Loving the United Church of Christ
Did you know that the United Church of Christ recently celebrated its 60th birthday? On June 25, 1957, this amazing denomination was birthed when two denominations — the Evangelical & Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches —took a magnificent ecumenical leap of faith and merged into one. Embracing the prayer of Jesus in John 17:21, “…that they may all be one..” as their scriptural anchor, the crafters of this historic moment carved out a path where their origin and their future would reflect a commitment to being a “united and uniting” church.
60 years later, the United Church of Christ has just completed its 31st General Synod, that biennial gathering of the denomination where all the wonder and messiness and passionate witness of this beautiful church are on full display. Over several long and very full days, we renewed our covenantal bonds, debated issues ranging from revisions to UCC constitution and by-laws to becoming an immigrant welcoming church and disability justice. We worshiped and prayed and sang and learned and planned. And we caught a glimpse of the United Church of Christ that is wider and deeper than any view we could catch from our own local church or even our Conference. And what a beautiful view it is!
I love the United Church of Christ. I was born and baptized into the United Church of Christ ten years after this denomination’s birth. I grew up in a UCC congregation in a small rural town in Iowa. I was actively involved in another UCC congregation through my college years. I went straight from college to seminary and have served in a variety of UCC settings continuously since then. I’ve been described as a “UCC nerd” and even a UCC “junkie”, and I claim those titles gladly!
I know that we have entered what some term a “post-denominational” era of the church. Those who seek out a church home rarely do so anymore based on any kind of denominational loyalty, but more typically because a particular congregation aligns with their personal values and preferences and needs, regardless of the church’s denominational ‘brand’. This is a time when we are truly called to think ecumenically and expansively, like those brave souls who founded the UCC 60 years ago, looking beyond the artificial confines of individual denominations.
But I still love our denomination, the UCC, and you can’t shake it out of me. I love who we are and who we strive to be. I love our unyielding commitment to social justice and our penchant for being the first denomination to step out on the edge of controversy when we believe God calls us to be on that edge. I love our global presence, informed and invited by worldwide partners we’ve accompanied for decades and longer. I love the diversity of our worship and our people. And I love the way this Church propels us into the public square, demanding more than personal piety.
We’re not perfect in the UCC….far from it! We have a messy polity that lends to stubborn, go-it-alone attitudes and often prevents cohesive action. We imperfectly embody our proud claims of inclusivity and radical hospitality. And sometimes our confident prophetic witness drowns out smaller voices that also deserve to be heard.
Yet for all our flaws, I do love this church. And I feel so very grateful to continue serving within it and alongside all of you.
What do you love about the UCC? How has it shaped and changed your life? I hope you’ll have these conversations in your own congregation, and celebrate with me 60 years of faithful, wonderful ministry in this united and uniting church.
Your partner in service,
Reverend Shari Prestemon