Welcome to the United Church of Christ, a community of faith that seeks to respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed. The UCC was founded in 1957 as the union of several different Christian traditions: from the beginning of our history, we were a church that affirmed the ideal that Christians did not always have to agree to live together in communion. Our motto “that they may all be one” is Jesus’ prayer for the unity of the church. The UCC is one of the most diverse Christian denominations in the United States.
About the United Church of Christ
Intelligent dialogue and a strong independent streak sometimes cause the United Church of Christ (UCC) and its 1.2 million members to be called a heady and exasperating mix. The UCC tends to be a mostly progressive denomination that unabashedly engages heart and mind. And yet, the UCC somehow manages to balance congregational autonomy with a strong commitment to unity among its nearly 5,600 congregations despite wide differences among many local congregations on a variety of issues.
While preserving relevant portions of heritage and history dating back to the 16th century, the UCC and its forebears have proven themselves capable of moving forward, tying faith to social justice and shaping cutting edge theology and service in an ever-changing world. Affirming that Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church, the UCC claims as its own the faith of the historic church expressed in the ancient creeds and reclaimed in the basic insights of the Protestant reformers. Yet the UCC also affirms the responsibility of the church in each generation and community to make faith its own in reality of worship, in honesty of thought and expression, and in purity of heart before God. It looks to the Word of God in the Scriptures, and to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit to prosper its creative and redemptive work in the world. One of the UCC’s distinguishing characteristics is its penchant to believe that … God is still speaking, … even when it puts us out there alone. History has shown that, most often, we’re only alone for a while. Besides, we receive so many gifts from our ecumenical partners, being “early” seems to be one of ours.
The UCC recognizes two sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion.
WHAT IS THE UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST?
The United Church of Christ came into being in 1957 with the union of two Protestant churches or “denominations.” They were the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches.
The Congregational Churches were organized when the Pilgrims of Plymouth Plantation (1620) and the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (1629) acknowledged their essential unity in the Cambridge Platform of 1648.
The Reformed Church in the United States traced its beginnings to congregations of German settlers in Pennsylvania founded from 1725 on. Later, its ranks were swelled by Reformed immigrants from Switzerland, Hungary and other countries.
The Christian Churches sprang up in the late 1700s and early 1800s in reaction to the theological and organizational rigidity of the Methodist, Presbyterian and Baptist churches of the time.
The Evangelical Synod of North America traced its beginnings to an association of German Evangelical pastors founded in 1841 in Missouri. The Synod reflected the values of a union in 1817 between Lutheran and Reformed churches in Germany.
Through the years, other groups such as American Indians, Afro-Christians, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, Volga Germans, Armenians and Hispanic Americans joined with one of these antecedent churches. In recent years, members of other traditionsâ€š including Roman Catholic, evangelical and pentecostal Christiansâ€š have found a new home in the UCC, and so have gay and lesbian Christians who have been rejected by other churches. The United Church of Christ celebrates and continues to embrace a broad variety of traditions in its common life.
CHARACTERISTICS of the United Church of Christ
The characteristics of the United Church of Christ can be summarized in part by the key words in the names that formed our union: Christian, Reformed, Congregational, Evangelical.
Christian. By our very name, the United Church of Christ, we declare ourselves to be part of the Body of Christ – the Christian church. We continue the witness of the early disciples to the reality and power of the crucified and risen Christ, Jesus of Nazareth.
Reformed. All four denominations arose from the tradition of the Protestant Reformers: We confess the authority of one God. We affirm the primacy of the Scriptures, the doctrine of justification by faith, the priesthood of all believers, and the principle of Christian freedom. We celebrate two sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper (also called Holy Communion or the Eucharist).
Congregational. The basic unit of the United Church of Christ is the congregation. Members of each congregation covenant with one another and with God as revealed in Jesus Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit. These congregations, in turn, exist in covenantal relationships with one another to form larger structures for more effective work. Our covenanting emphasizes trustful relationships rather than legal agreements.
Evangelical. The primary task of the church is the proclamation of the Gospel or (in Greek) evangel. The Gospel literally means the “Good News” of God’s love revealed with power in Jesus Christ. We proclaim this Gospel by word and deed to individual persons and to society. This proclamation is the heart of the leiturgia in Greek, the “work of the people” in daily and Sunday worship. We gather for the worship of God, and through each week, we engage in the service of humankind.
SIX HISTORIC EMPHASES of the UCC
We are a people of God’s extravagant welcome
Jesus lived and breathed gracious hospitality. Even though there were powerful people who opposed Jesus’ extravagant welcome, he still embraced those who were often shunned.
We belong to Christ
Simply put, “we” means that you are not alone. You are part of a larger “we” that God has united in this Church. “Belongs” is something more than belief; it’s a vital relationship.
We are a people of covenant: a united and uniting church
What is it that holds people together even in the midst of all kinds of differences? When people in the United Church of Christ talk about how they relate to God, to each other, other churches, other religions, even creation they often use the word “covenant.”
We are one in Baptism and at the Table
Through water at baptism, God embraces you no matter who you are and brings you into Christ’s Church. At Holy Communion, we share a simple meal of bread and wine. Here, we experience the presence of Christ again.
We thank God by working for a just and loving world
The UCC connects caring and acting, gratitude and giving, peace and justice, service and advocacy in a life of prayer and justice. We don’t usually settle for things to just merrily-roll-along when our world is hurting.
We listen for the Stillspeaking God
If you think God’s not finished with you yet, guess what? God’s not even finished with God yet. God isn’t finished with you, or finished with the church or our world. If you are open, if you listen carefully, you’ll discover what God is saying to this generation at this time in history.
THE UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST SYMBOL
What does it mean?
The symbol of the United Church of Christ comprises a crown, cross, and orb enclosed within a double oval bearing the name of the church and the prayer of Jesus’ “that they may all be one” (John 17:21). It is based on an ancient Christian symbol.
The crown symbolizes the sovereignty of Christ who expresses God’s power through love.
The cross recalls the suffering of Christ with his arms outstretched on the wood of the cross for the salvation of humanity.
The orb represents the world. It is divided but at the same time whole, and the cross of Jesus reaches into its depths. The division of the orb into three parts also reminds us of Jesus’ call to be his “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Jesus wants us to bring God’s love to every corner of the earth.
The prayer reflects our historic commitment to the restoration of unity among the separated churches of Jesus Christ, and our faith that the day will come when all humanity will be gathered by God into one family.
What does it mean?
The comma is the symbol of our “God is Still Speaking” campaign is an outreach through television, radio, blogs, web communities and the hospitality offered by thousands of UCC congregations throughout the country. The symbol was inspired by legendary actor and singer Gracie Allen (1895-1964) who said, “Never place a period where God has placed a comma.” God has spoken, but God is still speaking.
The comma connects us through the centuries to the words of John Robinson, one of the UCC’s ancestors in faith, who told the Pilgrims before they embarked on their journey across the sea that God “hath yet more truth and light to break forth from his holy Word.”
WHAT WE BELIEVE
We can tell you more about the United Church of Christ with the help of seven phrases from Scripture and Tradition which express our commitments.
That they may all be one. [John 17:21] This motto of the United Church of Christ reflects the spirit of unity on which it is based and points toward future efforts to heal the divisions in the body of Christ. We are a uniting church as well as a united church.
In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity. The unity that we seek requires neither an uncritical acceptance of any point of view, nor rigid formulation of doctrine. It does require mutual understanding and agreement as to which aspects of the Christian faith and life are essential.
The unity of the church is not of its own making. It is a gift of God. But expressions of that unity are as diverse as there are individuals. The common thread that runs through all is love.
Testimonies of faith, not tests of faith. Because faith can be expressed in many different ways, the United Church of Christ has no formula that is a test of faith. Down through the centuries, however, Christians have shared their faith with one another through creeds, confessions, catechisms and other statements of faith. Historic statements such as the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Evangelical Catechism, the Augsburg Confession, the Cambridge Platform and the Kansas City Statement of Faith are valued in our church as authentic testimonies of faith. In 1959, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ adopted a Statement of Faith prepared especially for congregations of the United Church. Many of us use this statement as a common affirmation of faith in worship and as a basis for study.
There is yet more truth and light to break forth from God’s holy word. This affirmation by one of the founders of the Congregational tradition assumes the primacy of the Bible as a source for understanding the Good News and as a foundation for all statements of faith. It recognizes that the Bible, though written in specific historical times and places, still speaks to us in our present condition. It declares that the study of the scriptures is not limited by past interpretations, but it is pursued with the expectation of new insights and God’s help for living today.
The Priesthood of All Believers. All members of the United Church of Christ are called to minister to others and to participate as equals in the common worship of God, each with direct access to the mercies of God through personal prayer and devotion.
Recognition is given to those among us who have received special training in pastoral, priestly, educational and administrative functions, but these persons are regarded as servants rather than as persons in authority. Their task is to guide, to instruct, to enable the ministry of all Christians rather than to do the work of ministry for us.
Responsible Freedom. As individual members of the Body of Christ, we are free to believe and act in accordance with our perception of God’s will for our lives. But we are called to live in a loving, covenantal relationship with one another gathering in communities of faith, congregations of believers, local churches.
Each congregation or local church is free to act in accordance with the collective decision of its members, guided by the working of the Spirit in the light of the scriptures. But it also is called to live in a covenantal relationship with other congregations for the sharing of insights and for cooperative action under the authority of Christ.
Likewise, associations of churches, conferences, the General Synod and the churchwide “covenanted ministries” of the United Church of Christ are free to act in their particular spheres of responsibility. Yet all are constrained by love to live in a covenantal relationship with one another and with the local churches in order to make manifest the unity of the body of Christ and thus to carry out God’s mission in the world more effectively.
The members, congregations, associations, conferences, General Synod, and covenanted ministries are free in relation to the world. We affirm that the authority of God as revealed in Jesus Christ and interpreted with the aid of the Holy Spirit stands above and judges all human culture, institutions and laws. But we recognize our calling both as individuals and as the church to live in the world:
- To proclaim in word and action the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
- To work for reconciliation and the unity of the broken Body of Christ.
- To seek justice and liberation for all.
This is the challenge of the United Church of Christ.
STATEMENT OF FAITH of the United Church of Christ
WE BELIEVE IN YOU, O God, Eternal Spirit, God of our Savior Jesus Christ and our God, and to your deeds we testify:
YOU CALL the worlds into being, create persons in your own image, and set before each one the ways of life and death.
YOU SEEK in holy love to save all people from aimlessness and sin.
YOU JUDGE people and nations by your righteous will declared through prophets and apostles.
IN JESUS CHRIST, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Savior, you have come to us and shared our common lot, conquering sin and death and reconciling the world to yourself.
YOU BESTOW upon us your Holy Spirit, creating and renewing the churchof Jesus Christ, binding in covenant faithful people of all ages, tongues, and races.
YOU CALL us into your church to accept the cost and joy of discipleship, to be your servants in the service of others, to proclaim the gospel to all the world and resist the powers of evil, to share in Christ’s baptism and eat at his table, to join him in his passion and victory.
YOU PROMISE to all who trust you forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace, courage in the struggle for justice and peace, your presence in trial and rejoicing, and eternal life in your realm which has no end.
BLESSING AND HONOR, GLORY AND POWER BE UNTO YOU.