How the United Church of Christ came to be
The origins of the United Church of Christ go back to 1620, when the Mayflower Pilgrims (Separatists from the Church of England) formed a religious colony in Plymouth, Massachusetts. As other religious reformers joined them in the New World, they took the radical step of organizing their congregations democratically rather than hierarchically. These early Congregationalists, as they were called, set out to create a model for a just society lived in the presence of God. Their leader, John Winthrop, prayed that “we shall be as a city upon a hill … the eyes of all people upon us.” Congregationalism spread rapidly throughout New England and was carried west as the frontier expanded.
In the meantime, other American settlers were growing dissatisfied with the theological and organizational rigidity of the Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian denominations of the time. Several reformers started new churches were the Bible was the sole source of teaching and following Jesus was the sole qualification for membership. This movement of both European- and African-American congregations congealed into the Christian denomination.
In 1931, the Congregational and Christian denominations merged to form the Congregational Christian denomination.
As large numbers of Germans immigrated to the U.S., German settlers in Pennsylvania organized the Reformed denomination in 1725, which then received Reformed immigrants from Switzerland, Hungary and other countries. And German Christians in Missouri came together for the Evangelical Synod of North America, which united both Lutheran and Reformed Christians. In 1934, the Reformed Church in the United States merged with the Evangelical Synod of North America to form the Evangelical and Reformed Denomination.
Both the Congregational Christian and the Evangelical and Reformed denominations envisioned a day when various Christian denominations could work together and unite, in hopes of reversing the splits that had divided Christianity since the Reformation. These two denominations joined together in 1957, forming the United Church of Christ.
Because of its democratic organizational structure, concern for the world, and emphasis on the all-embracing love of God, the UCC and its precursor denominations have often broken new ground in such areas as racial justice, gender equality, acceptance of gays and lesbians, and opening avenues for peace. Among the “UCC firsts” is one of our own congregation’s members, Antoinette Brown Blackwell, who was born in a log cabin in Henrietta and became the first woman to be ordained into Christian ministry–way back in 1853.
You can read about lots of other interesting UCC Firsts at https://www.ucc.org/about-us/ucc-firsts.html
The UCC Today
The UCC today is a mix of congregations of all sizes, worship styles, theological slants, and ethnic backgrounds. We try to live out one of our mottos: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials diversity, in all things charity.”
UCC, I Love You
Here’s a “love letter” put together from the statements of various members of the UCC.
How do I love you, United Church of Christ? As the poet said, let me count the ways:
* You are not only a united, but also a uniting church.
* You welcome me, and all newcomers, into fellowship without any preconditions.
* You not only accept me just as I am, you affirm who I am, no matter what society says.
* You let me think for myself, and speak for myself, because you impose no tests of belief.
* You share the Good News without hesitation, but also without compulsion.
* You welcome me, and everyone else who believes in Jesus, to the Lord’s Table.
* You encourage me, and every member, to participate in the business of our congregation.
* You bind me gently in covenantal relationships with my congregation, Association, and Conference.
* You honor both the ministry of the laity and the calling of the clergy.
* You open the church doors to all the hurts and joys of the surrounding neighborhood.
* You join with other communities of faith in witness and service to the community and nation.
* You initiate and maintain partnerships with Christian churches around the world.
* Your compassion for those who suffer is only exceeded by your passion for justice and peace.
* You will never wither or weaken because you are always attentive to the stillspeaking God.
UCC I love U!
The UCC’s Defining Values
Here’s a link that explains the core values of the United Church of Christ, which challenge us to continually open to our still-speaking God. uccfiles.com/pdf/UCCVisionPlan.pdf