The denominational makeup of the United Church of Christ is like a microcosm of the ecumenical movement of the World Council of Churches. The UCC is the only United and Uniting Church in the United States, and though it's been seven years since United and Uniting Churches from all over the world gathered together, at the WCC 10th Assembly the denominations from that tradition are expressing a desire to remain connected with each other for the future.
United and Uniting Churches share a common thread in that they have unified from multiple traditions – in the case of the UCC, from the Congregational Christian and the Evangelical and Reformed traditions – as a commitment to the unity of the church.
United and Uniting Churches from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, Latin America, and North America participated in a discussion during the WCC assembly in Busan, South Korea, sharing a meal and a prayer for unity in the church.
"I think we have a lot in common," said the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson. "The bigger question will be how we find ways to support each other in our various contexts beyond Busan. There's also a conversation about another United and Uniting consultation. These tend to happen every 7-8 years. They've been a way for the churches to stay connected to share issues that are present in each of their contexts in a longer and more focused environment, something beyond the short time of an assembly."
During their time together, United and Uniting Churches have sought answers to two important questions. First, are they visible enough within the WCC? Second, how do they continue their collaboration as United and Uniting Churches? That question is continually asked, and sometimes answered with other questions.
"I think it's not just 'are we visible enough,' but are the challenges and the commitment to ecumenical engagement understood throughout the life of the WCC for churches that indicate they were willing to die as a basis of union," said the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, UCC minister for ecumenical and interfaith relations. "So how does the WCC understand the commitment of theses UUC churches? A part of the work of the consolation would provide an opportunity to delve into issue around collaboration, how we can support each other more. Each UUC is a distinct entity in its own environment."
In North America, the UCC is one of two United and United Churches – the other is the United Church of Canada. Both denominations have moved closer in their ecumenical work, most recently at the UCC's General Synod in Long Beach, Calif., this summer. Synod delegates overwhelmingly approved a resolution that called for the UCC to enhance its relationship with the United Church of Canada.
"We're moving forward based on what was presented. We will name individuals that would be part of a consultative process in the next two years, and they will guide the work that will come back to General Synod in 2015, and the General Assembly of United Church of Canada, also in 2015," Thompson said. "We hope to do the majority of the work in 2014, with an assertive schedule to outline a document ready for both denominations governing bodies."
The two churches laid the groundwork for their relationship in 2012, when UCC first visited the United Church of Canada's offices in Toronto. The two denominations met again in April 2013 when representatives from the United Church of Canada visited the UCC's National Offices in Cleveland.
The UCC and United Church of Canada are alike in several ways; Both are united and uniting churches, have a common congregational and reformed heritage, a witness to worship and theological conversation, and commitments to mission and justice.
The UCC is one of the 345 members of the WCC, with a team of almost two dozen representatives from across the life of the church at this gathering. The WCC assembly, which occurs once every seven years, takes place from Oct. 30 through Nov. 8 in Busan. The assembly is the highest governing body of the WCC, and is a moment when member churches come together for prayer, celebration and to set the future agenda for the council. There are more than 4,000 delegates, visitors, event staff and media members from more than 100 countries in South Korea for the assembly.