In 1975, the United Church of Christ honored two clergywomen with the first Antoinette Brown Award, celebrating the life and ministry of the first woman ordained into Christian ministry since biblical times as well as the lives and ministries of UCC clergywomen who exemplify Brown’s spirit of trailblazing leadership in church and society.
Forty years later, the pathways are considerably widened for women in ministry in the UCC, but there are still necessarily pioneers and innovators in our midst, women who lead in extraordinary ways and who make possible other women’s ministries. From “now until January 15, 2019, we invite your nominations of trailblazers (UCC clergywomen who honor Antoinette Brown’s vision of women in leadership in church and society) as well as catalysts (collectives, projects, congregations, or organizations that serve as provocative spaces that advance women in ministry) below. Alternatively, you can download the form. Honorees will be celebrated at General Synod 32 in Milwaukee in June 2019.
Congregations determined the politics and social organization of communities. Only church members could vote at town meetings, and until 1630, one could become a church member only by the minister's endorsement. Most colonists were not church members. The majority of immigrants came for social, political, and economic reasons, not to found a more perfect Christian society. Nevertheless, Puritanism was dominant. Biblical injunctions were specific guides for spiritual life and church organization; biblical law was common law. Puritans undertook a holy mission to demonstrate the "right way" to order church and society.
John Cotton (1584-1652), considered the leading Puritan pastor in England, joined the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1633. His True Constitution of a Particular Visible Church, describing Congregational life and polity (organization and government), was read widely in England and influenced John Owen, chaplain to Oliver Cromwell, to embrace Congregationalism. As a result of reading Cotton's work, five members of the Presbyterian Westminster Assembly, "the Dissenting Brethren," would sign, in 1643, what was to become the manifesto of all Congregationalism, An Apologeticall Narration. Thus, through Cotton's writing, New England affected the growth of Congregationalism in England. Quite the opposite of the vigorous and variable Puritans of England, many of the American Puritans become intolerant of alien ideas.
In 1634, Anne Hutchinson, daughter of a nonconformist minister from north of London, arrived. Described by critics as a "woman of haughty and fierce carriage ... of voluble tongue," she would influence Congregational practice and theological thought, such that the rigidly righteous shell of Massachusetts Puritanism, already damaged by Roger Williams (soon banished to Rhode Island), would be irreparably cracked. Opposing a doctrine of the elect, she held that anyone might receive the truth by direct revelation from God, and that the Bible was not its sole source. These ideas were greatly feared by the church because they easily could lead to irresponsible excesses. This "woman of ready wit and bold spirit," wife of gentle William Hutchinson, the mother of fifteen children, interrupted preachers with whom she disagreed. She gathered women regularly in her own home, where she preached to as many as 50 people at a time, often including men.
Hutchinson's criticism of Puritan sermons stirred up a frenzy of concern in Massachusetts Bay Colony. John Cotton, sent to stop her, merely warned her; but by that time, men of stature had taken her side, and the town of Boston was divided. John Winthrop believed that if Anne Hutchinson could not be reformed, she must be exiled.
Winthrop called a Synod of the Bay Colony churches in 1637, that once and for all "the breeder and nourisher of all these distempers, one Mistress Hutchinson," be silenced. She was charged with joining a seditious faction, holding conspiracies in her house, seducing honest people from their work and families and, worst of all, breaking the fifth commandment. Hutchinson exclaimed that Winthrop was neither her father nor her mother, to which Winthrop replied that "father and mother" meant anyone in authority. In the spring, John Cotton betrayed her trust by banishing her from the Colony. Mary Dyer was a friend who walked beside her through it all. She was later hanged for her Quaker faith on Boston Common. Anne Hutchinson settled with her children and husband in the Rhode Island Colony of Roger Williams, where laws were passed to ensure jury trials, to end class discrimination, and to extend universal suffrage and religious tolerance. This democracy was short lived, for Rhode Island was soon annexed to the Bay Colony.
The colonists displaced Native Americans and invaded their ancestral territories. At first, because of their nature and because land was abundant, many Indians received the newcomers with charity and shared with them land and survival skills. Later, the proprietary aggression of some settlers kindled fear in the hearts of Indians.
The colonists brought not only their religion, government, and social patterns, but also diseases against which Indians had little or no immunity. During the 17th century, New England Indians were plagued by a smallpox epidemic. There followed further decimation of their numbers in wars and skirmishes for possession of land. Distressed by wanton disregard for human beings, convinced that their mission was peacefully to carry the good news of Christ to their Indian neighbors, there were others like John Eliot, who was ordained as a pastor so that he might pastor and teach Indians. His concern for Indian neighbors was not only for their conversion to Christianity, but to raise their standard of living to a level enjoyed by the settlers. For 30 years, Job Nesutan, a Massachusetts Indian, was employed by Eliot as a language tutor and chief assistant in the ministry to Indians. With his help, the Bible was translated into the Indian language and Indians were taught to read.
By 1646, John Eliot drew increasingly large congregations each time he spoke. Churches in the colony were encouraged to support Eliot's work and Oliver Cromwell urged Parliament to help the movement financially. The "Corporation for the Promoting and Propagating of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in New England" was the result. A sum of £5,000 was sent to the colonies, much of this given to John Eliot for his work. Many Indian converts returned to the practices of their indigenous faiths, but others were filled with Christian missionary zeal and prepared the way for Eliot with the New England tribes. The chiefs and councils tried to discourage the spread of the gospel, and his aides used underhanded tactics to retain "converts." As a result, Eliot's work suffered. Finally, the Massachusetts General Court passed a law prohibiting the use of threats or force to ensure Indians' conversion to Christianity, but at the same time, required all Indians living within the colony to refrain from worshiping "false gods" and from conducting native religious services. Roger Williams became the advocate of Indian freedom to worship as they saw fit.
Thomas Mayhew and his clergyman son, Thomas, Jr., were instrumental in leading the eastern Cape Cod Indians to Christianity. By 1652, Mayhew had opened a school for Indian children.
Christian theology induced ferment and continued to challenge the essentially closed social patterns and purposes of the Puritans. There were blacks in Boston as soon as there were whites, and slavery was legal in New England until after the Revolutionary War. A certain number of blacks were admitted to membership in the churches when they were able to meet all the conditions for full communion, tests which did not include skin color, wealth, or social status. While slavery in New England had been dying out in the years prior to the Revolution, blacks felt keenly the reservations to their acceptance in the churches by the Puritans, who treated them as slaves outside the church, while within, members were called upon to regard one another as equal under the covenant of grace and united by God to one another. Under such ambivalence, many blacks withdrew from the churches in the late 18th century to form their own congregations for separate worship.
By 1789, the Boston selectmen allowed blacks to use a school for public worship on Sunday afternoons. Eventually, the black congregation built its own church, called the African Church, on the back slope of Beacon Hill and worshiped there from 1806 until mid-century when it became a center for abolitionist meetings for blacks and whites. Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth were among the speakers at the church.
Religious exclusion was not confined to blacks or Catholics; Presbyterians had felt unwelcome as well. The Westminster Confession of 1646, the design for Presbyterian church government and an expression of Reformed faith and doctrine, was revised for church polity and discipline at the Cambridge Synod of 1648. Called the Cambridge Platform, it enabled a reconciliation between Presbyterians and Congregationalists and was highly venerated into the 19th century.
The Platform interpreted the church catholic as all those who are elected and called to salvation. A "militant visible church on earth" was understood to exist in particular congregations as "a company of saints by calling, united into one body, by a holy covenant for the public worship of God and the mutual edification of one another." Christ was head of the church; the congregation, independent of outside interference, had the right to choose its own officials. The office of the civil magistrate was subject to recognition by the church. Churches were to preserve communion with one another in mutual covenant with Christ. Such covenants stabilized churches establishing themselves under disparate leadership.
A remarkable succession of educated clergy provided strong leadership. Despite the circumstances that cast him in the role of villain in the excommunication and banishment of Anne Hutchinson, no Puritan teacher was more respected in England and in America than the gentle intellectual, John Cotton, minister of First Church, Boston. His colleague from days in England was the plainspoken master of rhythmic rhetoric and the effective metaphor, Thomas Hooker (1586-1647). Hooker, committed to democracy and constitutional free government, was minister across the Charles River at Newtowne (Cambridge).
Concerned for human rights, Hooker became disenchanted with the elitism of the Boston hierarchy. He led over 100 followers to migrate on foot to Hartford in 1636. There, buoyed by his Christian conviction and liberating ideas of democracy, he established a colony. Conservative puritan minister, John Davenport, founder of the New Haven Colony, was so offended by Hooker's willingness to secularize, even to a limited extent, civil government, that he went to Boston when New Haven was gathered into the Connecticut Colony.
All these men were well educated, had high standards for church membership, and were clergy of the English establishment. Except for Cotton, their Reformed covenant theology had been nurtured on the continent. Hooker, who had been with the dissenters in Holland, diverged from the orthodox Puritan view that voting rights should be conferred only with church membership. He saw no justice in disenfranchising nine-tenths of the population, a proportion that included women, children, servants and apprentices, the unchurched who had migrated from England as non-land owners, as well as the sons of "the elect" who could not pretend to such a claim.
Under Hooker's leadership, the Connecticut Colony gave up the religious qualification for the franchise. New requirements were still restrictive. They gave the town meeting vote to "admitted inhabitants," "men" who could prove capable of "an honest conversation" and could swear that they were not "a Jew, a Quaker or an Atheist," and to "free men who were Trinitarians, land owners and of godly deportment." Nevertheless, Hooker is regarded by many as the father of democracy in America, for many of his ideas were embodied in the United States Constitution.
Later, Massachusetts adopted the controversial Half-Way Covenant of 1662, permitting children to be baptized whose grandparents had been members of the church, but whose parents were not. Males baptized under the Covenant could vote at town meeting when they came of age, but were not admitted to the Lord's Supper or allowed to vote for a pastor. Full church membership came with confession of faith. Its requirement to sit in judgment upon a person's Christian credentials would go to the extreme of the witchcraft delusion in Salem Village b) 1692.
Later, Cotton Mather (1663-1728), John Cotton's grandson sought to bring some authority to bear upon the waywardness of Congregational independence. He proposed that minister in association with one another examine and license candidate for the ministry, and that a consociation of ministers and la) men have judicatory standing over the churches. A minister unpopular among his peers, Mather's proposal was at first unacceptable. In 1705-6, Massachusetts finally adopted his plan for the examination of ministers. Connecticut issued the Saybrook Platform in 1708, making both of Mather's proposals binding colonywide. The establishment in 1701 of Yale College assured high educational standards for ministers and leaders alike.
Until the Saybrook Platform of 1708, upheld by the Connecticut General Court, imposed upon the independent, voluntary fellowship of the churches an obligation of "consociation," the Congregationalists drifted toward spiritual decline and anomaly. The consociation provided mutual aid and outside assistance in handling disputes. A penalty was provided for churches or pastors refusing consociation, a "sentence of non-communion," with less intent to control than to provide orderly procedures and mutual support. The new shape would enable Congregationalism as a denomination in the centuries to come, to maintain its integrity in the face of the American Revolution, religious revivals, the scandal of slavery, the challenge of cultural pluralism, and a call to mission that would carry the faith westward and world-wide.
The morality of Pietism, and the warm heart of England's Wesleyan revival that gave birth to the Methodist Church, helped to energize the American Great Awakening. Itinerant preachers of various denominations swept across religious America during the mid-18th century, winning Christian converts and planting hundreds of new churches. While the Coetus of Pennsylvania was giving nurture and support to a continuing influx of German settlers, over 150 new Congregational churches were formed from 1740 to 1760.
Yale-educated Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) of Northampton, Massachusetts, Congregational minister of keen philosophical intellect, believed that the Awakening was breathing new life into the churches. It replaced a view of the church as a group of people who covenanted together to lead a Christian life, with one that insisted upon individual conversion as the accepted way to the kingdom of God. Emotions ran high, and the spiritual climates, that had in many communities fallen into despair, were transformed.
In 1750, Edwards was dismissed from the Northampton church. He tangled with the congregation on issues of church discipline and tact. For example, he read the names of both the convicted and merely indicted ("bad book controversy") aloud in church as a single list. The final issue surrounded a difference in his interpretation of the Half-Way Covenant (he rejected it as too lax a standard of church membership) from that of his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, whose associate Edwards had first been at Northampton. Edwards was convinced that admission to communion should include the requirement of a conversion experience. Although a strict Calvinist, Jonathan Edwards had become a "New Light" revivalist puritan sympathizer. He disagreed with the narrow conservatism of the "Old Light" ministers such as Increase Mather and his son, Cotton, and stood firmly against liberal "Arminians," whose moral righteousness he saw as dangerously smug. Nevertheless, he believed that turning to God required a decision, a disavowal of selfishness and the adoption of the life of "disinterested benevolence." Edwards was joined in his position by a large group of New England clergy who supported the Awakening and opposed the more staid, rational, liberal movement in eastern Massachusetts. A group of moderates stood between both extremes. The Boston advocates of free will against Calvinism opposed the revivals, and the path they took would lead in the next century to the Unitarian separation from Congregationalism.
Jonathan Edwards, foremost of American philosophers, was responsible for a far broader synthesis of science, philosophy, and religion in Congregational and Presbyterian theology and practice than had been present in "Old Light Puritanism. He integrated with Reformed theology the worldview of Isaac Newton, John Locke's emphasis upon human experience, and Augustine's spiritual enlightenment, as well as Plato's idealism and the Neo-Platonic idea of emanation from the Divine Intellect to the soul. His ideas would cohere in his followers to give life to a "New England Theology." They would check the anti-intellectual tendencies of the revivalists and the decline of religious vitality during the Revolutionary period. They would give a theological framework to the recovery of intellectual leadership and a new morality in post-Revolutionary America. Edwards' writings inspired and informed the missionary movement of the 19th century as America expanded westward and looked once again to the lands across the sea. His influence rivaled Hooker's in developing the separation of church and state.
Reformation ferment crossed the English Channel within 15 years of its outbreak in Europe. In 1534, King Henry VIII (1491-1547) of England, for personal reasons, broke with the Church of Rome and established the Church of England, with himself as its secular head. He appointed an Archbishop of Canterbury as its spiritual leader. England moved beyond permanent Catholic control, although much of the Catholic liturgy and governance by bishops was adopted into the tradition of the Anglican Church (Episcopal, in America). Nevertheless, Lutheran and Reformed theology invaded Anglicanism during the short reign of Henry's son, Edward VI (1547-53), through Archbishop Thomas Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer.
Catholic Mary Tudor (1553-58) on becoming Queen of England, persecuted those who refused to abandon Protestantism and burned Anglican bishops, including Cranmer. Over 800 dissenters fled to the Continent and came under the tutelage of more radical reformers, especially John Calvin. Mary's half sister, Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) succeeded Mary and reestablished a more inclusive and tolerant Anglican Church. She warily welcomed from Europe the dissenters, who had become steeped in Reformed theology.
On their return, they joined others who felt that Elizabeth's reformation had not gone far enough. They sought to purify the church. The Puritans, so named in 1563, criticized Anglican liturgy, ceremonies, and lack of discipline, especially of the clergy. Their thrust toward independent thought and church autonomy laid the foundations for Congregationalism. Nevertheless, they remained members of the Church of England.
The Puritans held to Reformed belief in the sovereignty of God, the authority of scripture as the revelation of God's will, and the necessity to bend to the will of God. The Puritans regarded human rituals and institutions as idolatrous impositions upon the word of God. They wanted to rid the church of old remnants of papism. Puritan zeal in spreading their belief about God's confrontation with humanity conflicted sharply with the established church. Nevertheless, the Puritans thought of themselves as members of the church, not founders of new churches.
Elizabeth had no heir, and James I ruled England next (160325) and commissioned a new translation of the Bible, known as the King James Version. James's Church of England did not satisfy the Puritans. Yet, they could not agree among themselves about their differences with the church. They were called variously, Dissenters, Independents, Non-Conformists or Separatists. By this time, many Puritans were unwilling to wait for Parliament to institute ecclesiastical reform and separated themselves from the Church of England. Among them were groups that later were called Quakers, Baptists, and Congregationalists.
A civil war during the reign of Charles I (1625-49) was led by English and Scottish Puritans who beheaded the king and, under Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector, seized English government (1649-60). For 11 years, Puritan radicals ruled England with excessive zeal and the monarchy was restored in 1660. The "Congregational Way" probably was born in 1567 when a group of Separatists, calling themselves "The Privye Church," worshiped in London's Plumbers' Hall. They were persecuted severely and their leader killed. Clandestine meetings of Congregationalists continued for simple worship in fields and unexpected rooms, dangerously subject to surveillance by spies for the government, who brought persecution upon the worshipers.
Robert Browne, an Anglican priest, was the first conspicuous advocate of Congregationalism in England. By gathering, in 1581, a congregation in Norwich, Brown expressed his conviction that the only true church was a local body of believers who experienced together the Christian life, united to Christ and to one another by a voluntary covenant. Christ, not the king or queen, was the head of such a church; the people were its governors, and would elect a pastor, teacher, elders, and deacons, according to the authority of the New Testament. Furthermore, each autonomous church owed communal helpfulness to every other church. Browne was imprisoned 32 times and fled to the Netherlands. Browne retained his beliefs but did not remain a Congregationalist; he returned from exile in Holland to pastor a small Anglican parish in England.
Among the early Separatists were John Smyth, founder of the Baptist Church, and John Robinson (1573-1625). The lives of both men became entangled with that of William Brewster, who became a leader of the Plymouth Colony in America. Brewster lent his home at Scrooby Manor as a Separatist meeting place. Richard Clyfton became pastor and John Robinson, teacher. Brewster was ruling elder. In 1607 the Separatist Church was discovered and its members imprisoned, placed under surveillance, or forced to flee. They went first to Amsterdam and then to Leyden, Holland.
Concerned in Leyden that their children were losing touch with English language and culture, and beset by economic problems and threats of war, 102 of the Holland exiles became the Pilgrims who, under John Carver and William Brewster, migrated to the New World, arriving aboard the Mayflower in 1620. As the company left, John Robinson, beloved pastor and teacher who stayed with a majority in Holland, warned the adventurers not to stick fast where Luther and Calvin left them, for he was confident "the Lord has more truth and light yet to break forth out of his Holy Word." Arriving at Plymouth, their leaders realized that the Pilgrims' survival in an unknown, primitive wilderness rested on their remaining loyally together. The Pilgrims drew up and signed the Association and Agreement, the Mayflower Compact, thereby forming of the small colony a "Civil Body Politic" for laws and regulations.
In 1630, John Cotton, a brilliant young minister of Boston, Lincolnshire, England, preached a farewell sermon to John Winthrop and his Puritan followers. Cotton reassured them of their clear call from God to follow Congregational principles, but insisted that they need not separate themselves from the Anglican Church. These Puritan emigrants set sail for Massachusetts Bay. At about the same time, a covenanting Puritan colony arrived in America from England under John Endecott to establish its church in Salem, across Massachusetts Bay, north of Boston. They sent a letter to the Separatist Church at Plymouth to ask for guidance. Commissioned delegates from Plymouth extended to the Salem Church "the right hand of fellowship" and so added fellowship in Christ to English Congregationalism's freedom in Christ.
Concerned that there be educated leaders, the Massachusetts Bay Colony voted in 1636 to give £400 to establish a college in Newtowne (Cambridge). Colonist John Harvard contributed his library and two years later left the institution half his fortune. The college was, and is, called by his name.
The United Church of Christ is a denomination which reflects the pluralistic story of American Protestantism. Created in 1957, the UCC has brought together ecclesiastical bodies rooted in English Puritanism, American frontier revivalism, and German religious history. In this book, the contributors attempt to move beyond the four main streams of the UCC - the UCC "historical orthodoxy."
This collection of essays expands knowledge about the diversity of the UCC, and connects the UCC with many significant developments in American religious and ethnic history. It explores such areas as Native American Protestantism, black Christian churches, a schism in the German Reformed Church, Armenian congregationalism's missionary beginnings, German congregationalism, blacks and the American Missionary Association, Deaconess ministries, the Schwenkfelders, the Calvin Synod (Hungarian), women's work and women's boards, and Japanese-American congregationalists.
Contributors include: Clifford Alika, Percel O. Alston, John Butosi, William G. Chrystal, Clara Merritt DeBoer, Sally A. Dries, Serge F. Hummon, Martha B. Kriebel, Miya Okawara, Ruth W. Rasche, John C. Shetler, Vahan H. Tootikian, and Barbara Brown Zikmund.
How can you use "Hidden Histories" in your congregation? We think you'll find it useful for book clubs, adult study groups and new-member classes. We encourage you to use your church's newsletter to let folks know that this important series on the rich ethnic and theological history of the United Church of Christ is now online.
Our thanks to Barbara Brown Zikmund, retired historian of the United Church of Christ, and former president of Hartford Seminary, who (in the 1980's) edited these two books on Hidden Histories in the UCC; and to Virginia H. Child, who scanned and proofread these texts. Thanks also to United Church Press for permission to reproduce these two volumes on the web. You can buy print versions of Hidden Histories volume I and volume II from United Church Press along with other books on UCC history and identity.
Editor's Introduction: Beyond historical orthodoxy | pdf
American Indians, missions, and the United Church of Christ | pdf
The Afro-Christian Connection | pdf
The Ursinus School and the reaction against evangelical catholicism | pdf
Armenian Congregationalists flee from genocide and find a home in the U.S. | pdf
German Congregationalism on the American frontier | pdf
Blacks and the American Missionary Association | pdf
The Deaconess Movement in 19th-century America: pioneer professional women | pdf
The Schwenkfelders | pdf
The Calvin Synod: 500 years of tradition lead to the UCC | pdf
Women's work and women's boards | pdf
Sho-Chiku-Bai: Japanese-American Congregationalists | pdf
Hidden Histories in the United Church of Christ: Volume II
There were harbingers of the Reformation before the 15th century. In England, John Wyclif translated the Bible into English in 1382 so that all people could have access to it. John Hus encountered Wyclifs translation and writings when returning Oxford students brought them to the University of Prague from which he was graduated in 1394. After furthering the cause of biblical access and authority and opposing the Catholic sale of indulgences, Hus was burned in 1415. He claimed that Christ, not the Pope, was the head of the church; the New Testament, not the church, was the final authority; the Christian life was to be lived in poverty, not opulence.
In 1517, the German monk, university teacher, and preacher, Martin Luther nailed 95 theses of protest against certain doctrines and practices (such as the sale of indulgences) of the Roman Church to the door of the Wittenberg cathedral. His subsequent teaching, preaching, and 'writing spread Lutheran reform throughout northern Europe.
Almost simultaneously, Reformation winds blew to France and Switzerland. In Zurich, Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) and in Geneva, John Calvin (1509-64) took up the banner of reform. Their powerful ministries impressed leaders from Europe and Britain seeking a better way. From these churches of Switzerland, the German Reformed movement and the English Congregationalists would breathe deeply.
The Reformed churches differed from the Lutheran churches in avoiding the "Catholic use" of imagery and instrumental music. They differed in their interpretation of the Lord's Supper; rather than being the body and blood of Christ, Reformed faith held that the bread and wine were "seals" or remembrances of Christ's spiritual presence.
Luther and Zwingli had other differences besides their interpretations of the elements of Communion. Zwingli was more of a humanist and Luther considered his political activism dangerously radical and theologically unsound. French refugee John Calvin arrived in Geneva, crossroads for exiles and expatriots, in 1536. He rapidly became more influential than Zwingli, second only to Luther. He wrote a popular, systematic presentation of Christian doctrine and life, The Institutes (1536, final edition in 1559). Most important of Calvin's Institutes was obedience to God's will as defined in the scriptures. Salvation, he wrote, came by faith in God's grace, mediated through word and sacrament by the power of the Holy Spirit. Good works were consequences of union with Christ in faith, not the means of salvation. Calvin considered the law an indispensable guide and spur to the Christian life; prayer provided nourishment for faith. He argued that faith was a divine gift resulting from God's unconditional decree of election.
Further, Christian life was maintained by the institutions of the church, the sacraments of Holy Communion and baptism, and discipline. Calvin followed the biblical model in providing pastoral care and church discipline through pastors, teachers, elders, and deacons.
The Reformed faith eventually reached the German Palatinate around Heidelberg. Elector Frederick III (1515-76) was forced to mediate between his own warring Zwinglian and Lutheran chaplains; he dismissed them both. Sympathetic to Calvinism, Frederick entrusted the writing of a new confession to two young protégés of Calvin and Melancthon, Casper Olevianus (1536-87) and Zacharias Ursinus (1534-83). The result was the remarkable Heidelberg Catechism, adopted in 1563, that unified the German Reformed Church and became a treasured resource for instructing the young, for preaching, and for theological teaching.
There also was wider social unrest in Europe. From 1618 to 1648, the Thirty Years War ravaged the continent. Before the fighting ceased, most of Germany, and especially the Palatinate where the Reformed Church had been influential, was reduced to a wilderness. Churches were closed; many pastors and people starved or were massacred. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 divided the spoils. The Roman, Lutheran, and Reformed churches were allowed to reclaim territories that had been theirs in 1624. Calvinist Reformed churches, for a time unrecognized, were honored along with Lutheran churches.
Protestantism in Germany had lost all its eastern territory.
When two thirds of Hungary was regained for Catholicism, Hungarian Reformed Church Christians suffered intolerance. Their descendants immigrated to America and in 1890 began the first Hungarian Reformed Church in Cleveland. As the Magyar Synod, Hungarian churches united with the Reformed Church in the United States in 1921. Forty Hungarian congregations continue in the United Church of Christ as the Calvin Synod.
The Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer, author and theologian, currently serves as ninth General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ.
John began his ministry serving First Congregational United Church of Christ and Zion United Church of Christ in rural Missouri. He then served as Associate Conference Minister in the Missouri Mid-South Conference, and then Conference Minister of the Southwest Conference of the UCC prior to his election as General Minister and President.
Dorhauer received a B.A. in Philosophy from Cardinal Glennon College (1983), and has a Master of Divinity degree from Eden Theological Seminary (1988), the same year John was ordained in the United Church of Christ. John received a Doctor of Ministry degree from United Theological Seminary (2004); his area of focus -- white privilege and its effects on the church.
With a personal theology shaped in the passionate conviction that God is love and God is just, John has embodied the United Church of Christ’s vision of “A Just World for All” throughout his ministry. On October 17, 2014, Dorhauer conducted the first legal same sex wedding in the state of Arizona when he performed the wedding service of David Laurence and Kevin Patterson.
In his first term as General Minister and President, recognizing increasing sensitivities in this country around race, John initiated the collaborative creation of a curriculum, “White Privilege: Let’s Talk – A Resource for Transformational Dialogue”. Designed to invite UCC members and others to engage in safe, meaningful, substantive, and bold conversations on race, the curriculum and accompanying facilitator’s guide have been used by both UCC and non-UCC audiences.
In addition, John has partnered with the UCC Board of Directors in providing oversight for the articulation of the denomination’s statements of Purpose, Vision and Mission – critical elements for the UCC’s evolving organizational strategy. To activate the new vision, John invited the denomination’s participation in a collective biennial mission initiative, Three Great Loves. In partnership with the UCC Board of Directors – and informed with responses from across the church to the question “what does a transformative UCC need to be in ten years?”-- John has called the church to accomplish essential strategic priorities over the next 10 years to position the church for a transformative future. These include attaining inclusive excellence, developing robust technology infrastructure that benefits every expression of the church, curriculum and training towards “A Just World for All”, strategic organizational alignment consistent with purpose, vision and mission, and platforms to foster and encourage innovative church.
The Shaping Our Future Campaign has been launched to generate $4 million in new philanthropic support for marketing, technology and leadership development programs critical to the health and vitality of every expression of the church. More recently, recognizing a need for thought leadership to consider, inform and shape our responsibility for lifelong, cradle-to-the-grave theological formation, John called for a summit on theological formation, From the Ground Up, which was launched in spring 2018. At present, his focus is on re-establishing the primacy of the Local Church and the mutuality of relationship amongst the expressions of the church, undertaking an assessment of the denomination’s assets devoted to resourcing local church ministry relative to the needs of the local church, and operationalizing the alignment of the national setting consistent with the newly established strategic priorities for the UCC.
John now serves as Vice-Chair of the National Council of Churches (NCC), and has co-chaired the NCC’s United to End Racism campaign. He has been identified by the Center for American Progress as one of the religious leaders to watch for in 2017.
John insists that the Holy Spirit envisions a future in which the United Church of Christ matters. He is calling on the denomination to rethink itself and to consider new ways of being church in light of institutional religion’s changing landscape and emerging shifts in the generational populations – believing that an emergent church is already coming alongside the institutional church. John’s book Beyond Resistance: the Institutional Church Meets the Postmodern World is a call to the body of Christ to accept what the Spirit of the Risen Christ is doing to birth something new, vital, and relevant – all towards nurturing Beloved Community. .
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Rev. Traci Blackmon is the Associate General Minister of Justice & Local Church Ministries for The United Church of Christ and Senior Pastor of Christ The King United Church of Christ in Florissant, MO.
Initially ordained in the African Methodist Episcopal
Church, Rev. Blackmon served in various ministry capacities for 9 years, prior to becoming ordained in the United Church of Christ and installed as the first woman and 18th pastor in the 162-year history of Christ The King United Church of Christ. A registered nurse with more than 25 years of healthcare experience, Rev. Blackmon's clinical focus was cardiac care and in later years her focus shifted to mobile healthcare in underserved communities with the greatest health disparities in her region. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from Birmingham - Southern College (1985), and a Master of Divinity degree from Eden Theological Seminary (2009).
As pastor, Rev. Blackmon leads Christ The King in an expanded understanding of church as a sacred launching pad of community engagement and change. This ethos has led to a tripling of both membership and worship attendance over the last seven years, expanding membership engagement opportunities, and the establishment of community outreach programs. Community programming includes a computer lab, tutoring, continuing education classes, summer programming, a robotics team, children's library and girls' mentoring program, all housed in the church.
Regionally, Rev. Blackmon's signature initiatives have included Healthy Mind, Body, and Spirit, a mobile faith-based outreach program she designed to impact health outcomes in impoverished areas. Sacred Conversations on Solomon’s Porch, quarterly clergy in-services designed to equip local clergy to assess physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health concerns within congregational life, Sista SOS Summit, an intergenerational health symposium for women and girls, and Souls to the Polls STL, an ecumenical, multi-faith collaborative that was successful in providing over 2,800 additional rides to the polls during local and national elections.
A featured voice with many regional, national, and international media outlets and a frequent contributor to print publications, Rev. Blackmon's communal leadership and work in the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown, Jr., in Ferguson, MO has gained her both national and international recognition and audiences from the White House to the Carter Center to the Vatican. She was appointed to the Ferguson Commission by Governor Jay
Nixon and to the President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships for the White House by President Barack H. Obama. Rev. Blackmon co-authored the White Privilege curriculum for the United Church of Christ and toured the nation with Rev. Dr. William Barber of Moral Mondays and Repairer of the Breech, Rev. Dr. James Forbes of The Drum Major Institute and pastor emeritus of The Riverside Church in New York, and Sister Simone Campbell of Nuns on the Bus proclaiming the need for a Moral Revival in this nation.
Rev. Blackmon is a graduate of Leadership St. Louis and currently serves on the boards of The Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, Chicago Theological Seminary, and WomanPreach! Rev. Blackmon is a co-author of the newly released White Privilege curriculum through the United Church of Christ and has received several awards and recognitions, inclusive of:
• The White House President’s Volunteer Service Award
• The St. Louis American Stellar Award
• 2015 Ebony Magazine Power 100
• Deluxe Magazine Power 100
• St. Louis University - Community Leader of the Year
• 100 Black Men of St. Louis Community Leader of the Year
• The Coalition of Black Trade Unionist - Drum Major Award
• NAACP - Rosa Parks Award
• Rosa Parks Award - United Trade Unionist
• The Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis Woman in Leadership Award
• National Planned Parenthood Faith Leader Award
• The United Church of Christ - Antoinette Brown Leadership Award
• Honorary Doctorate, Eden Theological Seminary
Rev. Blackmon currently resides in both St. Louis, MO and Cleveland, OH and was named 2017 Citizen of the Year by The St. Louis American and as one of St. Louis' 100 most influential voices. Rev. Blackmon is the proud mother of three adult children: Kortni Devon, Harold II, and Tyler Wayne Blackmon.
If you are a member of the press and would like to schedule an interview with Rev. Traci Blackmon, please contact:
Connie Larkman, News Director
For all other inquiries, please contact:
Denise Pittman, Executive Assistant
The Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson is the United Church of Christ’s Associate General Minister, Wider Church Ministries and Operations with the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). She is an inspiring preacher and theologian, who shares her skills and gifts in a variety of settings nationally and internationally, often using her poetry as a part of her ministry.
Rev. Thompson served in the national setting of the United Church of Christ for 10 years – two years as Minister for Racial Justice and 8 years as Minister for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations. She led the UCC’s Sacred Conversations on Race, facilitating trainings and workshops across the life of the denomination for congregations and conferences. Her passion moved her work on behalf of the UCC into a global context, affording the opportunity to participate globally in efforts to reduce the marginalization experienced by African descendant peoples and other communities globally.
Before joining the national staff, Karen Georgia served in the Florida Conference United Church of Christ as a Pastor and on the Conference staff as the Minister for Disaster Response and Recovery. She also worked in the nonprofit arena for over 10 years in senior leaderships positions.
Karen Georgia earned a Bachelor of Arts from Brooklyn College in New York, a Master’s in Public Administration from North Carolina Central University in Durham, NC, and a Masters of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary in New York. She also studied Public Policy at Duke University and earned her Doctorate in Ministry at Seattle University.
If you are a member of the press and would like to schedule an interview with Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, please contact:
Connie Larkman, News Director
For all other inquiries, please contact:
Linda Long, Executive Assistant
Presidents and General Minister and Presidents
Fred Hoskins & James E. Wagner – Co-Presidents (1957-1961)
Ben M. Herbster – President (1961-1969)
Robert V. Moss – President (1969-1976)
Joseph H. Evans – President (1976-1977)
Avery D. Post – President (1977-1989)
Paul H. Sherry – President (1989-1999)
John H. Thomas – General Minister and President (1999-2010)
Geoffrey A. Black – General Minister and President (2010-2015)
John C. Dorhauer – General Minister and President (2015-Present)
What is the United Church of Christ Archives?
What the UCC Archives Does:
- Collects, preserves, and provides access to the records of the UCC from around the time of the creating Union in 1957 onward.
- Acts as the office of records management for the national setting of the denomination.
- Provides guidance for how to manage current and historical records to all settings of the denomination.
What is in the UCC Archives:
The records, photographs, resources, and objects from around the time of the creating Union in 1957 onward.
A selection of a few of the vast resources include:
- Records from the national offices
- UCC Yearbooks
- General Synod Minutes
- Executive Council Minutes
- Resources developed by national offices
- Documentation about the formation of the UCC
- Records of projects and innitiatives
- Collections from national UCC organizations, committees, councils and groups
- Council for Health and Human Services
- UCC Historical Council
- Personal papers of people involved in the work of the national setting of the denomination
- Rev. Arthur Clyde's collection of hymnals
- Rev. Harold Wilke's papers documenting his work in the UCC
- Conference publications and newsletters
- Written histories of local churches, associations, conferences, and other UCC-related ministries
All documents are searchable by keyword, and are complete to present.
Partnerships with other Historical Organizations:
The UCC Archives works closely with other archives that hold the records of the denominations that united to form the UCC. Please visit the Historical Council page to find more information about those institutions.
Excerpted from "A History of the United Church of Christ" by Margaret Rowland Post
All Christians are related in faith to Judaism and are faith descendants of the first apostles of Jesus who roamed the world with the good news of God's love. Within five centuries, Christianity dominated the Roman Empire. Until A.D. 1054 when the church split, it remained essentially one. At that point, the Eastern Orthodox Church established its center at Constantinople (Istanbul), the Roman Catholic Church at Rome.
During the 16th century, when Christians found the church corrupt and hopelessly involved in economic and political interests, leaders arose to bring about reform from within. The unintended by-product of their efforts at reform was schism in the Roman Church. Their differences over the authority and practices of Rome became irreconcilable.
Protestant reformers such as Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Calvin held that the Bible, not the Pope, was sufficient authority as the word of God. Paramount was the message of Paul that persons are justified by the grace of God through faith alone. Such faith did not lead to rank individualism or moral indifference, but to good works out of love for God.
Protestantism spread throughout Europe. Lutheran churches were planted in Germany and throughout Scandinavia; the Reformed churches, originating in Switzerland, spread into Germany, France, Transylvania, Hungary, Holland, England, and Scotland. The United Church of Christ traces its roots back to those movements to proclaim the good news based on biblical truths led by the Spirit of God. It presently binds in covenant nearly 6,500 congregations with approximately 1,800,000 members. One of the youngest American denominations, its background also makes it one of the oldest in Protestantism.
The United Church of Christ, a united and uniting church, was born on June 25, 1957 out of a combination of four groups. Two of these were the Congregational Churches of the English Reformation with Puritan New England roots in America, and the Christian Church with American frontier beginnings. These two denominations were concerned for freedom of religious expression and local autonomy and united on June 17, 1931 to become the Congregational Christian Churches.
The other two denominations were the Evangelical Synod of North America, a 19th-century German-American church of the frontier Mississippi Valley, and the Reformed Church in the United States, initially composed of early 18th-century churches in Pennsylvania and neighboring colonies, unified in a Coetus in 1793 to become a Synod. The parent churches were of German and Swiss heritage, conscientious carriers of the Reformed and Lutheran traditions of the Reformation, and united to form the Evangelical and Reformed Church on June 26, 1934.
The Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches shared a strong commitment under Christ to the freedom of religious expression. They combined strong European ties, early colonial roots, and the vitality of the American frontier church. Their union forced accommodation between congregational and presbyterial forms of church government. Both denominations found their authority in the Bible and were more concerned with what unites Christians than with what divides them. In their marriage, a church that valued the free congregational tradition was strengthened by one that remained faithful to the liturgical tradition of Reformed church worship and to catechetical teaching. A tradition that maintained important aspects of European Protestantism was broadened by one that, in mutual covenant with Christ, embraced diversity and freedom.
A Short Course in the History of the United Church of Christ tells our story beginning with our origins in the small community who followed Jesus 20 centuries ago and continuing to the present. Learn about the Reformation—a protest movement against the abuse of authority by church leaders; the rediscovery by Luther and Calvin of the Bible's teaching that salvation is not earned, but is a gift; the epic journey of the Pilgrims from England to the shores of North America; the waves of emigration by German and Hungarian Protestants seeking spiritual and political freedom; the beginning of the first Christian anti-slavery movement in history; the 20th-century movement to reunite the divided branches of Christ's church, and, as a result of that movement, the union of several traditions of Protestant Christianity into the United Church of Christ in 1957.
We invite you to use the Short Course for your personal study or as a resource for confirmation and new-member classes in your congregation. On every page, you'll find links to related resources on this website, links to other resources on the Internet, and ideas about books for further study. Also recommended: Hidden Histories of the United Church of Christ.
Full Version in PDF
The Early Church
Our Reformation Roots
German Evangelical Movement
Reformation in England
German Reformed Church
Education and Mission
The Christian Churches
German Evangelical Synod
An Ecumenical Age
Evangelical and Reformed
The UCC Comes of Age
Welcome to the Faith Formation ministries page of the United Church of Christ! There is a wealth of information and resources for your adaptation and use on this site, so please feel free to visit often.
A Reflection on Faith Formation
Yet, O Lord, you are our God;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand. –Isaiah 64:8
Faith formation is at the heart of what the Christian life is all about. In many ways, we engage in the practices of our daily lives and the rituals of our faith communities—through worship, mission, working for justice and peace, evangelism, and education—so that our faith may be nurtured, enlivened, sustained, and formed. In this regard, the imagery offered by the prophet Isaiah of Potter God forming humanity, God's created own, is an appropriate vision for how we might view the ministry of faith formation.
In the United Church of Christ, we can understand faith formation to be "an engaged process of learning and practice integrated throughout all aspects of congregational and daily life." This definition highlights the initiative and action we must take in our own faith formation. In essence, we become clay so that we are formed and transformed by the Holy and by one another. But throughout all of our doing and being, we are reminded that God's "hands" are continually present in our efforts to gain both "head" knowledge found in education and learning and "heart" wisdom discovered through prayer, ritual, and practice.
So, it is indeed most fitting to say that faith formation is at the heart of what our living and being is all about; but without the hands that guide what we are continually becoming, the process is incomplete. May this webpage offer some helpful tools from which you and others can “become clay” and be reminded of God's formational presence along life's journey.
Small Group Study Resources
Dialogues on Christian Faith Formation and Education
Dialogue #1: Marcus Borg
Dialogue #2: Doug Pagitt
Dialogue #3: Geoffrey Black
Dialogues on Christian Faith Formation and Education is offered with the intent of promoting conversation around the past, present, and future of faith formation in the United Church of Christ.
Children and Families Ministries for the 21st Century (ppt)
Annual Meeting, Penn Central Conference, Selinsgrove, PA – June 2013
Transitioning UCC Faith Formation Ministries (ppt)
New England Association of United Church Educators (NEAUCE) Annual Meeting, Centerville, MA – May 2013
Infusing Best Practices of Faith Formation into Your Congregation (ppt)
New England Association of United Church Educators (NEAUCE) Annual Meeting, Centerville, MA – May 2013
Faith Formation, Christian Education, or Other: Shaping Ministry in Your Church (ppt)
Congregations Alive, Rocky Mountain Conference – February 2013
Futuring Faith Formation and Leadership Development(ppt)
Young Adult Service Communities (YASC) Host Church Leaders’ Training, Cleveland, OH – January 2013
Futuring Faith Formation for Wider Church Ministry (ppt)
Network of Wider Church Youth Ministers (NOWCYM) Annual Gathering, New Orleans, LA – December 2012
Christian Faith Formation: Best Practices in A Shifting Landscape (ppt)
United Church of Chapel Hill, NC – November 2012
Highlights of “Foundations, Findings, and Futures: Christian Faith Formation and Education in the United Church of Christ” (ppt)
Faith Formation for Children and Youth Ministry Team Retreat, Minnesota Conference – October 2012
Foundations, Findings, and Futures: Christian Faith Formation and Education in the United Church of Christ (ppt)
Education Consultants’ Gathering, Cleveland, OH – September 2012
Where Are All the “Young People?” An Exploration of Young Adults, Spirituality, and Their Experiences of Church (ppt)
Growth Ministry Team, Rocky Mountain Conference – August 2012
What Makes Your Youths’ Spirits SOAR? A Multisensory Focus Group on Youth Faith Formation – Youth Leaders (ppt)
What Makes Your Spirit SOAR? A Multisensory Focus Group on Faith Formation – Youth (ppt)
National Youth Event, Purdue, IN – July 2012
Out of the Classroom and Into the World: Faith Formation in the Postmodern Age (ppt)
March in the Son, Connecticut Conference – March 2012
Faith Formation and Education Research on Young Adults (ppt)
LinK Event: Young Adult Ministry Workers, Cleveland, OH – December 2011
A page that shares information helpful to educators.
Seeking A Church Educator
So, your church needs a Christian Educator. Where can you find viable candidates? What qualifications should you look for? What is reasonable compensation? "Seeking A Church Educator" gives a concise guide to get you started.
The United Church of Christ Book of Worship is now available on CD along with a catalog of selected resources from the Worship and Education Ministry team.
Looking for resources for your congregation education program which are:
+Multi-racial and Multi-cultural,
+Age or interest specific,
+Currently available (from United Church of Christ Resources or another publisher),
+Printed or Multi-Media
Check the bibliographies for some of the best resources recommended by United Church of Christ congregations.
What Matters includes a variety of resources to connect your questions of faith with the deep faith expressed by the UCC. Explore six aspects of our faith through links below. Discover what matters through reflection, stories from UCC congregations and members, stories from history, Bible study, prayer, worship, and service.
Resources for Christian Education Sunday
Service Prayers and Liturgies (Online)
Come, Teach Us, Spirit of Our God – TNCH #287
O God, Who Teaches Us To Live – TNCH #359
Praise the Source of Faith and Learning – TNCH #411
Teach Me, O Lord, Your Holy Way – TNCH #465
God, Speak to Me, That I May Speak – TNCH #531
O Grant Us Light – TNCH #469
Colorful Creator – TNCH #30
Open My Eyes, That I May See
Litany for Recognition of Teachers
One: Teachers are called to serve the church in a variety of roles – ordained and lay, volunteer and paid. The United Church of Christ [or insert your own church name here] recognizes and affirms with deep appreciation the outstanding, faithful, and dedicated commitment to the teaching task. Today we honor all those dedicated teachers in the UCC. We thank you, O God, for the ministry of education.
Many: Gentle and Loving God, through the ministry of teaching we learn about you, your creation of humankind, your trust in us to be your people, and your expectation that we will be responsible stewards of your creation.
One: We also learn, from the Holy Spirit and from our spiritual ancestors, that we have room to grow in faith.
Many: Priests, prophets, and wise counselors teach us through the Hebrew scriptures. Evangelists, apostles, and letter-writers in the Christian scriptures teach us of your love and forgiveness.
One: Most of all, we learn from your living Word, Jesus the teacher.
Many: That story, always fresh, comes to us through teachers in the church.
One: We thank you now and offer you praise for the educational ministry of [names]. Help us to affirm and support them in the ministry of teaching.
Unison: We pray in the name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
[Present certificate or other gift, and/or offer handshake or sign of peace.]
Adapted from the 1999 Excellence in Teaching Awards. Originally from the Committee on Certification for Church Educators in the United Church of Christ.
Just click on our link to our Seminarians' Page plus links to UCC-related seminaries, universities and colleges. Also, you will find information on campus ministries and a mailing list for college students.
The United Church of Christ Undergraduate Scholarship for UCC members studying at U.S. colleges and universities.
These are foundational documents on education in local congregations that were developed by the former United Church Board for Homeland Ministries.