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About UCC

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 churches in the United States. Use the directory on the left of this page to read stories about the history and future of our community.

Intelligent dialogue and a strong independent streak sometimes cause the United Church of Christ (UCC) and its 1.4 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 6,000 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.

The denomination of the United Church of Christ has old, wise roots that extend hundreds of years, yet it often feels new and evolving, full of adolescence. How can that be?

We have a unique history; a story to tell and be part of just as other denominations have. The story was begun long ago by faithful people in other lands, people who loved God and wanted to serve the living Christ as they understood the Gospel instructed them to do. You have probably heard of them; they were the Pilgrims and the Puritans who came to this land in the 1600 and 1700’s. Many of them immigrated to the United States seeking liberty to practice their faith. This early search for freedom continues to shape our beliefs, our actions and the structure of the United Church of Christ to the present day.

We are part of the reformed tradition. In 1517, Martin Luther tacked a list of 95 protests on the door of the local Roman Catholic Church. He felt the Church had made some bad choices and hoped that it could reorient itself in more faithful ways. Many circumstances led to the "protestant" tradition breaking away from the Roman Catholic tradition. Thus, our UCC roots date back to this early act of independence.

Following Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) brought the reformed movement to Switzerland. Settling in Zurich as a priest, Zwingli believed strongly in local governance under the Lordship of Christ and that Scripture, not a Pope, should be the binding authority for both state and church. His theology and the changes it wrought marked a visible breach with the theories and practices of the Roman Catholic Church.

John Calvin (1509-64), a French theologian, followed Zwingli in Switzerland. Calvin was a scholar and author, favoring the organization of ideas and institutions. Beyond reforming the Roman Catholic Church, Calvin wanted to articulate a theology of God. True wisdom comes through knowledge of God and one’s self. Because humans are prone to sin, Scripture is the lens through which we can seek that true knowledge. God is good and the source of all goodness. We are saved by grace and obedience becomes our human response.

As you discovered in the first session on identity, bold moves are not uncommon in the United Church of Christ. We have a legacy of "firsts" which describe our very beginnings. Yet another milestone took place in more recent times. In 1931, the Congregational Church and the Christian Church merged to form the Congregational Christian Church. A few years later in 1934, the Evangelical Synod of North America merged with the Reformed Church in the United States to become the Evangelical and Reformed Church.

In 1957, after many years of prayerful discussion, these young denominations of the Protestant faith joined together as a new denomination, the United Church of Christ. Given this short span of church history, it’s no wonder we still experience growing pains as a denomination; we’re still very young! In 2007, we celebrate the 50th birthday of the United Church of Christ.

True to its independent beginnings, the United Church of Christ is structured a bit differently from other denominations. What binds us together as a denomination is Jesus Christ as head of the church, the "pioneer and perfecter of our faith." We exist as a denomination in covenant with God and with one another as individual congregations. The UCC does not have a hierarchical authority of governance although each local congregation belongs to wider and wider circles of covenantal relationship.

The primary unit of authority resides in the local congregation. Each church calls its own leadership, adopts its own constitution, governs itself independently and sets its own course for the future. That brings each church a great freedom and also a great responsibility to be part of the covenant of discipleship we share.

Just as individual Christians need the fellowship of community to be faithful, local congregations are often gathered into a larger circle called an Association pastored by an Association Minister. An Association provides resources for churches to search and call pastors and leaders, programs to enrich and safeguard congregational life and the means for churches to network with one another, share resources, study, learn and work with one another. Together we can accomplish more of God’s mission.

Associations are often part of a still wider circle called the Conference staffed by Conference Ministers. Conferences comprise larger geographical areas and can also provide a wider range of services and programs. Associations and Conferences are always directed by the needs of the local congregations which they serve. They also draw local churches into wider circles of mission and ministry, where hearts, hands and dollars make a deeper impact. It is often through these wider circles that the United Church of Christ has a global awareness. Associations and Conferences have yearly meetings to conduct business and build fellowship.

The widest circle of covenant is the national body of the United Church of Christ currently at home in the Church House in Cleveland, Ohio. Using funds given by local congregations through Our Church’s Wider Mission, churches are able to participate in global and national mission projects, disaster relief programs, pension and group insurance programs, worship and education resources, grants for church development and growth, all of which bring staff and resources back to the local church in many ways.

The UCC has a Collegium of officers; a circle of leadership with five people who serve as leaders in covenant with one another and all the local churches. These include a General Minister, Associate General Minister, and Executive Ministers for Local Church Ministries, Wider Church Ministries and Justice and Witness Ministries.

General Synod, the gathering of the national church, meets every two years at a different location to conduct the business of the United Church of Christ. Delegates from local congregations bring representation from each Conference and Association to the plenary sessions. The General Synod always speaks "to" the local congregation, not "for" it, leaving each local congregation to determine its own conscience of thought. Items of business are brought by congregations before the General Synod for the good of the denomination.

Just as other denominations, the United Church of Christ has a particular lens through which we read scriptures; a lens of justice in our case. We take to heart the teachings of Jesus Christ about reaching out to people who have been marginalized in society by virtue of discrimination in all its forms. We believe the Gospel compels us to extend the hand of Christian hospitality in the Great Commandment, "you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength and all your mind and you shall love your neighbor as yourself." Each generation of Christians is challenged to discern "who is my neighbor" as they attempt to draw Christ’s circle wider.

Our heritage has been one of stepping out in faith and witness to advocate for people and policies. This has often seemed radical and contrary to current popular opinion.

It was early Congregationalists who befriended and defended Mendi slaves from the Amistad schooner in their quest to be free to return home in 1839; twenty five years before the United States fought the Civil War to end slavery. You might guess that many people who supported slavery were offended by these efforts and based their justification on scripture.

Evangelicals were among the first to establish numerous schools, orphanages, hospitals and churches in the 1800’s to assist the growing influx of German immigrants arriving in the United States. Their schools were the forerunners of the American public school system. Their missionary zeal led to the deaconess hospital movement.

This road of social justice hasn’t been easy to follow; rather a challenge of faith and witness to the world and often one another. Sometimes our covenantal bonds feel stretched to the breaking point!

Our United Church of Christ logo is encircled by the words, "that they may all be one" reflecting Jesus words from John 17:21, if not in mind; then in Spirit. Only through the abiding love of Jesus Christ can we begin to ask the questions:

Who is our neighbor?

What does our neighbor need?"

Can we be part of meeting that need?