundays. However, when they were asked to preach an "Election Day sermon," that was different.
In Massachusetts, in the mid-18th century, Election Day was a colony-wide holiday. It began with cannon firing, military exercises, and usually some form of procession of government officials from the seat of government to a nearby church. The most politically and socially important members of community listened carefully for several hours.
Election Day sermons followed a typical pattern. First, they asserted that civil government is founded on an agreement between God and citizens to establish political systems that promote the common good. Scripture states that government is necessary, but no system is perfect. Therefore, voters and rulers were told that they must do what is needed for their "peculiar circumstances."
Second, the people were encouraged to promise to follow those they had elected, and rulers were to promise to act for the good of all. As long as rulers acted "in their proper character," subjects were to obey. On the other hand, if rulers acted contrary to the terms of the agreement, people were "duty bound" to resist.
In all civic actions, voters and rulers were charged to promote virtue, suppress vice and support people of "proven wisdom, integrity, justice, and holiness." As we approach Election Day 2004, Christians might still do well to measure their actions by these criteria. In so doing, however, it is important not to bear false witness against one's neighbor, who might be using the same measure and making a different choice.
The Rev. Barbara Brown Zikmund is editor of The Living Heritage of the United Church of Christ.
A monthly feature about the history of the United Church of Christ
In many Protestant churches today women clergy are more and more common. Although people may think that the ordination of women just happened in our lifetime, the UCC knows better. This year we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the first woman ordained in our tradition, and, for that matter, in any major Protestant denomination.The date was Sept. 15, 1853. On that day a woman named Antoinette Brown, at the age of 28, was ordained in a small Congregational Church in South Butler, N.Y. Brown received her theological education at Oberlin College in Ohio, the first college to affirm coeducation. She was a well-known lecturer on temperance and the abolition of slavery. Brown's ordination caused little national controversy, because the polity of Congregationalism empowers local churches, supported by nearby congregations, to call and ordain their pastors. At her ordination a progressive Wesleyan Methodist preacher named Luther Lee entitled his sermon "A Woman's Right to Preach the Gospel." He used Joel 2:28, as quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost in the second chapter of Acts. "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy." He insisted that the church does not "make a minister," rather God calls ministers, and the churches under the "Lordship of Jesus Christ" gather to celebrate that fact. Unfortunately, Brown's ministry in South Butler was short. After a few years she resigned due to ill health and doctrinal doubts. In 1856 she married Samuel C. Blackwell, the brother of Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell, early women physicians. She raised a large family, but remained intellectually and theologically active, writing many books on philosophy and science. After her family was grown she returned to active ministry as a Unitarian. In 1889, over 30 years after her ordination, there were only four ordained Congregational women listed in the annual Congregational Yearbook. By 1899, that number had risen to 49. In 1920, a commission on the status of clergywomen in Congregationalism reported that there were 67 ordained women out of 5,695 clergy. It took until the 1970s before these small percentages made dramatic increases. Today there are 2,832 ordained women (27 percent) out of the 10,321 active, nonretired clergy in the UCC. To celebrate this legacy and honor these women, at every UCC General Synod since 1975 the Antoinette Brown Award is given to two outstanding clergywomen, "whose ministries have exemplified advocacy for women and significant leadership in the parish, community, or other church-related institutions." In July, at General Synod 24, the award was presented to the Rev. Ruth Duck and the Rev. LaVerne McCain Gill. Church historian the Rev. Barbara Brown Zikmund is the series editor of The Living Theological Heritage of the United Church of Christ.
A monthly feature about the history of the United Church of Christ
Calling someone 'pious' in today"s society sends a mixed message. It might mean that you think the person is devout and reverent. But it also might mean that you think the person has a conspicuous, false or even hypocritical way of being religious. For this reason most of us avoid using the word 'pious.'
Yet, Christian Pietism has a great history, and being pious is a Christian virtue. Throughout the 18th and 19th century Pietism produced many popular Protestant devotional books that put stress on the emotional and personal aspects of religion. New England Congregationalists encouraged spiritual habits that cultivated inward piety. In central Europe, Pietism shaped a grassroots religious movement that revitalized the religious life of ordinary people.
One book that inspired Pietism was 'Pia Desidera,' by Philipp Jakob Spener (published in 1675). Spener suggested six ways to reform Christianity. He thought that Christians should read and study scripture more, especially in groups; they should cultivate spiritual leadership; they should strive to express active Christian love instead of seeking religious knowledge; they should avoid controversy; they should support good theological education for clergy; and they should demand better preaching. His discussion of Bible study emphasized the need to nurture an 'inner' understanding of Christianity. 'It is not enough that we hear the Word with our outward ear, but we must let it penetrate to our heart, so that we may hear the Holy Spirit speak there, that is, with vibrant emotion and comfort feel the sealing of the Spirit and the power of the Word.'
Pietist writers like Spener shaped the practices of German Reformed laity and clergy during late 18th and early 19th century revivals on the American frontier. Pietism was especially significant in the mid-18th century among Midwestern German Evangelical immigrants, because Swiss German missionaries that came to the United States to serve German Evangelical churches had been trained at institutes in Basel and Barmen where German Pietism flourished. They emphasized the experience of salvation, rather than beliefs. They understood when people said they were impatient with church politics, doctrinal squabbles and ecclesiastical authoritarianism.
Pietism focuses upon inward religious experience and action. Pietism nurtures the idea that 'creeds are testimonies, rather than tests of faith.' Furthermore, Pietism motivated the German Evangelical Synod to found dozens of hospitals, institutions, and enterprises to meet the special needs of the sick, the disabled, the orphaned and the disadvantaged. The United Church of Christ can be proud of its roots in Christian Pietism.
The Rev. Barbara Brown Zikmund, a missionary associate for the Global Ministries Board, teaches American Studies at Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan.