Members of the United Church of Christ’s ecumenical partner, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), spoke out on immigration, refugees and poverty at their July assembly.Read more
In a way, the United Church of Christ and its sisters and brothers in Puerto Rico never parted. But there was a pause in their partnership, more than a decade ago. Now that breach is formally on its way toward healing.Read more
For the sake of children, the World Council of Churches wants to redouble its efforts to fight climate breakdown. Empowering young people as activists will be part of that strategy, aided by a $25,000 environmental prize the WCC has won and by educational materials co-developed by the United Church of Christ.Read more
One enduring way the United Church of Christ tries to live out its motto, "that they may all be one" (John 17:21), is by working for Christian unity with other denominations through ecumenical bodies like Churches Uniting in Christ. The work can be challenging as well as joyful, especially given the diversity of churches in the ecumenical movement. CUIC has decided to focus on three areas for the next three years.Read more
Six delegates from the United Church of Christ will spend three days in Toronto this week working with ecumenical colleagues from the United Church of Canada to continue bringing the denominations closer together. This first discussion toward full communion underscores the United Church of Christ’s promise of a General Synod 2013 resolution that calls for strengthening the relationship between the United Church of Christ and the United Church of Canada.
The church representatives gather from Feb. 12 through Feb. 14 as a 12-member committee to begin laying a foundation for a full communion agreement.
"This meeting in Toronto is the first of a series of meetings that follow the General Synod resolution regarding the ecumenical relationship with the United Church of Canada," said the Rev. Karen Georgia A. Thompson, United Church of Christ ecumenical officer and one of six people from the United Church of Christ on the trip.
"The hope is that this group of 12 persons will be able to bring back a common document that will go to the United Church of Canada’s General Council and the United Church of Christ’s General Synod, both of which will be held in 2015," Thompson said, adding that General Council takes place every three years compared to every two for General Synod.
While in Toronto, the 12-person Joint Full Communion Committee (sometimes referred to as the United Ecumenical Partnership Committee) will reflect on what a full communion agreement might mean for the two related, but nationally distinctive, denominations.
"We have to come to mutual terms to how we know ourselves and understand ourselves," Thompson said.
|Joint Full Communion Committee for each denomination|
|United Church of Canada||United Church of Christ|
|Prof. Mark Toulouse||Rev. Sue Davies|
|Rev. Daniel Hayward||Rev. David Greenhaw|
|Rev. Danielle Ayiana James||Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson|
|Rev. Cheryl-Ann Stadelbauer-Sampa||Rev. Campbell Lovett|
|Rev. Bruce Gregersen||Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson|
|Ms. Nora Sanders||Rev. Geoffrey Black|
The United Church of Christ has a full communion with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a Formula of Agreement with the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Reformed Church in America and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and a "Kirchengemeinshaft" with the Union of Evangelical Churches in Germany (UEK).
The partnership with the United Church of Christ would be a first for United Church of Canada. The Rev. Michael Blair, executive minister of Church Mission for the United Church of Canada, said after the resolution was approved in July that it was "a first for us because we work in partnership with many denominations, but no formal relationships like this resolution would produce."
The United Church of Christ and the United Church of Canada began a formal conversation in April 2012, when the United Church of Christ made a historical visit to the United Church of Canada offices in Toronto. The denominations met again in April 2013 at the United Church of Christ's National Offices in Cleveland.
The General Synod 2013 resolution on the ecumenical relationship outlined that each church would form a team of five members, in addition to the general secretary of the United Church of Canada and general minister and president of the United Church of Christ serving as ex-officio members of the committee. Each committee includes a seminary representative, a theologian, a conference representative, a pastor, a staff member and the head of communion.
There are likely two more meetings ahead this year between the United Church of Christ and United Church of Canada to have a communion agreement in place by the end of 2014. Thompson said that dates and locations of future meetings will be set this weekend "with respect to the timelines necessary to get the documents to General Synod and General Assembly." Later in the process, the United Church of Christ committee will find a way to hear from various constituents in the church.
Culminating nearly seven years of study and discourse, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) voted Nov. 16 during its fall general assembly in Baltimore to approve the "Common Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Baptism."
By a 204-11 vote, the agreement – among the USCCB, the United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church-USA, Reformed Church in America and Christian Reformed Church – is being hailed as a "milestone on the ecumenical journey," says Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, chairman of the USCCB Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.
"Together with our Reformed brothers and sisters, we Catholic bishops can affirm baptism as the basis of the real, even if incomplete, unity we share in Christ," says Gregory. "Our conference looks forward to seeing all four of the authoritative bodies of the Reformed communities approve the common agreement as we have today."
The Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, general minister and president of the UCC, says the church will discuss the USCCB's landmark vote with the entire denomination.
"My expectation is that we the issue will be placed before the Executive Council or the General Synod for official action," says Black, referring to the UCC's biennial conference, to be held next July in Tampa, Fla. "At this point, my preference would be to place it before the General Synod in order to give it maximum visibility in the life of the UCC."
The agreement has been ratified by the Presbyterian Church. The Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church are expected to consider the agreement at their national meetings.
"It was quite the journey – seven years," says the Rev. Sidney F. Fowler, Interim Senior Minister of Westmoreland Congregational UCC in Bethesda, Md. "I think it offers an opportunity for an amazing conversation among UCC folks who have deep ecumenical commitments."
"There were some rather tough moments," says Fowler, who has worked for the national settings of both the UCC in worship and spiritual formation, and has extensive experience developing lectionary-based and international ecumenical resources.
The two primary roadblocks to the agreement centered on language used during the baptismal rite and the manner in which water is used.
"At a moment of significant impasse, Geoffrey brought fresh eyes and asked crucial questions that helped the process move forward so all parties could sign off on the common agreement," says Kimberly Whitney, UCC minister for community life and assistant to the UCC's five-member Collegium. "Our general minister and president looks forward to charging us as a denomination toward continued groundbreaking and visionary connections – both interfaith and ecumenical – that are ahead of us."
Research found that nearly 20 percent of UCC churches were using alternative language for "the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" for baptismal formula, says Fowler. "Catholics don't recognize baptism other than 'in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.' "
Gregory says the agreement, after approval by the four Reformed denominations, will "allow Catholic ministers to presume that baptisms performed in these communities are 'true baptism' as understood in Catholic doctrine and law."
"The presentation of a baptismal certificate by Reformed Christians who wish to come into full communion with the Catholic Church, or to marry a Catholic, assures Catholic ministers that the baptism performed by a Reformed minister involved the use of flowing water and the biblical invocation of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit," says Gregory.
The agreement encourages local Christian communities to keep baptismal records, a practice already held in the Catholic Church.
The press release stated that other bishops' conferences worldwide have entered into similar agreements with local Protestant communities, but this document is "unprecedented" for the Catholic Church in the United States.
In an unprecedented public act of remorse for centuries of support for slavery, the Episcopal Church on Saturday (Oct. 4) held a dramatic service of repentance at one of the nation's first black churches.
Punctuated with the sound of a gong and the sung refrain of "Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy," the service began with a "Litany of Offense and Apology" detailing the ways that the denomination participated in human captivity, segregation and discrimination.
More than 500 worshippers, a multicultural sea of faces, spilled over into the aisles of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, founded in 1792 by Absalom Jones, a former slave and the denomination's first black priest.
"Through it all, people of privilege looked the other way, and too few found the courage to question inhuman ideas, words, practices or laws," said Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.
"We and they ignored the image of Christ in our neighbors."
Several of America's founding fathers - most notably George Washington - were Episcopalians and slave owners, and many of the nation's most historic and prominent steeples were built by wealthy donors who made their fortunes on the back of slave labor.
Yet Episcopalians were one of the few U.S. churches that managed to stay intact as the Civil War split Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists into northern and southern branches over the issue of slavery.
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the United States. Last June, the U.S. House of Representatives issued its own apology for slavery.
"Apology and acknowledgment are an incredibly important part of the process of coming to terms with history," said Katrina Browne, whose recent film, "Traces of the Trade," explores the wealth accumulated by her Episcopal ancestors in Rhode Island through the slave trade.
The service, and the day of workshops that preceded it, were the result of a resolution passed at the Episcopalians' 2006 General Convention that called slavery a "sin" and a betrayal of the "humanity of all persons."
The 2006 resolution asked dioceses to research instances in which they have been complicit or profited from it, and asked the presiding bishop to hold a "Day of Repentance." Each diocesan cathedral was also asked to hold its own service of repentance.
A number of African American participants emphasized that however moving the event, it was only one step in an effort to redress denominational and social inequities.
Noting that another General Convention resolution addresses oppression of "all people of color victimized by society over the past 300 years," Canon Ed Rodman, a professor at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., added that "until the whole story is told and everybody's voice has been heard we cannot begin the process of reconciliation."
"It is one thing to repent of our sin, but another to turn around and go in the right direction," said Franklin Turner, retired Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania.
"I don't think it's what the church does inside the church," added the Rev. Isaac Miller, rector of the historic Episcopal Church of the Advocate in North Philadelphia. "It's about what happens afterwards."
Everett Worthington, a professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University and a researcher in forgiveness, said public apologies can help usher in "some manner of justice back into a situation where there has been injustice."
Such apologies may narrow an individual's "injustice gap" - the space between the way someone would like to see an issue resolved, and the way they actually see it being resolved, he added.
The Rev. David Pettee, who oversees ministerial credentialing for the Unitarian Universalist Association, said he has also located slave owners and African and Native American ancestors in his own Rhode Island family tree.
"I was impressed by having the Episcopal Church make this move, and I personally hope that at some point we (the Unitarian Universalists) arrive at an act of redemption and apology," Pettee said after the service.
A joint resolution passed in 2001 by the UCC's General Synod and the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) called upon the United States government to "issue a national apology for participating in and supporting the kidnapping, exporting and enslaving of people of African descent."
The joint resolution also encouraged congregations, regions, ministries and national assemblies to "join in active study and education on issues dealing with reparations for slavery."
In 1999 General Synod declared a "Partnership in Mission and Ministry" with the Congregational Christian Church in American Samoa (CCCAS) as a way of acknowledging the deepening relationship between the two churches and the rapid growth of Samoan congregations in the United States.
Today, there are more than 60 congregations of the CCCAS in Hawaii, Alaska, California, Washington and Oregon. Many of them related to the UCC through our regional Conferences and local Associations. The partnership seeks to strengthen the ministry of these congregations and the mission of both churches.
In many places, Samoan congregations are actively involved in the life and leadership of UCC Associations. Many UCC clergy and lay leaders have immersed themselves in the life of Samoan communities and have traveled to American Samoa to learn more about its unique and ancient culture.
|Links to Resources|
The Alliance of Baptists, an affiliation of more than 100 Baptist congregations, has been in official conversation with the United Church of Christ since the mid-nineties.
Historically, Baptists and the churches that organized the UCC in 1957 have had a close but at times painful history. Conflict between Congregationalists and Baptists in 17th-century New England resulted in the flight of Baptist dissenters from Massachusetts Bay Colony and their founding of a new colony in Rhode Island dedicated to religious freedom. The growing relationship between the Alliance and the UCC has offered an opportunity for both traditions to explore their their history, but more than that, it has helped both traditions discover a wealth of shared biblical and theological conviction.
UCC and Alliance congregations are beginning to form strong and enduring partnerships. Many of these relationships are growing in the Southeast, where the Baptist tradition is particularly strong.
General Synod in 2001 affirmed the continuing dialogue between the two churches, and invited the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to join the conversation as observers. We hope that in the near future Disciples will be able to enter the dialogue as full partners.
|Links to Resources|
Centuries of division between the Lutheran and Reformed branches of Protestant Christianity came to an end in 1997 when three Reformed churches (including the UCC) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America agreed on a relationship of full communion through a "Formula of Agreement." A few years earlier, Reformed and Lutheran churches in Europe—where the division between the two Protestant families dates back to the time of Luther and Calvin—agreed to a similar reconciliation through the Leuenberg Agreement.
acknowledges common historical roots between the two traditions, with a deeply shared theological and liturgical heritage.
moves beyond the historic 16th-century condemnations that divided Lutheran and Reformed Christians.
accepts the reality that there are important theological, spiritual and liturgical differences between the two traditions, but that these are not church-dividing, but rather a gift to each other.
celebrates the potential for shared mission and ministry as the two traditions grow closer.
The United Church of Christ is the only church in the relationship that has roots in both the Reformed and Lutheran heritage. Our "German Evangelical" tradition drew from the wells of both Reformed and Lutheran Christianity. Many UCC congregations of our "German Reformed" tradition—especially in historically German-American communities in Pennsylvania—have lived together with Lutheran congregations as "union churches" since the 18th century.
|Links to Resources|
General Synod: 1997 vote for Formula of Agreement
Text of Formula of Agreement
Orderly Exchange of Ministers of Word and Sacrament
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America [ELCA website]
Presbyterian Church (USA) [PCUSA website]
Reformed Church in America [RCA website]