Leaders from the United Church of Christ are welcoming their neighbors from the north this week. The UCC hosts the United Church of Canada as the denominations take the next steps in discerning how they might walk and work together.
This is the first official delegation from the United Church of Canada to visit the UCC’s headquarters in Cleveland, said the Rev. Karen Georgia A. Thompson, UCC minister for ecumenical and interfaith relations. The denominations will spend two days "moving together in communion as united and uniting churches," Thompson added.
The United Church of Canada hosted a delegation from the UCC during a trip to Toronto in early April 2012, the first such trip to Canada to open a discussion about the areas in which the two denominations can work together more closely. One issue that binds the churches together and continues this ecumenical dialog is a common belief in social justice.
The Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, the UCC’s general minister and president, said both denominations "know already that our churches share a strong commitment to justice and peace. Now, we want to build on that foundation and together find new ways to engage in God's mission on this continent and throughout the world."
Black was joined by his fellow officers of the church (W. Mark Clark, associate general minister, the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, executive minister for Local Church Ministries, the Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo, executive minister for Justice and Witness Ministries, and the Rev. James Moos, executive minister for Wider Church Ministries) as part of the UCC’s delegation welcoming nine members from the United Church of Canada.
"This is my first time in Cleveland," said Nora Sanders, the United Church of Canada’s general secretary, who grew up in Ontario on the other side of Lake Erie. "We have lots in common and I see only benefits learning from each other’s experience and finding common projects."
Sanders said the members of her leadership team that traveled with her also look forward to seeing connections beyond the national offices, where members and pastors of both churches might find a mutual ground that brings them closer.
"More than any two denominations across a border, we’re most alike in how we work at issues and some of the issues we face, and the questions we face about how to be a church as it exists today," said Gail Allen, the ecumenical officer for the United Church of Canada. "We began to identify some of the questions at the last meeting, and this meeting is an opportunity to build on that."
"The UCC is doing significant work in its identity in American society, and we’d like to do more of that," said the Rev. Bruce Gregersen, the general council officer for the United Church of Canada.
The churches will also explore possibilities of recognizing each other’s ministry, which Gregersen said presents some challenges for a full communion across an international border. While the UCC has a communal partnership with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the United Church of Canada has no experience in a full communion relationship with another denomination.
Sanders, Allen and Gregersen all think that the two denominations may differ in their polity, but they share similarities in their stances on certain theological issues as progressive churches, such as full LGBT inclusion and the ordination of women. In fact, Gregersen said most of the admissions to the United Church of Canada from outside the country are previous members of the UCC who have relocated from the United States to the Great White North.
"There are similar patterns of theologies in our relationship and mission," Gregersen said.