Pieces of the ecumenical conversation were familiar, but the circumstances broke new ground.
Leaders from the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) held a first-ever, face-to-face meeting Feb. 7 at the UCC Church House in Cleveland.
Eight UCC representatives welcomed four guests from the UUA's national headquarters in Boston to discuss theological commonality and structural, operational differences alike.
"This is a natural kind of thing for this to happen, especially in this moment, in this country, for the voice of liberal and progressive people and the voice of faith," said the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, UCC general minister and president.
"Over the years –– and it certainly has been an 'over-the-years' kind of thing –– we have been working together through our various networks," said Black. "And we're right on the same page. That's why we're always seeing one another at various events together."
"My hunch tells me that a good portion of our common ground is in the area of public witness," said the Rev. Peter Morales, UUA president. "That's the easiest place to move."
The UCC and UUA are collaborators on the "Our Whole Lives" curriculum and, although UCC and UUA presidents and board members have met and mingled at various meetings and conferences, the Feb. 7 get-together was the first of an "intentional" nature, said the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, UCC minister for ecumenical and interfaith relations.
"This was the first coming together, church to church, to think about ways that we could solidify our relationship and work together in a more formal capacity," she said. "There's such a history with the UCC and the UUA. I think it's something we've always taken for granted, and this was a moment of synergy where things meshed. It's a wonderful opportunity."
The meeting reaffirmed the groups' common passion for justice ministries as well as differences in such areas as authorization of ministers.
"There is some cross communion learning that's going on here," said Thompson. "Even as we're talking about working together, we also saw the extent to which we can learn a whole lot about each other."
Representatives from both churches, who plan to reconvene later this year at UUA headquarters in Boston, also discussed the possibility of UCC representation at the UUA's General Assembly June 24-28 in Arizona.
"It would be a good way to embrace intentionality," said Thompson. It would also represent somewhat of a reunion: Members of both churches were arrested together last year in Arizona during immigration-bill protests involving Senate Bill 1070.
In addition to Black and Thompson, the UCC was represented by the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, executive for Local Church Ministries; the Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo, executive for Justice and Witness Ministries; the Rev. Holly MillerShank, minister and team leader for the Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization Ministry team; Ann Hanson, minister for sexuality education and justice; Derek Duncan, program associate for global advocacy and education; and the Rev. Kimberly Whitney, minister for community life and assistant to the Collegium.
Joining Morales from the UUA were: John Hurley, director of communications; Taquiena Boston, director of multicultural growth and witness; and the Rev. Keith Kron, transitions office director.
The UUA comprises more than 1,000 congregations, 200,000-plus members and at least 800 ministers. According to its website, the UUA welcomes people with diverse beliefs. Individual Unitarian Universalists may identify with and draw inspiration from a variety of religious or philosophical traditions, including atheism/agnosticism, Buddhism, Christianity and paganism.
Learn more about the UCC's interfaith and ecumenical partnerships