The United Church of Christ is a case study of religious pluralism in twentiethcentury America. Not only does it carry on the traditions of the German Reformed, Congregational, German Evangelical, and Christian denominations, but it also seeks to embody more flexible understandings of church unity in the face of diversity. It is a good example of the complex developments that make American religious history so unique.
The first volume of Hidden Histories in the United Church of Christ made the case that the history of the UCC cannot be adequately defined in terms of four denominational "streams" becoming one. When such "historical orthodoxy" dominates, parts of the history get lost, methods for preserving materials become too narrow, historical interpretations may be biased, and past events are treated out of context. An adequate history of the UCC must be nourished by "hidden histories" that seldom surface within the traditional fourfold approach.
It is important, therefore, to move beyond UCC historical orthodoxy and examine the history of special movements, women, and ethnic communities. The earlier book contained material on native Americans, blacks, Hungarians, Armenians, German Congregationalists, Schwenkfelders, and JapaneseAmerican churches, along with an examination of laywomen's ministries and information about theological variety in Reformed history.
All these histories show that the United Church of Christ has been wrestling with pluralism for a long time. An adequate history of the UCC must retrieve and assimilate these histories. Then those who have been lost or slighted by standard interpretations of the past may experience justice. Unity in diversity requires that the United Church of Christ locate, preserve, and freely share all these histories.
A second volume of hidden histories is important for two reasons. There is need to redress some of the obvious omissions in the first collection. Chapters on the Christians, the Evangelical Protestants, and the Chinese Congregationalists explore more of the confessional, ecclesiastical, and ethnic variety of UCC history. This second volume also examines more deeply what it means for the United Church of Christ to celebrate its "unity in diversity." What are some of the historical pressures and experiences leading toward unity in the UCC? What instances of diversity and differentiation have helped the UCC define itself more precisely in a pluralistic age?
The first six chapters in this book show ways in which the history of the United Church of Christ and its historical antecedents moves from particularity toward unity. The efforts of peoples of faith to share sacred space, preserve liberty of conscience, get beyond sectarianism, combine intellectual rigor and popular piety, streamline denominational structures, and cultivate communication networks have shaped the unity of the United Church of Christ.
At the same time, there are other stories that show how unity has been broken, redefined, and stretched by diversity. The last four chapters of the book lift up two controversies leading to denominational fragmentation and clarification, efforts to provide special training for women's ministries and an example of ethnic church experience. They show how unity in diversity must reckon with theological, ecclesiastical, gender, and ethnic differences.
Expression of unity
The interplay of unity and diversity within United Church of Christ history has, on the whole, been a healthy experience. Part One explores various ways in which particular histories have shaped UCC understandings of unity. When the founders of the UCC came together under the biblical hope that "we may all be one," they built on earlier experience. Evangelical, Reformed, Christian, and Congregational people grounded their ecumenical vision in concrete experiences.
The first chapter in this collection takes a closer look at what are known as "union churches." Eighteenthcentury Europe was plagued with wars, unstable governments, and deplorable economic conditions. As German Reformed and German Lutheran immigrants arrived in colonial America, there were so few people of either religious tradition that the two groups found it easy to share church buildings. Both groups already had experience with common facilities in Germany. Besides, cooperation on the rural frontier was a way of life. In time, churches developed traditions, official guidelines, and policies whereby two congregations could build and maintain one church structure for their mutual benefit.
What originally began out of expediency, because of the scarcity of educated ministers, the poverty of the people, and desires to share their common German language and culture, became a way of life. These positive experiences of denominational cooperation at the grassroots level showed members of UCC churches that ecumenical understanding can begin with the very practical matters that emerge when two congregations share the same sacred space.
Another experience of unity is found in the development of a small but progressive group of German churches in the Ohio River valley. Chapter 2 explores the origins of the Smithfield Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, during the American Revolution. It explains how a movement spreading from that city eventually established a group of churches that cherished religious freedom, welcomed diversity of opinion, and respected the right of individual conviction.
These churches were fiercely independent. As a matter of principle they had no creed, allowing members to fashion their faith for themselves, based on their own thinking and experience. They also insisted on the autonomy of each congregation, for fear of opening the door to "outside control." And finally, they emphasized the authority of the laity, not the clergy, to "work out" any problems in the churches.
Although these churches were wary of all ecclesiastical organizations, by the late nineteenth century they had organized themselves into a loose federation known as the German Evangelical Protestant Church of North America. Evangelical because it was grounded in the gospel (the evangel), and Protestant because it protested against any compulsion in matters of faith and conscience. Their small size, however, led them to seek a wider fellowship with the National Council of Congregational Churches in 1925, and through that connection they became part of the United Church of Christ.
The third chapter takes a longer look at the history of the Christian denomination. Although the Christians are technically one of the "four streams" within standard United Church of Christ history, their story is seldom adequately treated. This is because Christian origins are found in North Carolina and Virginia, on the KentuckyOhio frontier, and in New England. They are also divided into separate black and white developments.
Chapter 3 looks especially at the "Christian Connexion" in New England, showing how its antisectarian stance, its attitudes toward women in ministry, its expansion beyond New England, its definitions of ministry and theology, and its ecumenical tenacity continue to strengthen the UCC. Over the years Christian principles became denominational beliefs. They remained broad enough, however, to invite other Christians into mutual fellowship and cooperation. In 1931 the Christians joined with the Congregationalists, and in the 1950s most New England Christian churches became part of the United Church of Christ. Always deeply committed to church unity beyond sectarian labels, the Christian legacy strengthens UCC ecumenical identity.
Another way of seeing how historical experiences have shaped the United Church of Christ is examined in the fourth chapter. Within the history of the Evangelical Synod of North America, the littleknown heresy trial of Karl Emil Otto in 1880 presents a unique example of theological leadership and the struggle for denominational integrity. Otto was initially condemned for his use of German scholarship and its challenge to biblical authority. His case was one of the earliest to raise this issue among American Protestants.
In defense, Otto pointed to the 1848 confessional statement of the Evangelical Church. It stated that where the resources of the Lutheran and Reformed traditions disagreed, Evangelical believers "adhered strictly to the passages of Holy Scripture bearing on the subject" and "the liberty of conscience prevailing in the Evangelical Church."
Although Otto was initially condemned, he was later informally vindicated. As the years went by, his approach to scriptural authority, learning, individual conscience, and willingness to allow missionarylike accommodation to American life prevailed. The Evangelical Synod learned how to live with a creative tension between sound biblical criticism and flexible churchly pietism. This legacy has become part of the United Church of Christ.
Chapter 5 approaches the issue of unity from the standpoint of ecclesiastical structures. It describes the ways in which women's mission work in the Congregational churches was developed during the nineteenth century by four independent women's mission boards. The boards came into being to support women missionaries and facilitate outreach to women. They worked cooperatively with maledominated mission boards, but they raised their own funds and maintained control over their own projects.
By the early twentieth century, however, the ideal of bureaucratic efficiency, the increasing centralization of Congregationalism, pressure from missionaries to get beyond embarrassing divisions in the mission field, a general concern for cooperation, and the desire of younger women not to have separate women's organizations called for change in women's relationship to the mission boards. Great energy was expended to consolidate structures without losing the strengths of women's work. Finally, in 1927, three of the four women's boards were absorbed into the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.
In retrospect this consolidation was probably not in the best interests of women. The women tended to thrive when there was cooperation among separate organizations and when they could continue to control their own money and mission priorities. Pressure from the central Congregational bureaucracy and women's own desires to enter the mainstream of church and national life were instrumental in bringing about the merger. This story shows the ambiguity of unified structures in relationship to genuine unity in the church.
Finally, chapter 6 addresses the importance of communication for church unity by examining the legacy of religious journalism from the Christian denomination. From the publication of the Herald of Gospel Liberty in 1808 (the first religious newspaper in the world) to the UCC News in the 1980s, the health of the United Church of Christ has been nurtured by newspapers and magazines.
Herald foundereditor Elias Smith argued that liberty with respect to one's duty to God was essential. As the Christian movement grew, newspapers shaped and supported its identity. Newspapers provided "the unifying force of the whole church" and directed the energy of the church toward common purposes. Furthermore, the commitment of the Christian Church to justice was reinforced and enabled by a network of helpful publications. An understanding of the importance of journalism within the Christian tradition is but another way to explain the commitment of the United Church of Christ to unity.
The first six hidden histories should be read, therefore, as evidence defining and supporting unitive forces at work within the United Church of Christ. Taken together they show how a selfdefined "united and uniting" church, which only came into being in 1957, can draw on concrete historical experiences to strengthen its ecumenical commitment.
Dealing with diversity
In the midst of these experiences that have supported and produced the strong commitment of the United Church of Christ to unity, there are also histories of brokenness and fragmentation. Through theological and ecclesiastical controversy, through efforts to set up separate programs for women, and through the evolution of ethnic church life, the United Church of Christ has coped with diversity.
The results have not always been constructive, but they have shown the church that a vision of unity can be enriched through awareness of diversity. Part Two examines four histories that highlight issues of diversity in UCC history.
Chapter 7 shows this process by examining the impact of the life and work of an eighteenthcentury German Reformed pastor, Philip William Otterbein. Otterbein was a German Pietist who tried to remain faithful to the church of his heritage, while at the same time responding in innovative ways to the spiritual needs of the people. On the American frontier he became a leader in the Methodistoriented German Brethren movement. Although he supported classes for spiritual nurture in the local church, he did not ask those in the movement to leave their churches. Otterbein continued to serve German Reformed churches and claimed that the United Brethren movement was an "unsectarian" development. In time, however, the United Brethren organized into a separate denomination, becoming part of the Evangelical United Brethren Church and more recently finding a place in the United Methodist Church.
Otterbein's work is important for the United Church of Christ because, despite his concern for local church life and the "experience" of salvation, he refused to ignore the larger bond of unity among all Christians. Questions of polity never dimmed his vision of a common life in Jesus Christ. He always held the Heidelberg Catechism in high regard, and even as a charismatic leader of an evangelical movement that later became a separate denomination, he remained a minister of the German Reformed Church until his death in 1813.
In the early twentieth century the United Brethren and the Reformed Church in the United States sought reconciliation. Plans were formulated for a united church, which would have included the Evangelical Synod of North America. Although this "United Church in America" never materialized, those ecumenical conversations shaped the later Evangelical and Reformed union.
The story of Otterbein is not the only controversy grounded in German Reformed history to produce another denomination. Chapter 8 presents the history of John Winebrenner and the Churches of God.
In this controversy John Winebrenner, a German Reformed pastor influenced by New Measures revivalism, was dismissed by his church and the synod in the 1820s for his views on the Bible, the church, free will, baptism, the Lord's Supper, and foot washing. His followers officially organized, forming a denomination known as the Churches of God, General Conference.
In the 1840s John Winebrenner became an antagonist of John Williamson Nevin, professor at the German Reformed seminary in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. The dialogue between them about revivalism and evangelistic techniques led to early expressions of "Mercersburg Theology." Although both men lamented the low level of piety in midnineteenthcentury America, they had different solutions. Winebrenner stressed the importance of individual regeneration through new birth. Nevin stressed a deeper knowledge of what it means to be a Christian through catechism and confirmation. Winebrenner saw the true church as a gathering of regenerate people. Nevin emphasized that the church was established by God through Christ.
The controversy with Winebrenner made the German Reformed Church more aware of its theological boundaries. Although today the UCC may not find itself comfortable with the Winebrenner theological legacy, the way in which Winebrenner combined a progressive commitment to social reform with evangelical conviction is a useful model.
Chapter 9 approaches the issue of diversity with regard to women. Although women have shared their gifts in the church for many years, and the first woman was ordained to the Congregational ministry in 1853, efforts to establish special channels for women's ministries within the denominations that make up the United Church of Christ did not take shape until the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The first volume of Hidden Histories noted the ways in which the deaconess movement supported and channeled women's gifts. Chapter 9 in this volume documents the history of the Chicago Congregational Training School for Women.
The CTSW was established in 1909 through the efforts of Florence Amanda Fensham. Although women could receive a regular ministerial degree in several theological schools, there was need for a separate institution dedicated to theological education for women. At the school, young women who were eager to do something with their lives prepared for missionary service, social work, teaching, and the demanding career of a minister's wife. The school was especially committed to promoting professional stature for salaried women workers in the church. Its focused approach on women's education, however, did not last. In 1926 it was assimilated into the Chicago Theological Seminary.
Nevertheless, the Congregational Training School for Women was a creative response within its own time to the issue of women's preparation for church leadership. Although its assumptions about gender differences in the church are no longer appropriate, it did take seriously the implications of gender diversity in church and society that remain important to the United Church of Christ.
Finally, chapter 10 uses the history of Chinese Congregationalism to emphasize issues of ethnic diversity within the United Church of Christ. Beyond its English and German ethos, the UCC has includedand continues to attractother ethnic groups. Stories of native American, Hungarian, Armenian, and Japanese UCC church life were included in the first volume of hidden histories. This chapter on the Chinese churches documents another group with longstanding connections to the UCC. In the future, histories of Hawaiian, Mexican, Samoan, and Filipino churches will need to be written. It may be necessary to delay the work, however, in order to get historical distance on recent events. Nevertheless, it is important for the United Church of Christ to define its unity in a manner that includes ethnic diversity.
Chinese Congregationalism in the United Church of Christ dates its origins from schools established by the American Missionary Association to serve the needs of Chinese immigrants in California, and from mission work authorized by the Hawaiian Evangelical Association to evangelize Chinese plantation workers in Hawaii.
In California, AMA superintendent William C. Pond supported Chinese members in his own church and worked as an agent for the California Chinese Mission. The CCM eventually founded and supported fortynine Chinese mission schools. Only three of these remain as selfconsciously Chinese churches related to the United Church of Christ: San Francisco, Berkeley, and San Diego.
In Hawaii, Chinese immigration patterns were different. Although Chinese mission churches and schools were started on all the islands, only four churches continuethree selfconsciously Chinese churches in Honolulu, and one in Hilo, which recently dropped its Chinese name.
The situation of ChineseAmericans has dramatically changed during the latter half of the twentieth century. The old Chinese communities in major cities have matured, and recent waves of immigrants from Taiwan and Southeast Asia have led to the establishment of several new UCC Chinese churches since 1970.
Furthermore, denominational affiliation is only one part of what it means to be part of an ethnic Chinese church in the UCC. Increasingly UCC Chinese people relate ecumenically to other Chinese churches through organizations like the National Conference of Chinese Churches in America and to other Asian ethnic churches within the UCC through the UCC Pacific and Asian American Ministries. The story of the Chinese in the UCC shows how ethnic diversity itself becomes another force for the unity of the Christian church.
Hidden histories in the United Church of Christ can be interpreted in many ways. If it is possible to sustain denominational integrity in a pluralistic world, the United Church of Christ provides an interesting case study. Its diverse history contains examples and resources that promote church unity. At the same time, its diversity highlights issues that forever divide the Christian community: theology, ecclesiology, gender, and ethnicity (including race). Only time will tell if Paul's words about seeing in partbut someday seeing face to facewill be fulfilled in the United Church of Christ.
Written by Horace S. Sills
Representatives of the nine participating denominations involved in the Consultation on Church Union stated in 1985: "Christians must find a way of being together in such a way that the very form of the Church in the world will communicate its message to the world, and still make room, within consensus, for a great range of theological points of view, practices in worship, and forms of organization."(1) Such a need has always been present in the church, but it becomes imperative in a pluralistic world to achieve this new form with strength enough to influence world society with the message of Christ. Churches need to reexamine their own theological histories, their structures, their strengths, their weaknesses, and be willing to open their thinking to more creative possibilities for inclusive action.
Within the Lutheran and Reformed traditions there is a bit of history that, although localized, is not far removed from the kind of church witness projected by the Consultation on Church Union. This history began when immigrants arrived on American soil from the wartorn and povertystricken countryside of the German Rhine valley, called the Palatinate. It is a history of a proud people who sought to escape many years of war in their native land, a people with determined faith who were not afraid of hard work or easily discouraged. It is the history of the Union Church, a unique form of church cooperation in eighteenthcentury America that started 250 years ago.
The Reformation was strongly supported by peasants in Germany and Switzerland. The people were glad to break away from the Roman Catholic hierarchy and follow men like Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Knox, and other workers for religious freedom. Martin Luther led the way with his writings on the Doctrine of Grace and the Doctrine of the Sacraments. Luther convinced many people to open their minds to new possibilities in their relationship with God as revealed in scripture. His confessional statements maintain a prominent place within all Protestant groups today.
Ulrich Zwingli, sometimes called the "Father of the Reformed Church," worked diligently for church reform in Switzerland. If Luther and Zwingli could have agreed on the divine aspects of Holy Communion, separate church bodies would not have developed around their teachings. Luther maintained that Christ's body and blood existed in, with, and under the elements of the bread and wine. Zwingli and others taught the symbolic presence in these elements. At a conference in Marburg in 1529, fifteen articles were discussed and Luther and Zwingli agreed on fourteen and a half of them. They differed only on the part of the fifteenth article concerning the real presence: "And although at present we can not agree whether the true body and the true blood of Christ be corporeally present in the bread and wine, yet each party is to show to the other Christian love, as far as conscience permits, and both parties should fervently pray to Almighty God that by his Spirit he may strengthen us in the true understanding. Amen."(2) Zwingli was prepared to accept this statement and extended his hand to Luther as evidence of his willingness to be in fellowship. Luther, however, refused to acknowledge the gesture.
A calming and mediating influence on both Luther and Zwingli came through Philip Melanchthon, renowned Greek scholar, native of the Palatinate, counselor in reorganizing the University at Heidelberg, and good friend of Luther. Melanchthon worked to achieve church union. Although Luther did not always agree with Melanchthon's theology, the two men remained fast friends and defended each other's positions. Melanchthon, more than any other, opened the way for Reformed believers to be respected in Germany. Melanchthon was consuIted by Frederick III when he became Elector of the Palatinate in 1559. Melanchthon counseled peace, moderation, and biblical simplicity.
Eventually Frederick aligned himself with the Reformed movement and called Zacharias Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus to Heidelberg to prepare an evangelical catechism. The Heidelberg Catechism, which became the primary confession of the Reformed Church, was the result of their work.
Frederick III died in 1576 and was succeeded by Louis VI, who introduced the Lutheran Creed to the Palatinate. Ursinus and 600 Reformed ministers and teachers were deposed and exiled from Heidelberg. In the year that Ursinus died, 1583, John Casimir, brother of Louis VI, second son of Frederick III, succeeded to the Electorate. He was in agreement with the tenets of the Reformed Church and recalled the exiled ministers to reestablish the Reformed Church in the Palatinate.(3)
During the Thirty Years' War, however, the district was taken over by Roman Catholics from Spain and Bavaria. Protestants suffered greatly. Although the Reformed faith was again established when the war ended, the people were so impoverished that they were unable to keep up their church and school properties. The properties fell into the hands of Jesuits who had been sent to the Palatinate to regain control for the Church in Rome. When the last Electorate favorable to the Reformed Church died in 1685, the Palatinate fell into the hands of the Roman Catholics of the House of Neuburg.
The years that followed were difficult for both Lutheran and Reformed people. In some cases the loss of buildings to the Roman Catholics made it necessary for Lutheran congregations and Reformed congregations to share facilities. These were the first union churches, although in most cases no formal written agreements were executed. Such arrangements were called Simultankirchen, and they opened the way for further development in America.(4)
By the early 1700s the people of the Palatinate were ready for a change. There was no stability in the economy, in the rulers, in the religion, or even in the weather. The winter of 17089 was so severe it was reported that when birds landed, their feet froze to the ground. Many people suffered. Wars continued to rage. The Rhine valley was a major thoroughfare for armies moving to and from battle. The people began to leave the Palatinate at an overwhelming rate to escape from war, poverty, and religious persecution.
The Palatinate was near enough to France to be easily overrun and yet too far from Vienna, the capital of Germany, to receive aid quickly. The war of 168889 left the region a wasteland. King Louis XIV of France instructed his forces to "ravage the Palatinate." His orders were effectively obeyed. Twelve hundred towns and villages went up in smoke. In 1693 he sent his army in again to complete the desolation.
Wars did not cease. Between 1701 and 1713 European powers united against France and the Palatinate became the scene of marching armies going to or from battles in Bavaria, Italy, and the Netherlands. The catechism of the Palatines, published in London in 1709, reported that Marshal Villars, who led a French army through the region in 1707, "reduced the Palatinate to a perfect wilderness, not leaving the poor Reformed so much as a house to hide their heads in or hardly clothes to cover their nakedness."(5) War became a powerful inducement for the people to leave their homeland.
War also led to poverty. The wars fought in the early 1700s caused great poverty because the armies had to live off the country through which they passed. The failure of crops and the harshness of the winter, plus destruction by soldiers, left the people very poor. When they appealed to the Electorate, there was little relief. The people could not go on, so they chose to leave and seek a new life in the New World.
Finally, people left because of religion. Because each Elector had the power to decree what confession would become that of the population, the religion of the region changed four times in as many changes of Electorates. The people were expected to accept the religion of the prince. Those who refused could either leave their native land or conform to the decrees of the state. French rulers, being Catholic, oppressed Protestants as heretics and took away their churches. Such persecution contributed greatly to the dissatisfaction of the people.
When people left the region of the Rhine, they went first to Holland and then to England. They began moving into London in early May 1709, and by the end of June many thousands were crowding limited facilities. They were without funds or personal belongings, beyond what they could wear or carry. At first they were encouraged by reports that an earlier group of Palatines, led by the Rev. Joshua Kocherthal, a Lutheran minister, had been aided by the queen in obtaining transportation to New York for 41 persons26 Reformed and 15 Lutheran. But the people arrived in London in such great numbers soon thereafter that the city could scarcely handle them. A committee was set up to try to care for the needs of these people and help determine what to do with them. Collections were taken, but the funds were insufficient to cover the cost of care. The committee decided that the people had to be resettled, some to Ireland, others to the New World. Three thousand were sent to New York, where they were expected to produce naval stores for the government. They landed in the summer of 1710.
In New York, far removed from their homeland, Lutheran and Reformed Christians found that there were so few in number of either religious persuasion that there was no need for separate church buildings. One building would suffice. Besides, they had been sharing worship facilities in the Palatinate since the Roman Catholics took away some of their buildings.
The first Union Church was located in what was called Rhinebeck, Dutchess County. The pastor who had led them from England, the Rev. Joshua Kocherthal, ministered to the Lutheran people and the Rev. John Frederick Hager (of whom little is known) cared for the Reformed group, which later affiliated with the Dutch Reformed Church. A church building was erected and was owned and maintained jointly by the two groups. In 1729 the Lutheran congregation sold their interest in this property to the Reformed congregation in amicable fashion.
Although the church at Rhinebeck is the first Union Church for which definite records have been maintained, it is possible that an earlier church may have been established by these same two pastors at West Camp or Newtown, in Catskill County. William Hill and Frank Blanchard, writing in the Tercentenary Studies, 1928, Reformed Church in America (pp.336ff.), state that the people arrived at West Camp in October 1710 and here they built log houses for protection from the winter's cold. They had come from a land of school houses and churches; to them these were necessities, and in three months a school house and a log church had been built.... Newtown was what is now West Camp. It was here the church was built and for eight years Rev. Joshua von Kocherthal, a Lutheran, and Rev. John Frederick Hager, a Reformed (at East Camp), worked together in harmony.
Those who settled in New York were soon discouraged. A dispute arose over land rights, and although the people contested the claims of the government to lands that had been purchased from the Indians, they eventually had to relinquish possession. There appeared to be no other choice but to move to Pennsylvania. William Penn had received from Charles II of England territory in the New World that extended west of the Delaware River between New York and Maryland. This territory was given in payment of a debt that Charles II owed to Penn's father. The territory was known as Pennsylvania (Penn's Woods), and it became a haven for thousands who sought to begin a new life in the New World. Soon a group consisting of thirtythree families left New York, in the spring of 1723. In care of an Indian guide they came to the headwaters of the north branch of the Susquehanna River. They traveled down the Susquehanna to the mouth of the Swatara Creek and up the creek until they reached Tulpehocken, near Lebanon. They wrote to their friends who remained in New York about their journey and the place they had found. Others followed soon after.(6)
Before the people who first went to New York reached Pennsylvania, others from the Palatinate had already started homes and churches there. They arrived in Philadelphia and moved into the surrounding communities to begin their new life. The majority of Pennsylvania immigrants had not come to carry out a religious life according to peculiar tenets or to organize themselves into separatistic religious communities. Rather, they merged themselves into the common life of the province and retained their old membership in Lutheran and Reformed churches.(7) They had a need, however, to be together. This need grew out of loneliness, poverty, language, and protection. Consequently, these German immigrants formed German communities wherever they settled. And wherever there was a community, there was also a church.
Not all churches were established as Union Churches. The first Reformed Church officially organized came into being when Holy Communion was celebrated on October 15, 1725, at Falkner Swamp in the Perkiomen valley. A congregation had gathered there before this date, but there was no ordained pastor available for the conduct of the sacrament. John Philip Boehm, a schoolmaster employed by the families to teach the children, agreed to act as Reader in leading religious services. He was so well liked that the leaders prevailed on him to administer the sacrament. Reluctantly, realizing his unordained status, he agreed. He was later ordained and became effective as a church organizer for German Reformed people throughout the territory.
WHAT IS THE UNION CHURCH?
Simply stated, a Union Church occurs when two or more congregations of differing denominations agree to use the same facilities. The statement, however, is the only simple thing about such an organization. In some communities as many as four congregations use the same facilities according to some formal schedule. Most Union Churches, however, have been (and are now) Lutheran and Reformed (United Church of Christ).
In the early pioneer days of settling on the land, the number of Lutheran or Reformed people in any given community was not large. There was a tremendous reliance on neighbors. People helped one another to build houses, clear land, plant crops, harvest, mend, repair, and start schools and churches. German people placed a high priority on education. Usually the first community structure erected in a new settlement was a school building, which could also be used for worship. Lutheran and Reformed people gave time and energy to the construction. The buildings were simple, usually made of logs, with a dirt floor. In some cases a structure was primarily built as a church and secondarily used as a school. Cooperation was a pattern of life and did not end when the building was finished.
These Christians who had suffered so much in the homeland and who looked to the future in this new place with much confidence believed that they could live together in harmony, not only as neighbors, but also as companions in worship. The use of the same facilities was not a new experience for them. They had accomplished this, in some cases, in Germany in the Simultankirchen. In America the need and the opportunity again opened the way for them to live a faith embracing visual cooperation.
Land on which church structures were erected was usually either given by one of the member families or purchased through the contributions of all members. In most circumstances the deed would be recorded in the name of both (sometimes more) congregations. Some records, however, indicate that only one congregation owned the property and permitted the other congregation to have equal use. Early deeds often describe the Reformed congregation as part of the "German Presbyterian Church." This referred to the form of government rather than to their confession of faith.
Although a deed was important as a legal instrument denoting ownership, the most important agreement had to do with the care, maintenance, and use of the facilities. Sometimes there was nothing more than a handshake on a verbal agreement reached by leading laypersons from each congregation. As time went on, however, those involved in Union Churches learned the value of written Articles of Agreement that detailed schedules of use by various organizations, as well as the congregations, assigned oversight responsibilities, described times and methods of payment of utilities and maintenance costs, and established procedures for dealing with other practical matters. Occasionally the Articles of Agreement translated into a Union Constitution requiring joint congregational meetings to decide such matters as giving the pastor an increase in salary. This meant that, in such churches, if the Lutheran congregation wanted to give its pastor an increase in salary, the Reformed congregation had to vote on the matter as well, even though it made no contribution to the payment of that salary.
The care, maintenance, and use of facilities in a church are generally entrusted to a group of trustees. In a Union Church this group comprises an equal number of persons elected by the respective congregations (usually three each). The trustees are responsible for inspecting the facilities, recommending maintenance care or repairs, and, when approved, overseeing their accomplishment. Recommendations are made to the Joint Council and Consistory for approval. The Council is the official board of the Lutheran congregations. The Consistory serves the same function in the United Church of Christ in Pennsylvania. If the recommendation is of major significance with a high price tag, the Joint Council and Consistory must bring it to the respective congregations for approval and funding.
Generally speaking, Union Churches did not jointly own parsonages (these were provided by each congregation or denominational parish); however, they did own the homes for the sextons. Such facilities were usually located near the Union Church and the sexton had free use of a home as compensation for keeping the church and grounds clean. More often than not, the grounds included the Union Cemetery, an important facility for the early churches. Until recently those who wanted to bury a loved one in a church cemetery were not charged. The care of such places was considered part of a church's ministry. As the cemeteries grew larger and care and maintenance became costlier, charges for burial plots or annual maintenance fees were instituted.
Union Churches were prominent in Pennsylvania and nearby states in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They responded to housing patterns, the language spoken by the residents, the dominant confessions of faith, and the mode of transportation. Although the locations of some churches appear to us today as haphazard, unplanned, and ineffectual, it was not so for the settlers. The church needed to be close enough to the homes of the parishioners so that it would not take all day to get there by horse and buggy or by walking. The church was the major place for social gathering, as well as for worship. People came early and visited before and after the worship experience. Location was an important consideration.
At one time there were more than 500 Union Churches in existence. Most of these were in Pennsylvania, but there were also Union Churches in New York, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. Wherever the German Lutheran and Reformed people migrated, they founded Union Churches. In the mid1980s Union Churches still numbered 103; however, there is no record of any Union Church being established after 1913.
REASONS FOR ESTABLISHING UNION CHURCHES
Although there is no single reason for the establishment of Union Churches, certain definite factors prevail. For instance, both the Lutheran and the Reformed settlers placed great emphasis on an educated ministry. They also maintained high regard for the ecclesiastical process leading to ordination. Because few missionary pastors accompanied the early settlers, those who did divided their time among churches in several communities. Marriages were performed, Holy Communion administered, and baptisms accomplished only when the pastor could make the circuit of the congregations for which responsibility was carried. Sometimes months passed before an ordained person was available. Because both the Lutheran and the Reformed congregations faced this difficulty, they saw no need for having two separate buildings. By sharing facilities they could also share pastors. If the Lutheran pastor could be there once each month and the Reformed pastor once each month, the people could take advantage of two worship experiences in the month. This would not have been so easy if they had been separate.
Another reason for the Union Church was economic. German immigrants were poor. They had given up home, property, and family to come to the New World. Many of them had indentured themselves to sea captains, landowners, business concerns, for passage to America. For many it took two, four, or even six years to repay the debt. There was little left to provide a home and support a church. One building housing two congregations was cheaper than one congregation having to bear the full cost.
A third reason for the Union Church was language and socialization. Having come from the same regions in Germany and settled in the same regions in America, there was a closeness among these people that went beyond religion. Differences that are prominent among many religious groups today were not so important to the early settlers. The German language contributed to their community spirit and aided in their socialization. Church was the gathering place for many social events. Intermarriage was common between the two groups. Occasionally a Reformed person who married a Lutheran changed denominational affiliation, but usually the uniting couple felt no need for such a change. Traditions started quickly and endured a long time in Union Churches. For example, a girl who was born to a mixed marriage usually became a member of the congregation to which her mother belonged. Likewise, boys followed in the footsteps of their fathers.
In the eighteenth century, denominational consciousness was the exception rather than the rule in many places. In 1752 there was one Lutheran church and one Reformed church in Reading, Pennsylvania, but in the remainder of Berks County there were fifteen Union Churches and no separate Lutheran or Reformed churches.(8) Most congregations found it necessary to share a pastor with another congregation. The shortage of pastors and the poverty of the people meant that Lutheran and Reformed pastors served the same circuit of Union congregations consisting of from two to eight churches.
Furthermore, the church provided important opportunities to gather the community. Sunday was a day to rest from one's labors. It was a time to meet friends, discuss the events of the past week, and plan new events or solve problems that might arise in the future. People arrived at the church long before the time for services and stayed long after the services were over. Young boys and girls met and established relationships that sometimes resulted in marriage. The business of the community was conducted and decisions of charity as well as business were made. The Union Church was not only a place for worship, but also a forum for community decision making.
REASONS WHY UNION CHURCHES DID NOT LAST
The oldest continuing Union Church in existence today is the Old Goshenhoppen Church in Woxall, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Early records indicate that the Reformed congregation came into being in 1727, and a Lutheran congregation started three years later. The first house of worship was a log structure completed in 1732. It was a Gemeinhaus, used as a schoolhouse, a place of worship, and quarters for the schoolmaster. The records state that in 1737 thirtyeight and one quarter acres of church land were purchased in the name of both congregations. The deed was recorded on January 12, 1738. A large stone church building was erected in 1744. The present church was built in 1858. When the church was built it had two front doors, and by tradition, one door was used by the Lutherans to enter the sanctuary and the other was used by the Reformed congregation. This was not an unusual arrangement in Union Churches.
Even though there was (and still is in some places) a great affinity for the Union Church, the Union relationship did not always work. In some cases the creation of the Union relationship was convenient for a while but ended when expansion became necessary. Expansion was difficult in the Union relationship. Furthermore, other factors brought about dissolution of Union Churches: for example, community growth, the availability of more pastors, better economic conditions, greater emphasis on theology, Christian education expectations, dissatisfaction with lack of control of facility use, and confused identity in the community.
At the beginning, German communities were small and congregations had few members. No strain or demand was placed by the population on the Union Church to effect a change in the relationship. As the population grew, however, Union Churches discovered that their buildings were no longer adequate. Some churches evaluated their situation and ended the Union relationship, deciding to have two church buildings instead of one. In such cases one congregation usually purchased the equity in the Union property owned by the other congregation. The selling congregation erected a new church building. Often that congregation located the new church adjacent to, across the road from, or near the old Union Church building. Frequently the architecture of the new structure resembled the old building.
Along with community growth came population mobility. If a family moved from a home area that had no Union Church to an area in which there was a Union Church, they hesitated to join that kind of church, especially if the hour of worship changed weekly. However, when members of a Union Church moved to other communities, they had no difficulty uniting with a congregation that was unattached to another in a Union relationship.
Community growth and population mobility reached a high point after World War II. People who had gone to war or served the country in defense work began settling down in communities that were far removed from their hometowns. New churches were built in the new communities, and they were not Union. Union Churches, some of which were caught on the fringes of rapid population growth, found it necessary to make adjustments and even to dissolve the Union relationship altogether.
The shortage of pastors in the early years had helped to bring about the Union Church. When ecclesiastical bodies opened colleges and seminaries to train ministerial leaders, making more pastors available to congregations, Union Churches no longer seemed necessary. Change came slowly, however. Early missionary pastors founded and built many churches, including many Union Churches. With the increased number of pastors, existing pastors served fewer congregations and provided more worship experiences for each congregation. Yet as time went on, the availability of more pastors actually led to decisions to separate Union Churches.
The availability of more pastors also opened up theological questions that had been dormant in many Union Churches for years. The new pastors had never experienced a Union Church. They received no special training in their seminaries to help them understand the peculiarities of a Union Church. Some clergy began to stress denominational theology and compared one theology with the other, implying that one was more accurate or better. Laypersons who had been existing in harmony in Union Churches for years without fear of theological inappropriateness began thinking differently about their heritage and questioned the advisability of continuing in a Union relationship. Some pastors pressed hard for Union dissolution because they did not see any denominational advantage in the relationship. They were not enamored with ecumenical possibilities, although in some instances the pastors in Union Churches developed close working friendships that enhanced local ministries and became models of ecumenical accomplishment.
All this created confusion as to the true identity of Union congregations. What were these churches? Were they Lutheran? United Church of Christ? Were the loyalties of people situated in Union relationships sustained at the expense of denominational loyalties? Even denominational leaders raised questions and encouraged congregations to consider separation.
As mentioned earlier, German people placed great emphasis on education. The parochial school was as much a part of a pioneer settlement as the church. There, children were taught the basics in education: reading, writing, and arithmetic. They were also instructed in the Bible and the Confessions of Faith. The church and school were important and cared for in the community.
The Sunday school was born in the late eighteenth century when a greathearted printer in Gloucester, England, assembled a few poor children in the front room of a house for instruction on Sunday. No one could possibly have foreseen that from this friendly gesture would spring a worldwide Sunday school movement. However, Sunday schools were a mixed blessing in Union Churches. The people considered them competitive with parochial schools already in operation. Pastors were not wholeheartedly supportive of the Sunday school either, partly because it was basically a lay movement. Yet the Sunday school thrived and grew at a phenomenal pace. It eventually became part of every church's program. In Union Churches, however, the Sunday school created a problem.
It must be remembered that each congregation in the Union relationship conducted its own worship service, maintained its own pastor, and recruited its own members. This did not mean that the people ignored each other's worship experience. On the contrary, many Lutherans attended Reformed services and vice versa. When the Sunday school movement finally caught on in Union Churches, it became fully Union in every respect but functioned like a third congregation.
Sunday schools were lay oriented and lay operated. People from both congregations gladly participated. Teachers were selected on their teaching abilities, not on the basis of the congregation to which they belonged. The Sunday school was organized separate from either congregation. It elected its own officers and teachers, maintained its own records, collected and expended its own funds. In many Union Churches the Sunday school contributed as much as one third of the operating expenses for the facilities. There have been (and still are) occasions when the members of a Sunday school controlled votes about remodeling facilities or changing worship and education schedules.
The schedules required for efficient use of Union Church facilities were (and are) difficult to manage. Consider the schedules of three Union Churches located within ten miles of one another. The schedule of St. Paul (Dubs) Union Church (Hanover, Pennsylvania) is on an alternating basis week by week. The Lutheran congregation meets for worship at 8:00 a.m. on one Sunday. The Sunday school meets at 9:00 AM. The United Church of Christ congregation meets at 10:15 a.m.. The next Sunday the hours of worship are reversed; Sunday school does not change. Union services of worship are planned for midweek Lenten services, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter dawn, and Easter morning. The pastors take turns conducting these services on alternate weeks during Lent and on alternate years for the others.
The St. Jacobs Union Church (Broadbecks, Pennsylvania) follows another pattern. Both congregations had been yoked with other Lutheran and UCC congregations in other Union arrangements. When the congregations in that church decided to merge, the two St. Jacobs congregations called new pastors of their own. Each pastor is available to conduct a denominational worship service each Sunday, but the congregations have chosen to retain the everyotherSunday schedule. Each congregation worships every other week at 10:15 a.m. whereas the Sunday school meets weekly at 9:00 a.m. On this schedule each pastor is responsible for preaching twentysix Sundays a year, minus time away for vacation. Although few parishioners attend the services of the other denomination, there are Union services for World Day of Prayer, Lent, Holy Week, and Christmas Eve. The pastors alternate in leading such worship.
The Bethlehem (Steltz) Union Church (Glenn Rock, Pennsylvania) follows a still different arrangement. It is characterized by "shared ministry." This means that both congregations are served by the same pastor and the congregations worship together as one. At present the pastor is affiliated with the Lutheran Church but has dual standing in the United Church of Christ. Worship services are conducted at 10:15 a.m. and the Sunday school, which is also Union, meets at 9:00 a.m.
In the shared ministry model (there are five examples of such models in Pennsylvania), congregations do not change every other week, nor do the pastors change every other week. However, they do change hymnbooks and the order of worship. The Lutherans have one kind of benevolence envelope and the UCCs have another. Benevolences are kept separate and the programs of each denomination are supported. Although each congregation has its own official board that meets monthly, there is a joint board that meets as required to make decisions about property and program.
It has been traditional in Union Churches to use nondenominational Christian education literature, such as David C. Cook publications. Other programs use UCC literature for some ages and Lutheran literature for other ages. Some schools alternate the use of denominational literature on a threeyear cycle.
There are a wide variety of schedules among Union Churches and no congregation can completely control the use of the facilities. Churches usually settle on a plan that divides the time for meetings, special events, weddings, and so on as equally as possible. For example, both congregations use the facility on Sunday, giving the Lutherans exclusive use on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and the UCC congregation exclusive use on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Funerals take priority over other events. Frustration with schedules and the need on the part of some to control all activities have led to the dissolution of many Union Churches.
THE COMMISSION ON THE WELFARE OF THE UNION CHURCH
Most Union Churches that end their cooperative relationships do so without difficulty. Sometimes, however, there are problems. The people may have been able to agree that separate organizations and church facilities would be desirable, but they cannot agree on how this can be achieved. The story is told of a Union Church in 1858 that agreed to dissolution. The Council and Consistory could not agree on how much the church structure was worth. In the final analysis they demolished the building and the members gathered at the site to chip the mortar off the bricks and divide them between the two congregations. The Lutheran congregation used their bricks to rebuild on the old site. The Reformed (UCC) congregation took their bricks a mile down the road and built a new church.
Over the years pastors and denominational officials questioned the advisability of having Union Churches. In 1948 Dr. Paul J. Hoh, president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, charged a group of clergy to grapple with this situation. As a consequence, an open meeting of Lutheran and Reformed pastors and laypersons was held at Zion Union Church (The Red Church), near Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania, November 4, 1948. Some people felt that the Union Church was the best living example of local ecumenicity and others felt that what the Union Church needed most was to be "torn asunder regardless of consequences." (9)
After the heat of the "battle of the Red Church" subsided, a meeting was held in Reading, Pennsylvania, on November 23, 1948, to evaluate what had happened. Out of the pros and cons, discouragements and promises, a new organization emerged: the Commission on the Welfare of the Union Church. Five representatives were appointed from among the Reformed (Evangelical and Reformed) synods in Eastern Pennsylvania and an equal number from the Lutheran Ministerium of Pennsylvania. In 1950 the Central Pennsylvania Synod of the Lutheran Church entered the Commission.
The intent of the Commission was to search for better ways to negotiate Union Church difficulties, provide an arena for discussing Union Church problems between representatives of each communion, and offer guidance to Union Church pastors and congregations for the enhancement of local ministries. The Commission drafted Proposed Policy statements on the Union Church that were submitted to the respective denominational synods for consideration. Two drafts of such proposals were rejected by several of the synods. The third draft, completed in 1957, was accepted and recommended to the churches. This policy, although not enforceable in all congregations, proved invaluable among Union congregations. It also helped Union congregations gain a new appreciation of their history. It suggested, among other things, that before any Union Church undertook major construction programs, representatives of the denominational offices should be called into the discussion.
The Commission caused the Lutheran and the Reformed synods to appoint consultants for Union Church negotiations. Two persons from each communion were appointed.
Close working relationships developed between these individuals and lasting friendships were made. The consultants developed procedures for planned change that they recommended to each Union situation. The process worked well. In fact, the Commission on the Welfare of the Union Church proved to be so effective that consultants were used far more than originally expected.
During the 1960s and early in the 1970s churches felt pressure from rapidly changing population and rising economic standards. Union Churches made adjustments that brought forth new and stronger congregations, more effective programs, and greater harmony among members. Many Union Churches discontinued the shared use of property and now have their own church facilities. Some Union Churches merged to form one congregation affiliated with one denomination. Still others agreed to share the services of one pastor and meet as one congregation. Many Union Churches, however, continue to share buildings, programs, and leadership, and they see no reason to stop. Not all these churches are small, weak congregations without potential for growth. In the largest Union Church, in Neffs, Pennsylvania, both the Lutheran and the UCC congregations have more than 1,200 members.
Although the Commission on the Welfare of the Union Church no longer meets, its influence is felt throughout the area where Union Churches are located. Consultants trained to guide the people through discussions to responsible decision making are still available.
AN ECUMENICAL LEGACY
The Union Church is a unique local expression of ecumenical cooperation in America. In a Union Church early pioneers saw no divided loyalties when they shared a church building with more than one congregation. They saw no disrespect for a particular denominational creed when they participated in worship conducted by a pastor of a denomination different from their own. They saw no confusion of theological thought when they attended church school classes in a Union Sunday school. These mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers knew how to make allowances and adjustments.
Those who began the Union Church felt that it was enough to agree on property, its ownership and its use. How different history might have been if they had considered agreements on the mission of the church. National denominational leaders who strive for greater ecumenical expression today would do well to reconsider history. This ecumenical movement at the grassroots level started with all the ingredients it takes to work together in harmony. The Union Church had the potential for more than it ever achieved; it was just ahead of its time.
1. The COCU Consensus: In Quest of a Church of Christ Uniting. (Princeton, NJ: COCU, 1985), p. 7.
2. Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1877), vol. 1, p. 212.
3. Ibid., pp. 533ff.
4. Max Gobel, Beschichte des Christlichen Lebens, vol. 1, pp. 36ff.
5. James I. Good, History of the Reformed Church in the United States, 17251792 (Reading, PA: Daniel Miller Pub., 1899), p. 32.
6. Ibid., p. 50.
7. Theodore E. Schmauk, The Lutheran Church in Pennsylvania, (16381800): An Address, Pennsylvania German Society Proceedings And Addresses, at Easton, PA, Oct. 26, 1900, vol. 11, p. 3.
8. Martin L. Montgomery, School History of Berks County (Philadelphia: J. B. Rodgers Printing, 1889), p. 63.
9. A History of the Commission on the Welfare of the Union Church, 1961, p. 4.
The Herald Gospel Liberty was first published Sept. 1, 1808. Courtesy of Disciples of Christ Historical Society, Nashville, Tenn. discipleshistory.org
This fall marks the 200th anniversary of what some claim was the first religious newspaper in the world. The Herald of Gospel Liberty played a formative role in the Christian Church that became part of the UCC.
The outspoken editor of the Herald of Gospel Liberty, Elias Smith, invested his meager savings and all his energies to spread his vision of religion freed from pomp, divisive doctrine and a stuffy clergy. He also provided a magnet that unified scattered frontier congregations in New England, Virginia and the Central South.
Born in Lyme, Conn., in 1769 at the time of the Boston Tea Party, Smith was deeply influenced by the struggle for freedom in Colonial America. And like thousands of others, his life was changed by the second religious Awakening, a period of spiritual fervor and revivalism that swept the nation in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. As a young man, he felt "greatly disturbed" by what he perceived as a call to preach. He hesitated partly because of his limited education. Then, after giving his first sermon in July 1790, he returned to school for 13 days to learn grammar, two more days to study arithmetic, and eight evenings to learn music. Afterwards he taught those subjects in the district schools.
Ordained by local Baptist ministers in 1792, he became an itinerant preacher in New England. In addition to preaching, he wrote a series of articles, disowning official doctrine but "hearing Christ in all things." In 1802, he gathered a small flock of people who agreed with his approach, and the next year they organized a Church of Christ in Portsmouth, N.H. They "agreed to call themselves Christian without the addition of any unscriptural name."
Because the response to his articles was good, he began The Christian’s Magazine in 1805. Every three months he published sermons, interpretations of scripture, and commentaries on religion and on politics — including critical reports of autocratic religion. Smith’s biographer, J.F. Burnett, said, "He held a pen in one hand and a battle axe in the other."
On Sept. 1, 1808, Elias Smith issued the first edition of the Herald of Gospel Liberty. He had no clear expectation of an audience beyond the small group of like-minded New England pastors and church members. Every two weeks they received several columns of Smith’s reflections, his continual advocacy for religious freedom, an occasional blistering critique of the "creed and catechism makers," and an opportunity to read about the revivals that were so popular at the time.
Smith had heard of several groups in Virginia and Kentucky who also professed a simple faith, uncluttered by doctrine, and who called themselves and their churches "Christian." But until his Herald began circulating beyond New England, these scattered people were isolated from one another. Drawn together through the magazine, eventually they became known as the Christian Connection or the Christian Church. In 1931, this group united with the Congregational Churches and in 1957 became a part of the United Church of Christ.
Smith engaged in a dialogue with his readers that gradually led to a clarification of the principles that the frontier Christians affirmed. A Virginia reader once wrote to him: "After we became a separate [independent] people, three points were determined on. 1st. No head over the church but Christ. 2d. No confession of faith, articles of religion, rubric, canons, creeds, etc., but the New Testament. 3d. No religious name but Christians." Smith’s editorial response was: "The three things you mention are what we have all agreed to…"
Nearly 190 years after the first issue, the historian Elizabeth C. Nordbeck credited the Herald of Gospel Liberty as providing "the glue for a coherent Christian identity." It "is hard to overstate the importance of religious journalism, in particular the Herald of Gospel Liberty," to the independent frontier churches, she wrote.
There were other frontier leaders, of course. In addition to Smith, four men were instrumental in early days of the Christian Church: Abner Jones in New England, James O’Kelly in North Carolina, and Barton Stone and Rice Haggard in Kentucky. Others preached and taught and founded colleges; a few picked up Smith’s editorial mantle after he burned himself out in a decade of hard work.
In 1818, near bankruptcy, Smith sold out to Robert Foster, who renamed the paper the Christian Herald. Foster edited this publication for 17 years until his own health gave out, thereafter the paper was owned by publishing associations. Under various editors it was called the Christian Journal, the Christian Herald and Journal, the Christian Herald again, and then the Christian Herald and Messenger. Eventually, it was renamed the Herald of Gospel Liberty, absorbing several other periodicals. Today, its successor is United Church News.
These periodicals became the arena in which the widely scattered individuals and groups sorted out their commonly held convictions. By the beginning of the 20th century six principles were generally mentioned. To the three that Smith had identified in 1908, the right of private judgment, and Christian character as the only test for church membership were added.
The sixth principle caught the spirit of a common goal within the Christian Connection. Barton W. Stone, who had been pastor of the Cane Ridge Church in Kentucky at the time of a massive revival meeting in 1801, was the great advocate for making Christian unity one of the essential principles of the movement. Stone was a signer of the influential "Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery," a declaration first circulated in 1803 that marked the beginning of the movement in the Central South. "We will that this body be dissolved," it stated, "and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large."
Smith reprinted the "Last Will and Testament" in the first issue of his Herald of Gospel Liberty. Like the publication itself, the "Will" energized a people, who eventually affirmed the unity of all Christians as their sixth principle. Their commitment to unity led them into a merger with Congregationalists in 1931.
Because the Congregationalists held similar views, the unity principle helped spark the formation of the United Church of Christ. When leaders of the Congregational Christian churches and representatives of the Evangelical and Reformed Church forged a Basis of Union, their preamble expressed the belief "that denominations exist not for themselves but as parts of that [holy Catholic] Church, within which each denomination is to live and labor, and if need be, die..."
In the years since the UCC was formed in 1957, the heritage of the Christian connection has often been overlooked or forgotten. It is therefore appropriate that the bicentennial of the Herald of Gospel Liberty become a time to acknowledge the courageous people for whom religious liberty was essential and Christian unity a passion.
Elias Smith’s insistence on independence — even from a friendly benefactor — has become the standard expectation in many denominations: editors today enjoy a responsible journalistic freedom akin to the freedom accorded to those who step into the pulpit. That same journalistic independence has powered creative communication in a wide variety of media.
As the Herald did on the American frontier, proclamation in many different forms today provides a tie that binds communities of faith together. The indigenous religious movement that distrusted authority also is echoed in the efforts of men, women and teenagers to build social and religious networks on the internet, including the vibrant websites of congregations and denominations. The legacy of the men and women who energized the Christian Church by publishing their convictions has not merely survived — it has multiplied.
The Rev. J. Martin Bailey was editor of United Church Herald and A.D. magazine, and served as director of communications for the National Council of Churches. He is a member of Union Congregational UCC in Montclair, N.J. A more complete essay about the Herald of Gospel Liberty will appear in the Bulletin of the Congregational Library, Boston.
Multiracial and Multicultural Church
Resolution "Statement of Christian Conviction of the Proposed Pronouncement Calling the United Church of Christ to be a Multiracial and Multicultural Church"
93-GS-33 VOTED: The Nineteenth General Synod adopts the "Statement of Christian Conviction of the Proposed Pronouncement Calling the United Church of Christ to be a Multiracial and Multicultural Church."
Statement of Christian Conviction of the Proposed Pronouncement Calling the United Church of Christ to be a Multiracial and Multicultural Church
IV. STATEMENT OF CHRISTIAN CONVICTION
A. The Nineteenth General Synod calls upon the United Church of Christ in all its settings to be a true multiracial and multicultural church. A multiracial and multicultural church confesses and acts out its faith in the one sovereign God who through Jesus Christ binds in covenant faithful people of all races, ethnicities and cultures. A multiracial and multicultural church embodies these diversities as gifts to the human family and rejoices in the variety of God's grace.
B. The Nineteenth General Synod recognizes the following as marks of a multiracial and multicultural church:
1. CONFESSIONAL: A multiracial and multicultural church is called by God through Jesus Christ to acknowledge and confess its sins of racism and to repent and refrain from all acts of racial discrimination and bigotry.
2. THEOLOGICAL: A multiracial and multicultural church affirms Christian unity while celebrating the theological and liturgical richness that arises from its racial and ethnic diversity.
3. MISSION: A multiracial and multicultural church is called to participate in God's mission of doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God through Christ in all communities with all peoples in all places.
4. INCLUSIVE MINISTRY: A multiracial and multicultural church uses an inclusive and equitable procedure for the calling, placement and standing of ministers in the church while providing equal access to employment in all settings of the church: locally, regionally, nationally, globally and ecumenically.
5. RACIAL JUSTICE STRUCTURE: A multiracial and multicultural church has a full-time national racial justice agency that seeks to coordinate programmatic strategies and involve the entire membership of the church in making racial justice a reality in church and society.
6. MONITORING BODY: A multiracial and multicultural church has a racial and ethnic body to monitor all settings of the church on issues of racial and ethnic inclusivity in the ministry, mission and programs.
7. PROPHETIC ADVOCACY: A multiracial and multicultural church engages in effective prophetic advocacy and public policy development on the issues of racial, social, economic and environmental justice with particular concern as to how these issues impact the quality of life of people of color communities.
8. MULTILINGUAL: A multiracial and multicultural church supports the development and dissemination of multilingual resources for use throughout the church and facilitates the translation of all official church documents such as the constitution and bylaws, creeds or statements of faith into languages that are spoken fluently in the local churches.
9. AFFIRMATIVE ACTION COMMITMENT: A multiracial and multicultural church affirms acommitment to accomplish specific affirmative action goals and objectives.
10. CHRISTIAN EDUCATION, EVANGELISM, AND NEW CHURCH DEVELOPMENT: Amultiracial and multicultural church develops, supports and implements strategies concerning evangelism and new church development in racial and ethnic communities; challenges and invites every member of local congregations to move beyond traditional comfort zones in living out God's multiracial and multicultural mandate; and prepares Christian education resources relevant to the diversity of racial and ethnic Christian faith traditions and cultures within the church.
11. SEMINARY TRAINING: A multiracial and multicultural church encourages related seminaries knowledge concerning the diversity of cultural heritages and theological traditions of the racial and ethnic constituencies of the church.
12. FAITHFUL AND EQUITABLE STEWARDSHIP: A multiracial and multicultural church plans and implements strategies to help ensure and promote a faithful and equitable stewardship and sharing of the financial resources of the church in regard to the empowerment of all local churches, and in particular the empowerment of local racial and ethnic congregations that have been marginalized due to racial discrimination in society.
15. RECOMMENDATIONS REGARDING A PROPOSAL FOR ACTION ON CALLINGTHE UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST TO BE A MULTIRACIAL AND MULTICULTURALCHURCH
Assistant Moderator Malaski asked Ms. Bagley to continue with the report of Committee One. Ms. Bagley asked the delegates to find the appropriate materials in Report Pack C. She explained that, in addition to the Pronouncement, the Committee was assigned the Proposal for Action and the resolution entitled Resolution of "Affirmation of Previous Declarations, Pronouncements, Resolutions and Proposals for Action Pertaining to Institutional Racism and a Request to Implement the Recommendations of the Pastoral Letter on Contemporary Racism Throughout the United Church of Christ." Ms. Bagley stated that many of the issues the Committee discussed were contained in both the Resolution and the Proposal for Action. Consequently, after contacting the submitters of both pieces of business, the Resolution was consolidated into the Proposal for Action. She then spoke to the recommendations.
The Rev. Ronald Kurtz proposed a friendly amendment to add the Stewardship Council to #11 of the directional statement. The committee accepted the amendment.
Mr. Robert Sandman (OH) proposed the following amendment to the directional statement: To insert a paragraph after paragraph 2, section 3, Directional Statement. The paragraph to read: Believes furthermore that when each member and setting of the United Church of Christ acknowledges and confesses the sins of racism, God does forgive us and does love us still. God's forgiveness, however, is no license to go and sin again. Instead, this state of forgiveness and love is the beginning of the journey toward learning to become a multiracial and multicultural church.
Mr. Sandman spoke to the amendment. A discussion and vote followed.
93-GS-34 VOTED: The Nineteenth General Synod defeats the amendment.
There was more discussion regarding the original recommendation, and some questions of clarification were asked.
93-GS-35 VOTED: The Nineteenth General Synod adopts the "Recommendations Regarding a Proposal for Action on Calling the United Church of Christ to be a Multiracial and Multicultural Church." as amended.
A PROPOSAL FOR ACTION ON CALLING THE UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST TO BE A MULTIRACIAL AND MULTICULTURAL CHURCH
Ill. DIRECTIONAL STATEMENT
Whereas the Nineteenth General Synod has adopted the Pronouncement on Calling the United Church of Christ to be a Multiracial and Multicultural Church, and whereas General Synod in the Statement of Christian Conviction recognized the marks of a multiracial and multicultural church, the Nineteenth General Synod:
1. Calls upon the United Church of Christ in all its settings to be a true multiracial and multicultural church and to affirm a commitment to achieve this goal;
2. Calls upon all members, congregations, associations, conferences, instrumentalities, other national bodies, and related institutions of the United Church of Christ to acknowledge and confess faithfully their sins of racism, to repent and refrain from all acts of racial discrimination and bigotry, to confront indifference, ignorance and neglect, and to participate in deliberate study and action to stem the resurgent tide of racism in American society by identifying the root causes of racism as well as other forms of discrimination and oppressive acts that preclude our fulfillment of our covenant with God and each ocher;
3. Calls upon all members, congregations, associations, conferences, instrumentalities, other national bodies and related institutions of the United Church of Christ to affirm consistently the necessity of Christian unity while celebrating the theological and liturgical richness that arises from the racial and ethnic diversity of the United Church of Christ; and to participate actively in God's mission of doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God in all communities with all peoples in all places;
4. Calls upon all congregations, associations, conferences, instrumentalities, other national bodies, related institutions and future General Synods of the United Church of Christ consciously to elect, now and evermore, significant numbers of persons of all races, ethnicities and cultures to policy- making positions throughout the church;
5. Calls for an ethic of accountability in our relationships with each other in all settings of the church by empowering the national instrumentalities to collaborate and work collectively to develop and implement the study and action process of the "Pastoral Letter on Contemporary Racism" throughout the United Church of Christ; to incorporate the concern for institutional racism in all future plans and program implementation, and to request Council of Racial and Ethnic Ministries (COREM) to monitor continually the implementation of this Proposal for Action throughout the United Church of Christ, reporting to each General Synod through the Executive Council on the church's efforts, progress, and status in eradicating intentional and unintentional acts of racism in church and society;
6. Calls upon the Office for Church Life and Leadership, associations, conferences, and all other pertinent local, regional and national bodies to use an inclusive and equitable procedure for the recognition of calling, determination of placement and standing of ministers in the United Church of Christ; and to ensure equal access to employment in all settings of the United Church of Christ;
7. Calls upon the Commission for Racial Justice, in close consultation with COREM and its constituent bodies, to continue to coordinate the implementation of programmatic strategies in all settings of the UCC to challenge racial injustice, discrimination, and bigotry; and to provide leadership in helping to mobilize and involve the entire membership of the UCC to make racial justice a reality for all peoples in church and society;
8. Calls upon the Office for Church in Society, Commission for Racial Justice, Coordinating Center for Women, United Church Board for Homeland Ministries, United Church Board for World Ministries, other national bodies and all other settings to engage in effective prophetic advocacy and public policy development on the issues of racial, social, economic and environmental justice, in particular as to how these issues impact the quality of life of people of color communities in the United States and throughout the world; and that these bodies seek new creative opportunities toexperience the multiracial and multicultural realities of our world;
9. Calls upon all settings of the United Church of Christ to support the development and dissemination of multilingual resources for use throughout the UCC and where appropriate tofacilitate the translation of all official church documents such as the UCC Constitution and Bylaws, Statement of Faith and Statement of Mission into languages that are being spoken fluently in UCC local churches;
10. Calls upon the Executive Council and all settings of the United Church of Christ to reaffirm a commitment to accomplish the affirmative action goals and objectives that have been adopted by the General Synod; and to conduct a church-wide affirmative action audit to ascertain the current status of affirmative action within the life of the UCC;
11. Calls upon the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries, the Stewardship Council, associations and conferences, in close consultation with COREM and its constituent bodies, to develop, support and implement new programmatic strategies concerning evangelism and new church development in racial and ethnic communities across the nation, particularly in those areas undergoing rapid demographic changes with increased populations of communities of color;
12. Calls upon the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries, in close consultation with COREM and its constituent bodies, to prepare and make available Christian Education resources and materials relevant to the diversity of racial and ethnic Christian faith traditions and cultures within the United Church of Christ;
13. Calls upon the colleges and seminaries related to the United Church of Christ to expand curriculum development and educational programs to include awareness and knowledge concerning the diversity of cultural heritages and theological traditions of our multiracial and multicultural world;
14. Calls upon the Stewardship Council, Commission on Development, United Church Foundation, Pension Boards and other national bodies of the United Church of Christ to plan and implement a strategy to help ensure and promote a faithful and equitable stewardship and sharing of the financial resources of the UCC in regard to the empowerment of all local churches and in particular the empowerment of local racial and ethnic congregations that have been marginalized due to racial discrimination in society;
15. Calls upon the Office of Communication to communicate the United Church of Christ's multiracial and multicultural diversity policy and the multiracial and multicultural realities of the United Church of Christ and to promote the transition of the United Church of Christ into a truly multiracial and multicultural church; and
16. Calls upon the President of the United Church of Christ, the Secretary, the Director of Finance and Treasurer, the Executive Council, Council of Conference Ministers, Council of Instrumentality Executives, pastors and lay leaders of local congregations of the United Church of Christ to provide leadership, nurture and support towards the fulfillment of the Pronouncement and the implementation of this Proposal for Action Calling the United Church of Christ to be a Multiracial and Multicultural Church.
The Nineteenth General Synod directs the Commission for Racial Justice and the Office for Church in Society to coconvene an Implementation Committee which will coordinate the implementation of this Proposal for Action and requests a report to be made to all subsequent General Synods. The Office of the President, the Commission for Racial Justice, the Office for Church in Society. Stewardship Council, United Church Board for Homeland Ministries, United Church Board for World Ministries, the Office for Church Life and Leadership, Coordinating Center for Women, Council of Racial and Ethnic Ministries and the Council of Conference Ministers are to have representatives on the Implementation Committee.
Subject to the availability of funds.
UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST CALLED TO BE AN ANTI-RACIST CHURCH
ADOPTED 2003 GENERAL SYNOD MULTIRACIAL/MULTICULTURAL ADDENDUM TO 1993 PRONOUNCEMENT AND PROPOSAL FOR ACTION
WHEREAS, racism is rooted in a belief of the
superiority of whiteness and bestows benefits,
unearned rights, rewards, opportunities,
advantages, access, and privilege on Europeans
and European descendants; and
WHEREAS, the reactions of people of color to
racism are internalized through destructive
patterns of feelings and behaviors impacting
their physical, emotional, and mental health and
their spiritual and familial relationships; and
WHEREAS, through institutionalized racism,
laws, customs, traditions, and practices
systemically foster inequalities; and
WHEREAS, the United Nations World
Conference against Racism, Racial
Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related
Intolerance affirmed that racism has historically
through imperialism and colonization created an
unequal world order and power balance with
present global implications impacting
governments, systems, and institutions; and
WHEREAS, the denomination has shown
leadership among many UnitedChurch of Christ
conferences, associations, and local
congregations by initiating innovative antiracism
programs, by developing anti-racism
facilitators, and in general have made
dismantling racism a priority, there is still much
to be done. As we continue in this effort, the
work we do must reflect the historical and
present experiences and stories of all peoples
impacted by racism. We must work from a
paradigm reflective of the historical
relationships of racial and ethnic groups and
racial oppression within the UnitedChurch of
Christ and society; and
WHEREAS, the United States finds itself in
increased racial unrest during this period after
the tragedy of September 11, 2001. New studies
show that hate crimes and blatant acts of racial
violence doubled in number during the last half
of 2002 and are continuing to rise. These
outward acts, combined with continued
institutional racism, emphasize the need for antiracism
mobilization within church and society as
we seek to do justice; and
WHEREAS, there are growing movements of
peace that have people of all races, backgrounds,
and ages involved, urging us to expand our
knowledge of what racism is and study its
ramifications on all people; and
WHEREAS, General Synods of the United
Church of Christ have, since 1963, voted eleven
resolutions, statements, and pronouncements
denouncing racism, and it is time to honor
mandates and expectations of this body and of
THEREFORE LET IT BE RESOLVED, that the
United Church of Christ is called to be an antiracist
church and that we encourage all
Conferences and Associations and local
churches of the UnitedChurch of Christ to adopt
anti-racism mandates, including policy that
encourages anti-racism programs for all United
Church of Christ staff and volunteers; and
LET IT BE FURTHER RESOLVED, that
Conferences and Associations and local
churches facilitate programs within their
churches that would examine both historic and
contemporary forms of racism and its effects and
that the programs be made available to the
LET IT BE FURTHER RESOLVED, that
Justice and Witness Ministries provides
leadership in the development and
implementation of programs to dismantle
racism, working in partnership with the
Collegium, Covenanted Ministries, Affiliated
Ministries, Associated Ministries, Conferences,
Associations and local churches in developing
appropriately trained anti-racism facilitators; and
LET IT BE FURTHER RESOLVED, that the
Covenanted Ministries of the United Church of
Christ work in concert to dismantle racism in
church and in society and partner with
Conferences and Associations in sharing
resources and costs associated with doing antiracism
LET IT BE FINALLY RESOLVED, that the
Justice and Witness Ministries will report the
progress of the development and implementation
of these programs at the Twenty-fifth General
Funding for the implementation of this
resolution will be made in accordance with the
overall mandates of the affected agencies and
the funds available.
The United Church of Christ Historical Council was created in 1975 by the Tenth General Synod of the United Church of Christ. The Historical Council expresses concern for all archival collections related to the denomination and reminds the United Church of Christ of its traditions.
Each year, the UCC Historical Council makes an appeal to support the Congregational Christian Historical Society, the Evangelical & Reformed Historical Society, and the United Church of Christ Archives. Respond to the appeal and make a donation here.
The UCC Historical Council advocates on behalf of the following institutions that care for various aspects of United Church of Christ history and heritage:
The Archives of the United Church of Christ
Located at Church House in Cleveland, the UCC Archives preserves the records of the church's national setting since 1957. All questions concerning parish and family records, the work of General Synod, and the history of the national setting of the UCC should be directed to the UCC Archives.
Evangelical and Reformed Historical Society
Located at Lancaster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, the Society cultivates interest in the heritage of the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS), the Evangelical Synod of North America, and the denomination founded in 1934 as a result of the merger of these two bodies: the Evangelical and Reformed Church. Lancaster Seminary also maintains the Reformed Church archives, plus a collection of records from the Evangelical and Reformed Church. The archives for the Evangelical and Reformed Church Historical Society (Southern Chapter), formerly housed at the Catawba College Archives, is now housed at the Evangelical & Reformed Historical Society. Most of the information in the archives is about the churches in North Carolina that were former Reformed Church in the United States/Evangelical and Reformed Churches. Please click on the link above for more information.
The Society is located at the Congregational Library and Archives in Boston. The library and archives are administered by the American Congregational Association and was founded in 1853 "for the purpose of establishing and perpetuating a library of religious history and literature of New England." The records of the General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches are maintained here. Formed in 1853 with the gift of 56 books from its owners' personal collections, the Congregational Library now holds 225,000 items documenting the history of one of the nation's oldest and most influential religious traditions. Please click on one of the links above for more information.
The Archives at Eden Theological Seminary collects, preserves and makes available the historical records and manuscripts related to Eden Theological Seminary and the Evangelical Synod of North America, a predecessor denomination of the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the United Church of Christ. Also held at the Archives at Eden Theological Seminary are the Deaconess Archives, which cover the period from the Society's founding in 1889 to the sale of Deaconess Hospital in 1997.The Archives has the records of many congregations with roots in the Evangelical Synod of North America, with emphasis on those in the St. Louis metropolitan area and other communities in Missouri and southern Illinois. Please click on the link above for more information.
The Church History Collection at Elon Archives contains the archives of the Christian Church until 1965 when the denomination became part of the United Church of Christ. Please click on the link above for more information.
Amistad Research Center
The Amistad Research Center holds the records for the American Missionary Association as well as for the United Church Board for Home Missions offices that continued the work of the A.M.A. Please click on the link above for more information.
What is the United Church of Christ Archives?
What the UCC Archives Does:
- Collects, preserves, and provides access to the records of the UCC from around the time of the creating Union in 1957 onward.
- Acts as the office of records management for the national setting of the denomination.
- Provides guidance for how to manage current and historical records to all settings of the denomination.
What is in the UCC Archives:
The records, photographs, resources, and objects from around the time of the creating Union in 1957 onward.
A selection of a few of the vast resources include:
- Records from the national offices
- UCC Yearbooks
- General Synod Minutes
- Executive Council Minutes
- Resources developed by national offices
- Documentation about the formation of the UCC
- Records of projects and innitiatives
- Collections from national UCC organizations, committees, councils and groups
- Council for Health and Human Services
- UCC Historical Council
- Personal papers of people involved in the work of the national setting of the denomination
- Rev. Arthur Clyde's collection of hymnals
- Rev. Harold Wilke's papers documenting his work in the UCC
- Conference publications and newsletters
- Written histories of local churches, associations, conferences, and other UCC-related ministries
All documents are searchable by keyword, and are complete to present.
Partnerships with other Historical Organizations:
The UCC Archives works closely with other archives that hold the records of the denominations that united to form the UCC. Please visit the Historical Council page to find more information about those institutions.
A monthly feature about the history of the United Church of ChristMost of us spend many hours each week watching television or listening to the radio. In 18th-century New England, however, the most important form of public oral communication (even entertainment) was the "sermon."
People read many newspapers and tracts, but they heard hundreds of sermons. The average weekly churchgoer (most people attended, even though only a small number were church members) listened to over 7,000 sermons in a lifetime, amounting to over 15,000 hours of listening.
Unlike sermons in the Church of England, which were supposed to "please and inspire," New England Congregationalists inherited a rational tradition and argued that a good sermon was to "inform and convince." In colonial New England, the words of the preacher carried great influence.
Not only did pastors in each town preach every Sunday, but in keeping with the Calvinist belief that all human activity falls under the jurisdiction of God's Word, sermons were preached at significant public events—anniversaries, thanksgiving days, fast days and election days. Published colonial sermons show that most ministers did not mix religion and politics on Sundays. However, when they were asked to preach an "Election Day sermon," that was different.
In Massachusetts, in the mid-18th century, Election Day was a colony-wide holiday. It began with cannon firing, military exercises, and usually some form of procession of government officials from the seat of government to a nearby church. The most politically and socially important members of community listened carefully for several hours.
Election Day sermons followed a typical pattern. First, they asserted that civil government is founded on an agreement between God and citizens to establish political systems that promote the common good. Scripture states that government is necessary, but no system is perfect. Therefore, voters and rulers were told that they must do what is needed for their "peculiar circumstances."
Second, the people were encouraged to promise to follow those they had elected, and rulers were to promise to act for the good of all. As long as rulers acted "in their proper character," subjects were to obey. On the other hand, if rulers acted contrary to the terms of the agreement, people were "duty bound" to resist.
In all civic actions, voters and rulers were charged to promote virtue, suppress vice and support people of "proven wisdom, integrity, justice, and holiness." As we approach Election Day 2004, Christians might still do well to measure their actions by these criteria. In so doing, however, it is important not to bear false witness against one's neighbor, who might be using the same measure and making a different choice.
The Rev. Barbara Brown Zikmund is editor of The Living Heritage of the United Church of Christ.
A monthly feature about the history of the United Church of Christ
In many Protestant churches today women clergy are more and more common. Although people may think that the ordination of women just happened in our lifetime, the UCC knows better. This year we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the first woman ordained in our tradition, and, for that matter, in any major Protestant denomination.The date was Sept. 15, 1853. On that day a woman named Antoinette Brown, at the age of 28, was ordained in a small Congregational Church in South Butler, N.Y. Brown received her theological education at Oberlin College in Ohio, the first college to affirm coeducation. She was a well-known lecturer on temperance and the abolition of slavery. Brown's ordination caused little national controversy, because the polity of Congregationalism empowers local churches, supported by nearby congregations, to call and ordain their pastors. At her ordination a progressive Wesleyan Methodist preacher named Luther Lee entitled his sermon "A Woman's Right to Preach the Gospel." He used Joel 2:28, as quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost in the second chapter of Acts. "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy." He insisted that the church does not "make a minister," rather God calls ministers, and the churches under the "Lordship of Jesus Christ" gather to celebrate that fact. Unfortunately, Brown's ministry in South Butler was short. After a few years she resigned due to ill health and doctrinal doubts. In 1856 she married Samuel C. Blackwell, the brother of Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell, early women physicians. She raised a large family, but remained intellectually and theologically active, writing many books on philosophy and science. After her family was grown she returned to active ministry as a Unitarian. In 1889, over 30 years after her ordination, there were only four ordained Congregational women listed in the annual Congregational Yearbook. By 1899, that number had risen to 49. In 1920, a commission on the status of clergywomen in Congregationalism reported that there were 67 ordained women out of 5,695 clergy. It took until the 1970s before these small percentages made dramatic increases. Today there are 2,832 ordained women (27 percent) out of the 10,321 active, nonretired clergy in the UCC. To celebrate this legacy and honor these women, at every UCC General Synod since 1975 the Antoinette Brown Award is given to two outstanding clergywomen, "whose ministries have exemplified advocacy for women and significant leadership in the parish, community, or other church-related institutions." In July, at General Synod 24, the award was presented to the Rev. Ruth Duck and the Rev. LaVerne McCain Gill. Church historian the Rev. Barbara Brown Zikmund is the series editor of The Living Theological Heritage of the United Church of Christ.
A monthly feature about the history of the United Church of Christ
Calling someone 'pious' in today"s society sends a mixed message. It might mean that you think the person is devout and reverent. But it also might mean that you think the person has a conspicuous, false or even hypocritical way of being religious. For this reason most of us avoid using the word 'pious.'
Yet, Christian Pietism has a great history, and being pious is a Christian virtue. Throughout the 18th and 19th century Pietism produced many popular Protestant devotional books that put stress on the emotional and personal aspects of religion. New England Congregationalists encouraged spiritual habits that cultivated inward piety. In central Europe, Pietism shaped a grassroots religious movement that revitalized the religious life of ordinary people.
One book that inspired Pietism was 'Pia Desidera,' by Philipp Jakob Spener (published in 1675). Spener suggested six ways to reform Christianity. He thought that Christians should read and study scripture more, especially in groups; they should cultivate spiritual leadership; they should strive to express active Christian love instead of seeking religious knowledge; they should avoid controversy; they should support good theological education for clergy; and they should demand better preaching. His discussion of Bible study emphasized the need to nurture an 'inner' understanding of Christianity. 'It is not enough that we hear the Word with our outward ear, but we must let it penetrate to our heart, so that we may hear the Holy Spirit speak there, that is, with vibrant emotion and comfort feel the sealing of the Spirit and the power of the Word.'
Pietist writers like Spener shaped the practices of German Reformed laity and clergy during late 18th and early 19th century revivals on the American frontier. Pietism was especially significant in the mid-18th century among Midwestern German Evangelical immigrants, because Swiss German missionaries that came to the United States to serve German Evangelical churches had been trained at institutes in Basel and Barmen where German Pietism flourished. They emphasized the experience of salvation, rather than beliefs. They understood when people said they were impatient with church politics, doctrinal squabbles and ecclesiastical authoritarianism.
Pietism focuses upon inward religious experience and action. Pietism nurtures the idea that 'creeds are testimonies, rather than tests of faith.' Furthermore, Pietism motivated the German Evangelical Synod to found dozens of hospitals, institutions, and enterprises to meet the special needs of the sick, the disabled, the orphaned and the disadvantaged. The United Church of Christ can be proud of its roots in Christian Pietism.
The Rev. Barbara Brown Zikmund, a missionary associate for the Global Ministries Board, teaches American Studies at Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan.