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.
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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
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.
Witness for Justice (WFJ) is a weekly editorial opinion column for public distribution which identifies timely or urgent justice issues. WFJ is a theologically based perspective founded on historic commitment to justice and peace of the United Church of Christ.
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.
Resolution "Calling on UCC Congregations to Covenant as Open and Affirming"
85-GS-76 VOTED: The Fifteenth General Synod adopts the Resolution now titled "Calling On UCC Congregations to Covenant As Open and Affirming."
Calling on UCC Congregations to Covenant as Open and Affirming
WHEREAS, the Apostle Paul said that, as Christians, we are many members, but we are one body in Christ (Rom. 12:4), and Jesus calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mk. 12:31) without being judgmental (Mt. 7:1-2) nor disparaging of others (Lk. 18:9-14); and
WHEREAS, recognizing that many persons of lesbian, gay and bisexual orientation are already members of the Church through baptism and confirmation and that these people have talents and gifts to offer the United Church of Christ, and that the UCC has historically affirmed a rich diversity in its theological and Biblical perspectives; and
WHEREAS, the Tenth through Fourteenth General Synods have adopted resolutions encouraging the inclusion, and affirming the human rights, of lesbian, gay and bisexual people within the UCC; and
WHEREAS, the Executive Council of the United Church of Christ adopted in 1980 "a program of Equal Employment Opportunity which does not discriminate against any employee or applicant because of... sexual orientation"; and
WHEREAS, many parts of the Church have remained conspicuously silent despite the continuing injustice of institutionalized discrimination, instances of senseless violence and setbacks in civil rights protection by the Supreme Court; and
WHEREAS, the Church has often perpetuated discriminatory practices and has been unwilling to affirm the full humanness of clergy, laity and staff with lesbian, gay and bisexual orientation, who experience isolation, ostracism and fear of (or actual) loss of employment; and
WHEREAS, we are called by Christ's example, to proclaim release to the captives and set at liberty the oppressed (Lk. 4:18); and
WHEREAS, examples of covenant of Openness and Affirmation and Non-discrimination Policy may be found in the following:
Covenant of openess and affirmation
We know, with Paul, that as Christians, we are many members, but are one body in ChristÑmembers of one another, and that we all have different gifts. With Jesus, we affirm that we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, that we are called to act as agents of reconciliation and wholeness within the world and within the Church itself.
We know that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are often scorned by the church, and devalued and discriminated against both in the Church and in society. We commit ourselves to caring and concern for lesbian, gay and bisexual sisters and brothers by affirming that:
We believe that lesbian, gay and bisexual people share with all others the worth that comes from being unique individuals,
We welcome lesbian, gay and bisexual people to join our congregation in the same spirit and manner used in the acceptance of any new members,
We recognize the presence of ignorance, fear and hatred in the Church and in our culture, and covenant to not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, nor any other irrelevant factor, and we seek to include and support those who, because of this fear and prejudice, find themselves in exile from a spiritual community,
We seek to address the needs and advocate the concerns of lesbian, gay and bisexual people in our Church and in society by actively encouraging churches, instrumentalities and secular governmental bodies to adopt and implement policies of non-discrimination, and further,
We join together as a covenantal community, to celebrate and share our common communion and the reassurance that we are indeed created by God, reconciled by Christ and empowered by the grace of the Holy Spirit;
Inclusive non-discrimination policy
We do not discriminate against any person, group or organization in hiring, promotion, membership, appointment, use of facility, provision of services or funding on the basis of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, faith, nationality, ethnicity, marital status, or physical disability;
THEREFORE, the Fifteenth General Synod of the United Church of Christ encourages a policy of non-discrimination in employment, volunteer service and membership policy with regard to sexual orientation; encourages association conferences and all related organizations to adopt a similar policy; and
encourages the congregations of the United Church of Christ to adopt a non-discrimination policy and a Covenant of Openness and Affirmation of persons of lesbian, gay or bisexual orientation within the community of faith.
No financial implications.
God has moved throughout the 20th century to impel a worldwide movement toward Christian unity, of which the United Church of Christ is but a part. Understood deeply as obedience, the movement is seen more expediently as an antidote to the rising forces of paganism. The ecumenical movement calls the churches to restore their oneness in Christ by union. A divided church is unlikely to convince the world.
Two world wars and religious sectarianism had made clear a need for the church to take seriously its responsibility as agents of God's healing, and in repentance, to acknowledge in its divisions a mutual need for Christ's redemption. The World Council of Churches, Protestant and Orthodox, met at Amsterdam in 1948 under the theme "Man's Disorder and God's Design." In 1961, it merged with the International Missionary Council. The Second Vatican Council at Rome, called by Pope John XXIII, met between 1962 and 1965, with a primary purpose of "peace and unity." Ending with a reemphasis on ecumenicity, the Pope participated in a joint religious service with non-Catholic Christian observers, and resolved to "remove from memory" the events of A.D. 1054 that first split the Christian church "in two great halves," Catholic and Orthodox.
The United Church movement overseas had an early beginning in the South Indian United Church (1908), later to be the Church of South India and the Church of North India. The Church of Christ in China (1927) followed and, much later, in Japan the Kyodan (1941), The United Church of Christ of the Philippines (1948) and the National Christian Council of Indonesia (1950). Common historic missionary roots were celebrated during a 1976 ecumenical visit to four of the United Churches by a delegation from the United Church of Christ, U.S.A., led by its distinguished ecumenist president, Robert V. Moss, recognized as a world church leader.
Between 1900 and 1950, Congregational churches of ten nations united with other denominations, many losing the name "Congregational." Others followed as the United Church movement proliferated. In the United States, the Congregational Churches had, since 1890, been making overtures of unity toward other church bodies. German "union" (Lutheran Reformed) churches in western Pennsylvania and in Iowa, recognized and received as German Congregational Churches in 1927, were absorbed and integrated.
Congregational associations during and following World War I received into fellowship Armenian Evangelicals, a refugee remnant of the 19th-century reform movement in the Armenian Apostolic Church in Turkey. During a period of Turkish genocidal persecution of Armenians, thousands escaped to America, many Evangelicals. In the 1980s there are 16 Armenian Evangelical churches holding membership in the United Church of Christ. Locally, the association relationship among churches made it easy to extend congregational fellowship across denominational lines.
Although it frequently stated convictions of unity, the Christian Church (perhaps because of its long travail over its own North-South division and its disinterest in organizational structure) had remained separatist. Correspondence with the Congregationalists led to a meeting in 1926, when a decision to pursue union was taken. On June 27, 1931, at Seattle, Washington, the Christian Church, with a membership of 100,000, including 30,000 members of the 65 churches in its Afro-American Convention, joined with the Congregational Churches of nearly a million members. They saw their temporal organization of Christian believers as one manifestation of the church universal, a denomination that they intended would remain adaptable, so as to enable a faithful response to the biblical Word of God in any time, in any place, among any people.
Such an understanding of the church had also matured in the Evangelical and the Reformed churches from seeds planted centuries before in Switzerland and Germany and replanted in America by the Mercersburg movement. With resolve strengthened by the great ecumenical assemblies, the Reformed Church in the United States, led by George W. Richards, in 1918, produced a Plan of Federal Union in hope of uniting churches of the Reformed heritage. Similarly inspired, Samuel Press, supported by the local churches represented at the 1925 General Conference, led the Evangelical Synod of North America to undertake negotiations looking toward organic union. While other communions of shared tradition had become involved, by 1930, only the Reformed Church and the Evangelical Synod pursued their long-hoped-for union.
After six years of negotiation, a Plan of Union evolved, approved in 1932 by the General Synod of the Reformed Church, ratified by the Evangelical Synod at its General Convention of 1933. Significant and unprecedented was the decision to unite and then to work out a constitution and other structures for implementation, surely an act of Christian obedience and faith in the power of the Holy Spirit to sustain trust in one another. On June 26,1934, the Evangelical and Reformed Church was born at Cleveland, Ohio.
The rise of denominationalism in the 19th century was a phenomenon for which Congregational churches, independent although loosely associated, were ill prepared. Rejecting anything that smacked of centralized authority, the churches contained no efficient mechanism for corporate action or cohesive principle around which to organize corporately. They were churches, not Church.
No single event was responsible for the movement toward state and national levels of organization and communion. Rather, a positive and vigorous reappraisal of Congregational history provided a powerful emotional undergirding for a newly articulated American denomination. In the democratic tendencies of their polity, Congregationalists discovered a remarkable affinity with the emergent American nationalism. The polity that allowed for diversity appeared to be an ecclesiastical counterpart to the democratic polity of the nation itself. They rediscovered Cotton Mather's unity in diversity and by 1871 a new, corporate identity was asserted. Their unity lay in a commitment to the diversity produced and embraced by the polity itself-a commitment continued in the United Church of Christ.
An atmosphere of political and religious liberty spawned American denominationalism. Each denomination began new educational institutions. Before William Ellery Channing, Congregational minister in Boston, had proclaimed his leadership of the Unitarian movement by preaching in 1819 his famous sermon, "Unitarian Christianity," the liberal professor of divinity at Harvard, Henry Ware, set off a controversy that sparked the establishment of the Congregational Andover Theological Seminary in 1808, a bulwark of Calvinist orthodoxy.
Andover was instrumental in preparing the first Congregational missionaries for overseas mission. The churches already had sent missionaries to frontier America. The American overseas missionary movement had its informal beginning in 1806 when Samuel J. Mills met with four fellow students at Williams College in Massachusetts for a Sunday afternoon prayer meeting in a maple grove. A sudden thunderstorm drove them to the shelter of a haystack where amidst the thunderclaps and flashes of lightning, Mills proposed sending the gospel to Asia. His zeal ignited the four others with the intent "to evangelize the world," and they went on to study theology at Andover Seminary. Together, they confirmed their purpose and maintained their association throughout their theological studies.
One of them, Adoniram Judson, who later became a Baptist, had appealed to the London Missionary Society for support and had been rejected. Feeling that it was time for American Congregationalism to support its own missionaries, the Andover faculty and leaders of the Massachusetts General Association authorized a joint missionary venture by the churches of Massachusetts and Connecticut. On September 5, 1810, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions was born. On February 8, 1812, at a moving service of worship in a crowded Salem Tabernacle Church, the Haystack "Brethren" were ordained. Within two weeks, they set sail for India.
In the same year, New England Congregational clergy brought nearly unanimous condemnation on the War of 1812 as "unnecessary, unjust, and inexpedient." Their regular antiwar sermons and constituency organizing in opposition to government policy were unprecedented as a united ministerial action. Nevertheless, on June 20, 1812, a charter was granted the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to serve the Congregational churches as their agent for foreign mission, the first foreign missionary society in America.
The German Reformed Church Synod in 1826 voted to establish an American Missionary Society of the Reformed Church "to promote the interests of the church within the United States and elsewhere." The German Reformed Church recognized that a single board could best serve all abroad, and John W. Nevin was appointed to represent the church on the American Board. By 1866, when the German Reformed Church withdrew to manage its own mission, all other denominations represented on the board had done the same.
The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions had intended to establish missions not only in the Orient and Burma, but also "in the West among the Iroquois." Subsequently, throughout the 1820s and 1830s missions were established among the Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Cherokee, Osage, Maumee and Iroquois. In an interdenominational effort, members of the American Board supported and aided Indian resistance to government removal from their lands.
In a celebrated case, the American Board backed Samuel A. Worcester, missionary to the Cherokee, in his United States Supreme Court suit against the state of Georgia in 1830, to sustain Cherokee sovereignty over their land. Although the court ruled that the Cherokee nation was under United States protection and could not be removed by Georgia, President Andrew Jackson had the tribes removed anyway. Outrage at injustice toward Native Americans called out and dispersed many missionaries to tribes throughout the United States.
Later in the 19th century, the German Reformed Church initiated missions to new German settlers and nearby Indian settlements. More than 300 churches were constructed.
Swiss and German students at Mercersburg Theological Seminary aided Germans on the western frontier. With the initial purpose of training local men as ministers and teachers, the Sheboygan Classis of the Wisconsin Synod established Mission House in 1862. Started as an academy, it soon became a college (1879) and seminary (1880). In 1957, Mission House College became Lakeland College and Mission House Seminary merged with the Congregational Christian Yankton School of Theology in 1962 to become the United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities at New Brighton, Minnesota.
Mission House initiated an Indian ministry in the 1870s by an act of providence. Professor H. Kurtz, overtaken by a snowstorm, succumbed to fatigue on a 12-mile return walk from a Sunday preaching mission. Some Winnebagos, finding him asleep and in danger of freezing, took him home to Mission House. Naturally, Kurtz promoted help for Indians of the area, and in 1876, the Class is declared, "As soon as we have the money to find a missionary, we will send him to the Indians who live nearest us." Jacob Hauser was sent in 1878 and was warily received, but concern for their children's education and the basic affirmation that all shared one God, the Earthmaker, allowed the Winnebago to accept the basic ministry of the Hausers. Twenty years later a church was started. In 1917, a boarding school opened that became the Winnebago Indian School at Neillsville, Wisconsin. The school provided Christian ministers, teachers, nurses, and leaders for the tribe, among them Mitchell Whiterabbit, a pastor who became a national leader in the United Church of Christ.
The 18th-century Great Awakening had been unconcerned with sectarian labels. Under the Plan of Union (1801) and the Accommodation Plan (1808), the theologically compatible Congregational and Presbyterian churches cooperated in their missionary efforts in the West. A minister of either denomination might be chosen by a congregation that was functioning under the polity of its founding denomination. Under the Accommodation Plan, Congregational Associations were received by Presbyterian Synods until 1837, when self-conscious denominationalism caused Presbyterians to withdraw. Congregationalists followed suit in 1852 when the Congregational churches were united into a national organization for the first time.
The first New England Congregational colony in the Northwest Territory was established at Marietta, Ohio, in 1788. Education a primary value, Muskingum Academy was soon opened and in 1835 became Marietta College. Congregationalists and Presbyterians planted colleges along the way. Most of the early colleges, including Harvard, Yale, and Princeton long ago declared independence of a denominational connection. Thirteen frontier colleges have affirmed their diverse historical denominational ties with the United Church of Christ. Beloit (1846) received its roots from the Presbyterian and Congregational Churches. The others are Illinois (1829), Olivet (1844), Grinnell (1846), Pacific (1849), Ripon (1851), Carleton (1866), Doane (1872), Drury (1873), Westminster (1875), Yankton (1881), Rocky Mountain (1883) and Northland (1892). Those with Evangelical, Reformed, and Christian roots that continue to relate through the Board for Homeland Ministries to the United Church of Christ are Franklin and Marshall (1787), Heidelberg (1850), Defiance (1850), Cedar Crest (1867), Ursinus (1869), Elmhurst (1871), Elon (1889), Hood (1893), Lakeland (1893), Hawaii Loa College (1963), and six colleges established in the South after the Civil War, mentioned later in more detail.
The need to train ministers called forth, in addition to Andover, the Congregational seminaries at Bangor (1814), Hartford (1834), Chicago (1855) and the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley (1866). United Church of Christ seminaries, each of whose roots rests in one of the parent denominations, are Harvard Divinity School (1811), Lancaster (1825), Andover Newton Theological School, Eden (1850), Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta (1958) and United Theological Seminary (1962).
In a more open society, women emerged in greater numbers, often at great risk, from the confines of their homes and families to respond to a Christian calling. Congregational educators such as Emma Willard, Catherine Beecher, Sarah Porter, and Mary Lyon, and a writer appalled by the injustice of slavery, Harriet Beecher Stowe, were characterized by persistence. Betsy Stockton, a freed slave, sailed in 1822 from Connecticut with 13 others to aid the first contingent of missionaries to Hawaii, sent by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, the Congregational forerunner of the United Church Board for World Ministries. A gifted and versatile Christian woman, Betsy Stockton taught school, lent her homemaking skills for the use of all, nursed and cared for the Islands' sick.
Although her family discouraged her and Oberlin Theological School denied her the degree she had earned, Antoinette Brown sought for three years a call to pastor a church. A call finally came from the Congregational Church in Butler, New York. There she was ordained in 1853, an ordination recognized only by the local church. Her pastorate was short, for she would soon marry Samuel Blackwell and later give birth to seven daughters. Antoinette Brown's activist stand persisted for the abolition of slavery, for the promotion of temperance, and for the establishment of biblical support for equality between women and men. She wrote nine books and in 1920, at age 95, cast her first vote. By 1921, the year of her death, there were 3,000 women ministers in the United States. Her ordination itself had major implications. Her life and ministry are memorialized at each General Synod of the United Church of Christ when the Antoinette Brown Award is presented to two ordained women whose ministries exemplify her dedication and leadership.
Elvira Yockey, a German Reformed pastor's wife in 1887 founded and became the first president of the Women's Missionary Society of the General Synod. She wrote of her experience at Xenia, Ohio: "Here, as all over the Reformed Church, 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" (E.S. Yockey, Historical Sketch of the Origin and Growth of the Woman's Missionary Societies of the Reformed Church, Alliance, OH: The Woman's Journal, 1898, p. 7).
Few women could at first take advantage of higher education, but during the 19th century evangelical reform movement, missionary societies became ways for more women to relate to the public sphere. Still demeaned by female role enforcement, women were permitted only to form auxiliary fundraising units, well out of range of policy making. The Female Cent Society, New England forerunner of the Woman's Society of the Congregational Christian Churches, was such an organization. The Evangelical Synod's deaconess movement provided an acceptable vehicle for women's active involvement in evangelism and social service. Through periodicals, study circles, and organizations, women shared moral issues of the time. Countless volunteer hours were given by women to the alleviation of social ills as the earliest Sunday school teachers, as abolitionists, preachers, teachers, nurses, missionaries, and activists for their own liberation as children of God.
The end of the Civil War freed the hearts and imaginations of Protestants to again envision a Christian America. Congregational minister Horace Bushnell led with a vision of a virtuous, joyous, worshiping Christian America that would set the pace for others in the world. Other Congregationalists also were prominent. Bushnell's disciple Josiah Strong sought to rally concerned social action for the urban blight of growing industrialization. Columbus, Ohio minister Washington Gladden, father of the social gospel, defended the right of labor to organize. Jane Addams saw the urgency of the urban poor and began Hull House, the Chicago settlement house, in 1889.
The many voluntary church societies responded to humanitarian concerns aroused by the religious awakenings. The American Home Missionary Society (1826) touched fingertips with the German churches by providing funds for the religious and educational needs of settlers in the West. In 1927, the Iowa-born General Conference of German Congregational Churches was recognized by the General Council along with other Congregational Churches.
The American Missionary Association believed in the transforming power of the gospel to right social evils, particularly inhumanity to other races and the injustice of slavery. The AMA was, by charter, committed to "an elimination of caste." Black and white Americans were active supporters and workers. Engaged from its inception in abolitionist activity, the affirmation of Indian rights, and work among the Eskimo, the AMA responded immediately following the Civil War to the educational and religious needs of freed blacks in the South and of Native Americans. A shortage of educators turned the Association to the education of teachers, and the black colleges were born. A relationship with the United Church of Christ would continue to be maintained by Fisk (1866), Talladega (1867), LeMoyne-Owen (1871), Huston-Tillotson (1876), Dillard (1869) and Tougaloo (1869).
The legal autonomy of the voluntary missionary societies left the Congregational churches and the legislative General Council without administrative authority over the direction of their own mission. The relationship bred long periods of unease. A partial solution came in 1917 when representative voting members of the Council were made voting members of the societies. Corporate law gave final control to boards and directors. Gradually, the home mission and education societies found it expedient to unite under the Board of Home Missions.
The Synod of the German Reformed Church had responded to needs of the people on the frontier by establishing, in 1819, a missionary committee that in 1865 became the Board of Home Missions. In 1866, the German Reformed Church decided not to unite with the Dutch Reformed Church. Dropping the "German" from its name, the church became in 1867, the Reformed Church in the United States.
Responsibility for home mission in the Reformed Church fell to the regional Synods. They were reluctant to comply when the 1878 General Synod resolved that "all home missions of the church should be brought under direct control of the General Synod's boar as speedily as possible." When synods finally relinquished control of their mission programs, centralization allowed for productive overall planning and projects such as homes for children and the aged, assistance to Hungarian congregations, new church development, and (after the merger with the Evangelical Synod) work during World War II among Japanese-Americans placed in American concentration camps. Henry Tani, first director of youth ministry in the United Church of Christ, was a layman reached by the last ministry.
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 ANNUAL FUND
We sincerely hope and pray that you, your family, and your community are doing well and staying healthy while navigating this time of pandemic. Even while social distancing, the United Church of Christ is bringing communities together in new, healthy, and meaningful ways. Your ongoing support of the United Church of Christ has already made a big difference in the time of COVID-19:
- You have equipped and trained our churches to host online worship services and meetings
- You are standing with our global mission partners on the front lines of addressing the pandemic and caring for those who become ill across the world
- You have made it possible for thousands of UCC members to call on their representatives and senators to implement just legislation for the most vulnerable among us – the elderly, the sick, the poor
- You showed our churches how to shift from in-person offering plate giving to receiving sustaining gifts electronically and through the mail
Yet, as you know, this is just a small sampling of the work we do together, nearly 5,000 churches and 825,000 people strong. In addition to addressing the pandemic, we need your help to continue to serve our churches and the world. With a gift today, you will be doing things like:
- Providing inspiring, theologically-sound, creative worship resources
- Training new leaders for the church
- Dismantling racism
- Cleaning up the 100 toxic super polluters we recently identified and named publicly
- Equipping our churches to address the drug crisis sweeping our land
We are extremely grateful for your past donations and ask that you renew and consider increasing your support in this critical time with a gift to the UCC Annual Fund today.
For more information on how the United Church of Christ is managing the crisis, please visit https://www.ucc.org/coronavirus.
United Church of Christ Special Mission Offerings sponsor vital ministries that bring hope to people in the U.S. and around the world. Our church has identified four areas where critical human needs exist:
• in places lacking health and educational resources and/or where disaster has struck;
• within systems of injustice which oppress daily life and opportunity;
• in the lives of church leaders without sufficient resources to live with dignity;
• in the nurture of youth and congregations just beginning their lives of faith.
We believe these Special Mission Offerings collectively serve to lift people closer to the abundance and wholeness to which Jesus Christ has called us to work together to bring about.
Channels resources for international programs in health, education and agricultural development, emergency relief, refugee ministries, and both international and domestic disaster response, administered by Wider Church Ministries, Global Sharing of Resources.
This offering is received on the Fourth Sunday of Lent.
Re-imagines and builds the future of the UCC. Shared at the conference and national levels, STC largely supports youth ministries and full-time leaders for new churches in parts of the country where the UCC does not have a strong presence. Its also provides support for existing church's new initiatives.
This offering is received on Pentecost Sunday.
Supports ministries of justice and compassion throughout the United States, including the Council for American Indian Ministries (CAIM), justice and advocacy, and direct service projects supported by Justice and Local Church Ministries.
This offering is received on First Sunday of October as part of World Communion Sunday.
The Christmas Fund for the Veterans of the Cross and the Emergency Fund is a Special Mission Offering that congregations have been supporting for over 100 years. The offering is administered through the United Church Board for Ministerial Assistance, the charitable arm of the Pension Boards. Funds provide direct financial support to those who serve the church and are facing financial difficulties. Active and retired clergy, lay employees, and their surviving spouses may be eligible for the Supplementation of Small Annuities, Supplementation of Health Premiums, Emergency Grants, and/or Christmas “Thank You” Gift Checks.
This offering is received on the Sunday before Christmas.
To order additional Special Mission Offering materials call United Church of Christ Resources at 800.537.3394 or to place or change a standing order call the Office of Philanthropy and Stewardship at 866.822.8224.