Written by The Rt. Rev. John Butosi
A Conference in the United Church of Christ is determined by its geographical boundaries—almost. The exception is the acting conference that is not even named a conference: the Calvin Synod. It is made up of Hungarian churches from Connecticut to Illinois, with most concentrated in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois. These churches were originally part of the Hungarian Reformed Church. Later they joined the Reformed Church in the United States, and when the merged Evangelical and Reformed Church united with the Congregational Christian Churches to form the United Church of Christ, these Hungarian churches became part of the Calvin Synod. The history of these churches in American life is unique.
Hungarian emigration patterns
The Reformed Church in Hungary had a glorious past. The Protestant Reformation swept the country rapidly and early. By the end of the sixteenth century, Hungary was 90 percent Protestant, mainly Calvinist in theology and forms of worship. The Counter-Reformation, led by Jesuits and enforced by the Habsburg monarchy and the Hungarian nobility, recovered control for the Roman Catholic Church. More than four hundred Protestant pastors and teachers were imprisoned and tortured until they recanted. Only forty-one refused. These were marched to the Adriatic Sea and sold as galley slaves. From this life of horror they were finally ransomed through the intervention of Holland and Switzerland and given political asylum in those countries. The heroic witness of these pastors and teachers is commemorated in the "Hymn of the Hungarian Galley Slaves," found in all four hymnals currently in use in UCC congregations under the title "Lift Thy Head, O Zion, Weeping." 
Political and religious repression continued for almost two hundred years more, until World War I, when Hungary was finally separated from the Hapsburg monarchy. Out of this historic struggle for religious freedom in Hungary the Hungarian Reformed faith came to the United States. Political, social, and religious struggles continued into the twentieth century.
There were five waves of Hungarian emigration to America:
1. The first wave started after the collapse of the Hungarian Revolution, in 1849. In terms of numbers, this emigration was insignificant. 
2. The second wave was different. Immediately after the abolition of serfdom, before the depression of the 1870s, the rural-agrarian, landless proletariat found easy employment in Hungary. However, after 1870 the number of emigrants rose quickly. From 1850 to 1920 it is estimated that between 2,500,000 and 3,000,000 people left Hungary. Many came to the United States. 
3. After World War I, Hungary tightened its emigration policy. As the state was consolidated, without minorities of significant size, the goal was to increase the population, and therefore the number of taxpayers, and to augment the state?s military force. From this viewpoint, emigration was a loss, and every emigrant was regarded as a traitor to the fatherland.
Also of significance is the fact that after World War I the United States shut the open door before the immigrants. A quota of only 473 was allotted to Hungary in the first quota law, and 865 on the basis of national origin. As a result of these rigid laws, both in Hungary and in the United States, the upper class and the Jews were represented above their proportion after World War I among the Hungarian immigrants to the United States. Imre de Josika-Herczeg calls this third wave of emigration ?one of artists and professional people.? 
4. During and after World War II (1941-50) more than one million people were forced, in one way or another, to leave Hungary.  Not counting those who perished in concentration or forced labor camps, or who returned to Hungary, or who renounced their Hungarian ethnic affiliation, the total of Hungarian Displaced Persons could not be estimated as more than 120,000 persons. The United States received a fair share of those who constituted a new type of Hungarian immigrant. These people, in contrast to other immigrants, did not leave the old country of their own free will; they had not intended to emigrate. They were ?forced emigrants,? ?refugees in spite of themselves,? who were put on the move mostly by political forces. As a group, they were less homogeneous than the previous waves. They came from all walks of life, and many nationalities, creeds, political confessions, and social classes were represented among them.
5. After the revolt of 1956 the most recent wave of Hungarian emigration left the country and was dispersed all over the world. Their number is estimated at 193,973 persons, of whom 35,705 arrived in the United States before September 30, 1957. 
Thus the five waves of Hungarian emigration, which reached U.S. shores after the abolition of serfdom in Hungary (1848), were (a) the so-called Kossuth emigration, which was politically motivated (1850?75); (b) the emigration of peasants for economic and social reasons (1876?1920); (c) the emigration of Jews and professionals between the two wars (1921?41); (d) the immigration of the so-called Displaced Persons during and after World War II (1941?50); and (e) the refugees of the 1956 revolt.
Reformed church life in America
About one fourth of the population of Hungary and about one fourth of the Hungarian immigrants to the United States were adherents of the Reformed faith. Early attempts to organize Reformed churches, however, were unsuccessful.
The first Hungarian Reformed Church service in the United States was conducted on April 13, 1852, by Gedeon Acs, chaplain to Louis Kossuth, hero of Hungary?s War of Independence against Austria in 1848. When Kossuth was brought to the United States on a U.S. warship and addressed both Houses of Congress, he was welcomed as a great freedom fighter. Enthusiastic women, organized by Mary Day of New York City, provided enough money to pay for this early "international" ministry, but with Kossuth?s departure Acs was forced to discontinue his work, and in 1860 he himself returned to Hungary. 
In 1881 Francis Kecskemethy, with the aid of the New York Presbytery (Presbyterian Church in the United States of America), started Hungarian Reformed services in New York City, but his work gradually diminished to such an extent that he too returned to Hungary. Nevertheless, Kecskemethy?s undertaking showed that the Presbyterian Church in the USA was the first denomination in the New World to aid church work among Hungarian Reformed people. 
After such sporadic and futile beginnings, church life started among Hungarians only when the agrarian proletariat and small landholders reached U.S. shores in great numbers. At first, these immigrants met for worship in each others? homes, but when baptisms, weddings, or funeral services were needed, they had to turn to various American clergy, because there were no Hungarian pastors among them. Consequently, certain American ministers began to take special interest in these people, especially those ministers who spoke German. Many Hungarians also spoke German and thus communications could be established. Historians emphasize the fact that ?the earliest organization of Hungarian immigrants were the fraternal societies formed for mutual help, protection in case of death, injury or unemployment."  To organize such a society was an exciting undertaking for these people: It bound them together by voluntary decisions, provided them "decent Christian burial," and even met some of their religious needs, such as hymn singing and prayer. But one thing the society could not give—the sacrament of Holy Communion. For these Hungarians, taking communion at the six established occasions of the year was crucial. They had to go to the "sanctuary" or, if they had none, to the ones they considered "Reformed."
German Reformed relationships
On several occasions a group of Hungarian Reformed people visited a German Reformed church to take communion. In February 1890, at the Seventh (German) Reformed Church of Cleveland, Ohio, where the Rev. J.H.C. R?ntgen was the pastor, a group of Hungarian immigrants arrived, saying, "Wir sind Ungarn und wolle zum Abendemahl geh?n. Wir, reformiert."  ("We are Hungarians, and we want Holy Communion. We are Reformed.") About the same time in historic Grace Reformed Church, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Dr. John H. Prough was the pastor, the same thing happened. These pastors reported their experiences to their classes. [The "classis" is a regional jurisdiction in some U.S. Reformed churches. The plural is "classes."]
Because the Board of Home Missions of the Reformed Church in the United States was also aware of the problem, when the General Synod of the Reformed Church in the United States met in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, in the late spring of 1890, three separate recommendations of the Westmoreland Classis, the Pittsburgh Synod, and the Board of Home Missions asked the General Synod "to take action toward supplying the Hungarians and Germans ... with the Gospel." 
Correspondence with Hungarian church authorities started immediately, and in the same year the Rev. Gustav Juranyi was secured as the first missionary to the Hungarian immigrants in the United States. On January 1, 1891, he was commissioned by the Board of Home Missions of the Reformed Church in the United States to organize the first Hungarian Reformed congregation in America. Soon a second missionary was secured in the person of the Rev. John Kovacs, who was commissioned on July 1, 1891, for Pittsburgh, where the first church building was erected, dedicating it on October 23, 1892.
In two years Kovacs organized seventeen congregations, with a total of 1,500 members, and a third missionary had to be called to be his assistant..  Thus in 1896 there were six centers of missionary activities: Cleveland, with the Rev. Alexander Harsanyi; Pittsburgh, with the Rev. F. Ferenczy; South Norwalk, Connecticut, with the Rev. Gabriel Dokus; Trenton, New Jersey, with the Rev. Gustav Juranyi; New York City, with the Rev. B. Demeter; and Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania, with the Rev. Alexander Kalassay. 
The Hungarian immigrants were glad to organize churches not only because they needed spiritual nourishment, but also because the church provided for them a ?little Hungary,? where they experienced a sense of security. Some of these churches in fact were organized explicitly on a social basis as church societies, including Jews and Roman Catholics as well as Calvinists and Lutherans. At Trenton, for example, the Sick Benefit Society pledged one half of its income to the support of the church, and in New York a Jew was elected to the first consistory. 
At first, these congregations had no legal status as a church group affiliated with either the Reformed Church in Hungary or the Reformed Church in the United States. But in 1896 initial steps were made to organize a Hungarian classis. The group did not want to break relations with either church. The church in Hungary was still their home church and the Reformed Church in the United States was their generous supporter. Caught between two loyalties, more than a decade of negotiations was necessary until a Hungarian classis was officially approved by the General Synod of the Reformed Church in the United States(1905). 
Meanwhile, a new struggle flared up because of Presbyterian work among the Hungarian Reformed people. Until June 1899 work among the Hungarians was under the sole jurisdiction of the Reformed Church in the United States. But around this time the Rev. Julius Hamborsky, who served a Slav church under the jurisdiction of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, organized a Hungarian Reformed Church at Kingston, Pennsylvania, also under the jurisdiction of the Presbyterians.  Thus the unity of the Hungarian work was broken, and when Dr. Geza Kaczian, as the traveling missionary of the Presbyterian Church among the Hungarians, established Hungarian Presbyterian churches at Youngstown, Ohio (1902), and New Brunswick, New Jersey (1903), open hostility began between the two groups. 
Pressures from home
During the first fifteen years of emigration from Hungary, church and government paid little attention. The consensus on this subject was that the departure of non-Hungarian-speaking minorities from Austria-Hungary only strengthened the position of the ethnic Hungarians in historic Hungary; they did not mind the emigration as long as it was the emigration of only non-Magyars.  But by 1903 it became clear that the government?s liberal emigration policy had backfired; many Hungarian-speaking Magyars had also left the country. After this discovery the Hungarian government?s new policy was to halt emigration, and the Reformed Church in Hungary joined the government in this effort. Pastors were encouraged to use the pulpit and, if necessary, the local and state authorities to block the exodus of these "selfish, unpatriotic, reckless, and irresponsible people." Appeals to Hungarian patriotism were used to stop emigration and to encourage repatriation. Also, at this time the Hungarian pastors of the Reformed Church in the United States sent their memorandum to the home church in Hungary, asking for help to end the "Presbyterian schism." This matter was considered of such great importance that the second-highest-ranking lay dignitary of the church, Count Jozsef Degenfeld—brother-in-law of the most influential Hungarian politician, Count Istvan Tisza—was sent to the United States in response. Undoubtedly, Count Degenfeld came to the United States not only to heal the wounds and end the schism but also to implement the new appeal to Hungarian patriotism among Hungarian Reformed people in the United States.
Degenfeld traveled to every Hungarian Reformed church with an invitation and proposal that an "American Classis" tied to the home church be organized as a way to solve the problems among U.S. Hungarian Reformed churches. The General Conventus of the Reformed Church in Hungary would pay the pastors? salaries. Lucrative offers were made to the pastors as well as to the congregations: teachers; free education of the pastors? children in Hungary; new positions in America; and better churches in Hungary, to which the people could return. 
Instead of a solution, however, the American Classis of the Reformed Church of Hungary, organized on October 7, 1904, simply created a third group in the Hungarian Reformed community—those who supported the Classis.
The expressed hope was that the original six congregations of this classis would sooner or later be joined by all the other churches. But this hope was never realized, although the new classis grew rapidly. By 1910 there were twenty-three congregations organized in two sections, namely the Eastern Classis and the Western Classis.
Reformed Church reactions
Of course, the first reaction to the establishment of an American Hungarian classis was a shock in the Reformed Church in the United States. Dr. Charles Schaeffer called it a "gross wrong done," "a foreign church on American soil," and declared:
Many Hungarians do not want a Hungarian church in this country, but they want to be part of the Reformed Church in the U.S. ... All honor to the ministers and congregations whom the glitter of gold cannot bribe and who ... did not ... dishonor their vows and obligations to the church into which they have been incorporated. 
He just could not understand.
Many Hungarian people had good reasons for joining the new classis. The German churches seemed unable to respond to their needs. One man in Trenton put it this way:
The Mission Board was unable to give us a really qualified minister, but it did recommend two individuals.., who have never completed theological studies.... Our church received all communications and official letters from the Classis in German, a language none of us understands. At the meetings of the Classis only German is used and it has no sense for us to participate. 
In 1905 the Reformed Church in the United States finally and too late organized the "Hungarian Classis," and David A. Souders became the Superintendent of the Board of Home Missions, "devoting almost all his time to the development of the Hungarian work."  Through the new Hungarian Classis new attempts were made to mend the breach. In the fall of 1908 Dr. James Good and Dean Joseph Tomcsanyi were authorized by the General Synod of the Reformed Church in the United States to present new plans to the Foreign Affairs Board of the General Conventus of the Reformed Church in Hungary. The plan was completed. It suggested that the Reformed Church in the United States and the Reformed Church in Hungary should do the American work together. The presidium of the General Conventus rejected the plan, stating that "leadership in the work of the American Hungarian Reformed people belongs solely to the home church,"  Although the war between the opposing parties raged in the courts, through the newspapers, and from the pulpit, the Reformed Church in the United States exercised restraint, sobriety, and hopefulness.  It kept the doors open.
The Tiffin Agreement
World War I created crisis and ushered a new period into the life of the Hungarian Reformed churches in America. Loyalty to the old country was still evident in the sacrificial purchase of Hungarian war bonds and in the generous support of funds gathered for the aid of Hungarian war widows and orphans.  Because both immigration and repatriation had stopped, Hungarians in the United States were forced to decide to stay permanently. Salary supplements for the pastors still arrived from Hungary through the Swedish Embassy in Washington, DC for 1917 and 1918, but at the same time Hungarian Reformed clergy were accused of being political agents and spies of the central powers.  These and other factors were used by many to urge separation from the home church in Hungary. Some favored an autonomous and self-supporting U.S. church, whereas others suggested affiliation with some U.S. denomination.
Thus negotiations were opened with the Reformed Church in the United States to assimilate the American classes of the Reformed Church of Hungary. On October 7, 1921, the Conventus of the Reformed Church in Hungary reached an agreement with the representatives of the Reformed Church in the United States at Tiffin, Ohio. Through this contract—the Tiffin Agreement—the Eastern Classis and the Western Classis of the Hungarian Reformed Church in America were received into organic legal and ecclesiastical relation with the Eastern Synod and the Pittsburgh Synod of the Reformed Church in the United States, as Classes. Both Classes were assured of the rights, privileges, and sanctions of the Reformed Church in the United States, whose protective powers were offered to safeguard and foster their growth and future development. All property, whether real or personal, remained in the possession of the congregations. The Reformed Church in the United States assumed responsibility for the payment of $52,000 to the Classes as salaries in arrears. The congregations, which became part and parcel of the Reformed Church in the United States, declared to be no more a part of another national church. Therefore, it was expected that nothing would hinder or prevent them from assimilating through historical process with the Reformed Church in the United States. The use of the Magyar language was permitted in public worship, Sunday schools, and vacation Bible schools. A recommendation was made that pastors and elders of the Hungarian Reformed congregations meet in annual conferences to consider the needs of their congregations and to make suggestions to the Board of Home Missions and to their respective Synods.  Through this "excellent transaction" twenty-eight Hungarian Reformed congregations with more than a million dollars' worth of church property joined the Reformed Church in the United States. 
Free Magyar Reformed Church in America
The Tiffin Agreement was by no means a magnet to draw all Hungarian Reformed churches in the United States together. Even if one understands the Americanization pressure of the postwar era, many American Hungarian persons could not swallow it. Laypeople especially, in opposition to their pastors, found that their dignity and right for self-determination was greatly distorted by the Tiffin Agreement.
Objections were made from three viewpoints: (a] On a religious basis, many people argued that Hungarian Reformed congregations could grow into a self-supporting, independent, explicitly Hungarian Reformed church body. (b) Others pointed to the deep nationalistic desire to preserve Magyar culture. (c) Still others noted how economic interests led toward an independent church.
As a result of these concerns a "free movement" gained momentum under the leadership of the Rev. Endre Sebestyan, pastor of the church in Duquesne, Pennsylvania, who was instrumental in organizing the Free Magyar Reformed Church in America on August 13, 1923, in Trenton. The new Hungarian Reformed denomination had its first Constitutional assembly on December 9, 1924 in Duquesne, with six churches answering the roll.
Four more churches soon joined this group (Leechburg, Pennsylvania; New York, New York; Cliff Side, New York; and Youngstown, Ohio), so that in 1928 they organized themselves into a diocese with two classes, the Eastern Classis and the Western Classis. In doctrine and government the new church claimed to follow the Reformed Church in Hungary. Accordingly, the Classes were supervised by deans and the Diocese by an arch-dean, who was the Duquesne pastor. In 1958 the word free, or independent, was omitted from the name of the denomination and the name Arch-Dean was changed to Bishop.  The aim of this group too was "to unite all the Reformed Hungarians who were able to support themselves into one separate denomination."  In reality the movement was dividing rather than uniting the existing congregations, because it capitalized on the nationalistic feeling of the first-generation Hungarian immigrants. Recently, the denomination was admitted into the membership of the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches as the Hungarian Reformed Church in America.
Implementing the Tiffin Agreement
The implementation of the Tiffin Agreement started with honesty and sincerity on both sides. Even before the respective synods legally ratified the agreement in 1923, three classes were formed for effective administration and growth. By accepting the terms of the Tiffin Agreement, the Hungarian Reformed people in these classes felt that they were the obedient children of the home church, whereas those who failed to join the Reformed Church in the United States were like spoiled children of the biblical parable. 
At first those who did not accept the Agreement resented the differences between the Reformed Church in Hungary and the Reformed Church in the United States, but soon they conscientiously confessed "from Hungarian and religious viewpoints, the new relation brought no harmful change in our churches; rather it improved the situation by adapting the life of our congregations to the post-war American conditions." In addition, they admitted that the Reformed Church in the United States provided a more democratic system of church government to its Hungarian churches without demanding any sacrifice from a Hungarian or a religious viewpoint. The classes were even granted rights ?which are exercised only by the synods in Hungary, such as examining and ordaining theological students.? 
As the years went by, however, the Board of Missions of the Reformed Church in the United States became increasingly dissatisfied. In 1929 the Board reported:
There are just about one-hundred Protestant Churches among them, seventy of which belong to the Reformed Church. All of these, with the exception of six, are enrolled as Missions under the Board and every one of the six so-called self-supporting churches, with the exception of the First Church, Cleveland, Ohio, likewise receive aid from the Board for pastor?s assistants, teachers or Deaconesses.... The Hungarian congregations have not yet become fully acquainted with our methods of securing benevolent moneys and consequently they contribute comparatively small amounts on the apportionments, which serves to pull down the average giving in the Classes and makes them recipients of a proportionately large share of our Home Mission appropriations. 
The Board was beginning to admit the failure of the Tiffin Agreement. It failed because it did not pay. It cost too much, and the Hungarians were progressing at the expense of Americanization expectations.
The economic depression of the country only aggravated the situation. Subsidy to special Hungarian projects had to be curtailed. In the 1920s the Board employed one Hungarian pastor as a full-time editor of the Reformatusok Lapja, the magazine for the Hungarian constituency. His salary and the printing and administration of this weekly were paid by the Board as one of the "benefits and advantages of the union with a large and influential American denomination."  "Under the depression we had to stop this subsidy as well as the financial assistance of other projects among our Hungarian brethren." The Board had to reduce its subsidy to Hungarian Mission churches too, and thus many of these churches became self-supporting whether they wanted to or not.
As a consequence of these developments, by 1935 a new tendency could be detected among the Hungarian churches of the Reformed Church in the United States. The president of Lakeside Classis was quoted as saying, "The Hungarian Reformed tradition should become the backbone of the spiritual life of our churches. More attention should be paid to this genuine Hungarian Reformed heritage in the life of our Classes."  TheReformatusok Lapja openly argued in 1936 that the summer schools and Sunday schools should emphasize the "Hungarian Reformed confessional heritage."  "We need desperately more courage to apply our Hungarian Reformed principles in our American congregations."  By 1938 opinions were expressed by groups in the various classes that the existential problems in their churches were identical.
We do not have Hungarian language tracts, no adequate Hungarian Reformed material for our Christian Education program. No good Hungarian Reformed Catechism books are available. There is no uniform Hungarian Reformed hymnal. . . We are too weak to face these problems as two separate groups. We need unity. 
This was the time of transition from Hungarian into bilingual church life. Although distinction could be made in the formal process between the Free, Presbyterian, and Reformed Church in the United States churches,  the fact remained that the language transition came about the same time for all three major groups, and they wanted to face this "natural process of Americanization" together. Differences existed between the Presbyterian and the Reformed groups.
In the Hungarian Mission of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. the goal was set at a complete assimilation within one generation.... In the Reformed Church in the U.S., the Hungarian Classes had certain autonomy to preserve Hungarian traditions.... The Tiffin Agreement guaranteed their rights as Hungarian speaking churches.... The Hungarian congregations in the Reformed Church in the U.S. were encouraged to preserve their own unique Hungarian Reformed tradition by no-one else as Dr. Charles Schaeffer who was such an ardent supporter of the Americanization by evangelization in the past. In 1937, Dr. Schaeffer urged the conforming pastors to preserve their Hungarian Reformed denominational heritage in their second generation as well as in the first.... He expressed the hope that it was for the sake of American Protestantism that he asked Hungarian Reformed pastors to keep their unique traditions. 
This was the background and reason why the Hungarian classes of the Reformed Church in the United States requested a nongeographical synod when the Reformed Church in the United States and the Evangelical Synod of North America merged in 1934. At the General Synod of Fort Wayne, Indiana, held in June 1936, President George W. Richards declared that the Tiffin Agreement continued to be in force, and thus the General Synod in Columbus, Ohio, June 20-29, 1938, granted the request of the Hungarian classes to establish a nongeographical synod for the Hungarian congregations with the rights of the Tiffin Agreement. Thus on March 14, 1939, the Magyar Synod of the Evangelical and Reformed Church was organized in Cleveland, in the same church that witnessed the organization of the First Hungarian Reformed congregation fifty years earlier. 
Questions of reunion and union
The years from 1939 to 1957, with the formation of the United Church of Christ, were filled with change. The use of the English language made great strides in this period. In 1940 thirteen churches conducted services in English and in 1950 almost all did. The youth work was changed from ?learning Hungarian in summer school? to meeting the needs of the youth in the language they understood.  Great plans were made to change catechetical teaching from ?learning the questions? to an all-inclusive and meaningful Christian education for all,  but these plans never materialized. Hungarian departments were established at Elmhurst College, in Elmhurst, Illinois (1942-46); Franklin and Marshall, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, had had a Hungarian professor in the person of Dr. William Toth since 1946; even Lancaster Theological Seminary considered resuming Hungarian instruction. Church discipline was exercised in several cases, but disciplined church life could not be established. All the ministers were enrolled in the Pension Fund Plan, with one exception.
The yearning for a unified Hungarian Reformed community continued to influence the Magyar Synod. In 1941 Hungarian representatives from Europe again tried to bring the three major factions into one church body. The outbreak of World War II ended that attempt. As the Evangelical and Reformed Church engaged in negotiations with the Congregational Christian Churches in the early 1940s, however, plans were formulated to unite the Free Magyar Reformed Church and the Magyar Synod of the Evangelical and Reformed Church in the proposed United Church of Christ. The proposal was fully endorsed by the Magyar Synod of the Evangelical and Reformed Church, but it never came to a vote in the Free Magyar Reformed Church in America. At the same time the Magyar Synod registered its resistance to some of the sacrifices that seemed to be called for in the proposed United Church of Christ.
Ten years later, as the reality of the new denomination loomed on the horizon, efforts were made to guarantee the future of a Hungarian conference in the new church. When no promises could be made the Magyar Synod voted against the proposed Constitution of the United Church of Christ and began talking seriously with the Presbyterians and others inspired by the so-called Blake-Pike proposal on church union. Here was yet another plan to unite all Hungarian Reformed factions into a United Hungarian Reformed Church in America.
The United Church of Christ Constitution was ratified without the guarantees sought by the Magyar Synod. The larger union of Hungarian churches did not materialize and life went on. Under the name of the Calvin Synod, as an acting conference, the Hungarian churches continued as an exception to the geographically defined conferences in the rest of the United Church of Christ. They argued then, and continue to argue, that the Basis of Union gave them the right to "unite in the United Church of Christ without break in their respective historic continuities and traditions." 
We honestly endeavor to be a color in the rainbow in the United Church of Christ within the framework of Magyar Synod rather than an unwilling material in an ecclesiastical melting pot without Magyar Synod. This is our ecumenical vision. 
Out of this ecumenical vision the Calvin Synod continues to live.
The Rt. Rev. John Butosi was Bishop of the Calvin Synod—Acting Conference of the United Church of Christ.
1. The four hymnals are The Hymnal, The Pilgrim Hymnal, The Hymnal of the United Church of Christ and The New Century Hymnal.
2. Imre de Josika-Herczeg, Hungary After a Thousand Years (New York: American Hungarian Daily, Inc., 1934), p. 293. Cf. Denes A. Janossy, The Kossuth Emigration in America [Budapest, 1940).
3. John Kosa, ?A Century of Hungarian Emigration, 1859-1950? in The American Slavic and East European Review, vol. 16 (1957), p. 505. Kosa admits, however, that it is almost impossible to reach the exact figure statistically for the following three reasons: (a) These figures do not include the returnees whose number is estimated between 15 and 33 percent of the gross emigration; (b) in these figures all those nationalities are included that inhabited the polyethnic state of Hungary: Jewish, German, Slovak, and Croat (actually the rate of Magyars in the emigrant mass was less than their rate in the total population; as late as the 1900s the Magyars made up only 33 to 40 percent of the emigrants); (c) illegal emigration is not included. Although illegal emigration was criminally prosecuted after 1881, it was a wide and common practice with the help of the secret agents. American business concerns gave up the labor contract practice only in 1910.
4. Josika-Herczeg, op. cit., pp. 297?98.
5. Kosa, op. cit., p. 512.
6. Alexander Daroczy, ed., Bethlen Almanac (Hungarian Reformed Federation of America, 1958), pp. 252?53.
7. A.M. Leffler, ?Louis Kossuth and the American Churches,? Lutheran Quarterly 6 (November 1954):27?28.
8. Louis A. Kalassay, ?The Educational and Religious History of the Hungarian Reformed Church in the United States? (Ph.D. diss. University of Pittsburgh, 1939), 19.
9. Aladar Komjathy, ?The Hungarian Reformed Church in America; An Effort to Preserve a Denominational Heritage? (Th.D. diss., Princeton Theological Seminary, 1962), 5.
10. Ibid., 10.
11. Kalassay, op. cit., p. 22.
12. Charles E. Schaeffer, Glimpses into Hungarian Life (Philadelphia: Board of Home Missions of the Reformed Church in the United States, 1923), p. 16.
13. Kalassay, op. cit., pp. 28ff.
14. Ibid., p. 46.
15. Ibid., p. 63.
16. The Rev. F. von Krug, pastor of the Kingston Presbyterian Church, claimed that as far back as 1897 he gathered Hungarians into his church. (A. George, ?Magyar Congregations in the Presbyterian Church,? Reformatusok Lapja, 59, no. 13(July 1, 1959):14.
17. Kalassay, op. cit., pp. 65-68.
18. Julianna Puskas, From Hungary to the United States (1880-1914) (Budapest: Akademiai Kiado, 1982), pp. 193-95.
19. Komjathy, op. cit., p. 75.
20. Acts and Proceedings, General Synod, Reformed Church in the United States, 1905, pp. 73, 56-57.
21. Komiathy, op. cit., p. 99.
22. Barna Dienes, 50 Ev (Pittsburgh, PA: Expert Printing Company. 1940), p. 11.
24: Geza Takaro et. al. Emlekk?ny az Amerikai Magyar Reformatus Egyhazmegye 25 eves evfordulojara (New York, 1929), p. 23.
25. Ibid., p. 26.
26. Ibid., p. 30.
27. Reformatusok Lapja 9 (March 23, 1918): 6-7.
28. The complete text of the Tiffin Agreement is included in Kalassay, op. cit.
29. According to Schaeffer, op. cit., pp. 19-20, in 1923 the Reformed Church in the United States had fifty-two Hungarian churches with 30,000 members, the largest single body of Hungarian Reformed people in America.
30. Komjathy, op. cit., pp. 190ff.
31. Alexander Daroczy, Bethlen Almanac (Hungarian Reformed Federation of America, 1959), p. 235.
32. Kalassay, op. cit., p. 79.
33. Takaro, op. cit., pp. 33-34; Matt. 11:17.
34. Ibid., p. 34.
35. Acts and Proceedings, General Synod, Reformed Church in the United States, 1929.
36. Quotation from Tiffin Agreement.
37. Koinjathy, op. cit., p. 288.
38. Reformatusok Lapja, July 10, 1936, p. 4.
39. Ibid., December 14, 1935, p. 2.
40. Ibid., April 15, 1938, p. 7
41. Komiathy, op. cit., pp. 290-91, notes that the Free churches decided to introduce English-language services, while in the Presbyterian churches, denominational executives stressed the same, and congregations in the Reformed Church in the United States were encouraged to use English as well as Hungarian.
42. Ibid., pp. 191-92.
43. Credit is due the Rev. Barna Dienes, Dr. George W. Richards, and Dr. Charles E. Shaeffer in disarming opposition that recommended the tabling of the issue at Columbus, Ohio, General Synod.
44. Minutes, Magyar Synod, 1949, p. 47.
45. Minutes, Magyar Synod, 1941, pp. 62-70.
46. Minutes, Magyar Synod, 1961, p. 65.
47. Minutes, Magyar Synod, 1960, p. 52.
Written by Barbara Brown Zikmund and Sally A. Dries
Feminist historians have noted that the ways in which events and trends are grouped in popular history relies on male experience and often fails to reflect the impact that the same events have on women's development. Hence in American history, materials are grouped into the pre-Revolutionary War period, and antebellum period (before the Civil War), and the post-World War II period. History becomes a series of periods between wars. And wars are nothing but disruptive and destructive interludes between those periods.
Recent research, however, is pointing out the importance of war in the history of women. It now appears that wars are periods of significant advances for women. During wars the regular patterns of family and social life are disrupted. Men go off to battle and women are left to take on many new responsibilities. Instead of being periods of decline and interruption, for women, wartime provides advancement and opportunity. It is no accident, therefore, that the organizational foundations for many of the women's boards ~nd societies in American church life were laid during the years surrounding the Civil War.
One woman noted that the Civil War "had much to do with breaking up the crust of public opinion" against independent organizations for women.
In the country's hour of desperate need it had welcomed women into the camp hospital. They had gone to the front in some cases with their husbands, and lived intents, serving the wounded, or later been with their husbands at the front during the reconstruction period. They had prepared bandages at home and stepped out from the routine of homemaking to wider interests and experiences. So now, when the war was over they were ready to go on to new and vaster fields of opportunity. 
But it was not easy. Patterns of female subordination and auxiliary organizations pervaded the first half of the nineteenth century. Such women as Catherine Beecher had argued eloquently that heaven appointed women to a "subordinate station." Woman's mode of gaining influence in the world was not any less important, but her "exercising of power should be altogether different and peculiar. . . . Woman is to win every thing by peace and love; by making herself so much respected and loved, that to yield to her opinions and to gratify her wishes, will be the free-will offering of the heart." And it was all to be accomplished in the domestic and social circle.
This attitude had been deeply internalized by many churchwomen. So much so that historians can document a "feminization" of the churches during the first half of the nineteenth century. Women, who made up the bulk of the laity in the churches, cultivated an interpretation of Christ that emphasized meekness, love, humility, and forgiveness. The prestige of the clergy declined, and popular religion focused on activities that were a natural extension of the role of wife and mother 
Women who wanted to organize independent clubs, boards, or societies, especially in the churches, were not encouraged. Many years later an active churchwoman remembered:
It is difficult in these days to realize how much opposition existed toward any such independent organization of women. Probably it would have been impossible because of this general attitude of mind to have undertaken any common effort earlier than this . It was not supposed that women were capable of doing such work outside the home. The idea of their conducting a business, keeping books, or carrying on the work of a large organization was unheard of. 
Many mid-nineteenth-century Christians found it difficult to overcome their conviction that it was improper for a woman to offer prayer in public or to stand on a platform and preside over a meeting where men were present. After the Civil War, however, these attitudes began to change.
By the end of the century, women in most of the denominations that eventually came together to form the United Church of Christ had organized significant i ndependent women's boards and societies which were totally managed and supported by women. How did this come about?
Early Missionary Organizations
In 1800 Mary Webb became personally concerned about the mission outreach of American Christians. She gathered together some Congregational and Baptist women to found the Boston Female Society for Missionary Purposes. Soon thereafter women in many places formed what were known as "female cent societies" to raise money for mission. The idea was that any woman could save one cent a week if she denied herself some little thing. Building on the parable of the widow's mite, churchwomen believed that their small contributions could make a big difference. And from this beginning a pattern of "auxiliary mission societies" was established.
When four young college students responded to the rising global consciousness of American churches to found the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), in 1810, the women cooperated. The American Board, as it came to be called, was the major ecumenical missionary society of mainline Protestantism until the mid-nineteenth century. It channeled the monies of the "female societies" and received sizable bequests and legacies from committed Christian women. By 1839 the Board's annual report showed that approximately 680 local "ladies' associations" were at work collecting funds for foreign missions. 
In the early days the American Board thought that single women should not be sent out as missionaries. Only if a woman was married could she be commissioned as a full-fledged missionary. In time this pattern changed. Letters from the missionaries' wives raised the awareness of the Board about "the degradation and deprivations of native women and girls in non-Christian cultures." Public opinion came to realize that only single women, free from the obligations of home and family, could respond to the need. The entire mission enterprise was at stake, because women were a "great hindrance to the conversion of men." 
An ABCFM missionary from China, the Rev. David Abeel, was eventually convinced that the slow progress of mission work in China was largely owing to the lack of work among women. Abeel argued that "more than half of the women of the world were held in Oriental seclusion. They were unwelcomed at birth, married in childhood to men they had never seen, and shut away from all possible teaching except that of their husbands or of other women." He obtained permission to come home. After stopping in London, where his appeal helped to organize the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East, he made his plea for women's work among American women. The results were limited, but the record shows that the First Congregational Church of Rockford, Illinois, founded a local women's missionary society in 1838. Almost thirty years later, in 1861, females of six denominations organized the Women's Union Missionary Society in New York. 
Not until after the Civil War did the argument for women's work and the organizational climate for independent women's societies and boards in many denominations lead to the formation of separate mission boards for women. From that time on women's work in American churches had new vitality and life.
Independent Congregational Woman's Boards
In 1868 a Mrs. Bowker, of Charlestown, Massachusetts, developed a plan to encourage women in the missionary endeavor. She called a meeting of women to hear statements by returned missionaries regarding the "degradation and wretchedness of heathen women." Under her guidance two committees were formed to write a constitution and to consult with representatives of the American Board. The Board believed that a woman's society could "co-operate with theirs, availing itself of their long experience, and avoiding at the same time the perplexing details incident to an independent organization." On the surface it sounded like another auxiliary, but the result came to involve women quite differently in the mission enterprise.
Early reports of the Woman's Board of Missions (WBM) emphasized the indirect power of Christian women.
Under Paganism, woman is a cipher. Hence the labor of Christian women, both in schools and visitations, assumes in the minds of heathen men a humble character. It neither stirs pride nor gives occasion for alarm; and the benevolence that prompts it disarms opposition. Our work is among the women; to teach them that they are of importance and interest to Jesus, if not recognized by their own households - that they have souls, and that there is a Saviour and a heaven for them. This wonderful news, once received and believed, spreads with lightning-like rapidity from one to another, arousing an eager desire for knowledge. Christ, accepted, brings a gentle refinement that unconsciously ennobles the recipient; and the men, too, are blest, before they have thought to recognize the cause.
Within a year of the founding of the WBM in Boston a similar organization took root in the Middle West. Late in 1868 the secretary of the ABCFM spoke to a group of Chicago women and shared his enthusiasm for woman's boards. "The question may be asked," he said, "Why not act directly through the American Board?" The reply was that women could be brought into more immediate, closer personal relations to the work by taking on themselves a part and by entering into correspondence with the missionary women in the field. "Ladies will write to each other as they will not write to me, do the best I can to win their confidence. . . . The vivacity, the touching incidents, the free, hearty expression of their thoughts and feelings, joys and sorrows, they reserve for their own sex." The women were convinced and the Woman's Board of Missions of the Interior (WBMI), with headquarters in Chicago, came into being. 
Congregational connections to the growing frontier settlements of the West and of the Pacific Islands led to the founding of two more women's boards within five years. In 1871 the Woman's Board of Missions for the Pacific Islands (WBMPI) was organized in Hawaii by a female missionary on furlough from Micronesia. In 1873 a small group of Congregational women met in Santa Cruz, California, to mobilize women's resources throughout the western states and territories in a Woman's Board of Missions for the Pacific (WBMP). Although the boards back east objected to these organizations, because they were "so far from the centers of civilization," the California women argued that this was exactly the reason they needed to be an independent board. Furthermore, they were "the natural gateway to Japan, China, the myriad islands of the seas and the infant missions of Mexico." 
Early on all the woman's boards adopted some important principles that shaped their work: First, they existed primarily to serve the needs of women. They supported women missionaries in the field who were single and encouraged the employment of competent, native "Bible women." Second, they sought funds in such a way so as not to diminish contributions to the American Board. They made it a policy, however, to raise money one year and spend it the next year. This way they always knew the limits of their resources. Third, their support was personal. Branches were encouraged to "adopt" specific missionaries and to "pledge" to specific projects. Fourth, they did everything in their power to keep administrative overhead low, relying on "unpaid, freely given labor." 
In the fifty to sixty years of their independent work three of these women's boards (WUM, WBMI, and WBMP) contributed over 20 percent of the total receipts of the American Board. In 1927 these three woman's boards were reunited with the American Board and have continued as part of the United Church Board for World Ministries since the formation of the United Church of Christ. The WBMPI continues its independent existence in close relationship with the Hawaii Conference of the United Church of Christ. The Christian denomination had its origins in the American zeal to overcome past divisions and organizations and get back to the basics. Christians were in New England, North Carolina, and Virginia and on the Appalachian frontier well before 1800, but they were reluctant to organize. One historian wrote:
Remember that many years passed before the Christians pretended to organize like other denominations, and then ensued a period when energy was largely absorbed with church building and controversy over sectarian, theological, and metaphysical subjects. Combatting error was deemed almost paramount to declaring the truth. 
The Christians did eventually organize and embark on enterprises to share the truth.
Regional mission societies for "home" work were operating by the 1820s to help organize new churches, but not until 1854 was a national Board of Home and Foreign Missions elected and not until after the Civil War did the denomination have a national missionary department with a full-time secretary. 
This delay in organizing did not prevent women from becoming involved in the leadership of Christian churches. Women preachers and evangelists were an important chapter in the early history of the Christian denomination. Also, records of local women's organizations for mission in New York and Michigan during the 1850s have been found. Perhaps the lack of a national denominational organization actually helped the cause of women, because there were few structures through which to formalize masculine control.
Before long, however, men and women alike were advocating a "woman's board." And in 1886, at the quadrennial session of the American Christian Convention, held at New Bedford, Massachusetts, the Woman's Board for Foreign Missions was elected. Four years later, in 1890, at Marion, Indiana, the women of the Convention organized a Woman's Board for Home Missions. 
What these Boards, together with the Conference Boards and local societies with their constituents, have done for the missionary interests of our denomination would fill a volume.... Suffice it to say that they have not worked to "be seen of men," but "He who seeth in secret" will reward them openly. 
When the Congregational Churches and the Christian Churches came together in 1931 to form the Congregational Christian Churches, the women's boards of the Christian Churches became part of the world and home mission boards of the new denomination. Together with their Congregational sisters, Christian women were guaranteed one-third female representation on the governing boards of these significant structures for mission and outreach.
Woman's Missionary Society of the General Synod (Reformed)
The first missionary society in the Reformed Church in the United States was created in 1826 by the Synod of Frederick, Maryland. An auxiliary Female Missionary Society apparently came into being at the same time, but its activities were strictly local. In 1838, when the Synod organized a foreign board it decided to carry out its work through the same interdenominational American Board that served the Congregationalists. The arrangement was a happy one. German Reformed money and missionaries worked through the American Board for twenty-five years.
After the Civil War, however, in 1866, the Reformed Church in the United States decided to seek its own mission field and establish an independent mission board. In 1873 a Board of Foreign Missions was organized, with special commitments to sponsor mission work in Japan. 
The involvement of women in these developments was minimal. Women in the German Reformed churches were "at that time completely unorganized, and we might say completely uninterested." The records show, however, that in 1869 a Rev. S.B. Yockey made an appeal to the Ohio Synod that the church should organize women for missions. This appeal was the beginning, although the suggestion did not "take root in the extremely conservative soil of our Reformed denomination." 
Women's work in the Reformed Church eventually took shape. Much of its strength resulted from the tireless work of Samuel Yockey's wife, Elvira Beilhartz Yockey. Elvira Yockey was raised a Methodist, but on her marriage she embraced the Reformed tradition. She became convinced that women had a special responsibility for mission and could not understand how the church could revolve around Christ and yet have so little zeal in carrying out Christ's final command to share the faith.
Reformed women had served the churches through "aid societies," whose chief aim was to raise money to help their own congregations. Contributions to mission were "incidental." Looking back many years later Elvira Yockey wrote: "Women's Missionary Societies as they now exist whose exclusive aim was to work for missions, not only in raising money, but in creating sentiment, in educating and training the women and children along the lines of missionary activity, were unknown." She wanted her church to follow the example of women in other denominations and organize for mission. She wanted to release the energies of women for the gospel. 
The women were expected to "keep silence in the churches." Their voices were never heard even in public prayer, and to this day in most of the prayer meetings of the church the number of audible prayers is limited to the number of men present. How much the church owes to the number of silent prayers that ascend heavenward from feminine hearts, can never be known. 
But the idea of a woman's society had little favor among the older members of the congregation. Elvira Yockey continued to promote the idea in her husband's church. Frequent mention from the pulpit and in "social intercourse" of the benefits that other denominations were deriving from woman's work in missionary societies brought about a gradual change in sentiment. Finally, in 1877, the Woman's Missionary Society of the First Reformed Church of Xenia, Ohio, came into being. It was the beginning. 
Elvira Yockey wrote many letters and encouraged other churches to found societies. "There were no precedents to follow, no model constitutions, no prepared programs or books of study.... The presidents were compelled to do almost all the work, not because our women were unwilling, but because they were timid and untrained,"(28) In 1883 the first public recognition of women's work was made by the Pittsburgh Synod, and in 1887 the Woman's Missionary Society of the General Synod was organized at Akron, Ohio.  By the second triennial meeting of the Society,
many who had opposed or failed to encourage the movement became convinced that the work was for and from God. The unwomanly aggressiveness which some feared was entirely absent. There was no spirit of self seeking, no effort to adopt masculine methods, or usurp masculine prerogative, but only an intensely earnest desire to have some part in the evangelization of the world. This earnestness, as is usually the case in the best type of womanhood, went hand in hand with a persistence that admitted no denial. 
From these beginnings the national society came to publish The Woman's Journal and by 1914 to establish a national Philadelphia office. In 1923 the Woman's Missionary Society of the General Synod supported three full-time staff members.  As the Society approached its fiftieth anniversary, in 1937, conversations commenced with the women of the Evangelical Synod of North America. Soon thereafter, in 1939, the Woman's Missionary Society of the General Synod of the Reformed Church in the United States and the Evangelical Women's Union of the Evangelical Synod of North America formed the Women's Guild of the Evangelical and Reformed Church. 
Evangelical Women's Union
During the years when Congregational, Christian, and Reformed women were creating national organizations for women, women in German Evangelical churches were preoccupied with the local needs of their congregations. This preoccupation is understandable, considering the fact that Evangelical churches were the last of the four denominations that merged to form the United Church of Christ to organize nationally. In the late nineteenth century many German immigrants were still tied to their European roots and slow to develop an American ecclesiastical loyalty. The Evangelical Synod of North America did not come into being until 1877. Therefore, that a national organization for Evangelical women was not created until 1921 was not surprising.
Once again, wartime experience—this time World War I—prompted women to seek more independence and gave them confidence in their abilities. One woman wrote:
"Every cloud has a silver lining," says the optimist and our "silver lining" lay hidden in the black cloud of the world war. In those days organized effort was a necessity. Community, fraternal and church organizations found a common cause and vied in ardor and zeal. Our constituency [Evangelical women] did its part. Red Cross reports showed Evangelical women in the front ranks. That was therefore the psychological moment.... [Women] saw the opportunity and seized it by sending a plea to the General Conference, convening in the city of Pittsburgh, September, 1917, asking them to federate the Evangelical womanhood. Statistics of the Red Cross Society showed that the organized women of our church could be made a power. 
A convention was called at Cincinnati, Ohio, June 29-30, 1921, and the National Union of Evangelical Women was born. The Union did not limit its membership or the types of activities it supported. It "chose to include ALL women's societies within the Church and to incorporate ALL branches of the denomination in its program."  Yet the organization of a national union was a radical step in the eyes of some.
In the Evangelical Year-Book for 1923 a seven-page article appeared entitled "The Call of the Church to Her Women," which defended the legitimacy of women's work in the church. The author admitted that the new organization was an innovation, but the church does not need to fear innovation when it "can be shown to square with reason and conscience and the Word of God." The call of the church to these women had in "back of it the whole age-old force of religious tradition from the very beginnings of the human race." After spelling out the power of these traditions the article closed with conviction.
It is not only lawful for her [the church] to call upon her army of devoted and earnest women to render what service they are able to perform, it is her sacred duty to do so, and to organize them so that they may be able to do the work to which they are best suited in the most effective manner. 
Evangelical women had always been loyal in assuming responsibilities and meeting the needs of the local church. Now they were invited to move beyond home and congregation to support programs for the Synod and for the "Kingdom-at-large." In so doing they would become acquainted with one another and better understand the program of their denomination. 
The organization was a success. In 1923 the name was changed to the Evangelical Women's Union. Soon thereafter the Board of Directors began issuing a "Monthly Program," with topics and suggested activities for women's groups. As the years went by the programs of the Union affected the lives of women in many ways. By 1936 its work was carried out through six departments: education, devotional life, missionary education, stewardship (including the thank offering), social welfare, and citizenship. It was an impressive record. 
Once the Evangelical and Reformed Church had been consummated the Evangelical women moved with confidence toward merger with their Reformed sisters. They believed that the Evangelical Women's Union had "proven herself a faithful and fruitful 'Handmaid' of the Church, locally and inter-denominationally." In the coming merger they prayed that it would continue to be a blessing. 
The Success of Women's Work for Women
The development of these independent women's mission boards did three things for women and the churches: (1) It transformed the mission consciousness of the churches, (2) it improved the situation of the women involved, and (3) it created a climate that supported the advancement of women and the ecumenical movement. The personal involvement of women in the mission movement was its great strength. The women demonstrated repeatedly "the power of small offerings frequently collected from large numbers of contributors." Whereas the general mission boards asked for large contributions, "the women asked for two cents per week—asked it from door to door; devised mite boxes, formed small local circles, held frequent meetings, looked after children, old women, poor people, hand-picked their own fruit, and astonished the world with their success." 
Furthermore, the women developed a new style of missionary literature. Historically, missionary literature had consisted of annual reports, anniversary sermons, and missionary biographies. In contrast, the women prepared low-cost materials that appealed to women and children. They overwhelmed the missionary ignorance of the churches with leaflets, stories, poems, and summaries that could be bought for a few cents or even given away. "These light troops could penetrate where the more ponderous forces never would be moved, and so began the great popularization of missions." 
The active and personal involvement of women in this work not only assisted the mission cause but also enriched the women themselves, "These women could never have learned so much had they merely turned their money over to others to administer." Rather they took on heavy responsibilities and the necessity for decision and initiative. They were "in touch with great things, they saw and knew the women missionaries going out to the field, they became their personal friends, they were aware of international problems and movements." Their organizations became training schools for thousands of women throughout the land. 
An argument can be made that the women's mission boards were an important step in the secular movement to expand woman's role in American society and to push American Protestants into the ecumenical movement. Women's organizations for missions were the first women's clubs specifically to send out help to other women. This experience built networks of support and raised consciousness about women's problems. As the years went by simple mission piety changed to feminist consciousness, Words like foreign and heathen disappeared from the annual reports. The word ladies was changed to women. Women placed increasing emphasis on cooperation, internationalism, interdenominationalism, and unification.
In 1888 women from the United States and Canada joined with British women to create the first international ecumenical missionary agency intended to be universal in scope-the World's Missionary Committee of Christian Women. Despite strong denominational pressures to organize separately the women "kept their sense of solidarity and conversed, discussed, corresponded, and acted together." Working through ecumenical councils, federations, and committees they invited all Christians to pray together and share responsibility for the work of the church. They were extremely successful. The Sunday School Union, the World Day of Prayer, the Young Women's Christian Association, the Cooperating Committee for Women's Christian Colleges in Foreign Fields, the Women's Christian Temperance Union, the Committee on Christian Literature for Women and Children in Mission Fields, and Church Women United are only a few of the ecumenical ventures that grew out of these independent missionary organizations for women. 
Women's work and woman's boards are a unique chapter in the history of women and the United Church of Christ.
Barbara Brown Zikmund was president of Hartford Seminary in Connecticut. She is a member of the UCC Historical Council. Sally A. Dries is the pastor of Salem UCC, Shamokin, Pennsylvania. She was formerly Director of the Ecumenical Women's Center, Chicago.
1. Grace T. Davis, Neighbors in Christ: Fifty-Eight Years of World Service by the Woman's Board of Missions of the Interior (Chicago: James Watson and Co., 1926), p. 7.
2. Catherine Beecher, An Essay on Slavery and Abolitionism with reference to the Duty of American Females (Philadelphia: Henry Perkins, 1837), pp. 99-103, quoted in Rosemary Radford Ruether and Rosemary Skinner Keller, eds., Women in Religion in America: The Nineteenth Century, vol. 1 (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981], p. 311.
3. See Barbara Welter, "The Feminization of American Religion, 1800-1860" in Dimity Convictions (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1976), p. 91, and Ann Douglas, The Feminization of American Culture (New York: Knopf, 1977).
4. Davis, op. cit., p. 6.
5, R. Pierce Beaver, American Protestant Women in World Mission: A History of the First Feminist Movement in North America, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1968), pp. 14-16.
6. Fred Field Goodsell, You Shall Be My Witnesses (Boston: American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, 1959], pp. 154-55. See also William E. Strong, The Story of the American Board (New York: Pilgrim Press, 1910).
7. Goodsell, op. cit., pp. 156-57.
8. Grace T. Davis, "History of Congregational Women's Societies" in Matthew Spinka, ed., A History of Illinois Congregational and Christian Churches (Chicago: Congregational and Christian Conference of Illinois, 1944), pp. 208-9.
9. First Annual Report of the Woman's Board of Missions: Presented at Its Annual Meeting in the Mount Vernon Church, Boston, January 5, 1869 (Boston: George C. Rand and Avery, 1869), pp. 4-5.
10. Third Annual Report of the Woman's Board of Missions: Presented at Its Annual Meeting in the Mount Vernon Church, Boston, January 3,1871 (Boston: Rand, Avery and Frye, 1871), p. 9.
11. Davis, Neighbors in Christ, op. cit., p. 9.
12. Albertine Loomis, To All People: A History of the Hawaii Conference of the United Church of Christ (Kingsport, TN: Kingsport Press, 1970), pp. 380-81.
13. History of Fifty Years: Woman's Board of Missions for the Pacific and Program of Jubilee Meetings (San Francisco: n. p., 1923], pp. 11-12.
14. Goodsell, op. cit., pp. 161-64.
15. Ibid., pp. 167-73.
16. Milo True Morrill, A History of the Christian Denomination in America: 1794-1911 (Dayton, OH: Christian Publishing Association, 1912), p. 246.
17. Ibid., p. 251.
18. John Franklin Burnett, Early Women of the Christian Church: Heroines All, Booklet Six (Dayton, OH: Christian Publishing Association, N.D.). See also Barbara Brown Zikmund, "Abigail Roberts: 'Female Laborer' in the Christian Churches," Historical Intelligencer 2, no. 1 (Fall 1982): 3-9.
19. Alice V. Morrill, "Our Women's Work" in J. Pressley Barrett, ed., The Centennial of Religous Journalism, 2d ed. (Dayton, OH: Christian Publishing Association, 1908), pp. 509-10.
20. Ibid., p. 510.
21. E. S. Yockey, Historical Sketch of the Origin and Growth of the Woman's Missionary Societies of the Reformed Church (Alliance, OH: The Women's Journal, 1898), p. 5.
22. Elizabeth T. Flynn, "Historical Sketch," The Outlook of Missions 13(May 1921):p. 230.
24. Yockey, op. cit., p. 4.
25. Ibid., p. 7.
28. Flynn, op. cit., p. 231.
29. Yockey, op. cit., pp. 8-9.
30. Ibid., pp. 17-18.
31. "The Woman's Missionary Society of General Synod," The Messenger, June 17, 1937, pp. 8-9.
32. Mrs. V. J. Bartell, "Highlights of the Merger Convention: The Ceremony of Merger"(mimeographed, n.p., N.D.).
33. Mrs. A. A. Sotier, The First Ten Years (n.p.: 1931), p. 2.
34. H. L. Streich, "For a Larger Service: Beginnings of the Organization" in Mrs. Hugo Schuessler, ed., Beginnings of the Evangelical Women's Union compiled for the Fifteenth Anniversary (St. Louis: Evangelical Women's Union, 1936), p. 6.
35. "The Call of the Church to Her Women," Evangelical Yearbook 1923, pp. 22-28.
36. Mrs. F. A. Keck, "Beginnings Reviewed by the First President," in Schuessler, op. cit., p. 4.
37. Streich, op. cit., p. 6.
38. Ibid., p. 8.
39. Helen Barrett Montgomery, Western Women in Eastern Lands (New York: Macmillan, 1914), p. 38.
40. Ibid., p. 39.
41. Davis, "History of Congregational Women's Societies," op. cit., p. 222.
42. Beaver, op. cit., pp. 145-50, and Davis, Neighbors in Christ, op. cit., pp. 200-5. See also Mrs. Fred S. Bennett et al., The Emergence of Interdenominational Organizations Among Protestant Church Women (New York: United Council of Church Women, 1944), and Gladys G. Calkins, Follow These Women: Church Women in the Ecumenical Movement (New York: National Council of Churches of Christ, U.S.A., 1961).
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in theSpirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind,having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfishambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each ofyou look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be inyou that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
About this testimony
One of the oldest Christian liturgical texts recorded in Scripture, this is the famous "kenotic hymn" or "Song of the Self-Emptying of Christ" from Philippians 2:1-11. It explores the mystery of Christ's humiliation and exaltation. The One who was handed over to a shameful death on the Cross is the One before whom all knees will bend and all tongues will confess, "Jesus Christ is Lord." But Christ's humility also teaches us how to live: we should "do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better" than ourselves. So, "let each you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others." This is how Jesus lived. This is how we can live.
Christ is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation;
for in Christ all things were created, in heaven and on earth,
visible and invisible,
whether thrones or dominions
or principalities or authorities—
all things were created through Christ and for Christ.
Christ is before all things,
and in Christ all things hold together.
Christ is the head of the body, the church;
Christ is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
that in everything Christ might be preeminent.
For in Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
and through Christ all things are reconciled to God,
whether on earth or in heaven,
making peace by the blood of Christ's cross.
About this testimony
This testimony of faith, adapted from Colossians 1:15-20, is from the Book of Worship, United Church of Christ. In the words of Holy Scripture, it affirms our belief that Jesus Christ is the center of creation, the head of the church, and both the human and divine One "in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell." For information on how to order the Book of Worship, please call United Church Resources at 1-800-325-7061.
The United Church of Christ embraces a theological heritage that affirms the Bible as the authoritative witness to the Word of God, the creeds of the ecumenical councils, and the confessions of the Reformation. The UCC has roots in the "covenantal" tradition—meaning there is no centralized authority or hierarchy that can impose any doctrine or form of worship on its members. Christ alone is Head of the church. We seek a balance between freedom of conscience and accountability to the apostolic faith. The UCC therefore receives the historic creeds and confessions of our ancestors as testimonies, but not tests of the faith. Linked on the right of this page are some of those testimonies.
On the right, you'll find links to the Theology Page—a growing library of articles on theological issues that face the church.
Statement of Faith UCC
The Name of Jesus
Jesus Head of the Church
God's plan of salvation
The Apostles' Creed
Jesus Human and Divine
Luther's Small Catechism
Principles Christian Church
Kansas City Statement
Basis of Union
Preamble to Constitution
Statement of Mission
Toward the 21st Century
Written by Vahan H. Tootikian
The history of Armenian Evangelicalism goes back to the second quarter of the nineteenth century. On July 1, 1846 thirty-seven men and three women established the Armenian Evangelical Church in the mission chapel in the Pera section of Istanbul (then Constantinople), Turkey. Four years later, on November 27, 1850, the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Medjid granted formal recognition to the newly established curch.
The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), composed of Presbyterian and Congregational mission-minded people, played a decisive role in the rise of the Armenian Evangelical Church. Founded in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1810, and incorporated in 1812, the Board was one of the earliest missionary societies. Its aim was "to evangelize the heathen in foreign lands."  One of the Board?s prominent mission fields was the Middle East, where missionaries began work in 1819 with instructions to "evangelize" Jews and Muslims.  Resistance from these two established religious groups frustrated the best efforts of the missionaries, so they changed their strategy; they turned to native Christian agents to reach the non-Christians. To this end they approached various Eastern Orthodox churches. All except the Armenian Apostolic Church proved obdurate. Why?
The Armenians seem to have been imbued with a tremendous desire for learning and social progress. As a result, many of them were receptive and broad-minded toward the American missionaries and their projects.  This spirit of educational progress among Armenians opened the way for closer contact with the Armenian clergy and laypeople.
When the missionaries of the American Board began their work among Armenians, in 1831, the Armenian community in the Ottoman Empire was experiencing a cultural renaissance, a revival of thinking in the social, economic, and intellectual realms. So the soil was fertile and ready for a religious awakening. In 1836 a group of reformists established a secret society named Parebashdoutian Miapanautune (The Society of the Pious), in order to reform the Armenian Apostolic Church.  The organization of this Society may properly be said to mark the beginning of Armenian Evangelicalism. 
The reformists met the strong resistance and opposition of the ruling Armenian magnates, the amiras, and the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople. Failure to reform the Armenian Apostolic Church continued to be a basic source of conflict. The reformists pushed their demands, which provoked strong retaliation from the Armenian patriarchate. Persecution and the formal act of excommunication by Patriarch Matteos Choohajian forced them to organize themselves into a separate religious community, the Protestant Millet.  All along the American missionaries stood by the Evangelicals and gave them spiritual, moral, and financial support.
Within a decade after its birth the Armenian Evangelical Church had grown by leaps and bounds. In order to administer the increased scope of the missionary work that followed the growth, and because of geographical proximity and organizational considerations, Armenian Protestantism was organized into church Unions. The first Unions were organized in Turkey, in the 1860s: Bithynia Union (1864), Eastern Union (1866), Cilician Union (1867), and Central Union (1868).  Then, at the turn of the century, two Unions were organized in America: the Armenian Evangelical Union of Eastern States (1901) and the Armenian Evangelical Union of California (1908). In May of 1914, immediately before the start of World War I, the Armenian Evangelicals organized the first Union in Armenia: the Union of the Armenian Evangelical Churches of Ararat. Thus before World War I the Armenian Evangelicals throughout the world counted seven Unions, with 178 churches. 
The Turkish genocide of the Armenians between 1915 and 1922 wiped out all the Armenian Evangelical Unions and most of the churches and their members in Turkey. The survivors of the massacres, "the Remnant," managed to organize two Unions in the 1920s in their new lands of adoption: the Armenian Evangelical Union of Syria and Lebanon (Cilicia)  and the Armenian Evangelical Union of France. Armenian Protestantism was reduced to four Unions. Since the merger of the two Unions in America, in 1971, the Armenian Evangelical Church has comprised three Unions.
Work of the American Board
In 1870 the two denominations that supported the American Board divided the supervision of the mission field between themselves; the Congregationalists were to be in charge of the native Protestants in Turkey and the Balkan countries and the Presbyterians were to assume responsibility for Arabic-speaking countries and Iran.  From then on the Armenian Evangelical churches in Turkey, and those of their members who escaped or survived the Turkish horrors and settled in the Near East and America, became closely affiliated with the Congregational denomination.
The American missionaries rendered invaluable services to the Armenian people, especially in the areas of education, philanthropy, culture, politics, and religion.
Education. Through their educational institutions, ranging from kindergarten to college, the American missionaries supplemented in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the Armenian intellectual renaissance initiated by the Mekhitarists in the eighteenth century. To have an idea of the educational contribution of the American missionaries to the Armenians one has to look at the statistical account of the American schools as of 1913, the year preceding World War I: 10 colleges, with 1,748 students; 46 boarding and high schools, with 4,090 students; 3 theological seminaries, with 24 students; 8 industrial schools; 2 schools for the deaf and the blind; and 369 other schools directly or indirectly connected with the American Board, with 19,361 students. By the end of the war, in 1918, most of these schools had ceased to exist. 
Education became an attainable goal for all Armenians, without discrimination. Thousands of Armenian young people received their higher education at the American Board's institutions of higher learning, and many graduated from these schools to assume leadership roles in the Armenian community. Higher education became a viable option even for females, who, until the advent of institutions run by the American missionaries, had been excluded.
The missionary schools graduated a large number of women who, in turn, became educators of the younger generations of Armenians. In fact, toward the end of the nineteenth century the majority of teachers in Armenian elementary schools were female graduates and undergraduates from American missionary colleges, seminaries, and teacher-training institutions.  As a result of higher education, the status of women was elevated in a male-dominated society.
Philanthropy. The American Congregational missionaries rendered a valuable service to the less-privileged Armenians by their constant assistance. Through their orphanages, nursing homes, hospitals, and dispensaries they ministered to the physical needs of many. In the interior provinces of Turkey, where there were no medical facilities, the health services provided by the missionaries played a providential role. Countless lives were saved, thanks to the medical skill of missionary physicians and nurses.
During World War I, when 1.5 million Armenians were massacred with unparalleled brutality and another million were uprooted from their ancestral homeland and driven into the deserts of Syria without benefit of experienced leaders, the American Congregational missionaries assumed the role of good Samaritans. They mobilized all their resources and came to the aid of the battered Armenians. Because of their vision and initiative, the Near East Relief was organized, in 1915. A philanthropic and lifesaving institution second to none in that part of the world, the Near East Relief embraced and served almost every area need—social, educational, physical, and economic. It provided food for the starving survivors of the massacres, rescue homes for girls who had escaped from Muslim harems, medical care, relief for the sick, and orphanages. Moreover, it opened elementary schools for children and vocational schools for young adults and organized community health and recreational programs and industrial enterprises to teach various trades. During its fourteen-year existence the Near East Relief raised and expended $85 million for Armenians, and as Howard M. Sachar maintains, "it quite literally kept the entire Armenian people in the Near East alive." 
Literature and culture. One of the most valuable services the American missionaries performed was the translation of the Holy Bible into modern Armenian (Ashkharapar) by a competent team of linguists and scholars under the capable leadership of Elias Riggs. Until the middle of the nineteenth century the only Bible available to the Armenians was the classical Armenian (Krapar) Bible, which none but a small educated elite could read or understand. The Ashkharapar scripture made the Bible accessible to almost all Armenians.
In addition, the American missionaries published grammars. commentaries, religious books and educational pamphlets in modern Armenian. The missionary press in New York made a great contribution to the development of modern Armenian by publishing in the vernacular. 
Political freedom and social justice. The American Congregational missionaries played a decisive role in the whole area of political freedom and justice for the Armenian populace in the Ottoman Empire. The oppressive Ottoman rule and the Turkish government?s harassment militated against the Armenians in Turkey economically, socially, and politically, insofar as their religious life was concerned.
Because of the Armenians? historical claim to ancestral lands and their demands for basic human rights the Turks considered them a political threat, treated them as second-class citizens, and denied them certain fundamental freedoms. For more than four centuries the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire were forced to live in absolute obedience to Turkish rule. The American missionaries, coming from a free and democratic country, advocated the principle of the inviolability of freedom of thought and conscience. This principle struck a responsive chord among Armenians, who, throughout their history, had cherished freedom even at the cost of their lives. 
Religious and spiritual values. The Congregational missionaries made a contribution to the spiritual realm of Armenians by introducing new methods of developing a vital Christian community, by laying the foundation for the proper understanding of the role of the laity in the mission of the church, by encouraging Christian outreach, by making the Bible accessible to laypeople in a vernacular edition they could read, and by encouraging the study of the scripture. Not only did they meet the needs of the emerging Armenian Evangelical Church, but they also brought about a spiritual revival among the Armenian people. 
In short, the Congregational missionaries made major contributions—contributions sufficient to ensure them an important place in the cultural history of the Armenian nation.
It must be said, however, that in spite of all their great contributions, the American missionaries were not wholeheartedly welcomed by all Armenians. The Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul (then Constantinople), for instance, became apprehensive in view of the headway the American mission had made among Armenians. The Patriarchate and some lay leaders of the Armenian Apostolic Church saw in the reform movement the meddling influence of the missionaries in the internal life of their church—an intrusion. The intruders in this case were foreigners with a completely different theological and psychological background. These Armenians argued that the motives of the missionaries were not so much the spread of the gospel (i.e., evangelism) as the spread of American Protestantism (i.e., proselytism). But the Armenian Evangelicals, along with the American missionaries, have insisted that the rationale for the missionaries? presence was to revive the Armenian Apostolic Church so that it in turn could reach out to non-Christian groups such as the Jews and the Muslims.
Unfortunately, the question of evangelism vs. proselytism remains unresolved. In the end, the issue is a matter of personal interpretation. Two views persist. Some people insist that since the Armenians were already Christians and did not need the good news, they were converted to Protestantism. Their evidence? The creation of an Armenian Protestant Church. Others insist that the American missionaries evangelized the Armenian nation. Their argument is that the early Armenian Evangelicals were not coerced into changing their religion, nor were they required to join a foreign Protestant denomination. By and large, Evangelical Armenians consider themselves evangelized; non-Evangelical Armenians consider the Armenian Evangelicals as proselytized.
Whatever the relative merits of these two conclusions may be, no one can deny that the American missionaries rendered invaluable services to the Armenian people.
Immigrants relate to Congregationalism
Because of their close association with Congregational missionaries, Armenians who immigrated to the United States during the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century began to organize Armenian Congregational churches. The churches were composed primarily of Armenian immigrants who had fled the oppression and persecution of the Turkish government. These immigrants organized their churches not by deliberate choice, but "by pressure of necessity."  They were unfamiliar with the language and the customs of their new country, and in some cases they were not welcomed by the congregations of the local American Protestant churches.  They wanted to worship in their own language and they wanted one another?s company.
During the initial period of organization most of the Armenian Congregational churches in America were founded by laity, because most Armenian Evangelical ministers were still in their homeland. These churches were the "exact facsimile of the churches the early immigrants had left behind."  They were typically Armenian in all respects—language, traditions, customs, and patterns of thought and belief. Thus these churches provided places of worship for an immigrant people who were by language and culture identified with the old country. They gave guidance for the spiritual growth and solidarity of the Armenian Evangelical constituency and provided benevolent and financial support for Armenians in need overseas. 
Although the majority of the twenty-four Armenian Evangelical churches in the United States were founded before World War I, it was not until after the Turkish massacres of the Armenians that a stream of immigrants reached America and strengthened Armenian Protestantism numerically as well as financially. 
The first Armenian church established on the North American continent was an Armenian Congregational church—the Armenian Congregational Church of the Martyrs in Worcester, Massachusetts—founded in 1881.  All the early members and ministers of the Armenian Evangelical churches in America were immigrants from Cilicia and Armenia, survivors of persecutions and massacres. They were determined to salvage and serve the Armenian Remnant and to preserve the Armenian heritage by founding new churches and cultural organizations. The majority of the early Armenian Evangelicals in America cherished the Congregational way of worship and church polity that they had learned about from the Congregational Board missionaries. They wanted to organize churches in which they could enjoy all the freedoms that their conscience directed. 
The Armenian Evangelical Union of Eastern States, which included all the Armenian Evangelical churches east of the Mississippi River, was founded in 1901, in Worcester, Massachusetts. Later, in 1960, when the Armenian Evangelical churches of Toronto and Montreal joined the Union, the name was changed to Armenian Evangelical Union of Eastern States and Canada.
The California Union was organized in May 1908 and was first called the Armenian Congregational Union of California, but so that Armenian Presbyterian churches might join in, its name was changed to the Armenian Evangelical Union of California. 
In their early days most of the Armenian Congregational churches in America received moral and financial support from the Congregational churches,  but the majority soon became self-sufficient. Moreover, they even extended aid to Armenian churches in the homeland and helped further the reestablishment of Armenian Evangelical churches in the Armenian diaspora. 
Within a brief span of time the Armenian Congregational churches organized viable Christian Endeavor Societies, missionary committees, women?s and men?s clubs, fellowships, church schools, and other auxiliary groups. They participated in the benevolent efforts of Armenian relief, such as Armenian General Benevolent Union, the Near East Relief, the Wheat Relief Campaign, and other compatriotic organizations.  The Armenian Congregational churches also provided strong leadership in Armenian community affairs. Their spiritual and lay leaders, for instance, played a decisive role in the founding of the Knights of Vartan, a pan-Armenian brotherhood. They became the largest single group of contributors to one of the most influential magazines in the Armenian diaspora,Hayastan Gotchan.  The support of both the pastors and parishioners of the Armenian Evangelical constituency in the United States combined to make the Armenian General Benevolent Union the largest Armenian benevolent organization in the world.
Understandably, the attitude of the first generation of Armenian immigrants was one of ethnocentrism. Both internal and external forces tended to keep them united and reinforced in their distinctiveness. This attitude sought the assurance of their long-range stability.
The Second Generation
The native-born children of immigrants were able to follow a different road in reacting to their American environment. The new attitude of the American-born generation resulted from the common English language, uniform secular education in the public schools, uniform political institutions, and general economic and business relationships. In this way acculturation was effected principally in the fields of education, politics, economics, and religion. 
The offspring of Armenian immigrants, the generation that was born in the adopted country of their parents, went through a transitional period. Members of this generation had mixed feelings about their heritage, never being wholly certain whether it was best to disown it entirely or to seek some happy but seemingly elusive middle ground. It was this generation, for example, that changed the language policy of the Armenian Evangelical churches. Until the late 1940s the principal language of the Armenian Evangelical churches and the then existing two Unions was Armenian; English, the second language, was used predominantly by youth and its organizations. The first church to reverse its language policy was the Cilician Armenian Memorial Church of Watertown, Massachusetts, in 1949.  In this respect it became the pioneer of an experiment and by its success gave other Armenian Evangelical churches an example to follow.
The autonomy of individual Armenian Evangelical churches also opened the way to denationalization. For example, in some Armenian Evangelical circles in America a strong controversy existed from the mid-1950s to the early 1960s concerning the issue of ethnicity versus denationalization. Some ministers openly advocated the abandonment of unique Armenian characteristics of their churches in favor of community churches open to all nationalities. Others insisted that the raison d'?tre of an Armenian church is its unique character, that the abandonment of this Armenian character in Armenian Evangelical churches is a betrayal of Armenian history "written in the blood of countless martyrs."  A few churches toyed with the idea of becoming community churches, of dropping the appellation "Armenian" from the church name, of abandoning their ethnic heritage, and of opening the church to the community at large in order to attract and recruit members from the local community. Some of these churches even employed non-Armenian ministers. But their experimentation proved to be counterproductive. Not only did they fail to attract any new members from the local communities, but they also lost some of the current members in protest against changes that reflected, in their view, an "unwise policy." 
Armenian Missionary Association of America
One great source of pride and glory of Armenian Evangelicalism in general and of Armenian Congregational churches in America in particular is the Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA). Founded on June 7, 1918, in Worcester, Massachusetts, the AMAA was not only a compassionate attempt to help the Armenian remnant materially and morally, but also a prophetic voice that perhaps more than any other influence in the postwar years kept the embers alive. Sustained at first only by their zeal and fervor, the exiled Armenian Evangelicals mustered the courage to live on as a tiny community in the Middle Eastern countries. The AMAA provided guidance at a time when a great deal of uncertainty and confusion prevailed. A joint Outreach Committee was organized, composed of representatives of the AMAA and the American Board. This joint benevolent committee devised a plan to aid the needy and developing Armenian Evangelical churches and organizations in the Near East. Gradually, the American Board decreased its contribution and the AMAA increased its portion. 
Since its inception the AMAA has been not only the missionary arm of the Armenian Congregational churches in North America, but also the "golden chain" binding all Armenian Evangelicals throughout the world. It has drawn them together and has become a source of assistance embodying intense concern for all Armenians in need, always answering the call for help. As a nonprofit, nonpolitical missionary and philanthropic organization, the AMAA has supplied vision and material support as well as moral inspiration to Armenians everywhere. It has achieved an outstanding record of service in educational, cultural, physical, spiritual, and moral spheres—a service broader today than ever before—and has consistently contributed to a myriad of worthy causes. The AMAA has developed a missionary outreach in thirteen countries, serving underprivileged Armenians through numerous missionary projects, such as child education sponsorships, college and seminary scholarships, medical and general relief provisions, widespread missionary outreach and activities, encouragement of neophyte mission centers, financial aid to religious publications and meeting the needs of the destitute and forgotten.
Armenian Evangelical Union of North America
Another proud accomplishment of the Armenian Evangelicals in America was the creation of the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America (AEU-NA). The AEU-NA was the product of the merger of the Armenian Evangelical Union of Eastern States and Canada, Inc., and the Armenian Evangelical Union of California, Inc. After more than six decades of separate existence the twenty-one churches and three fellowships of these two Unions united, in 1971, into one Christian group "to uphold one another in their needs, to work together in mutual respect, ... to work for the Kingdom of God, to promote their general welfare and their missionary outreach." 
Since its inception the AEU-NA has embarked on a number of ventures and has accomplished some important undertakings, including:
The 75th Anniversary One-Million-Dollar Campaign for the purpose of promoting religious, educational, and cultural programs as well as sustaining and strengthening the Armenian Evangelical churches in North America.
The establishment of two new churches—one in Hollywood, California, and the other in Cambridge, Ontario.
The organization of new fellowships in California—one in San Diego and the other in San Jose.
The creation of a Long-Range Planning Committee to evaluate and reassess the present status of the AEU-NA and to chart a new course for the future.
The establishment of a Christian Education camp (Camp Arev) in California.
The publication of a newsletter, AEU-NA Forum, and a bulletin, AEU-NA Updae.
The merger of the Armenian Protestant Youth Fellowship and Armenian Christian Endeavor Union of California into one body—Armenian Evangelical Youth Fellowship.
The establishment of the Armenian Evangelical Social Service Center in Hollywood, California.
The creation of the office of Executive Secretary.
The creation of a Task Force on Ecumenicity for the purpose of strengthening ties with the Armenian Apostolic Church.
The participation in the First World Conference of Armenian Evangelicals convened by the AMAA.
Publication of the Armenian Evangelical Hymnal in 1976.
Today Armenian Evangelicals in America are a small minority. Their constituency comprises twenty churches, with a total communicant membership of about four thousand and an additional four thousand supporting members, youth, and church school pupils. By the 1950s fourteen of these churches were part of the Congregational Christian denomination. In 1957, when the Evangelical and Reformed Church united with the Congregational Christian Churches to form the United Church of Christ, all fourteen of these Armenian Congregational churches  decided to become part of the larger body. Since then they have been contributing financially and spiritually to the denomination. They have dual allegiances: Ethnically, they are Armenian Evangelical and belong to the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America; denominationally, they are loyal to the United Church of Christ.
Some of these Armenian Congregational churches are small in number. Not only do they lack a central wellspring of vitality, but they are also battling for survival. They have been experiencing declining membership and attendance. Others, particularly those in California, have managed to do more than merely survive. Owing to the influx of Armenian immigrants from the Middle Eastern countries and Soviet Armenia they are growing numerically and have been showing signs of vitality, including some significant achievements in terms of building programs, finances, and religious and ethnic activities.
Overall, the contributions of the Armenian Congregational churches in America to contemporary denominational and ethnic life are noteworthy despite the churches? minority status and their many problems.
At present the Armenian Congregational churches not only support generously the local Associations and Conferences, but many of their ministers and lay leaders also serve the denomination through various agencies, boards, and committees. It is heartwarming to note that in the past two decades more than a score of Armenian Congregational pastors have ministered or still are ministering to non-Armenian churches.
In some ways Armenian Congregationalism has come of age; it is no longer a dependent movement. It is self-supporting and self-reliant and has developed its own material, intellectual, and spiritual resources to the extent of not only helping itself but also going beyond.
Vahan H. Tootikian is the pastor of Armenian Congregational Church of Greater Detroit, Michigan. Author of The Armenian Evangelical Church (1982) and Reflections of an Armenian (1980).
1. William E. Strong, The Story of the American Board (Boston: Pilgrim Press, 1910), p. 3. 2. Edwin M. Bliss, A Concise History of Missions (New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1897), p. 128.
3. O. G. H. Dwight, Christianity Revived in the Near East (New York: Baker and Scribner, 1850), pp. 327?29.
4. American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, Annual Report (Boston, 1836), p. 15.
5. Stepan Eutudjian, Dzakoumn Yev Entatzn Avedaranaganootyan Ee Hais (The Rise and Course of Evangelicalism Among Armenians) (Constantinople: Arax Press, 1914), pp. 10-15.
6. Yeghia S. Kassouny, Loossashavigh (The Path of Light: History of the Armenian Evangelical Movement) (Beirut: American Press, 1947), pp. 19-24. Also, Dicran J. Kherlopian, Vossgemadian (Golden Anniversary. A History of the Armenian Evangelical Movement and the Armenian Evangelical Union of the Near East), vol. 1 (Beirut: Armenian Evangelical Union of the Near East, 1950), p. 4. The word millet is derived from the Arabic milla, used in the sense of religious community. In the Ottoman Empire the non-Muslim subjects were organized in semiautonomous bodies called millets.
7. Leon Arpee, A History of Armenian Christianity (New York: Armenian Missionary Association of America, 1946), pp. 240?41.
8. The Armenian Evangelical historian Yeghia Kassouny states that although the ?Union of the Armenian Evangelical Churches of Ararat? was organized in May of 1914, the Armenian Evangelicals could not hold Union meetings before 1919 because of World War I. They started holding meetings after Armenia became an independent republic. Annual conventions were held regularly until 1926. By 1927, because of government restrictions, the Union was dissolved as church life was disrupted. Kassouny, op. cit., pp. 452?54.
9. A. A. Bedikian, ?The Armenian Evangelical Churches in America,? The Bulletin (a quarterly publication of Armenian Evangelical Union: New York, 1962) 8, no. 3:25.
10. The Armenian Evangelical Union of Syria and Lebanon (Cilicia) assumed the name Union of Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Near East (UAEC-NE) in 1930.
11. James S. Dennis, Foreign Missions After a Century (New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1893), p. 180.
12. Yervant H. Hadidian, American Contribution to Armenian Culture, Armenian/American Outlook (New York: Joint Publication of the Armenian Evangelical Union and Armenian Missionary Association of America, Inc.) 9, no. 1:3-4.
13. Gorun Shrikian, Armenians Under the Ottoman Empire and the American Missions Influence (Ph.D. diss. Concordia Seminary in Exile in cooperation with Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, 1977), 450-51.
14. Howard Sachar, The Emergence of the Middle East: 1914-1924 (New York: Knopf, 1969), p. 345.
15. Vahan H. Tootikian, The Armenian Evangelical Church (Detroit Armenian Heritage Committee, 1982), p. 29.
16. Ibid., p. 30.
17. Ibid., p. 31.
18. Bedikian, op. cit., p. 23.
19. In the annals of the Armenian Evangelical churches in America there are a number of cases of discrimination against Armenian Evangelicals in the cities of Boston, Worcester, and Fresno by local Congregational Church members. But these in no way reflected a segregationist policy on the part of official church bodies.
20. Bedikian, op. cit., p. 23.
21. Vartkes Kassouni, The Past Our Honor—The Future Our Challenge, Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Booklet of the First Armenian Presbyterian Church (Fresno: n.p., 1974), p. 6.
22. The mass immigration of the Armenians to America began after the massacres of 1895, and later, after the Turkish atrocities of 1915, which forced thousands of refugees to find shelter on distant American shores. In 1910 the figure reached 70,000, rising to 130,000 in 1920. Today the Armenians in the United States number somewhere between 500,000 and 600,000.
23. Herald A. G. Hassessian, The 75th Anniversary of the Armenian Church of the Martyrs, Worcester, Mass., Armenian/American Outlook 4, no. 3:17-18.
24. Pilgrim Armenian Congregational Church, 1901-1976 (Fresno: Pilgrim Armenian Congregational Church, 1976), p. 4.
25. Hagop Chakinakjian, The Armenian Evangelical Union of California, Armenian Evangelical Union Bulletin, 7, nos. 3 and 4 (1961):23.
26. Harry M. Missirlian, Our Armenian Heritage, Pilgrim?s Progress (Fresno: weekly publication of Pilgrim Armenian Congregational Church) 3, no. 140(1975):1.
27. A. A. Bedikian makes a significant observation concerning the relationship of the Armenian Evangelical churches in America to those of the homeland. He writes: ?The providential fact should be noted that the Armenian Evangelical churches in the land of their nativity had attained some maturity during their first fifty years of their history.. . . They had, in a sense, mothered the churches in the United States, in their childhood; these, in turn, attaining robust adulthood, responded to the call of the stricken mother in her agony of death and gave her life.? See Bedikian, op. cit., p. 24.
28. Chakmakjian, op. cit. 8 (1962):31.
29. Two long-time and most prominent editors of Hayastani Gotchnag were two veteran Armenian Evangelical ministers, the Rev. Khachadour Benneyan and the Rev. Antranig Bedikian. Also, a host of Armenian Evangelical intellectuals, with their scholarly articles, gave the magazine a most enviable status.
30. Zaven Arzoumanian, The Armenian Religious Cultural Community of America, The Armenian Church (New York: Organ of the Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America, 1978) 9:3.
31. Yervant H. Hadidian, Our Thirteen Years Together, The Armenian Memorial Church Bulletin (Watertown: monthly publication of Armenian Memorial Church, MS. 1963), p. 2.
32. A. A. Bedikian, A Time for Reevaluation of the Mission of Our Churches, Armenian Evangelical Union of America and Armenian Missionary Association of America (Barrington, VT: Armenian Information Bureau, 1960), p. 1.
33. Tootikian, op. cit., p. 192.
34. Ibid., pp. 63-64.
35. Armenian Evangelical Union of North America Constitution and By-Laws (Detroit, 1974), p. 1.
36. The fourteen Armenian churches are First Armenian Church, Belmont, MA; Armenian Congregational Church, Chicago; Armenian Congregational Church of Greater Detroit, Southfield, MI; Immanuel Armenian Congregational Church, Downey, CA; Pilgrim Armenian Congregational Church, Fresno, CA; Armenian Martyrs? Congregational Church, Havertown, PA; Armenian Evangelical Church, New York City; Armenian Cilicia Congregational Church, Pasadena, CA; Armenian Euphrates Evangelical Church, Providence, RI; Armenian Ararat Congregational Church, Salem, NH; Calvary Armenian Congregational Church, San Francisco; United Armenian Calvary Congregational Church, Troy, NY; Armenian Memorial Church, Watertown, MA; The Armenian Congregational Church of the Martyrs, Worcester, MA.
Here is the Rev. Frederick R. Trost's paper delivered at the Dunkirk Colloquy in 2000. Trost was the founding convenor of Confessing Christ and is the former President and Conference Minister of the UCC's Wisconsin Conference.
I bring greetings to you all, grateful for this opportunity to be together in this place. I appreciate the work that Andy Armstrong has done in preparing the way for this colloquy and for the support many of you have given to the Confessing Christ project in the United Church of Christ.
It is a joy to be with you and with John Thomas, Debbie Schueneman, Robert Chase and Paul Hammer as well. Paul and I have been friends, "Since the days of our youth." I remember coming to the Dunkirk Conference ground when I was a child. My brothers and I looked forward to summer vacations here under the auspices of the former West New York Synod of the Evangelical and Reformed Church, which also decided to ordain me. It is more than fifty years since I was here last and I am reminded of people like Frederick Frankenfeld (for whom I was named), Paul M. Scroeder, Julius Kuck, Otto Reller and others to whom we looked up when we were young.
Any one of you could speak eloquently to the issue we are exploring together, "Taking the Bible Seriously," for we are, laity and clergy, sisters and brothers in the faith of the church. Each of us and all of us together have been summoned and united by baptism into the work of the Church. We are co-laborers in the vineyards planted by God. Our lives are meant to be a joyful, glad and happy response, despite every weakness and contradiction, to the fact that "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth." Every difference we face, every issue among us, should be seen in this light. With the great variety of gifts and background, theology and ways of interpreting the Gospel, we are one in Christ Jesus.
There is, perhaps, no more difficult vocation in the world than the one entrusted to us, nor one more happy, than that of those who allow themselves to be humbled in the service of the Word. I believe I speak for many in simply thanking God for who you are. As D. T. Niles put it in former times, workers in the vineyard, bearers of the Good News, we are fundamentally, "Beggars," each one of us, telling other beggars where to get food.
Let us pray: Grant us, O Lord, to pass this day in gladness and peace, without stumbling and without stain, that, reaching the eventide victorious over all temptation, we may praise you,, the Eternal God, who governs all things. We give you hearty thanks for the rest of the past night, and for the gift of a new day, with its opportunities of pleasing you. Grant that we may so pass its hours in the perfect freedom of your service, that as evening comes we may again give thanks unto you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Mosarabic Sacramentary, Daybreak. Office of the Easter Church, Doberstein, 20).
"Taking the Bible seriously." I'd like to begin by telling you three brief tales of the church, each rooted in the crucible of the 20th century:
First, a story you know perhaps, and one of my favorite tales of the church, a story about the community of believers at Le Chambon in France. It is a tale I have heard many times over the years and never tire of enjoying.
For as long as anyone could remember, the community of faith in the region of Le Chambon had gathered every week as the Word was spoken. The congregation at Le Chambon was small, unknown, overlooked by many. But prayers were said and songs were sung among these French Reformed Protestants from one season to the next. The years passed in quietness, for the most part.
Then, about the year 1940, things changed. Children began arriving together with their guardians, at the railroad station. Jewish children. They were fleeing the crucible to the east. They were in search of refuge. At first, the communities in and around Le Chambon did not know what to do with them. It was, at the time, against the law to receive a Jewish child.
The communities decided to break the law. It is said that from 1940 to 1943, there was not a wine cellar in all of Le Chambon in which was not hidden a Jewish child, not a hay stack under which was not hidden a Jewish child, not an attic in which was not hidden a Jewish child.
At the time of the month when the moon grew dark, the consistory and other members of the community would gather together all the Jewish children place them in their hay wagons, and transport them across the frontier to sanctuaries in Switzerland, to freedom and to life. In this manner, it is said, the lives of several thousand Jewish children were saved.
In 1943, the pastor and leading elders of the community at Le Chambon were arrested. Pastor Andre Trocmþ was asked by his interrogators, "Why did you break the law?", "Why did you accept the Jewish children?" To which he is said to have replied: "We did it because we wanted to be with Jesus."
"Let me say, parenthetically here, that we often struggle among ourselves not because we know the Bible so well, but because we do not know the Bible well enough. Not because we take the Bible so seriously, but because we do not take the Bible seriously enough."
Taking the Bible seriously!
Second, an account from the same period of a sermon of Clemens August, Count von Galen, Roman Catholic Bishop of Mônster. He, too, took the Bible seriously. It was Bishop von Galen who, Reichsleiter Martin Bormann suggested should be taken into custody and hanged because of his resistance to the government. Their plan was to kill all epileptic and other exceptional children and adults who lived within the diocese of Mônster and elsewhere in the land.
It as Bishop von Galen who proposed that all the farmers living across the countryside of Westphalia take into their homes or find a place in their barns, all the exceptional children and adults being cared for in Church related institutions, then daring the government to come and try to find them.
In a famous sermon preached in the Liebfrauenkirche in Mônster on July 20, 1941, the Bishop exhorted the congregation to take the Bible seriously; to live by faith unafraid.
Remain strong, he said. "At the moment we are the anvil rather than the hammer... Ask the blacksmith and hear what he says. The object which is forged on the on the anvil receives its form not alone from the hammer, but also from the anvil. The anvil cannot and need to strike back; it must only be firm... If it is sufficiently tough and firm,... The anvil usually lasts longer than the hammer. However hard the hammer strikes, the anvil stands quietly and firmly in place and will long continue to shape the objects forged on it."
The Bishop summoned the congregation to resistance. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer was saying about the same time, it is the obligation of those who take the Bible seriously and who seek to live as Easter people, to open their mouths for the voiceless. (Proverbs 31:8)
"The service of the Church has to be given to those who suffer violence and injustice. The Church takes to itself all the sufferers, all the forsaken, of every party and of every status. Here, the decision will really be made whether we are still the Church of the present Christ." (Bonhoeffer, Finkenwalde, "No Rusty Swords," 325)
There is no way to take the Bible seriously without accepting the blows of the hammer, and allowing our faith to be shaped like objects forged upon the anvil of the Word.
Taking the Bible seriously.
Third a tale from the Apartheid years in South Africa where despite the blows of the hammer, little Christian communities shaped by the Word, sang their songs of faith. It was in the season of Advent, as Christmas approached. The community gathered in the tiny village to which it had been exiled and the people sang their advent hymns and Christmas carols.
The government was offended. The police ordered the people to stop. Hymn-sings were prohibited. The government deemed them acts of "disturbing the peace."
The people went to their homes and at night, in silence, lit a candle and placed it on the window sill. IN every home in the village a candle gave its light. Again, the government was offended. Police were sent to every house. They ordered the candles snuffed out. Then the people refused, the police entered the homes of the people and blew the candles out themselves.
The next night, the people lit their candles again, this time not just one candle but many. There was not a window in the village from which did not shine a candle into the night. It is said the dark night sky above flowed with candlelight.
The police backed away, embarrassed by the thought of entering every house in the village and having to bend down to blow out a thousand candles.
Taking the Bible seriously.
Not a program
Taking the Bible seriously is not a program of some kind. It is not a curriculum. It is not a directive from some source far away. It is not a strategy to solve our problems. It is not a suggestion easily made. It has consequences. It is the simple act of faithful people, done for generations, sometimes at a risk, enabling the Church to make its way through time and events with a song on its lips, often in the face of the laughter and derision of the world. The reality is, hammer blows are struck from time to time.
This belongs to taking the Bible seriously.
I shall always remember the face of Archbishop Oscar Romero. There is a portrait that hangs above his grave inside the cathedral in San Salvador. The gentle face of this "pastor of the poor,' is not the only thing that stands out in the painting those who have knelt inside the cathedral recall seeing two other things: first, the hands of the Bishop, calloused by good works, are folded in prayer. Second, the Bible is in front of him.
This belongs to taking the Bible seriously.
The fact is, despite all the changes that take place in the Church from one generation to the next, our vocation as Christians remains the same: we are to proclaim the Gospel in the Word and Deed as witnesses to the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. Let the hammer strike where it may.
"The theology," Karl Barth observed, "there is the question as to the source of the Word, that is, exegesis, and the shape of the Word, that is, (so-called) practical theology. Between them stands dogmatics" (a nasty word in some circles). Dogmatics asks the question, "What are we to think and say?" "What should the content of the Christian proclamation be?" To do theology is to engage in conversation with the Word of God. It is at the heart of our vocation as pastors and as members of congregations. We all do it somewhat well, even very well at times, or somewhat badly, even very badly at times. But we all do it.
A few years ago, we built a new Conference Center in Wisconsin. The Conference staff works there and the Churches gather there to think and pray. When we built the Conference Center, we said to our architect, we have but two requirements: one, there should be skylights throughout the building so we might do our work with light that comes from beyond us. Two, we should have many windows in the building; windows that open wide to the world.
We placed a baptismal font at the entrance to the building so people are reminded of their baptism. In the chapel area, where many of our larger meetings are held, we placed a communion table, a cross and the Bible. The only way the community can look out into he world is through the table. And through that cross and, at the very center, the Bible.
Outside the building, we mounted a large, bronze church bell that had rung for nearly one hundred years from the steeple of one of our inner city churches. We placed it not far from the front door, so that when people leave their work at the conference center, they are reminded of their vocation to "make a joyful noise" in the world; "to sere the Lord with gladness," that is, ... to take the Bible seriously.
But the Bible is more than "light from above' or a reminder of our vocation "to lift our voices" in the world.
Where the Church is alive, where it lights its candles and allows itself to be shaped on the anvil of the Word of God, it will always have to "re-assess itself by the standard of the Holy Scriptures." (Barth)
The Bible is, in a sense, a measuring-stick, a ruler, if you will.
Despite some contemporary notions of faith, it is not the evidence of our thoughts that matter when it comes to the faith of the church. It is not even the deep longings of our hearts that count the most. What the Bible offers the Church is the evidence of the Apostles and Prophets, "God's self-evidence." (Barth, "Against the Stream").
The faith of the Church is a gift in which "we become free to hear the word of Grace which God has spoken in Jesus Christ. Our subjective faith lives by its object." (Barth)
What is of interest to those who seek to live by faith is not me and my faith, but the One in whom I believe and the miraculous fact that should stun us all, namely, that "God is gracious to us."
God is telling us in the Bible that "I am gracious to you." This is the Word of God and is the central concept of all Christian thinking. Where do we hear this Word of God? To know Jesus Christ is to be met by the graciousness of God.
To take the Bible seriously is to allow this Word to be spoken to us.
It is the Good News that the publican in the temple has a future and a hope. It is the Gospel that all of us who are acquainted with "the far country," are also the recipients of a robe, a ring, and slippers.
Each of us who takes to his or her lips the ancient prayer, "Lord be merciful to me, a sinner," is close to the very heart of this. Close to the astonishing fact that grace abounds! This is what the angels are singing about in the face of the dark night, into the howling winds of the "bleak midwinter." And this is why the shepherds return to their fields, bewildered but rejoicing.
To take the Bible seriously is to believe this; to accept the astonishing, bewildering, miraculous, absurd, liberating truth.... Despite everything, God is in love with us all!
The Word that incarnates God's grace is the one whom the second article of the Apostles' Creed confesses; the one with whom the very first question of the Heidelberg Catechism is concerned; the one whom Herod the King understood better than almost anyone else (and was afraid).
The gracious Word of God, which is the main theme of the Bible, meets the world (according to Luke 2), in that stable in Bethlehem. Christian faith is the welcome to the embrace people give to the fact of Immanuel, God with us. Jesus Christ is present in this world for our good. In him, God chooses to meet us, embrace us, judge us, confront us. This meeting, this embrace, this judgment, this confrontation is a gift. It is why the church has always prayed, and in its most faithful moments opened the Bible and said, "Come Holy Spirit!
Pointing away from ourselves to Jesus
To take the Bible seriously is to trust in the act of the faithfulness of another, namely, the act of God. It is to this act that the Bible points. To take the Bible seriously is to trust that God is here for us. It is to live in this certainty.
Faith points to this fact. We are like John the Baptist. In Matthias Greunewald's Crucifixion from the time of the Reformation, his index finger points away from himself to the cross, to the Lamb of God. That is our calling too.
Louise's and my son, Paul Gerhardt, is an artist, a painter. Often his themes are the themes of faith. Recently, he was in Haiti helping to establish a food program among desperately poor children.
Paul sent us a letter describing a visit he made to a Catholic orphanage in Haiti. The orphanage was filled with little children, he wrote, almost all of them sitting or lying in their cribs, crying, reaching out for someone to hold them.
"I stumbled past row after row of those cribs," he said to us, "in a sea of tears. I was numbed by it all. Finally, I summoned the strength to take one of the fragile children into my arms. Then, I lifted up another and walked outside into the sunshine. I began to sing little songs to the children. Though they could not understand the words, they smiled with the melody. I did this for more than an hour. Then I returned the children to their cribs and said good-bye. As I was about to leave, I was captured by a little girl, about two years old. She stood out because of all the children, she was the only one who was able to smile. She stood in her crib, motioning to me and pointing way from herself, to a little boy whose tears were insatiable. I went to him and held him close to me. The little girl continued to smile. I set him down. She motioned to me again, pointing me to another child who wanted to be held. I thought of John the Baptist," Paul wrote.
To take the Bible seriously is to point, with whatever gifts we may have, away from ourselves to Jesus.
This, as you know is not always easy. There is a lovely story told of one of the great music conductors of the past century who was leading a magnificent orchestra in one of the Beethoven symphonies. A newspaper reporter noticed that tears poured down the conductor's cheeks as the symphony was played. After the concert, he asked the great man "Why?" "Maestro, why were you weeping?" To which the great man is said to have replied, "I weep because I cannot make the music sound the way I hear it in my heart."
It is not always easy to "play the music" of the Gospel or to do our theological work.
Preaching fairy tales
In a remarkable essay by Kurt Scharf, he writes of the temptation of the church to be too generous, to open, too tolerant of the many winds that blow about us. Bishop Scharf mentions how, as a young theological student, he (and many others), lost respect for church leadership because they seemed to have no standards or expectations when it came to the teaching office of the pastor.
The nave of this Church, he said, had become a forum of human opinions, where just about anything was acceptable, so long as one held the belief deep within his or her heart. "In the first years of parish ministry," he writes, "I became acquainted with a neighboring pastor who had written a book of sermons based on Grimm's fairy tales. These sermons were popular in my association and it was not uncommon to hear preaching on Sunday morning about Snow White or Dornroeschen" (or Jack in the Beanstalk). The pastors searched for truths and for relevance and popularity anywhere they thought they might find it, including the poetry of Goethe and the dramas of Schiller, but not in Scripture. (See Eberhard Bethge, U. A. "Kirche in Preussen: Gestalten und Geschichte," 178-180)
Taking the Bible seriously:
When the Church takes the Bible seriously, it will not trouble itself with "religious virtuosity" or with efforts to construct communities of the "morally elite."
Where the Church takes the Bible seriously, it will acknowledge that the Bible is Holy because it was written for the unholy. It will understand that the witness of the Bible is not that we, despite everything, believe, but that God, despite everything, keeps faith.
Where the Church takes the Bible seriously, Karl Barth observed, Christ always leads the way and the church follows. Christ always speaks and the Church merely answers. Where the Church takes the Bible seriously, the community knows that it belongs not to itself but to him. This is why in the "Evangelical Catechism," in response to the question, "What does thy daily communion require of thee?" the newest member of the congregation would respond, "Lord, Jesus, for thee I live, for thee I suffer, for thee I die. Thine will I be in life and in death. Grant me, O Lord, eternal salvation.
Where the Church takes the Bible seriously, it will understand itself as the lowest, poorest, meanest, weakest thing that can possible exist, gathered around a manger and a cross, and also as the highest, riches, most radiant of communities, an Easter people.
Where the Church takes the Bible seriously, its members neither esteem, nor admire, or revere one another, but simply love each other. They accept each other in his or her place, exactly as she or he is, because the community understands the judgment and grace of God.
Where the Church takes the Bible seriously, it is impossible for its members to face one another with any ultimate reservations. It is a community in which people help one another, not with the intent of doing good or showing how selfless they are, or to give God pleasure or to make a public impression, but because they have a common cause. They hold a basin in one hand and a towel in the other.
Where the Church takes the Bible seriously, it summons the courage to challenge, to break the idols, to shatter callousness. It refuses to allow itself to achieve respectability by the grace of society. It will struggle not to allow love to be replaced by habit, ignoring the crisis of today because of the splendor of the past. It will understand itself as a response to life, to passion, to the cross, to the resurrection, resisting moods or fads and insisting on good thinking. It will have empathy for the prophets, who saw a single act of injustice as a disaster, even though it is incapable of emulating them. It will confess that theological work among people of faith can only take place in relation to Auschwitz and in a context in which the clouds formed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki remain with us. (Cf. Abraham Joshua Heschel).
Where the Church takes the Bible seriously, it sits at Jesus' feet like Mary. It knows that no one belongs to it by virtue of one's religious experience, but rather, it knows it is already called together, united, and governed by the Word of its master, or it is not the church at all. (Cf. Karl Barth, "Against the Stream.")
Where the Church takes the Bible seriously, the members of the community will bear one another's burdens, seeking to live life from the Gospel in relation to the Word made flesh, as provisional heralds, as representatives of those who do not yet know Jesus Christ.
Where the Church takes the Bible seriously, it believes that God who was in Christ does not cease to live for us, and so the Church lives in anticipation, in hope, expecting surprises.
Where the church takes the Bible seriously, it confesses God with us. "If its poverty lead it into temptation, it will confess Christ was poorer. Should it become grieved by disbelief, it will confess that Jesus was tempted, just as we. It will know that whenever one is in a position of weakness, he or she shares God's life." (Bonhoeffer).
Where the Church takes the Bible seriously, it sees a great light, though it is still a community walking in darkness. It therefore leaves behind all self-satisfaction, but also all brooding and despair over the enigmas of the present. It knows that it serves God by serving its neighbors in the world, wherever they are, whatever language they speak, or politics they profess or race to which they trace their roots. Its mission is not to say "no" but to say "yes." That God is not against us, but for us. (Cf. Barth)
Textual criticism only reveals the surface
In April, 1936, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a letter to his brother-in-law, Rudiger Schleicher (who was later to perish with Bonhoeffer for his role in the conspiracy). In this letter, Bonhoeffer speaks of the necessity of taking the Bible seriously. It is to believe that in the Bible it is God who speaks to us. Textual criticism belongs to biblical study, but it can only reveal the "surface of the Bible, not what is within it." Bonhoeffer asks an insightful question: "When a dear friend speaks a word to us, do we subject it to analysis? No, we simply accept it, and then it resonates inside us for days. The word of someone we love opens itself up to us the more we 'ponder it in our hearts,' as Mary did. In the same way, we should carry the word of the Bible around with us. We will only be happy in our reading of the Bible when we dare to approach it as the means by which God really speaks to us, the God who loves us and will not leave us with our questions unanswered." (Bonhoeffer, "Meditation on the Word." 44).
To take the Bible seriously is to understand that my knowledge of God does not originate either in my own experience or the insights which I bring from within myself, but that it is based on God's revelation of God's own Word. It is to frankly acknowledge that either I am the one who determines the place in which I will find God, or I allow God to determine the place where God will find me. God tells me where God is to be found. "If it is I who say where God will be" Bonhoeffer wrote to his brother-in-law, "I will always find there a God who in some way corresponds to me, is agreeable to me, fits in with my nature."
But if it's God who says where (God) will be, then that will truly be a place which at first is not agreeable to me at all, which does not fit so well with me. That place is the cross of Christ. And whoever will find God there must draw near to the cross in the manner which the Sermon on the Mount requires. That does not correspond to our nature at all... But this is the message of the Bible... The entire Bible then, is the Word in which God allows (Godself) to be found by us. Not a place which is agreeable to us or makes sense to us... But instead a place which is strange to us and contrary to our nature. Yet, the very place in which God has decided to meet us. (Ibid, 45)
To take the Bible seriously is to understand that our God is a suffering God. "It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but participation in the sufferings of God in (the world)... It is to know that being with and for others is the way in which (we are) formed in Christ." (Bonhoeffer)
I close with a little advice from one who has come before us (Christian Lendi-Wolf, in Doberstein, Minister's Prayer Book, 326) [I believe, incidently, that we should remain in conversation with those who have come before us, not only the witnesses of the prophets and apostles, but those frail human beings who believed before we were born. There is an important conversation, as Archbishop Romero observed, that constantly takes place between the "Ecclesia Militans" and the "Ecclesia Triumphans" and we should pay attention to it.]
In a letter to a young student, this one who has come before us seems to sigh as he says
so you want to be a pastor of souls? Absolutely necessary for this ministry is a mirror. But you, I know, are not fond of gazing into a mirror. And yet there are a lot of people who like to stand in front of a mirror because they are pleased with themselves. (I speak) rather (of) that unerring mirror. And what more salutary could happen to us than this? His gaze kills our pride.
Only a humble (person) can really be a pastor... Only a fighter can be a real pastor. The Lord's presence promises us forgiveness and gives us the courage again and again to make a new beginning... His Word is a call of alarm that keeps us from stiffening into self-satisfied security... The mirror of God preserves us from being phony paragons. Real pastoral care requires truth. And that's what God's mirror gives us, in order that we... may care for others with unflinching and joyful hearts.
Friederich Schleiermacher often signed his letters and other documents with the words "student der theologie" (student of theology). This remarkable teacher, the most influential of the theologians of his time, remained a student to the end of his days. As I prepare for retirement after nearly forty years as a pastor, my hope and prayer for you and for the United Church of Christ is that you might sign everything you say and do with the statement, "We have sought in this and in all other things simply to be a 'student of the Word'."
I thought last evening as the four women in the string quartet played their music so joyfully, what it would be like were each of us to remain, all our days, so happily engaged in the Scripture set before us, paying attention to the "notes," and even with the mistakes we would invariably make allowing the music to resonate deep into our being, looking up from time to time and taking direction from the first violin.
"Jesu Juva," Bach would write at the beginning of his compositions—"Jesus, help me." And at the end of the many of them, the words, "Soli Deo Gloria" ("To the Glory of God alone").
May it also be so with each of us!
We, the United Church of Christ, look toward the twenty-first Century with anticipation. We trust God's promises. We are eager to respond to God's call. We believe that God does have more truth and light yet to break forth from God's holy word. Thanks be to God.
A Church attentive to the Word
By God's grace, we will be an attentive church. We commit ourselves anew to listen for God's Word in Holy Scripture, in our rich heritage, in faithful witness, and in the fresh winds of the Holy Spirit so that we might discover God's way for us.
We are claimed in baptism as children of God, disciples of Christ, and members of Christ's church. Through sustained Biblical and theological reflection on the challenges, confusions. injustices, mercies and possibilities that confront us, we hope to discern baptism's claim so that we might be the faithful disciples these days require.
We want to remember whose we are. Therefore, we will be faithful in worship and study, attentive to the Word and nurtured at the Table. We will be a people of prayer.
We want to be faithful disciples. Therefore, we will relate our faith boldly to all of life's demands.
We want all people to know of God's gracious activity on our behalf. Therefore, we will share God's Good News so that God's way may be revealed, God's forgiveness received, and God's future affirmed.
A Church inclusive of all people
By God's grace, we will be an inclusive church. We commit ourselves to be a church for all people and, in Christ, we celebrate, affirm, and embrace the rich diversity of God's good creation.
We seek to be a fully inclusive community of faith, sharing bread and cup with all who see, in Christ, the way to our common future. We believe that God desires our oneness with all people, everywhere, and we long for the day when we may all be one.
We acknowledge that we are far less inclusive than we are called to be. Therefore, we will intentionally reach out into the world and lovingly invite all to Christ, and to participate fully in the ordering of our common life.
We acknowledge that we sometimes find it difficult to accept the gifts that others bring. Therefore, we will seek to be open to those gifts, affirm them, learn from them, and, at the leading of the Holy Spirit, be transformed by them.
We acknowledge that the world in which we live is far more diverse than we have hitherto imagined. We celebrate this rich diversity. Therefore, united in Christ, we will reach toward it in anticipation of God's reign.
A Church responsive to God's call
By God's grace, we will be a responsive church. We commit ourselves to be a church of justice and mercy and peace so that lives may be renewed, spirits revived, and worlds transformed.
So many of God's people suffer. So many are maltreated. God's good earth cries out in pain. Our world needs those who will pursue justice, show mercy, and seek peace. That is the church we hear God calling us to be. We want "to join oppressed and troubled people in the struggle for liberation . . . and to work for justice, healing, and wholeness of life." [Quote from the UCC Statement of Mission]
We envision a world wherein "justice will flow down like mighty waters." Therefore, we will stand alongside those who hurt so that the hungry may be fed, the excluded embraced, and the creation renewed.
We envision a world wherein mercy reigns. Therefore, we will heal the sick, encourage the weary, and support the dying.
We envision a world of peace for all people, everywhere. Therefore, we will be peacemakers so that hostilities and hatreds may cease and love, mercy, and justice prevail.
A Church supportive of one another
By God's grace, we will be a supportive church. We commit ourselves to strengthen Christ's body through renewed resolve and mutual support in our common ministries.
In the immediate days ahead, our servant church will face days of challenge. We will need dedicated pastors and teachers. We will need vibrant congregations. Only a people who share a common vision, who support each other whatever the cost, and who are committed, together, to strengthen Christ's Church for ministry will be equal to the task. We want to be that church.
We believe that a vital church is a covenantal church. Therefore, we will be supportive of each other and accountable to each other.
We believe that a vital church is a sacrificial church. Therefore, we will give sacrificially of our resources so that Christ's Church may be strengthened and God's people served.
We believe that a vital church is a "united and uniting church." Therefore, we will seek to embody the oneness of Christ's church through ecumenical commitment, witness, and ministries in Christ's name.
About this testimony
In 1993, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ adopted this "Statement of Commitment" as the starting point for four "seasons" of churchwide theological reflection on the future of our community of faith as we enter the 21st century. The statement underscores that the UCC seeks to be a church where all people—including those historically excluded by the Christian community—can find a home.
During the course of development of the United Church of Christ a number of splinter groups and subgroups came into being as a result of various conflicts. Race and immigration have shaped the denomination over and over.
In the mid-nineteenth century, however, there was a theological and liturgical controversy within Pennsylvania Reformed history that rocked the entire church. A college and a seminary were founded to promote a theological point of view in opposition to the much-celebrated Mercersburg perspective. The new viewpoint was called the Ursinus School, or Ursinus Movement, not because it related to the work of Zacharias Ursinus, author of the Heidelberg Catechism, but because it was centered around a school located in southeastern Pennsylvania named Ursinus. At the heart of the struggle were two strong personalities: John H. A. Bomberger and James I. Good.
The story begins when Philip Schaff, a German historian on the faculty of the seminary at Mercersburg, delivered his famous address on "The Principles of Protestantism," in First Church, Reading, Pennsylvania, on October 24, 1844. The address "stood against the inadequacies of American Christianity: its unhistorical character, its provincialism, its subjectivism and sectarianism."  Soon after Joseph Berg, pastor of the German Reformed Church (Race Street), Philadelphia, and others attacked the person and theology of young Schaff and accused him of heresy and attempting to Romanize the Reformed Church. Schaff spoke of the continuity of the church, its evangelical and apostolic nature, and lifted up the importance of the incarnate Word—Jesus Christ. The attack resulted in Schaff's being tried for heresy. Those who sat in judgment—one of whom was Bomberger—supported Schaff, and he was cleared of the charge.
Pulpit versus altar
What were the marks of the Ursinus movement at its inception? James I. Good, chief historian of the Ursinus position, summarized them in the April 24, 1861 issue of the Reformed Church's "Messenger" as opposition to the use of congregational responses, the inclusion of a priestly absolution of sin, and the incorporation of spiritual regeneration at baptism in the liturgy presented to General Synod in 1859 and 1860.
These differences in liturgical desires became strong convictions that were described in terms of pulpit liturgy and altar liturgy. The Ursinus movement emphasized the pulpit liturgy, which omitted responses and prayers spoken by the people and consisted principally of forms for special services and rites, such as the Lord's Supper and baptism. This liturgy was centered in the pulpit and in preaching that may have been expository and to a large extent hortatory. It focused on the human interpretation of the word and an exhortation to moral living in obedience to the word.
The Mercersburg movement celebrated the altar liturgy, in which the pastor and people joined together in response to God. This liturgy was centered in the mighty acts of God through the grace of Christ and Christ's spiritual presence. The sermon was a proclamation of what God had done in Christ as symbolized by the altar and pulpit. The obedient acts of the people were understood to be offerings of thanksgiving and praise, spiritual sacrifices offered gratefully because of what God in Christ had done for them.
The difference between the two views came to a climax in January, 1862, when the liturgical committee of the church divided six to one in favor of the altar liturgy, Bomberger representing the one opposing vote. All had agreed previously that revision of the provisional liturgy was necessary, but Bomberger, under the influence of Berg and other low-church pastors in the Philadelphia Classis, changed his liturgical position.  From this point on he became the symbol of the free church, or low-church movement.
John Nevin, also a professor at Mercersburg, Schaff, and Bomberger referred to the same European Reformers and liturgies but produced different interpretations. In assessing the controversy The Messenger's editor wrote on May 22, 1861: "The controversy about the liturgy in the Messenger must be closed because of its danger of climbing into huge proportions and because it has run into personalities." 
The controversy spread westward. The Rex. Max Stern attacked the liturgy in the western German church paper, The Evangelist, on January 23, 1861. The free church tradition represented by Stern was not of recent vintage. When, in 1838, the Ohio Synod inaugurated J. G. Buettner as seminary professor, one of Buettner's reasons for accepting the position was to train pastors to oppose revivalism. But many Ohio ministers favored revivalism, and the seminary soon faded for want of students. The conflict over new measures and revivalism continued during the 1840s, and the development of a theological seminary was delayed until 1847, when the synod voted to raise money for an institution. In 1849 Jeremiah H. Good became professor of theology at the Ohio Literary and Theological Institution. After an unsettled period the theological institution became part of Heidelberg College, which opened its doors at Tiffin, Ohio, on November 18, 1850, with E. V. Gerhart as president and professor of theology. J. H. Good was professor of mathematics, and Reuben Good, rector of the academy. Later Gerhart moved to Lancaster Seminary, and the Goods became prime movers in the low-church, or Old Reformed, movement.  In Pennsylvania the debate over the liturgy continued at each meeting of the Eastern Synod. The leaders of the debate were members of the liturgical committee. Schaff and Nevin were the principals on the so-called high-church side. They were soon joined by such eminent pastors as Henry Harbaugh, S. R. Fisher, and Daniel Ganz. Supporting Bomberger were George W. Willard, Joseph Berg, and James I. Good. The positions hardened into two movements, with delegate elders and congregations taking sides.
Although the principals conducted the debate on a scholarly level and referred back to German and Swiss sources, some anti-liturgical supporters got their ammunition for the struggle from the revivalism of the Great Awakening. The revivalistic trend increased in Pennsylvania. The new measures movement included, in addition to daily Bible reading and prayer, prohibitions against smoking, drinking, swearing, and associating with those who do. The impact of revivalism had reached the congregation in Mercersburg, and it was this fact that originally started Nevin on his writing career with the publication of "The Anxious Bench," a polemic, or tract, against revivalism and its "new measures."
The high-church movement was headquartered in the seminary at Mercersburg. The low-church movement had no headquarters. It became evident that if Bomberger and his supporters were to maintain their strength, they too needed an administrative center and a training school for leaders. The only other seminary was in Ohio, but that was too far away and was also caught up in the struggle between high-church and low-church factions.
The Philadelphia Classis, in which pastors Bomberger and Berg served, became the focal judicatory within Eastern Synod for the founding of a headquarters. If the anti-liturgical movement was to succeed, pastors needed to be educated. Individual support also came from pastors in other Classes, for the liturgical question had been referred from the Eastern Synod to constituent Classes. Several locations for a college were considered, but the villages of Freeland and Trappe, in Montgomery County, near Philadelphia, proved a logical setting. Here were the Washington Hall in Trappe, conducted by Abel Rambo; Freeland Seminary, conducted by Adam H. Fetterolf; and the Pennsylvania Female College at Freeland, headed by J. Warren Sunderland. Nearby, in Norristown, was the Elmwood Institute, conducted by John R. Kooken, a former pastor at St. Luke's Church, Trappe, and then pastor of the Reformed Church of the Ascension. All these institutions were small and struggling. The buildings for Freeland Seminary and the Pennsylvania Female College were built by Abraham Hunsicker, a Mennonite minister who conducted worship in Freeland. The congregation served by him later became Trinity Reformed Church, Collegeville.
Under the leadership of Bomberger the ways and means committee of the Philadelphia Classis raised more than $25,000 for the establishment of a college. The buildings in Freeland were purchased in January 1869 for $20,000; the organization of a college began in February. On June 7 of that year Bomberger was elected president of the college. His election as pastor of St. Luke's Church, Trappe, provided the security necessary to accept the presidency of the college, which at its inception faced uncertainties of developing a faculty, a student body, and a sound financial base. 
The Heidelberg Catechism and the Palatinate Liturgy served as takeoffs for Bomberger's theological and liturgical positions. Out of this context he chose the name of the eminent author of these documents—Zacharias Ursinus—to be the name of the college. Thus the headquarters for the Old Reformed party had an appealing, symbolic name. Bomberger suggested the design for the corporate seal and participated in writing the movement's constitution.
The college was planned as a four-year baccalaureate institution, but Bomberger and the Classis had in mind the preparation of students for the ministry. On receiving the first students, in September 1870, the announcement indicated that theology would be offered in the curriculum. The Philadelphia Classis gave approval to the purpose, and Bomberger, with James I. Good, developed a theological faculty that included John Van Haagan, H. W. Super, A. S. Zerbe, John H. Sechler, Philip Vollmer, George Stibbitz, George W. Willard, and William J. Hinke.
On Bomberger's death, in 1890, James I. Good succeeded in the leadership of the theological school and as the head of the Old Reformed movement. Good sought to widen the sphere of influence of the Ursinus School. After moving to Philadelphia, Edward S. Bromer was added to the faculty. Good made numerous trips to Germany, Switzerland, and Hungary to study the Reformed history and to recruit students. Even though enrollment figures remained low, the school provided excellent preparation for the pastoral ministry.
The School of Theology continued at Ursinus College until 1898, when it was moved to 33d and Chestnut Streets in Philadelphia. The relocation was prompted by a desire to be close to the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, which had no theological school.
The "Ursinus School"
At the same time that Bomberger was developing educational institutions to reach the minds of youth, he was calculating how he could adequately respond to the high-church articles in The Messenger. In 1868 he launched the Reformed Church Monthly, in which he and his followers answered and challenged his liturgical opponents.
As the leader of the low-church movement, Bomberger desired a theological base for the doctrine of the church, the ministry, and the sacraments. He did not succumb to revivalism and the new measures. The term low church was not to his liking, and he referred to the emphasis of the anti-liturgical group as the Old Reformed, preferring not to be thought of as antiliturgical. Bomberger sought revision of the provisional liturgy to allow free prayer, rather than liturgical prayers and responses, to remove the absolution after confession of sin and to give prime importance to preaching so that, practically speaking, it preempted at least fifty percent of the Sunday morning service. His liturgy, as a pulpit liturgy, put the pastor in the position of the chief speaker. The members' participation was reduced to singing hymns and praying the Lord's Prayer.
The controversy increased in intensity for ten years, from 1861 to 1871. Bomberger's opponents accused him of becoming an antagonist because he was not given proper recognition and because he was not called to the professorship at Mercersburg after Harbaugh's death. Bomberger refuted these accusations and said that although it was true he was a member of the original liturgical committee of General Synod and favored the liturgy, he reversed his position on the basis of principle in 1860-61. 
Debate became personal between men on both sides of the question. It seems appropriate to cite the fact that Nevin was of Scotch-Irish descent and Bomberger, of German descent, two ethnic strains known for their stubbornness. Behind the principle was plain stubbornness.
The "Ursinus School" became a term that symbolized the Old Reformed movement. At times the term free worship was used, as over against the Mercersburg School and liturgical worship. Some have incorrectly used the label free church movement; this it never was. There was no movement toward sectarianism or separatism. The Ursinus School remained within the Classis, Synod, and General Synod structure, which was presbyterial in order. Although conflict was present, so also was respect for church order, and the debates occurred on the floor of the judicatory meetings.
The Philadelphia Classis generally supported the initiation of theological education at Ursinus College. The Rev. S. R. Fisher contested the work of Bomberger as being unconstitutional on the basis that a theological professor was to be elected by the General Synod. Bomberger cited the precedent of pastors privately teaching theology and preparing students for the ministry and further insisted that there is no difference between theological professor and minister. Every minister is a theological teacher. The Mercersburg view was that whereas every pastor teaches theology, not every pastor is called to be a professor of theology, and that by the constitution the church elects the theological professor. The controversy reached the floor of the General Synod of 1872, at Cincinnati, Ohio.
The church was becoming weary of the controversy, and because theology was already being taught at Ursinus, it was probably expedient for the Synod to vote in favor of Bomberger. Although it was true that on the frontier theology had been taught in parsonages, the church was now maturing and seeking to bring order to theological education as well as to other areas of work. A theological/liturgical controversy at such a time made the maturing process more complex.
The high-water mark of the Ursinus School was reached in 1878. The Goods, one in Collegeville and one in Tiffin, were links in the chain of alliance between Pennsylvania and the Middle West. It was advantageous for the Ursinus School, the Pietists, and the revivalists to join forces to stop the advance of the Mercersburg leaders. The strength of Mercersburg increased to the point where the placement of pastors became a political issue. The Old Reformed accused the Mercersburg proponents of appointing committees for the call of pastors without the consistories' consent. Benevolent assessments on the congregations were refused because of their being used to send students to liturgically oriented seminaries.
When the General Synod convened in Lancaster in 1878 the election of the president showed the strength of the two parties. The first ballot ended in a tie between representatives of the liturgical and nonliturgical groups. On the second ballot David Van Horne, a low-church advocater, was elected. Clement Z. Weiser proposed a peace commission to seek a compromise and heal the long-standing division. The proposal was adopted. Then began the work that eventually brought a compromise, if not a complete ending, to the controversy.  The degree of animosity that existed can be seen in the fact that immediately after the election of Van Horne as president, the large cross atop the altar was removed until the Synod was completed. At this same Synod, for the first time and under the influence of the revivalists, a prayer meeting was held. 
The peace commission was composed of an equal number of pastors and elders from both sides of the controversy. A revision of the 1866 liturgy took place, with the resultant work being called a Directory of Worship. It was agreed that the use of the Directory would be with the action of each consistory. The Directory actually had limited usage. Mercersburg congregations continued to use the 1866 liturgy, and Ursinus congregations used no liturgy except for the Holy Communion. The Directory was in reality a flag of truce.
The doctrinal differences between the two movements were substantive and pronounced. Both groups referred to the same Heidelberg sources and produced different interpretations. The chief difference lay in the concept of the church. Bomberger and Good were Reformists. Their ecclesiology stopped with Zwingli, Calvin, and the Heidelberg Catechism. Thus they liked the term Old Reformed. They had difficulty accepting the fact that Ursinus was strongly influenced by Philip Melanchthon when he wrote the catechism. Through Melanchthon there was an underlying catholic spirit that made the catechism irenic and a bridging document.
Schaff and Nevin emphasized the continuity of the church through the Reformation and the Roman church (with its errors) back to the apostolic church. More than a century ago Schaff used the descriptive words reformed, evangelical, and catholic. The peace commission produced a statement that brought a truce in the doctrinal field.
We do not regard the visible church as commensurate and identical with the invisible church (according to the Roman theory) nor do we think that in this world the invisible church can he separated from the visible (according to the theory of Pietism and false spiritualism); but while we do not identify them, we do not in our views separate them. 
Evidences of the Ursinus School were seen in many churches during the latter half of the nineteenth century, in the architectural designs as well as in the chancel appointments. In fact, the word chancel would not have been used, because this was a high-church term used to describe the area behind the rail that separated the table and the pulpit from the rest of the church.
The low-church people simply referred to the area as "the front of the church." As recently as a generation ago uninformed members colloquially said "on the pulpit" when they referred to the entire area behind the rail.
The communion table usually stood one step above the main floor. It was unadorned except for a homemade runner. The colors of the church year were not acknowledged. On most Sundays the only items permitted on the table were the offering plates. As recently as the late 1950s some tables did not have crosses, because this custom was considered too Roman. Of course, no candlesticks were on the table. Lights, frequently ornate, adorned the pulpit for the practical reason to illuminate for reading.
In churches erected in the latter portion of the 1800s the pulpit was placed on a platform two or three steps above the floor of the table and was centered behind it. The pulpit was generally larger than the table and more ornate. Some tables were enclosed pieces of furniture resembling small, boxlike altars but they were still called tables. Other tables, when pulled away from the pulpit platform, revealed cupboards that could be used to store the communion service.
Worship was usually conducted from the pulpit. The Lord's Supper was often the only occasion when the pastor approached the table and that was for the distribution of the bread and wine. Turning to face the communion table during the prayer, with one's back to the people, was unacceptable. One had to pray from the pulpit. As recently as the 1940s some congregations did not look favorably on the pastor wearing the black Geneva pulpit gown.
The architectural style of the churches built in the eighteenth century presented some problems but were generally acceptable to the Ursinus School. This style, which reflected earlier German architecture, placed a four-to-five-foot-long table below the pulpit. In some churches the table stood free from the pulpit, with the benches facing in from three sides. With a balcony on three sides, the pulpit was conveniently elevated five to eight steps above the floor level of the table. A painting of Christ usually hung on the wall behind the pulpit. Because of the size, position, and respect given the table in relation to the pulpit this eighteenth-century style, remarkably enough, emphasized both the word and the sacrament. Yet it was also acceptable to the Old Reformed element, with the exception of the use of pictures or paintings.
Another area of struggle was centered in the writing of a constitution and bylaws that could embody in church structure an ecclesiology and doctrine with which both sides could live. This was finally accomplished in 1908.
The Ursinus School of Theology in Philadelphia did not develop sufficiently to maintain a separate existence. A friendly invitation was extended by Lancaster Theological Seminary for consolidation. Conversations were held with the theological seminary related to Heidelberg College at Tiffin, Ohio, because of the greater affinity for the low-church position. In 1907 the union of the two schools was consummated under the new name of Central Theological Seminary, and the new site was Dayton, Ohio. Shortly after the formation of the Evangelical and Reformed Church, in 1934, Central Theological Seminary united with Eden Theological Seminary in Webster Groves, Missouri.
During the transitional periods some Ursinus faculty members transferred to other institutions: Edwin S. Bromer went to Lancaster Theological Seminary; William J. Hinke went to Auburn Theological Seminary; James I. Good, Philip Vollmer, and George Stibbitz went to Central Theological Seminary.
Today if one were to visit congregations that were once related to the Ursinus School, one would find altars against the wall or large tables standing free, with a pulpit and a lectern on either side. Every congregation now has a cross on the table, fastened to the wall behind the altar or suspended above it. Most also have candles on the altar/table and an acolyte seated in the chancel. This practice is no longer seen as a Romanizing tendency.
St. Luke's Church, Trappe, where Bomberger served, now uses the Evangelical and Reformed liturgy, which is the successor to the 1866 liturgy, and at times uses the United Church of Christ Service of Word and Sacrament. The altar at St. Luke's is against the wall, beneath a reredos that bears a cross-shaped design. Candlesticks, flowers, and liturgical colors are used regularly. At Trinity Church, Collegeville, which is surrounded by the Ursinus College campus, the chancel was recently renovated to have a large, free standing table with a pulpit to the side and a cross mounted on the wall above the table. Older members of the church remember the tradition, and the confession and assurance of pardon are seldom used. However, responsive readings, litanies, a profession of faith, and the Gloria Patri a re a regular part of worship.
Each group established a summer conference for ministers and members—one at Ursinus College and one at Franklin and Marshall Academy, in Lancaster. For a time the Lancaster Conference moved to Cedar Crest College but now continues as the Spiritual Conference at Franklin and Marshall College. The Collegeville Summer Assembly has ceased to function and has given its endowment to Ursinus College, with the income to be used for an ecumenical day of theological education at the college.
The interludes of history bring messages in themselves. In this sense it is interesting to note that in the past fifty years Ursinus College has twice called an Episcopalian as its president. Another mark of change in the hidden history of the Ursinus School is the graduation from the college in the 1930s of three students—Morris D. Slifer, Scott F. Brenner, and Paul E. Schmoyer—who became leaders in the twentieth-century liturgical movement. All three served on committees for the revision of the Evangelical and Reformed Book of Worship, which is the successor liturgy to the classic Mercersburg Liturgy of 1866, or have written books dealing with the liturgy.
As one looks back over that critical period in the history of the Reformed Church one can only conjecture what would have happened if Bomberger had been called to the seminary professorship rather than Henry Harbaugh. James I. Good insisted that the reasons for the controversy were not personal. Certainly, the determination to find peace rather than schism indicates that each side believed it could find some common rock on which it could stand. Even though the reasons for the controversy may not have been personal, the antagonists were persons. Some of the German ethos, which had for so many centuries preserved small principalities and states in Germany, was operating here. One has to say that without the stubbornness of the German and Scotch-Irish participants, peace would have come sooner.
Nevertheless, the controversy did not keep the church from growing in Pennsylvania, where in 1957, when the union with the Congregational Christian Churches was consummated, there were nine hundred congregations. A more serious problem for church growth was the reluctance to surrender the German language and minister to the English-speaking people in Pennsylvania and in areas of the United States open to mission.
What are the continuing benefits of the Ursinus School? The most lasting and the one that has continued strongly to affect the lives of people and the nation is the founding of the college. Others are the education of generations of pastors, the upholding of a basic piety (over against Pietism) as an essential expression of faith, an abiding interest in theology, and a continuing witness to the confessional nature of the church. The Ursinus movement and the Mercersburg movement inherited a basic loyalty to the church and its head, Jesus Christ, which is a benefit and a heritage to receive and pass on to future generations.
John C. Shetler was Conference Minister of the Pennsylvania Southeast Conference, United Church of Christ.
1. Bard Thompson and George H. Bricker, eds., Philip Schaff: The Principle of Protestantism (New York: Pilgrim Press, 1964), p. 14.
2. James I. Good, History of the Reformed Church in the U. S. in the Nineteenth Century(New York: Board of Publication of the Reformed Church in America, 1911), p. 394.
3. Ibid., p. 382.
4. Ibid., pp. 120-23.
5. Charles E. Schaeffer, History of the Classis of Philadelphia of the Reformed Church in the United States (Classis of Philadelphia, 1944), p. 96.
6. Good, op. cit., p. 532.
7. H. M. J. Klein, The History of the Eastern Synod of the Reformed Church in the United States (Eastern Synod, 1943), pp. 266-69.
8. Good, op. cit., p. 579.
9. Ibid., p. 582.
Here is John Thomas' paper delivered at the Dunkirk Colloquy on October 10, 2000. Thomas is General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ.
Gary Dorsey is a journalist who spent a year watching, living with, and eventually growing to be a part of a congregation of the United Church of Christ in Connecticut. In his book about the experience titled, Congregation: The Journey Back to Church, he includes many delightful observations of the pastor and people of this ordinary and remarkable church. One Sunday morning, peering down from the balcony, he described the preacher as follows:
His hearing aid sounded off like a pitch pipe at times, and one Sunday. . . I noticed him speaking from a set of notes all typed in red. I realized that his jackhammer typing style finally had frayed the black ribbon on his Olympia, and rather than spending a dollar to replace it, he had jumped the cartridge to pound on the red side alone, making every word look like the scarlet verse of Jesus.
I may read Dorsey saying more than he intended, but his observation, playfully joining the preacher?s eccentricities with those familiar red letter editions of the Bible, provides me with a good starting point. Sometimes, here and there, now and then, when the preacher, accompanied by the Spirit, is able to take the Biblical text seriously enough, as well as the gathered community seriously enough, what emerges is not merely an oration, or a set of moral platitudes, or a ringing call to action, but the presence of the living Word itself, to which the Bible always points, but which it can never quite contain.
Many years before Dorsey, a more traditional theologian, Friedrich Schleiermacher, put it this way:
I am sure you will gladly testify, dear friends, that from the time you received the milk of the gospel in your first instruction in Christianity, right up until the present day, every such encounter with scripture was like a new, joyous, and powerful appearance of the Lord himself.
Schleiermacher?s enthusiasm may sound like wishful thinking to ears assaulted by the noise of our secular world at the dawn of a new century. Far too often in our own experience the Lord fails to appear, at least in ways that seem fresh, joyous, and powerful, and the scarlet verse remains what at one level it always is, the product of the eccentricities of pastors who are no better than the Christians sitting in the pews waiting for the concluding ?amen? that never seems to come soon enough! But a church that takes the Bible seriously always expects more, and sometimes receives it, which in the midst of our jaded world view and its scientific straightjacket is news that comes as a marvelous surprise, perhaps even as the Gospel itself. Like the discouraged disciples on the road to Emmaus, belief is mixed with unbelief, and even the skilled Biblical interpretation of the mysterious stranger does little to overcome cynicism in the face of dashed hopes and human tragedy . . . until. Until something happens and we get what we hadn?t quite dared to expect - the red type truly becomes the scarlet verse of Jesus, and the Lord himself appears with fresh, joyous power. So that the first word about taking the Bible seriously is expectation - approaching the text expecting more than mere written text, more than bare words to confront us. And while there is much more to be said about taking the Bible seriously in our day, perhaps this is the greatest challenge of all.
According to the Preamble to the Constitution of the United Church of Christ, ?we look to the word of God in the scriptures.? Another way to say this is that our expectation is an honoring of the Bible?s ?transparency.? Frederick Buechner uses the image of a picture window to describe this task:
If you look at a window, you see fly-specks, dust, the crack where Junior?s Frisbee hit it. If you look through a window, you see the world beyond. Something like this is the difference between those who see the Bible as a Holy Bore and those who see it as the Word of God which speaks out of the depths of an almost unimaginable past into the depths of ourselves.
In the line of the familiar hymn, ?Break now the bread of life,? we sing, ?beyond the sacred page, I seek you Lord.? Not apart from, but beyond or through the sacred page we seek the Lord and sometimes see God?s face. Taking the Bible seriously means recognizing its transparency, expecting to see beyond mere text to the mysterious presence. It is to see the Bible not as the ultimate object of faith in a kind of fundamentalist biblicism, nor as mere literature expressing pious religious themes or fixed moral values be they liberal or conservative, but as the penultimate instrument of mediation through which the ultimate living Word encounters us full of challenge, comfort, judgment, grace and truth. Encounters us, I hasten to emphasize, because this transparency works both ways, and allows the Word to ?see us for what we really are,? to see ?the depths of ourselves? as Buechner puts it.
To read the Bible expectantly, honoring its transparency, enables us to avoid what Walter Brueggemann and many others warn us about:
To say that the Bible mediates God is not to say that the Bible ?hands God over? to the reading community as possession or as prisoner. The reading community has been wont, on occasion, to imagine that it possessed or imprisoned the God of the Bible. Such a self-deception takes a Protestant form in bibliolatry and a Catholic form in magisterial infallibility.
Not only does this violate what Brueggemann describes as the ?elusive, odd character? of Yahweh which defies human definition, it also enables those in power, those in the ecclesial center, to use the Bible to violate or exploit those at the margins, an all too familiar approach to the Bible in our own day, an approach which, in the end, is far more cavalier than it is serious.
Both divine revelation and human disclosure
To begin taking the Bible seriously, then, is to approach it expectantly, to honor its transparency, and to discover that it not only discloses Yahweh, God, the Word made flesh, it also strips us bare before that same Word to portray us in all our grandeur and all our depravity. So in a peculiar way, the Bible is both divine revelation and human disclosure. Beyond the sacred page we seek you Lord. Yet beyond the sacred page, from the other side we might say, God also seeks us, and in so doing allows us to look over God?s shoulder, as it were, to see ourselves as God sees us. But in order to do this, we must first read the Bible, or perhaps better, we must listen to the Bible.
Taking the Bible seriously means to read it. This may sound like an incredibly mundane stating of the obvious, the kind of comment that elicits from our teenagers the marvelous rejoinder, ?Duh!? In one sense, of course, we do read the Bible. We read it in order to preach about it. We read it in order to seek answers to troubling question. We read it in order to justify our opinions, wielding it against our theological or ecclesial enemies like the ?sword? it used to be called in some conservative Christian circles. In other words, far too often our reading of the Bible is really an effort to make use of the Bible, and in the process the Bible tends to lose its transparency, becoming opaque or worse, a kind of mirror reflecting nothing more than our own devices and desires. The reading that takes the Bible seriously is of another sort altogether. It is a kind of attentiveness to the narrative in its broad sweep, and to its text in all its intricate detail, that makes of the Bible more of a companion than a tool, something we listen to, attend to long before there is anything we can ?do? with it, and long after its ?usefulness? has become dated. Jews catch something of this spirit in their worship when the scroll is taken from its place and paraded, even danced around the sanctuary like a long lost friend. The worshipers move to touch it, sometimes to kiss it. There is nothing magical in the mood; the scroll is no talisman. It is a friend to be embraced, a voice to be honored. ?In this scroll is the secret of our people?s life from Sinai until now,? the liturgy announces as the Torah is taken from the Ark. ?Its teaching is love and justice, goodness and hope. Freedom is its gift to all who treasure it.? ?Shema Yisrael. Hear, O Israel; the Lord is our God, the Lord is One! Our God is One; our Lord is great; holy is God?s name.?
Justo Gonz?lez suggests another dimension of the reading we are called to engage in when he describes the reading that takes place Sunday after Sunday in churches in poor barrios throughout the Western hemisphere. Unlike the modern historical critical reading, and the fundamentalist reaction to it, the reading he describes retains ?a sense,? he says, ?of the activity of God, of the openness of the universe, of the possibility of mystery.? In this reading the ?future is in control,? which means life, and the text, is ?constantly open to surprise, to astonishment, to real and radical revolution.? A reading that is ?open to astonishment? is how Gonz?lez puts it, an astonishment that
allows Hispanics today to read Scripture with a profound sense of connection with the people who actually wrote the text. We are well aware of the geographical and cultural distances that stand between us and the original writers and readers. But we leap across the distance by sharing a sense of astonishment, a sense of openness to God?s activity, that was very much part of the writing and the intended reading of the text.
This astonishment does not rule out close, critical readings of the text, and does not react in a fundamentalist form of literalism. But it moves beyond the modern reading to encounter the astonishment of the writers who themselves have been encountered by the amazing and liberating future of God.
Those who take the Bible seriously have grown acquainted with it, befriended it and like any good friend, look for it to tell them the truth, the hard truth, the whole truth, astonishing truth, the Gospel truth. The friend is not there to be used, manipulated or wielded like a set of tools or an armory of weapons. Nor is the friend there to lock the present into a comfortable and secure past. This ?friend,? this text is there to be heard, listened to, attended, embraced. Buechner, in his Beecher lectures at Yale, speaks of the prophet-preachers of the Bible. ?What do they say?? he asks.
They say things that are relevant, lacerating, profound, beautiful, spine-chilling, and more besides. They put words to both the wonder and the horror of the world, and the words can be looked up in the dictionary or the biblical commentary and can be interpreted, passed on, understood, but because these words are poetry, are image and symbol as well as meaning, are sound and rhythm, maybe above all are passion, they set echoes going the way a choir in a great cathedral does, only it is we who become the cathedral and in us that the words echo.
Truth echoes for those who take the Bible seriously. The truth of a God who knows what it means for a parent to see a beloved child go off to a far country, cut himself off from parents, squander opportunity and betray parental trust, and yet in the midst of all of that to stand at the door wanting only to embrace. The truth of an aging Sarah who has suffered all manner of indignity including her barrenness, a condition which seems only to mock the divine promise, yet a woman still ready to be told in the most unimaginable way that God remains faithful to God?s promise. The truth of Job whose life is destroyed before his eyes and who must then suffer the foolish advice of friends before discovering that God wants us not only to be faithful, but perhaps also to rail against the injustice of it all, even against the Creator of it all. The truth of a Jonah who cannot bear to offer the word of judgment for fear that it will be heeded, leaving the hated enemy spared. The truth of David, grown bored with governance, finding himself consumed by lust for Bathsheba and setting off a sequence of murder and lies that follow his dynasty from one generation to the next. The truth of a people liberated and of exiles sustained. The truth of a woman so overwhelmed with devotion for Jesus that she is willing to risk propriety and expose herself to criticism by anointing him in an act of extravagant intimacy. The truth of a man touted to be tough as nails and resolute as the rock he bears for a name, yet who finds himself weeping for the ease with which he denied what he had pledged to follow. The truth of bones living and of streets like gemstones lined with trees whose fruit is for the healing of the nations. The truth of a God who becomes vulnerable to the point of sharing in solidarity our deepest sorrow and being inflicted by the most profound wounds that our own journey into death might not be the last word and might never be traveled alone.
But what do we do?
None of this tells us exactly what we must do in a given circumstance. None of it enables us to definitively sort out the good from the bad, the worthy from the unworthy. It won?t solve our dilemmas over homosexuality or abortion or euthanasia or genetic engineering or the economy. In other words, none of it is terribly ?useful.? Indeed, it is often more like a confusing cacophony of conflicting testimony or, as Brueggemann puts it, of ?core testimony and countertestimony,? of ?hiddenness, ambiguity, and negativity.? It simply tells us the truth about the way we are with ourselves and with each other, the way we are with God, and above all the way God is with us. And those who take the Bible seriously hold these texts that issue forth in echoing voices like a companion, a friend, who means more than anyone or anything else because this friend tells us the truth. A companion, yes, but never an easy one, for the God, the Word seen through its transparency, who sees us through its transparency, is often, to use Brueggemann?s language, ?the Wild One who lives at the center of Israel?s life, who in sovereign severity will dispense with Israel and who with impervious resolve will begin again.?
To take the Bible seriously is to read the Bible before, or perhaps rather instead of, quickly rushing to make use of the Bible. We are, to use the old Reformed language, ?servants of the Word,? not masters of the Word, because the Bible is quite literally ?out of control.? Again, Brueggemann?s colorful rhetoric presses the point, summarizing in a recent article what he exhaustively articulates in his Old Testament theology:
The preacher stands up to make utterance about this odd, problematic God in a society that is flattened in a-theism, and has on her hands a quality of the irascible, the elusive, and the polyvalent. Almost none of this, moreover, is available to or recognized among most of our listeners. Because it is too unsettling and difficult, we tend to fall back on more familiar ground of safe practices, blessed ideologies, scholastic closures, or liberal crusades. Don?t we all!
Tamed. Proof-texted. The living Word is often preached to death and used to distraction, our own distraction that is, because we would rather be distracted from the truth not only about God but also about ourselves that this transparent text reveals. Read the Bible expectantly, honoring its transparency. And read the Bible, listening, attending, as one might attend a dear companion who can always be counted on to tell the truth.
Taking seriously the origins of the text
John de Gruchy, a Reformed theologian writing out of the context of the struggle for liberation in South Africa, offers a third dimension of what it means to take the Bible seriously, which is to recognize that ?the spectacles of Scripture require the eyes of social victims.? ?We need,? he writes, ?the spectacles of the victims of society in order to discern the liberating and living Word in Scripture itself.? This should come as no surprise; a serious reading or interpretation ought to take seriously the origins of the text itself which is to be found primarily within the experience of the enslaved, the nomad, the exile, the peasant, the imprisoned, and the persecuted and which is, for Christians, ultimately articulated from a center that can only be found in the Christ of Calvary, the Crucified One dying outside the gates. Without these ?spectacles? a kind of demonic and dangerous nearsightedness almost always occurs. Thus we are shamed by a history of entrenched white economic interests reading support in the text for slavery; we are humbled by the remembrance of powerful colonial interests reading support in the Bible for the physical, spiritual, and cultural genocide of indigenous peoples; we are confronted by the memory of Christendom in the West reading support for anti-Semitism in the text; we have men reading support in the text for the subordination and silencing of women. And on and on it goes.
I am not suggesting that there can be no serious, legitimate, or faithful interpretation of Scripture by those whose social location allows them to occupy the cultural centers, in other words by folk like most of you or like me. Nor would I suggest that those at the margin always get it right. The same Reformed tradition to which de Gruchy appeals in his argument would remind us of the need to have a healthy regard for the sin that is no respecter of persons. de Gruchy acknowledges that ?neither the poor nor other social victims automatically understand the Scriptures simply because of their social location or experience.? But what feminists have described as the ?hermeneutic of suspicion? needs to be brought to bear in any serious reading of the Bible. And we ought, I think, to be particularly nervous, and especially suspicious, when readings by those in the center disadvantage those at the margins. If there is, as many today recognize, a kind of ?preferential option for the poor? embedded in the Biblical text itself, then there may also be a ?preferential reading of the poor? to which anyone desiring to take the Bible seriously must attend. De Gruchy borrows a Lutheran phrase to make his Reformed argument:
We encounter the grace of the saving presence of God not in Word and sacrament isolated from human suffering and the struggle for justice, but ?in, with, and under? it. This is precisely where God?s grace was encountered by Israel and the early church, according to the biblical record. The Word of grace addressed the people in their historical struggle and journey; indeed, the Word gave redemptive, liberating meaning to that history.
There is, for this reason, a theological ?appropriateness,? even a moral brilliance in the fact that almost every service of daily evening prayer includes the Magnificat. We ought never come to the Scriptures without hearing Mary, and Hannah before her, singing of a God who ?scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. . . , brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. . . , filled the hungry with good things, and send the rich away empty,? (Luke 2.51-53). Even if Mary doesn?t always get the ?first word? in the church?s liturgy, the church has rightly intuited that she must always get ?the last word!? And even if one is finally not persuaded that there are ?privileged readings? of the Bible, there can be no denying the fact that there is never a ?disinterested reading? of the Bible. The ?spectacles of social victims? warn us, ?beware!? Taking the Bible seriously, therefore, always requires a communal reading lest our own location blur our sight or distort our hearing of the living Word, and that community called Israel and the Church can never be narrowly construed lest our reading be done by a clique of the like-minded rather than the whole people of God in their rich and agonizing diversity. Moreover, that communal reading must be an ?engaged? reading or listening, shaped by the Cross that is not only to be found in the words of the text, but also in the world of human struggle.
When interpretations collide
To honor the Bible?s ?transparency,? expecting it to reveal a living Word to us even as it allows us to peer over God?s shoulder while God sees us for what and who we really are. To read the Bible before we try to use the Bible, allowing it to echo and resonate in astonishing ways with its ?irascible, elusive, polyvalent character.? To engage the text communally and ecumenically, acknowledging that the spectacles of Scripture, indeed the very origins of Scripture, require the eyes of social victims and that engaging the text must never, therefore, be separated from a passionate engagement with a suffering world. This is what I believe it means to ?take the Bible seriously.? And here, of course, is the rub, and the tremendous pain of the Church today. For there are many, including some in our own United Church of Christ, who ?take the Bible seriously? in very different ways. No doubt you have ?heard? them on the other side of my argument. But let me offer a recent personal experience as a kind of ?case study? to make their presence more obvious, cautioned by the recognition of course that you are hearing them through me and my own ?interested? reading of the text.
My participation in a religious leaders statement on issues related to human sexuality had particularly enraged one local church which, while already quite distanced from the wider fellowship of the United Church of Christ, now felt alienated enough that it determined that it would do more than send me a letter of protest. Under the leadership of their pastor, the church prepared a resolution for their Association to formally ?censure? me for my action and call on the United Church of Christ to ?repent? of its positions on homosexuality and reproductive choice. As a result, I spent an evening at a gathering of about two hundred members of this congregation along with representatives of other local churches in the Association. I was there to listen and in both a personal and representative way to make an ?account? of the positions held by our General Synod along with many others in our church, on these difficult questions. It was not, as you might imagine, an easy evening; we managed for the most part to retain a sense of respectfulness and civility, but just barely!
Many of the people at the meeting arrived carrying their Bibles. They were well acquainted with the six or seven passages in the Old and New Testaments around which the debates on homosexuality often center. We went back and forth over what is by now very familiar terrain on this well-cratered battlefield, for the most part to little avail. My effort to enlarge the conversation and, in my mind, enrich it with pastoral and theological dimensions was not only unpersuasive, but met with deep resistance and, at least in a few cases, open derision. Finally a young woman put the essential impasse in stark relief by standing with Bible in hand and challenged me with a question: ?Show me a verse.? Don?t talk about pastoral experience and challenge. Don?t waste our time with alternative readings of contested texts or with hermeneutical insights about Scripture interpreting and critiquing Scripture, or with historical illustrations about how the Church has often been led to reverse itself on matters of faith and practice, or even with theological reflection about the nature and meaning of baptism. ?Show me a verse,? which is to say from the perspective of that gathering, ?take the Bible seriously.? Show me a verse where it says that what you want to affirm is acceptable from the standpoint of the Bible.
I, of course, could not show them a verse. Nor would I, in part because that kind of exchange usually ends up in an ecclesiastical winner takes all battle where casualties abound and where the Bible is turned into a weapon in a way that, from my perspective, dishonors its integrity and its intent. In short, for me it is not a way to take the Bible seriously. This meant that most left the meeting that night confirmed in their conviction that neither I, nor many others in the United Church of Christ, take the Bible seriously. I, on the other hand, left the meeting for my drive to the airport and a late return home, yearning that my audience that night would also take the Bible seriously. Not that they weren?t, of course, in their own minds, taking it very seriously, very faithfully. To differ radically is not, at the same time, to imply a lack of respect, though of course that is, for many in our climate of alienation and distrust, a distinction that is hard to maintain. And, to be fair, I need to acknowledge that in lifting up this one comment—?show me a verse?—I may not do full justice to the depth or sophistication of my opponents? Biblical engagement. Nevertheless, I still yearn for a more ?serious? reading.
I wanted them to talk about the Bible in a way that pointed to its transparency, that moved beyond selected words and texts, which they clearly took very seriously, to allow the living and liberating Word to be encountered and which might allow all of us to see ourselves with greater clarity and honesty. The Bible was very much in view that night, and was the center of our conversation. But there was, at least for me, no sense of Presence ?in, with, and under? the texts in dispute. The book became opaque as the ?sacred page? became the ?end of discussion? rather than the doorway beyond which we ?seek God?s face.? I wanted them to take the Bible seriously.
I wanted us, together, to read the Bible that evening. Yes, to look at those six or seven verses; they?re there and cannot be ignored. But also to read, listen and attend to the rich narrative from creation to new creation, to the testimony and countertestimony that bears witness to an ?irascible, elusive, polyvalent? God who cannot and will not be contained, who will not be used, and who is constantly seen in the text breaking into the life of Israel and the Church in ways that judge the community for drawing its boundaries too close. I yearned for a reading that evoked astonishment, that leapt across geographic and cultural distances not in order to use ancient writers to answer modern or even post-modern questions, but to encourage in us an openness to God?s activity in our world that is as much about hospitality as it is about purity. I wanted the parables of welcome and embrace, of wedding feasts for unusual guests, the stories of an Ethiopian returning through the wilderness of Gaza, the dreams of what is unclean becoming clean, and the visions of glory coming into the city borne by the nations, the strangers - I wanted all of this to echo and resonate in our midst along with the words of judgment and the invitation to disciplined, covenant life. I wanted the Biblical witness to a just economy, to faithful stewardship of the earth, and its critique of militarism and power to be given at least an equal hearing as its admonitions about sexual behavior. The Bible was used all evening. But it didn?t seem to me as if we were really reading it, listening to it. Our gathering never achieved what Buechner described as a ?cathedral? in which the poetry, symbol, and image echoed. Ours was a tiny closet that night, where the words of life fell with a depressing thud. I wanted them to take the Bible seriously.
And perhaps most urgently of all, I wanted them to put on, with me, ?the spectacles of the poor,? or in our case that evening, the spectacles of those who were almost completely absent, or more likely silenced in that gathering. With the exception of one or two references to distant family members or coworkers who are gay, there was no real evidence of any serious engagement with or listening to gay and lesbian Christians as part of the Biblical discernment. This was a privileged, safe reading of texts from the secure centers of life in which the margins were afforded no voice. While my censurers of course vigorously disagreed with, even resented my suggestion of parallel situations, if felt to me like a discussion of the Bible and slavery, without any time on the agenda to hear the voices of the enslaved, like a discussion of the Bible and patriarchy without any time on the agenda to hear the voices of women, like the Bible and economics without any agenda time for the poor. Such readings always involve a set of lenses; there are no disinterested engagements with texts. Taking the Bible seriously requires, it seems to me, at least a recognition of our ?interest,? and a readiness to put on the ?spectacles of the poor? even if, in the end, we are not finally persuaded. I wanted my audience to take the Bible seriously just as much as they wanted me to take the Bible seriously.
Herein lies the anguish and the difficulty of church life today. It is obviously an ecumenical problem, but it is also, and perhaps most painfully, a problem within communions, fueling much of the contentious debate and deep estrangement that can be found in denomination after denomination. Most Christians believe they ?take the Bible seriously,? though we must admit the truth of one radio preacher I recently heard who said that ?the Bible is in danger of becoming America?s best selling coffee table book!? Most Christians believe the Bible has ?authority? in their lives. But in our widely divergent convictions and commitments about ?how? to take the Bible seriously, we are quick to deny seriousness to those with whom we disagree. And in our Protestant ethos, shaped by the sola scriptura principle of the Reformation, to claim that someone fails to take the Bible seriously is about as close to excommunication as we can get. This, in fact, was precisely what was at stake in the formal dialogue between the Reformed Church in America and the United Church of Christ initiated by those in the Reformed Church who desired to resist and then to abrogate the Lutheran-Reformed full communion relationship adopted by our two churches and the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The dialogue came to a hopeful conclusion, in spite of remaining differences that were and are significant, by saying the following:
The question was framed, ?How is it that two churches of the Reformed tradition, honoring and reading the same Scripture, can come to such different conclusions? By the end of [our dialogue] it was agreed by all participants that the Bible has been and continues to be the foundational guidance for our churches on the issue of homosexuality, though we come with differing hermeneutical and interpretive principles. Both sides agreed that both churches seek to take the Scripture seriously.
While the Report has been received by both churches, it is clear that its conclusions are not universally embraced, particularly in the Reformed Church in America where calls for distancing or dissolving the full communion relationship persist at each meeting of the General Synod. Behind all the other issues in dispute, the suspicion lingers: ?You don?t take the Bible seriously.?
Is there hope for moving beyond the impasse?
So we are left with the question, ?Is there any hope for moving beyond the impasse, or are we destined for a prolonged, bitter, and divisive ecclesial struggle in which the Bible becomes both the terrain and the weapon of battle?? Two things will help. First, we could concede that those who differ from us, who distrust our reading of the text and the implications we draw from it, are in fact attempting to take the Bible as seriously as we are. Condemnation has always been the first step toward division, and in our Protestant milieu dismissing the seriousness of another?s engagement with Scripture is the heaviest form of condemnation. Second, we could attempt, as I have attempted here, to give an account, literally to ?be accountable? to those who challenge us, sharing as candidly and as forthrightly as possible how the Bible speaks to us. In one sense that is what this lecture seeks to do for my accusers in the Association gathering. There are theologians, preachers, and Biblical scholars who would give a different and in many cases far more sophisticated accounting than mine. But each of us, I believe, is called to offer that account, to say to sisters and brothers in the faith, ?this is what it means for me to take the Bible seriously,? and of course, in that account, to evaluate, challenge, and critique the accounts of others. To concede that someone takes the Bible seriously is not the same thing as accepting any and all approaches as accurate, valid, helpful, or even faithful. Borrowing the ecumenical language of the Lutheran-Reformed dialogue, I assert that with mutual affirmation comes mutual admonition. I do respect the seriousness of those who gathered to dispute with me at the Association gathering. But I disagree with them sharply. Nevertheless, much will be advanced if we join at least the occasional affirmations to our frequent admonitions. All of this will help, but with the stakes so high, I suspect it will only help; it will certainly not solve our problems.
Ultimately I suspect what will be more important than resolving disputes over how different ones among us take the Bible seriously, will be a commitment to engage together in what I would like to call a liturgical reading of the Bible. A liturgical reading is not simply, or perhaps even primarily, a reading of the Bible in the sanctuary. It is a reading that occurs in the shared context of our Baptism, a recognition that we come to the Bible together as ?children of God, disciples of Christ, as members of the Church? and as a Body whose head is Christ in which no part can say to another, ?I have no need of you.? Thus, a liturgical reading resists privatized reading, reading that is always subject to the ?interest? of a particular location or station in life. A liturgical reading takes place around the communion table, which means we always read in the presence of Christ, crucified and risen, in the company of all the saints, and that in the sacrament our reading is done against the horizon of God?s rule and reign which is both signified and enacted in the breaking of the bread. A liturgical reading is always shaped by the Table?s re-presentation of God?s mission in which all will ultimately be reconciled in Christ. A liturgical reading takes place before the Cross which confronts us with our personal and corporate sin, sin that always twists and distorts our reading, even as it lifts our eyes to those who suffer in the world and, in so doing, invites us to read along with the slaves, the exiles, the nomads, and the peasants from whom the text has been received. In other words, a liturgical reading invites us to read with those who not only are able to be astonished, but with those whose oppression causes them to desire the astonishment that turns the world upside down.
A liturgical reading honors the seasons of our worship life, reading the text through the anticipation of Advent with its judgment and hope, the celebrations of Christmas with its sense of presence and fulfillment, the expansiveness of Epiphany with its global and cosmic dimensions, the penitence and discipline of Lent and the astonishing victory of Easter, and finally through the Spirited and ordinary weeks of Pentecost. Thus a liturgical reading rescues us from our personal preoccupations and exposes us to the whole of Scripture with the full array of Biblical themes. That is to say, a liturgical reading is a sustained reading, a reading not for the moment, or for resolution of the current dispute, but is a reading over time, engaged in by those who share the experience of grace, who know themselves to be in the Presence of the crucified and risen Christ, and who seek to be in solidarity with those whose poverty provides not rose colored glasses, but clarity about both the astonishing evil in the world and, even more, about God?s astonishing activity and amazing grace. In that kind of liturgical reading over time, even the unschooled and the eccentric, the flawed and the imperfect will discover that the words on the preacher?s page do become the scarlet verse of Jesus, and the daily encounter with scripture can be, as Schleiermacher said, ?a new, joyous, and powerful appearance of the Lord himself.?
At the Bar Mitzvah of a son or the Bat Mitzvah of a daughter, a Jewish parent is invited to pray:
Into our hands, O God, You have placed Your Torah, to be held high by parents and children, and taught by one generation to the next. Whatever has befallen us, our people have remained steadfast in loyalty to the Torah. It was carried into exile in the arms of parents that their children might not be deprived of their birthright. And now I pray that you, my child, will always be worthy of this inheritance. Take its teaching into your heart, and in turn pass it on to your children and those who come after you. May you be a faithful Jew, searching for wisdom and truth, working for justice and peace. Thus will you be among those who labor to bring nearer the day when the Lord shall be One, and His name shall be One.
Such is the prayer of all who would take the Bible seriously. May it be our prayer as well.