|Covenant Baptist Church in southeast Washington, D.C., was one of two churches that affiliated with the UCC's Central Atlantic Conference on Feb. 27.|
The Central Atlantic Conference received two churches into the UCC on Feb. 27, when Covenant Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and United Christian Church in Lexington Park, Md., were granted congregational standing by the UCC's Potomac Association.
Covenant Baptist Church is known throughout the D.C. area for its vibrant worshipping community and its prophetic ministries of justice and service. Founded in 1945 as an all-white Southern Baptist congregation, a racial transition began in 1969 when the church called an African-American pastor to serve its European-American congregation. In its decades of service to its economically challenged neighborhood in southeast Washington, the predominately African-American congregation has developed a reputation for being a beacon of hope, inclusiveness and liberation for the oppressed and marginalized.
Last year, the congregation's senior pastors, the Rev. Dennis and Christine Wiley, were among the visible religious leaders that supported D.C.'s adoption of a controversial law that legalized same-gender marriage.
"Many new members are joining the church, excited by our vision," the Wileys wrote in a Washington Post op-ed column explaining their position. "… Some who disagree with us have condemned us to hell. But we believe that God has granted us the courage of our convictions."
United Christian Church in Lexington Park, Md., under the leadership of the Rev. Annie Blackwell, is an ecumenical partnership congregation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ.
Formerly known as the Southern Maryland Faith Community, United Christian Church is committed to inclusivity, service and speaking to the holistic needs of those they serve.
"Christ calls us to be 'citizens in the world,' reads the church's website. "We believe that our social expression of Christ's love seeks justice for all humankind."
The Rev. Henry E. "Hank" Fairman, moderator of the Potomac Association, says the two new congregations represent how the UCC "continues to live into the future as a united and uniting church."
"Today we took an affirming step into the future in ministry in community together," Fairman said in a written statement. "Isaiah reminds us, 'Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.' Thanks be to God for challenging us to be a progressive, liberal voice in Christian faith, and for gathering us all in as a united church."
A formal service of reception for United Christian Church will be held at Bethany Christian Church in Fort Washington, Md., on Palm Sunday, March 28. A service welcoming Covenant Baptist Church will take place on May 16.
The Rev. John Deckenback is Conference Minister of the Central Atlantic Conference, which includes New Jersey, Delaware, District of Columbia, and portions of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.
|Congressional web forms require that message fields match their own. Since no uniform standard exists and most offices do not include 'Rev.' as option, such messages would be rendered incomplete and non-deliverable.|
Many clergy express frustration — and rightly so — that the UCC's advocacy forms do not include religious titles, such "the Rev.", in drop-down menu options.
"The problem is not of our making, but rests solely with the requirements of the websites on the receiving end of our messages," explains the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, the UCC's communications director. "Most government offices require that salutation fields be completed — primarily to confirm a constituent's gender — but they often limit the available responses to a few choices, such as 'Mr.', 'Dr.', 'Miss' or 'Mrs.' Anything message that doesn't conform to required fields is rendered 'incomplete' and therefore 'non-deliverable.'"
When a person completes an online advocacy form at ucc.org, Guess says, the email message is delivered in the same way as if the constituent had completed the web form directly on that Congressperson's website. Therefore, the UCC's website hosting company — Convio — has no other option but to configure its clients' prefix titles so that messages will be received by every members of Congress. If the UCC was to include 'the Rev.' as a salutation choice, Guess says, any emails submitted to office webforms that didn't also have "the Rev." as a prefix option would bounce back to the UCC.
"Ironically," Guess says, "members of Congress say they want to hear from religious leaders, but they don't provide a mechanism for clergy to identify themselves as such."
That's why Guess encourages users to alter the suggested email text so that it accurately describes a person's religious affiliation and viewpoints.
'Hospice is about living, not dying'
Frequently, as a hospice chaplain, I am asked, "Why not a different ministry? Why that one?"
It is a complicated question with a simple answer. My soul is passionate about hospice. It is a privilege to partner with patients and families during this tender time of sacred discovery.
As an interfaith hospice chaplain, I have the opportunity to work with the full breadth of our world's religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Taoism, including many major and subtle variations. I also work with agnostic people and atheists (who are spiritual in their own right, since they have invested extraordinary thought into "not being religious.") When people make the hospice decision, and qualify for it, they are choosing to live out the rest of their lives with dignity. People are freed from enduring further medical procedures that are not arresting the disease. Medical intervention for symptom management takes the front seat. The renewed focus is on acceptance, care, comfort, dignity and a sense of peacefulness that stems from the very core of their being - their soul.
I often tell patients that our body is the "apartment" for our soul. Although our physical body is failing, our soul may thrive. The language of our soul is meaning. We may re-discover our soul when a poor medical prognosis awakens a need for deeper meaning in us. Spirituality, or life meaning-making, becomes front and center at perhaps a deeper level than before.
In hospice, the patient is back in charge with the support of loved ones and the hospice interdisciplinary team: physicians, RNs, home health aids, social workers and chaplains. Team members travel to the patients' homes, wherever "home" may be: private residence, assisted living, skilled nursing facility or hospital.
Hospice is about living, not dying. We focus on the distinction between curing and healing. While curing eliminates disease, healing focuses on wholeness and peacefulness as we journey toward the end of life. Curative measures may see death as failure. Healing includes death as one of the sacred, natural outcomes of life.
We connect with our vulnerability when we identify our needs for wholeness. Our journey may include releasing old hurts through forgiveness of ourselves and others. We recognize that forgiveness is a gift to ourselves. It does not suggest that we are compromising our dignity or our sense of right or wrong. Rather, we are claiming peacefulness for ourselves - setting our soul free from spiritual unrest.
Re-claiming wellness includes embracing freedom from our devastating medical diagnoses. We own our terminal diagnosis, while at the same time, we claim healing as we work toward our sense of peacefulness. In this process we may begin to deepen and transform our understanding of hope.
Hospice engages hope. It does not let go of hope. I believe God is our infinite, self-renewing source of hope. Our hope may transform as our healing deepens. Our hope may be to have time alone with each of our loved ones. It may be to reconcile a relationship that fell off the track somewhere along the way in our lives. We may have come to realize that it is a relationship we hope to rekindle as part of healing.
Our journey toward peacefulness may involve anger along the way. But is it really anger. It certainly sounds like anger! It may be anger. Anger is easier for us to access than our sadness. It may be profound sadness.
I often sit with patients or family members in silence. I think of it as "relational silence" because there is an awful lot going on. It isn't being articulated, but it is voiced through sacred silence. "Be still and know that I am God!" (Psalm 46: 10a).
When we release our loved one to go, it is an expression of wellness or healing. As a loved one, we face anticipatory grief during this time. It is profoundly sad to be left behind. Perhaps the deepest expression of love is to give our loved one "permission" to go when she or he is ready.
Life is forever altered when a loved one passes on. We learn to carry our grief as part of who we are. We cherish the beautiful gifts that our departed loved ones have given us - gifts of who they were and how they loved us. As people who have been left behind, we own those beloved, intangible gifts forever. In recognition of this trying time, hospice follows patients, families and loved ones for 13 months following death. Support groups may be available indefinitely.
I understand hospice as a gift we give ourselves once medical treatment modalities are no longer helpful. A peaceful passing with the hospice patient is a drawing in and eventual surrender to God. It is natural. It is sacred. What a deep privilege it is to serve in this resilient ministry of life.
The Rev. Janet M. White, affiliated clergy with Trinitarian Congregational UCC in Concord, Mass., is a staff hospice chaplain for All Care Hospice, a subsidiary of Health Management Services, Inc., in Lynn, Mass.
What is hospice?
Considered to be the model for quality, compassionate care for people facing a life-limiting illness or injury, hospice provides expert medical care, pain management, and emotional and spiritual support expressly tailored to meet a patient's needs and wishes.
Hospice focuses on caring, not curing. In most cases, care is provided in the patient's home.
What services are typically offered?
• An interdisciplinary care team works in concert to:
• Manage the patient's pain and symptoms;
• Assist the patient with the emotional and psychosocial and spiritual aspects of dying;
• Provide needed drugs, medical supplies, and equipment;
• Coach the family on how to care for the patient;
• Deliver special services like speech and physical therapy when needed.
• Make short-term inpatient care available when pain or symptoms become too difficult to manage at home, or the caregiver needs respite time.
• Provides bereavement care and counseling to surviving family and friends.
Source: National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization
If you're a member of a church with a big-time pipe organ with a full-time musician, consider yourself lucky. Not all congregations are so fortunate.
Some churches struggle every Sunday to find someone who is able to play the keyboard during worship.
That's why The Pilgrim Press, in cooperation with the UCC's Worship and Education Ministry, has spent the past year developing a set of pipe-organ accompaniment CDs for creative use in congregational worship services. The series of includes an accompaniment for each hymn in The New Century Hymnal, the UCC's hymnal published in 1995.
"The purpose is not to put any organist out of work," says the Rev. Timothy Staveteig, publisher. "The purpose is to give music options to congregations that may need help in strengthening their music offerings, especially in smaller congregations that may have limited opportunities for musicians."
Recording high-quality accompaniments for each of the hymnal's 617 hymns has been no small task, and the bulk of that responsibility has fallen to the Rev. Scott Ressman, the UCC's minister for worship, music and liturgical arts.
Ressman invited and brought together many of the UCC's finest organists, who volunteered to assist with the project. The recordings took place at several Cleveland-area UCC churches known for their high-quality organs. And the sound quality is superior, Ressman said.
"Great care has been taken to present each hymn in The New Century Hymnal with stylistic integrity," he said.
In addition to use in worship, the CDs also can be helpful for worship planning, choir warm-ups, hymn sings or other occasions when an organist may not be available, such as weddings and funerals.
Because of the high-costs associated with producing and packaging the musical CDs, orders received before shipment will take place in various stages. Orders received before September 2008 will be shipped in part. The first volume is expected in April, the second volume in May and the remaining volumes in June and September.
Listen to sample selections and order online at thepilgrimpress.com.
In the wake of misleading attacks on its mission and ministry, Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ is being lauded by United Church of Christ leaders across the nation for the integrity of its worship, the breadth of its community involvement and the depth of its commitment to social justice.
"Trinity United Church of Christ is a great gift to our wider church family and to its own community in Chicago," says UCC General Minister and President John H. Thomas. "At a time when it is being subjected to caricature and attack in the media, it is critical that all of us express our gratitude and support to this remarkable congregation, to Jeremiah A. Wright for his leadership over 36 years, and to Pastor Otis Moss III, as he assumes leadership at Trinity."
Thomas says he has been saddened by news reports that "present such a caricature of a congregation that been such a great blessing."
"These attacks, many of them motivated by their own partisan agenda, cannot go unchallenged," Thomas emphasizes. "It's time for all of us to say 'No' to these attacks and to declare that we will not allow anyone to undermine or destroy the ministries of any of our congregations in order to serve their own narrow political or ideological ends."
Located in the heart of Chicago's impoverished Southside, Trinity UCC's vast array of ministries include career development and college placement, tutorial and computer services, health care and support groups, domestic violence programs, pastoral care and counseling, bereavement services, drug and alcohol recovery, prison ministry, financial counseling and credit union, housing and economic development, dozens of choral, instrumental and dance groups, and diverse programming for all ages, including youth and senior citizens.
Thomas, a member of Pilgrim Congregational UCC in Cleveland, has attended worship at Trinity UCC on a few occasions -- most recently on March 2 -- and says he is "profoundly impressed" with the 6,000-member congregation.
Among Trinity UCC's crowning achievements, Thomas says, is its work with young people.
"While the worship is always inspiring, the welcome extravagant, and the preaching biblically based and prophetically challenging, I have been especially moved by the way Trinity ministers to its young people, nurturing them to claim their Christian faith, to celebrate their African-American heritage, and to pursue higher education to prepare themselves for leadership in church and society," Thomas says.
The Rev. Steve Gray, the UCC's Indiana-Kentucky Conference Minister, describes Trinity UCC as a "jewel."
"It's everything a Christian community is supposed to be," says Gray, who has been working with Trinity UCC for the past three years to develop a new UCC congregation in Gary, Ind. "Trinity has given well over $100,000 in support of its partnership with us, and in 15 months of regular meetings with Jeremiah Wright, we always found him to be a man of gracious hospitality, humor, generosity, who paid attention to detail but also a man who does not call attention to himself."
Trinity UCC has been involved in planting more than 15 new congregations, according to the UCC's Evangelism Ministry in Cleveland.
Gray, a member of First Congregational UCC in Indianapolis, has worshiped several times at Trinity UCC and is most impressed by the overflowing sense of welcome it extends to visitors.
"When you're Euro-American, the people [at Trinity UCC] are so exceedingly gracious, warm and welcoming. They hug you and say, 'Welcome to our church!'"
Many, including Gray, point with appreciation to Trinity UCC's generous support of denominational and ecumenical ministries. From 2003 to 2007, Trinity UCC gave more than $3.7 million to Our Church's Wider Mission, the UCC's shared fund for connectional mission and ministry.
The Rev. Bennie Whiten, retired Massachusetts Conference Minister who prior served for 15 years as associate director of Chicago's Community Renewal Society, says, "Trinity was one church that we could always rely on to respond almost immediately. They have been very, very involved in the community in so many meaningful ways."
Noting the church's work in health care, early childhood education and economic development, Whiten says, "The scope of their concern and outreach is extraordinary. It's really just an outstanding congregation."
Whiten, a member of Pilgrim UCC in Oak Park, Ill., is especially taken with Trinity UCC's commitment to the need and importance of quality theological education. More than 60 members of Trinity UCC are currently enrolled in seminary and pursuing masters-level degrees. Moreover, the congregation pays for students' tuition costs.
"They firmly believe in the UCC's commitment to an educated, seminary-trained clergy," Whiten said, "and they have probably had more people feeling the call to ministry than any other church in the denomination."
The Rev. Susan Thistlethwaite, president and professor of theology at UCC-related Chicago Theological Seminary, says Trinity UCC is a model church in the way it supports its people in discerning and cultivating their gifts for ministry, both lay and ordained.
"Another thing I really appreciate about Trinity is that its ministries are always directed both inward, toward the congregation itself, and also outward in supporting other congregations ecumenically and supporting community organizations that are dedicated to lifting up the wider society," Thistlethwaite says. "We have had so many fine students come through Chicago Theological Seminary who were helped to discern their call to ministry through this church's dedication to serving the wider church."
'Jesus and justice'
The Rev. Kenneth L. Samuel, pastor of Victory UCC in Stone Mountain, Ga., says he is impressed that Trinity UCC "promotes spirituality and piety while also being emphatic about social justice."
While Trinity UCC is the denomination's largest congregation, Samuel's 5,300-member church is the UCC's second largest. Founded in 1987, it joined the UCC in 2004.
"Trinity was really one of the churches that inspired me to want to affiliate with the United Church of Christ," Samuel said. "My church was originally National Baptist and Southern Baptist, but it was the critical-thinking that [Trinity] brought to this work, the justice work, that helped me to want to become a part of the denomination. I have no regrets about that."
Samuel says that, during Wright's 36-year ministry at Trinity, Wright has not been afraid to tackle difficult topics, while staying equally committed to preaching "Jesus and justice."
"There have been two major sins in the Black church that many Black churches will not address – homophobia is one and sexism is another," Samuel says, "and Jeremiah Wright has been one of the articulate, courageous voices that has not been afraid to address these critical issues. If he can do that and still maintain his close connectivity to the Black community, and stay grounded in the Black ethos, that's what has inspired me."
'Speaks well for us'
Carol Brown, national president of United Black Christians and a member of Cleveland's Mt. Zion UCC for more than 50 years, describes Trinity UCC as "the flagship church of the United Church of Christ."
"I think it's very interesting that a minority group within a denomination can have the largest church, support the most ministries and give the largest number of OCWM [mission] dollars," Brown says. "That speaks well for us as an accepting, open and affirming denomination. Especially, as a justice-oriented church, [Trinity UCC] sets a standard for all the denomination that all are welcome."
Brown, who worships at Trinity UCC when in Chicago for meetings, says she is most taken by its exuberant spirit.
"It's certainly a very welcoming church, and it's certainly very reaffirming of the faith when people join in such large numbers when there's an altar call," Brown says. "It's something that you don't see in the average church. God is certainly at work there, and it's exciting when you see that many people stand up to witness to their faith and step forward."
The Internal Revenue Service has notified the United Church of Christ's national offices in Cleveland, Ohio, that the IRS has opened an investigation into U.S. Sen. Barack Obama's address at the UCC's 2007 General Synod as the church engaging in "political activities."
In the IRS letter dated Feb. 20, the IRS said it was initiating a church tax inquiry "because reasonable belief exists that the United Church of Christ has engaged in political activities that could jeopardize its tax-exempt status."
The Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president, called the investigation "disturbing" but said the investigation would reveal that the church did nothing improper or illegal.
Obama, an active member of the United Church of Christ for more than 20 years, addressed the UCC's 50th anniversary General Synod in Hartford, Conn., on June 23, 2007, as one of 60 diverse speakers representing the arts, media, academia, science, technology, business and government. Each was asked to reflect on the intersection of their faith and their respective vocations or fields of expertise. The invitation to Obama was extended a year before he became a Democratic presidential candidate.
"The United Church of Christ took great care to ensure that Senator Obama's appearance before the 50th anniversary General Synod met appropriate legal and moral standards," Thomas told United Church News. "We are confident that the IRS investigation will confirm that no laws were violated."
Before Obama spoke to the national gathering of 10,000 UCC members, Associate General Minister Edith A. Guffey, who serves as administrator of the biennial General Synod, admonished the crowd that Obama's appearance was not to be a campaign-related event and that electioneering would not be tolerated. No political leaflets, signs or placards were allowed, and activity by the Obama campaign was barred from inside the Hartford Civic Center venue.
In an introduction before Obama's speech, Thomas said Obama was invited as "one of ours" to provide reflections on "how personal faith can be lived out in the public square, how personal faith and piety is reflected in the life of public service."
Thomas said the IRS's investigation implies that Obama, a UCC member, is not free to speak openly to fellow UCC members about his faith.
"The very fact of an IRS investigation, however, is disturbing," Thomas said. "When the invitation to an elected public official to speak to the national meeting of his own church family is called into question, it has a chilling effect on every religious community that seeks to encourage politicians and church members to thoughtfully relate their personal faith to their public responsibilities."
Don Clark, a Chicago attorney who serves as the UCC's national special counsel, said the IRS investigation will afford the UCC the opportunity to correct "inaccuracies and misperceptions."
"It's disconcerting, since the IRS did not communicate with us, or seek any facts from us, in advance of their coming to this understanding," Clark said. "But we feel confident that once they are made aware of the facts that they'll draw a different conclusion.
"This inquiry will provide an opportunity for the United Church of Christ to correct any factual inaccuracies and misperceptions that may have prompted the underlying concern, and to reaffirm the importance of the constitutional rights of free speech and association that have been implicated," Clark said.
Sitting presidents and presidential candidates have a long history of speaking before non-profit, faith-based bodies.
In January of this year, both Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton spoke separately to the national gathering of the National Baptist Convention of America. In April 1996, when her husband, Bill Clinton, was seeking re-election, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton, who is United Methodist, spoke before her denomination's quadrennial General Conference.
In March 1983, President Ronald Reagan gave his famous "Evil Empire" speech before the National Association of Evangelicals.
In September 1960, then-candidate John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, appeared before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association to explain the “so-called religious issue” and “to emphasize from the outset that we have far more critical issues to face in the 1960 election.”
The Rev. Edwin R. "Doc" Edmonds, one of the UCC's stalwart justice advocates, died on Nov. 6 of pneumonia-related complications. He was 90.
Edmonds, a former chair of the UCC's Commission for Racial Justice, was the retired pastor of Dixwell Avenue Congregational UCC in New Haven, Conn., where he served for 35 years. A columnist for the New Haven Register referred to Edmonds as "New Haven's premier civil-rights figure of the mid-20th century."
A one-time member of New Haven's Board of Education, Edmonds also led New Haven's inner-city ministry called the "Wider City Parish" and taught sociology at Southern Connecticut State University.
The Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president, said it was appropriate that Edmonds' death would come just after the UCC was concluding its 50th anniversary on All Saints Sunday.
"Few have had such a long and profound influence on the shaping of our church and its vocation of public witness for racial, social and economic justice," Thomas said. "Doc's leadership over the years pushed us urgently toward greater faithfulness and helped us become the church we celebrated at our 50th anniversary celebration in Hartford."
Edmonds, who moved to New Haven in 1959, is credited with helping to build a thriving black middle class there. When the Ford Foundation gave the city $1 million to pilot anti-poverty and job-training programs, Edmonds was appointed to the original board of the project, called Community Progress, Inc.
Edmonds, who was a pastor and civil rights pioneer in Greensboro, N.C., before moving to Connecticut, met the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1958 at an NAACP convention in Detroit and the two corresponded until King was slain, according to the Hartford Courant.
The Rev. Linda Jaramillo, executive minister for Justice and Witness Ministries, served on the Commission for Racial Justice under Edmond's leadership. JWM is CRJ's successor body in the UCC's national structure.
“I remember Dr. Edmonds as a 'drum major' for justice, words that I believe Dr. King would have used to describe him," Jaramillo said. "I will always treasure the way in which he taught through word and deed. The legacy of this faithful justice prophet will live on within and beyond the United Church of Christ.”
A native Texan, Edmonds attended Sam Houston College, which was co-founded by his grandfather in 1876. He later received a Bachelor of Sacred Theology from Morehouse College and a doctorate in social ethics from Boston University.
Edmonds and his late wife, Maye, had four daughters, Lynette Johnson, Karen Spellman, Cheryl Edmonds and Connecticut State Rep. Toni Walker (D-New Haven). He was a member of Church of the Redeemer UCC in New Haven.
A public memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on Nov. 24 at Center Church UCC in New Haven.
A United Church of Christ congregation in Texas has been told it cannot participate in an evangelical Christian program that assists children of prisoners because of the church's outspoken gay-friendly stance.
The Rev. Dan De Leon, pastor of Friends Congregational UCC in College Station, Texas, said he learned this summer that his church was disqualified from Prison Fellowship's Angel Tree program, which encourages churches to buy Christmas presents for the children of inmates.
Prison Fellowship officials said the church's stance on homosexuality, declared on its Web site, represented a disagreement about basic scriptural doctrine.
"For a church to qualify for Angel Tree, its beliefs must be consistent with our Statement of Faith, including being Trinitarian and accepting the unique authority of the Bible in all matters of faith and life," reads a July 24 letter the church received from Prison Fellowship.
The church provided a copy of the letter to Religion News Service.
"As we have looked at the doctrine and beliefs of your church in light of our Statement of Faith and partnering guidelines, we have determined that your church does not qualify as part of our program."
De Leon said he called the regional office of Prison Fellowship and was told his church was disqualified because it belongs to the UCC's "Open and Affirming" program that welcomes gays and lesbians as members.
"Personally it came as a shock and when it was shared with the congregation, it was equally shocking," said De Leon, whose church draws an average of 120 worshippers on Sunday. "The emotions ran from anger to confusion to just the wind being taken out of our sails as a community initially."
David Lawson, senior vice president of Prison Fellowship, called the situation "one unfortunate incident" and said "very few" of the more than 12,000 participating churches have been disqualified or disqualified themselves from the Angel Tree program. Such cases usually involve differing views about homosexuality or creation, he said.
He said the Angel Tree program is not limited to Christmas presents but aims for a year-round "full relationship" between churches and prisoners' children, involving them in congregational programs.
"We want to make sure that the churches that we partner with are compatible with our values, our statement of faith," said Lawson, who is based in Lansdowne, Va.
The Texas church has participated in the program for five years and been "Opening and Affirming" since 1996. In recent years, Prison Fellowship has reviewed Angel Tree participants to ensure that churches are compatible with a recently revised mission statement that urges a focus on "transformation," he said.
The United Church of Christ has seen other repercussions from its stance on homosexuality. In July, an insurer refused to offer coverage to a UCC church in Adrian, Mich., saying its pro-gay stance put it at "a higher risk" of property damage and litigation. In recent years, major television networks have rejected UCC ads as "too controversial."
The Texas congregation has drafted a letter to Prison Fellowship, signed by more than 120 parishioners and supporters, to express its dismay at being removed from the program.
"We are disheartened that Prison Fellowship has chosen to lean more heavily on small matters of doctrinal disagreements than on much larger matters of theological authenticity and compassion, which demand that we Christians must love one another if anyone will ever believe that we truly follow Christ," the letter said.
UCC President John H. Thomas wrote a letter of support to the congregation, and encouraged them to respond to Prison Fellowship.
"I pray that those who receive your letter will be challenged by its message and, by God's grace, transformed," Thomas wrote.
De Leon said church members will meet to determine new ways to help children in the community.
Lawson said even though Prison Fellowship is no longer aligned with the College Station congregation, "we affirm them in their desire to serve these children."
A major insurance company that sought out business from a local United Church of Christ congregation in Michigan has refused to even provide a quote for coverage because it learned the church's denomination supported same-gender marriage equality and the ordination of gay clergy.Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company, based in Fort Wayne, Ind., told West Adrian UCC in Adrian, Mich., that its denomination's gay-affirming stances made it a "higher risk" for property and liability insurance.
"Our company's decision to not submit a quote to your organization arose out of information that was supplied in a supplemental application, indicating that your organization 'publicly endorses or practices the marriage of same-sex couples' and 'publicly endorses or practices the ordination of the homosexual clergy,'" wrote Marci J. Fretz, a regional underwriter for Brotherhood Mutual, in a July 30 letter to the church.
Ironically, the church was fully insured by another company, and happily so, but was sought out by a local agent of Brotherhood Mutual who asked to provide the church a quote and then, subsequently, refused to do so.
"I think Brotherhood Mutual's action is one worth noting," wrote the Rev. John W. Kottke in an Aug. 13 letter to the Rev. Kent J. Ulery, the UCC's Michigan Conference Minister, "if for the sake of warning other churches in our Conference that such prejudice exists within certain sectors of the business community."
Founded in 1917, Brotherhood Mutual claims to be one of the nation's leading insurers of churches and related ministries. It provides insurance to 30,000 congregations in 29 states and the District of Columbia.
"[Brotherhood Mutual has] an obligation to serve as stewards of our policyholder's funds, and to avoid knowingly insuring organizations that are at higher risk of loss based on the controversial positions that they have taken," the company wrote to the church.
Cathy Green, president and CEO of the UCC Insurance Board, which insures about 2,600 UCC and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregations, says Brotherhood Mutual is one of its "key competitors."
In contrast to Brotherhood Mutual, Green says, one of UCCIB's core values is inclusivity. "All UCC and Disciples churches are eligible to receive our services without prejudice to a denominational or congregational position on being open and affirming or on being a congregation with a wide diversity of leadership membership," Green said. "We give our best efforts to every church every time."
West Adrian UCC, founded in 1836, has about 100 members. It is not listed among the nearly 700 UCC churches that have publicly adopted an "open and affirming " position with regard to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.
"I do not believe this company represents the mainstream of insurance providers, but it is good to be aware of how our church's faith perspectives can be misjudged," the church's pastor said. "I hope that none of our churches are drawn into dealings with this company."
The Golden Gate Association ordained the UCC's first gay clergyperson, the Rev. William R. Johnson, in 1972. In 2005, when General Synod affirmed same-gender marriage equality, the UCC became the first and largest mainline Christian denomination to do so.
Across UCC, churches approach Eucharist with diverse traditions, meaningful practices
World Communion Sunday may come and go without much fanfare, foregoing celebrity hype and lacking attention-grabbing scandal.
But in an increasing globalized world, where differences can be divisive, sharing in the elements of the Lord's Supper is the quiet constant that unites believers of Christ — that grace, redemption and healing are afforded through the simple sharing of sacred bread and cup.
On Oct. 7, congregations across the UCC and countless other denominations will celebrate Holy Communion. For some it will be a somber occasion. For others, the elements will be received joyfully.
Sue Blain, the UCC's minister for worship, reflecting on the myriad of different ways that Holy Communion is celebrated, shared and distributed among Christians, says, "I think the ideal would be for folks to experience communion in a variety of different ways."
Blain says that when communion is served in the pews, it symbolizes God coming among the people, feeding them. "But having to make a choice to move forward has another level of commitment in some respects," she says. "Both are true, both are valid," says Blain. "I think we could experience all of that and be enriched spiritually."
At UCC's Cathedral of Hope, communion is weekly highpoint
Cathedral of Hope UCC in Dallas, Texas, regards itself as the largest liberal Christian church in the world with a primary outreach to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Each week, at Sunday morning services and a Wednesday night contemporary worship, communion is celebrated.
The Rev. Dr. Jo Hudson, senior pastor of Cathedral of Hope UCC, says the decision to serve communion each week came from both practical and spiritual reasons.
"Nobody grew up in this congregation," explains Hudson, who says that the 37-year-old congregation is comprised largely of transplants from the Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist traditions. "For those who come out of a tradition where communion, or the Lord's Supper or the Eucharist is served every week, that's essential to their worship life."
"I think this church also needed that sacrament of grace in a way many churches might not have felt that need," Hudson says. "This congregation suffered greatly during the AIDS crisis of the late 1980s and early 1990s. It had close to 1,500 people die of AIDS. [Communion] became an important part of the healing of the congregation."
Hudson describes communion as being a high point of each worship service.
"The emphasis is on celebration of the feast, the joy of receiving, and the hope contained within that," she says. "Some of the older liturgies are more focused on sin and repenting. Not that we don't recognize that sin exists, but we interpret the sacrament as an act of grace that is designed to bring hope, peace and reconciliation to people."
Having communion each week has become so central that Hudson feels its importance in worship is as a response to God's Word.
"The sacred moment of that sacrament is so powerful, in terms of helping people heal," she says. "It offers grace. We're so committed to the notion that 'Everyone is welcome to the table.' We want to demonstrate that every single week."
Join Cathedral of Hope UCC for worship online at www.cathedralofhope.com.
Disciples/UCC local churches prompt examination of communion 'frequency'
First Congregational UCC in San Jose, Calif., has a long-standing relationship with the United Disciples Fellowship, a congregation of the Disciples of Christ. The two faith communities share facilities and worship, but both keep true to their own denomination's interpretations.
The Rev. Nathan A. Miller says that the relationship between the two churches can sometimes seem confusing to outsiders, but says the partnership has worked seamlessly.
"[The UDF] resembles a house church," explains Miller, who shares his ministerial responsibilities with his associate, the Rev. Nancy C. Peters.
"They meet on the first Saturday of every month in someone's home. They have a worship time, a program time, and a business meeting time. Part of their worship time is always the sacrament of communion, in keeping with the Disciples tradition."
Each Sunday, both congregations share in a common worship service, and the church has found a way to honor the Disciples' tradition of weekly communion, even though the UCC congregation traditionally celebrates the Lord's Supper just once a month.
"At the close of the organ postlude — we're very careful not to say 'at the close of worship' because this is a continuation of worship — people have already been invited to come forward to communion if they wish," says Miller. The UDF furnishes the bread and wine, and communion is served by intinction up around the communion table in the chancel. All are welcome, and Miller says that besides the UDF members, many visitors and UCC members will also take part in the sacrament.
Miller admiringly describes the UDF congregation as "an empowered bunch" and says its members are very theologically astute.
While Peters is a member of UDF, Miller is not. Still, Miller says the UDF is very gracious in welcoming him to events, but says, "they are really self-sufficient in all the positive ways." And the UCC congregation has benefited greatly from the special interest the UDF has taken in sponsoring adult education events, such as a lectureship series.
Miller says while worship style between UCC and Disciples of Christ communities are very similar, the two sacraments — communion and baptism — are viewed quite differently.
"We understand the act of communion much the same, but the frequency hardly matches any UCC church," he says. As for baptism, Miller says, "The Disciples of Christ tradition practices adult baptism, which is a practice of the UCC, but infrequent. And the Disciples immerse."
While serving a church in Mesa, Ariz., Miller remembers his church, a union between Disciples of Christ and UCC, sprinkled the UCC babies and immersed the Disciples young teens and adults. "We'd roll in a tank and fill it up with a hose—it took a day to do it—and there was a heater so that the water wasn't too cold!"
These differences, Miller says, have never gotten in the way. On World Communion Sunday, the UDF members will lead the entire worship, serving communion in the joint worship service with First Congregational UCC in San Jose, and both congregations will partake in the elements, united in Christ.
"Our UCC people only see enhancement of our ministry," says Miller, "and I think the Disciples group sees only enhancement to their ministry. It's just part of who we are."
Pastor: Holy Communion calls us to universal solidarity
"There's a surplus of meaning in the sacrament, and we don't want to nail it down to one thing," says the Rev. Mary Luti, one of the pastors at First Church in Cambridge (Mass.) UCC.
Luti says her congregation celebrates communion once monthly at the morning worship, besides special feast days. A Sunday afternoon service featuring gospel and jazz music serves weekly communion.
Luti feels there is a renewed interest in ritual action across the UCC, not only in the sacrament of communion, but also healing and anointing.
"It's a positive development," she says. "It recovers some of the most ancient traditions of the church that are neither Catholic nor Protestant. They are simply practices that help our bodies and our minds."
To Luti, making sure the communion service never loses its edge is the key to making the ritual meaningful and thought-provoking.
"Very often we repeat the line, 'Jesus sat down to supper with the one who would betray him and the one who would deny him.' That line refers to Judas and Peter," she says.
"There is a challenge there. How do we sit with our enemies? How do we sit with the people we don't agree with, or who don't love us?"
"On World Communion Sunday, a lot of churches are rediscovering the universal aspect of our communion," says Luti. "These rituals are among the ways we show forth and also ground our solidarity with people all over the world."
For Luti, communion has a meaning that transcends time and place. "During communion," she says, "we really link up with the church as it has been, as it is now, and as it will be … we look forward to the day when everyone will be fed around this table with equal joy and equal justice."