Written by Connie Larkman
In a move that forges a stronger relationship between the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and that celebrates 25 years of their ecumenical partnership, key national leaders in both denominations now have standing in the respective partner church, and are considered ordained ministers by both churches.
The Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, UCC general minister and president; the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, executive minister for Local Church Ministries; the Rev. James Moos, executive minister for Wider Church Ministries; the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, minister for ecumenical and interfaith relations; and the Rev. Holly MillerShank, minister and team leader of the Ministerial, Excellence, Support & Authorization (MESA) team recently were recently granted this special category of standing by the Disciples of Christ.
The Rev. Sharon Watkins, Disciples general minister and president; the Rev. Julia Brown Karimu, president of the Division of Overseas Ministries; the Rev. Ron Degges, president of Disciples Home Missions; the Rev. Timothy James, associate general minister and administrative secretary of the National Convocation and the Rev. Robert Welsh, president of the Council on Christian Unity were approved for ministerial partnership by the UCC's Indiana-Kentucky Conference.
"Ordained ministerial partner standing is not new," said Karen Georgia Thompson. "What is new is the deepening of this relationship with the Disciples through the intentionality of these leaders holding this standing as a sign of the commitment to the relationship between the two churches."
This action means each of the UCC and Disciples ministers are now recognized, and will be listed in the yearbooks of the two denominations, as ordained ministers in the partner denomination "with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities pertaining thereto."
"I am really excited about the possibilities that are signalled by this deepening relationship between the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ," said Geoffrey Black. "Working jointly on our shared mission only makes us a stronger, more unified presence."
According to the UCC's Manual on Ministry and the Disciples' Policies and Criteria for Ordered Ministry, the UCC and the Disciples of Christ recognize the ordained ministers of the other church to be effective ministers of grace within that church and these ministries to be valid and full ministries of one Church of Jesus Christ. The ordained ministries of the UCC and the Disciples of Christ are reconciled –– meaning an ordained minister in one church may function, whenever invited and as established procedures permit, as an ordained minister in the other.
The commitment to pursue ordained ministerial partnership for core leadership came out of the 2011 meeting of the UCC-Disciples National Partnership Committee. The committee thought this would be a significant and historic moment in the life of the partnership.
"I wish to express our joy in this concrete act giving expression to our 25 years of ecumenical partnership and recognizing our shared ministry within the one church of Jesus Christ," said Robert Welsh, chief ecumenical officer for the Disciples of Christ and president of the Council on Christian Unity.
"This is a learning experience," said Thompson of the first in a possible series of joint policy classes, "as both denominations think strategically of who and where this type of joint standing would be beneficial to the life of this partnership, as we move into celebration of 25 years together and plans for where the partnership grows in the future."
The UCC and the Disciples already have a shared staffing model in place in Wyoming and Montana –– UCC Montana-Northern Wyoming Conference Minister the Rev. Marc Ian Stewart and DOC regional minister the Rev. Ruth Fletcher serve churches of both denominations closest to their respective offices. They also celebrate joint ministerial standing with the national leaders of both denominations.
These new relationships will be publicly recognized and celebrated during the UCC General Synod on June 28 in Long Beach, Calif., and during a worship service July 14 as part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) General Assembly, July 13-17 in Orlando, Fla.