Written by W. Evan Golder
Representatives of the nine CUIC denominations stand on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, a few feet from where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. W. Evan Golder photo.
Nine denominations—including the United Church of Christ—have ended 40 years of discussion on the possibility of Christian unity in one organization (Consultation on Church Union) and challenged themselves to new levels of unity in a new relationship (Churches Uniting in Christ).
The inaugural events of Churches Uniting in Christ took place during the weekend of the Martin Luther King holiday (Jan. 19-21) in Memphis, Tenn., as hundreds gathered for the landmark occasion.
The choice of date was significant, as CUIC includes three historically African-American denominations (African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion and Christian Methodist Episcopal) and has declared its resolve to work against racism.
Significant, too, was the venue for the signing of a pledge to combat racism: the balcony of the Lorraine Motel on which the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was standing when he was assassinated on April 4, 1968. The Rev. John H. Thomas, UCC General Minister and President, reflected on this history when he signed the document in his stocking feet.
"As I approached this podium," he told the hushed crowd of 1,200, "I removed my shoes—because I knew I would be walking on holy ground."
UCC General Minister and President the Rev. John Thomas addresses the crowd. W. Evan Golder photo.
Brass and incense
Around 500 persons attended the COCU Service of Dissolution at Saint Mary's Episcopal Cathedral on Saturday evening. Amidst the pageantry of sounding brass, rising incense and commanding vergers, worshipers shared Holy Communion, gave thanks for COCU's work over four decades and heard the Rev. Kathryn Bannister preach on welcoming strangers and extending hospitality.
Bannister, pastor of a United Methodist four-point charge in rural Kansas as well as one of the six presidents of the World Council of Churches, pointed out that she had not even been born when Presbyterian Eugene Carson Black preached his famous sermon in San Francisco's Grace Cathedral in 1960 that led to the formation of COCU.
"Perhaps we in Churches Uniting in Christ need to think about who it is that needs inviting," she said, asking how we would respond if the black churches in the two-thirds world were to invite us.
On Sunday afternoon, around 1,200 persons gathered for worship at Mount Olive CME Cathedral to inaugurate CUIC. The service included a confession by each of the nine denominations of sins that have kept them apart, e.g., racism, apathy, anger, focus on wealth, radical individualism.
In his sermon, CME Bishop McKinley Young asked, "Is it possible that we will be able to live together differently? If so," he answered, "then we will become the agents through which God transforms the world."
Relationship the key
A key theme during the weekend was the emphasis that CIUC is not an organization but a relationship—and one that will challenge the nine churches.
"Jesus' prayer that we may all be one is not an easy call to polite tolerance," said the Rev. Lydia Veliko, the UCC's ecumenical officer. "It is a sometimes painful, sometimes exhilarating call to care about what matters to our brothers and sisters as much as we care about what matters to us."
Church leaders agreed that if CIUC is to make a difference, it will have to be in local settings. However, this will take time, as two UCC Conference Ministers, the Rev. Stephen C. Gray of Indiana-Kentucky Conference and the Rev. Héctor E. L?ez of the Central Pacific Conference, pointed out.
"Nobody knows much about this yet," said Gray, "so it will take a lot of time but I'm eager to get started." He plans to invite representatives of the nine churches to the Conference annual meeting.
Lopez plans to use CUIC as a catalyst for new opportunities in mission. "Could different denominations build a new church together?" he asked. "Or could we combat racism by working against profiling or gangs or domestic abuse?"
The Rev. Nancy Jo Kemper, Executive Director of the Kentucky Council of Churches, left the weekend "infused with new hope" for Christian unity. "Unity and justice cannot be separated," she said. "They go hand in hand."
"The key word is opportunity," said the Rev. Wayne Wilson of St. Albans Congregational UCC in Queens, N.Y.
That sentiment echoed the closing words of the Sunday sermon by CME Bishop McKinley Young. "It's our finest hour," he said. "Don't blow it."
The Rev. Thomas Dipko, executive vice president of the UCC's former Board for Homeland Ministires will moderate a CUIC forum on the UCC website. Click here to join the discussion!
The CUIC website is eden.edu/cuic/cuic.htm.
Here are the CUIC churches:
African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church
African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
International Council of Community Churches
United Church of Christ
United Methodist Church
Partner in mission and dialogue
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
|Attitudes need to change says former COCU head
The real test of CUIC, however, is whether attitudes begin to change.
When the local CME congregation protests racial profiling, do the other CUIC churches in the community see it as their issue?
When a leader in the United Methodist Church dies, do the rest of us mourn the loss as our own?
When the local Episcopal Church confirms a group of young people, do the other churches in the neighborhood celebrate the event and pray for those young people by name?
When the Presbyterian Church struggles with questions of human sexuality, do the other churches pray and struggle with them?
When the UCC starts a new congregation in a growing part of our community, do we celebrate and support this witness to our common Lord, or do we wonder why "we" didn't get that property first?
The Rev. Michael Kinnamon
Consultation on Church Union
|Eight 'marks' of Churches Uniting in Christ
Mutual recognition of each other as authentic expressions of the one church of Jesus Christ.
Mutual recognition of members in one baptism.
Mutual recognition that each affirms the apostolic faith of scripture and tradition expressed in the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds, and that each seeks to give witness to the apostolic faith in its life and mission.
Provision for celebration of the Eucharist together with intentional regularity.
Engagement together in Christ's mission on a regular and intentional basis, especially a shared mission to combat racism.
Intentional commitment to promote unity with wholeness and to oppose all marginalization and exclusion in church and society based on such things as race, age, gender, forms of disability, sexual orientation and class.
Appropriate structures of accountability and appropriate means for consultation and decision-making.
An ongoing process of theological dialogue.