United Church of Christ
|United Church of Christ|
The official logo of the United Church of Christ.
Churches Uniting In Christ|
National Council of Churches
World Communion of Reformed Churches
World Council of Churches
|Merger of||Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches|
|Members||1 million adult adherents (2015 estimate), 943,521 members (2015 estimate)|
The United Church of Christ (UCC) is a mainline Protestant Christian denomination, with historical confessional roots in the Reformed, Congregational and Lutheran traditions, and "with over 5,000 churches and nearly one million members". The United Church of Christ is in historical continuation of the General Council of Congregational Christian churches founded under the influence of New England Puritanism. The Evangelical and Reformed Church and the General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches united in 1957 to form the UCC. These two denominations, which were themselves the result of earlier unions, had their roots in Congregational, Christian, Evangelical, and Reformed denominations. At the end of 2014, the UCC's 5,116 congregations claimed 979,239 members, primarily in the United States. In 2015, Pew Research estimated that .4%, or 1 million adult adherents, of the U.S population self-identify with the United Church of Christ.
The UCC maintains full communion with other mainline Protestant denominations. Many of its congregations choose to practice open communion. The denomination places high emphasis on participation in worldwide interfaith and ecumenical efforts. The national settings of the UCC have historically favored liberal views on social issues, such as civil rights, LGBT rights, women's rights, and abortion. However, United Church of Christ congregations are independent in matters of doctrine and ministry and may not necessarily support the national body's theological or moral stances. It is self-described as "an extremely pluralistic and diverse denomination".
The United Church of Christ was formed when two Protestant churches, the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches united in 1957. This union adopted an earlier general statement of unity between the two denominations, the 1943 "Basis of Union". At this time, the UCC claimed about two million members. In 1959, in its General Synod, the UCC adopted a broad "Statement of Faith". The UCC adopted its constitution and by-laws in 1961.
There is no UCC hierarchy or body that can impose any doctrine or worship format onto the individual congregations within the UCC. While individual congregations are supposed to hold guidance from the general synod "in the highest regard", the UCC's constitution requires that the "autonomy of the Local Church is inherent and modifiable only by its own action".
Within this locally focused structure, however, there are central beliefs common to the UCC. The UCC often uses four words to describe itself: "Christian, Reformed, Congregational and Evangelical". While the UCC refers to its evangelical characteristics, it springs from (and is considered part of) mainline Protestantism as opposed to Evangelicalism. The word evangelical in this case more closely corresponds with the original Lutheran origins meaning "of the gospel" as opposed to the Evangelical use of the word. UCC is generally theologically liberal, and the denomination notes that the "Bible, though written in specific historical times and places, still speaks to us in our present condition".
The motto of the United Church of Christ comes from John 17:21: "That they may all be one". The denomination's official literature uses broad doctrinal parameters, emphasizing freedom of individual conscience and local church autonomy.
In the United Church of Christ, creeds, confessions, and affirmations of faith function as "testimonies of faith" around which the church gathers rather than as "tests of faith" rigidly prescribing required doctrinal consent. As expressed in the United Church of Christ constitution:
The United Church of Christ acknowledges as its sole Head, Jesus Christ, Son of God and Savior. It acknowledges as kindred in Christ all who share in this confession. 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. It 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. It affirms the responsibility of the Church in each generation to make this faith its own in reality of worship, in honesty of thought and expression, and in purity of heart before God. In accordance with the teaching of our Lord and the practice prevailing among evangelical Christians, it recognizes two sacraments: Baptism and the Lord's Supper or Holy Communion.
The denomination, therefore, looks to a number of historic confessions as expressing the common faith around which the church gathers, including:
- The Apostles' Creed,
- The Nicene Creed,
- The Heidelberg Catechism (inherited from both the German Reformed and German Evangelical heritages),
- Luther's Small Catechism (inherited from the German Evangelical heritage),
- The Kansas City Statement of Faith (a 1913 statement in the Congregationalist tradition),
- The Evangelical Catechism (a 1927 catechism in the German Evangelical tradition), and
- The Statement of Faith of the United Church of Christ (written at the founding of the denomination).
Studies and surveys of beliefs
In 2001, Hartford Institute for Religion Research did a "Faith Communities Today" (FACT) study that included a survey of United Church of Christ beliefs. Among the results of this were findings that in the UCC, 5.6% of the churches responding to the survey described their members as "very liberal or progressive," 3.4% as "very conservative," 22.4% as "somewhat liberal or progressive," and 23.6% as "somewhat conservative." Those results suggested a nearly equal balance between liberal and conservative congregations. The self-described "moderate" group, however, was the largest at 45%. Other statistics found by the Hartford Institute show that 53.2% of members say "the Bible" is the highest source of authority, 16.1% say the "Holy Spirit," 9.2% say "Reason," 6.3% say "Experience," and 6.1% say "Creeds."
David Roozen, director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research who has studied the United Church of Christ, said surveys show the national church's pronouncements are often more liberal than the views in the pews but that its governing structure is set up to allow such disagreements. Starting in 2003, a task force commissioned by General Synod 24 studied the diverse worship habits of UCC churches. The study can be found online and reflects statistics on attitudes toward worship, baptism, and communion, such as "Laity (70%) and clergy (90%) alike overwhelmingly describe worship 'as an encounter with God that leads to doing God's work in the world.'" "95 percent of our congregations use the Revised Common Lectionary in some way in planning or actual worship and preaching" and "96 percent always or almost always have a sermon, 86 percent have a time with children, 95 percent have a time of sharing joys and concerns, and 98 percent include the Prayer of Our Savior/Lord's Prayer." Clergy and laity were invited to select two meanings of baptism that they emphasize. They were also to suggest the meaning that they thought their entire church emphasized. Baptism as an "entry into the Church Universal" was the most frequent response. Clergy and laity were invited to identify two meanings of Holy Communion that they emphasize. While clergy emphasized Holy Communion as "a meal in which we encounter God's living presence," laity emphasized "a remembrance of Jesus' last supper, death, and resurrection."
Relationships with other denominations
One of the UCC's central beliefs is that it is "called to be a united and uniting church." Because of this, the UCC is involved in Churches Uniting in Christ, an organization seeking to establish full communion among nine Protestant denominations in America. Currently, the UCC has entered into an ecumenical partnership with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and through A Formula of Agreement, signed in 1997, is in full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA), and the Reformed Church in America. Internationally, the UCC has been in full communion with the Union Evangelischer Kirchen (Union of Evangelical Churches) in Germany since 1981. The UEK is an organization of 13 Reformed and United Landeskirchen (regional churches) within the federation of Protestant churches known as the Evangelical Church of Germany.
In 1982 the World Council of Churches published "Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry", a document that has served as a foundation for many ecumenical recognition agreements. As a WCC member church, the United Church of Christ issued a response as part of the process to work toward a statement of common theological perspectives.
On October 17, 2015, representatives of the United Church of Christ and the United Church of Canada came together in Niagara Falls, Ontario to sign an historic full communion agreement. This agreement had been approved at the 30th General Synod of the UCC and the 42nd General Council of the United Church of Canada in the summer of 2015 and signifies the mutual desire of both denominations to work in cooperation and openness in the areas of worship, mission, witness, ministry and the proclamation of a common faith. This agreement will allow the two denominations to recognize the validity of each other's sacraments and ordination of ministers and opens up the possibility of ministers being called to serve in congregations of either denomination.
Relationships with other religions
The United Church of Christ facilitates bilateral dialogues with many faith groups, including members of the Jewish and Muslim communities. This includes membership in the National Muslim-Christian Initiative.
Quoting the United Church of Christ Constitution, "The basic unit of the life and organization of the United Church of Christ is the local church." An interplay of wider interdependence with local autonomy characterizes the organization of the UCC. Each "setting" of the United Church of Christ relates covenantally with other settings, their actions speaking "to but not for" each other.
The ethos of United Church of Christ organization is considered "covenantal." The structure of UCC organization is a mixture of the congregational and presbyterian polities of its predecessor denominations. With ultimate authority given to the local church, many see United Church of Christ polity as closer to congregationalism; however, with ordination and pastoral oversight of licensed, commissioned and ordained ministers conducted by Associations, and General Synod representation given to Conferences instead of congregational delegates, certain similarities to presbyterian polity are also visible.
The UCC's "Covenantal Polity" is best expressed in Article III of the 1999 revision of the Bylaws and Constitution of the United Church of Christ. "Within the United Church of Christ, the various expressions of the church relate to each other in a covenantal manner. Each expression of the church has responsibilities and rights in relation to the others, to the end that the whole church will seek God's will and be faithful to God's mission. Decisions are made in consultation and collaboration among the various parts of the structure. As members of the Body of Christ, each expression of the church is called to honor and respect the work and ministry of each other part. Each expression of the church listens, hears, and carefully considers the advise, counsel and requests of others. In this covenant, the various expressions of the United Church of Christ seek to walk together in all God's ways."
The basic unit of the United Church of Christ is the local church (also often called the congregation). Local churches have the freedom to govern themselves, establishing their own internal organizational structures and theological positions. Thus, local church governance varies widely throughout the denomination. Some congregations, mainly of Congregational or Christian Connection origin, have numerous relatively independent "boards" that oversee different aspects of church life, with annual or more frequent meetings (often conducted after a worship service on a Sunday afternoon) of the entire congregation to elect officers, approve budgets and set congregational policy. Other churches, mainly of Evangelical and Reformed descent, have one central "church council" or "consistory" that handles most or all affairs in a manner somewhat akin to a Presbyterian session, while still holding an annual congregational meeting for the purpose of electing officers and/or ratifying annual budgets. Still others, usually those congregations started after the 1957 merger, have structures incorporating aspects of both, or other alternative organizational structures entirely.
In almost all cases, though, the selection of a minister for the congregation is, in keeping with the Reformed tradition of the "priesthood of all believers," vested in a congregational meeting, held usually after a special ad hoc committee searches on the congregation's behalf for a candidate. Members of the congregation vote for or against the committee's recommended candidate for the pastorate, usually immediately after the candidate has preached a "trial sermon;" candidates are usually presented one at a time and not as a field of several to be selected from. Typically the candidate must secure anywhere from 60 to 90 percent affirmative votes from the membership before the congregation issues a formal call to the candidate; this depends on the provisions in the congregation's particular constitution and/or by-laws.
Local churches have, in addition to the freedom to hire ministers and lay staff, the sole power to dismiss them also. However, unlike purely congregational polities, the association has the main authority to ordain clergy and grant membership, or "standing," to clergy coming to a church from another association or another denomination (this authority is exercised "in cooperation with" the person being ordained/called and the local church that is calling them). Such standing, among other things, permits a minister to participate in the UCC clergy pension and insurance plans. Local churches are usually aided in searching for and calling ordained clergy through a denominationally coordinated "search-and-call" system, usually facilitated by staff at the conference level. However, the local church may, for various reasons, opt not to avail itself of the conference placement system, and is free to do so without fear of retaliation, which would likely occur in synodical or presbyterian polities. However, many UCC congregations have constitutions that mandate that their called pastor be an ordained minister approved by the association, while others require that the call of a pastor be approved by the association committee on ministry. Participation in the search and call process is usually considered a sign of the congregation's loyalty to the larger denomination and its work.
At the end of 2008, 5,320 churches were reported to be within the UCC, averaging 210 members. Sixteen churches were reported to have over 2,000 members, but 64% had fewer than 200 members. The latter statistic probably indicates where most of the denomination's declining membership has occurred, in formerly mid-sized congregations between 200 and 500 members or so. The reduction in a typical church's size has also meant that, increasingly, many congregations are no longer able, as they once were, to afford a full-time, seminary-educated pastor, and that some of them have to rely on alternatives such as one of their members serving the church under a license, the use of recently retired clergy on a short-term basis, or ordained ministers serving the church on a half-time (or less) basis while earning their primary income from chaplaincies or other occupations. While this has been occurring to a lesser degree in other mainline denominations as well, the UCC's congregational polity allows for churches to adopt such approaches without ecclesiological restraint, as might happen in a more hierarchical denominational structure.
Local churches are typically gathered together in regional bodies called Associations. Local churches often give financial support to the association to support its activities. The official delegates of an association are all ordained clergy within the bounds of the association together with lay delegates sent from each local church. The association's main ecclesiastical function is to provide primary oversight and authorization of ordained and other authorized ministers; it also is the ecclesiastical link between the local congregation and the larger UCC. The association ordains new ministers, holds ministers' standing in covenant with local churches, and is responsible for disciplinary action; typically a specific ministerial committee handles these duties. Also, an association, again with the assistance of the ministerial committee, admits and removes local congregations from membership in the UCC.
Associations meet at least once annually to elect officers and board members and set budgets for the association's work; fellowship and informational workshops are often conducted during those meetings, which may take place more frequently according to local custom. In a few instances where there is only one association within a conference, or where the associations within a conference have agreed to dissolve, the Conference (below) assumes the association's functions.
Local churches also are members of larger Conferences, of which there are 38 in the United Church of Christ. A conference typically contains multiple associations; if no associations exist within its boundaries, the conference exercises the functions of the association as well. Conferences are supported financially through local churches' contribution to "Our Church's Wider Mission" (formerly "Our Christian World Mission"), the United Church of Christ's denominational support system; unlike most associations, they usually have permanent headquarters and professional staff. The primary ecclesiastical function of a conference is to provide the primary support for the search-and-call process by which churches select ordained leadership; the conference minister and/or his or her associates perform this task in coordination with the congregation's pulpit search committee (see above) and the association to which the congregation belongs (particularly its ministerial committee). Conferences also provide significant programming resources for their constituent churches, such as Christian education resources and support, interpretation of the larger UCC's mission work, and church extension within their bounds (the latter usually conducted in conjunction with the national Local Church Ministries division).
Conferences, like associations, are congregationally representative bodies, with each local church sending ordained and lay delegates. Most current UCC conferences were formed in the several years following the consummation of the national merger in 1961, and in some instances were the unions of former Congregational Christian conferences (led by superintendents) and Evangelical and Reformed synods (led by presidents, some of whom served only on a part-time basis). A few have had territorial adjustments since then; only one conference, the Calvin Synod, composed of Hungarian-heritage Reformed congregations, received exemption from the geographical alignments, with its churches scattered from Connecticut westward to California and southward to Florida. Only one conference has ever withdrawn completely from the denomination: Puerto Rico, expressing disapproval of national UCC tolerance of homosexuality (as well as that of a large number of mainland congregations), departed the denomination in 2006, taking all of its churches.
The denomination's churchwide deliberative body is the General Synod, which meets every two years. The General Synod consists of delegates elected from the Conferences (distributed proportionally by conference size) together with the members of the United Church of Christ Board (see below), the officers of the denomination, and representatives of so-called "Historically Underrepresented Groups," such as the disabled, young adults, racial minorities, and gay and lesbian persons.
While General Synod provides the most visible voice of the "stance of the denomination" on any particular issue, the covenantal polity of the denomination means that General Synod speaks to local churches, associations, and conferences, but not for them. Thus, the other settings of the church are allowed to hold differing views and practices on all non-constitutional matters.
General Synod considers three kinds of resolutions:
- Pronouncements: A Pronouncement is a statement of Christian conviction on a matter of moral or social principle and has been adopted by a two-thirds vote of a General Synod.
- Proposals for Action: A Proposal for Action is a recommendation for specific directional statements and goals implementing a Pronouncement. A Proposal for Action normally accompanies a Pronouncement. (See link above regarding Pronouncements.)
- Resolutions and Other Formal Motions Which may consist of the following three types:
- Resolutions of Witness: A Resolution of Witness is an expression of the General Synod concerning a moral, ethical, or religious matter confronting the church, the nation, or the world, adopted for the guidance of the officers, Associated, or Affiliated Ministries, or other bodies as defined in Article VI of the Bylaws of the United Church of Christ; the consideration of local churches, Associations, Conferences, and other bodies related to the United Church of Christ; and for a Christian witness to the world. It represents agreement by at least two-thirds of the delegates voting that the view expressed is based on Christian conviction and is a part of their witness to Jesus Christ.
- Prudential Resolutions: A Prudential Resolution establishes policy, institutes or revises structure or procedures, authorizes programs, approves directions, or requests actions by a majority vote..
- Other Formal Motions
National offices: covenanted, affiliated, and associated ministries
As agents of the General Synod, the denomination maintains national offices comprising four "covenanted ministries", one "associated ministry", and one "affiliated ministry". The current system of national governance was adopted in 1999 as a restructure of the national setting, consolidating numerous agencies, boards, and "instrumentalities" that the UCC, in the main, had inherited from the Congregational Christian Churches at the time of merger, along with several created during the denomination's earlier years.
These structures carry out the work of the General Synod and support the local churches, associations, and conferences. The head executives of these ministries comprise the five member Collegium of Officers, which are the non-hierarchical official officers of the denomination. (The Office of General Ministries is represented by both the General Minister, who serves as President of the denomination, and the Associate General minister). According to the UCC office of communication press release at the time of restructure, "In the new executive arrangement, the five will work together in a Collegium of Officers, meeting as peers. This setting is designed to provide an opportunity for mutual responsibility and reporting, as well as ongoing assessment of UCC programs." The main offices of the Covenanted ministries are at the "Church House", the United Church of Christ national headquarters at 700 Prospect Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio.
- The Office of General Ministries (OGM) is responsible for administration, common services (technology, physical plant, etc.), covenantal relations (ecumenical relations, formal relations to other settings of the church), financial development, and "proclamation, identity and communication". The current General Minister and President is the Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer.
- Local Church Ministries (LCM) is responsible for evangelism, stewardship and church finance, worship and education, Pilgrim Press and United Church Resources (the publishing house of the United Church of Christ), and parish life and leadership (authorization, clergy development, seminary relations, parish leadership, etc.). The position of Executive Minister of Local Church Ministries is vacant.
- Wider Church Ministries (WCM) is responsible for partner relations* (relations with churches around the world, missionary work, etc.), local church relations* (as relates to world ministries and missions), global sharing of resources, health and wholeness ministry, and global education and advocacy*. The starred '*' ministries are carried out through the Common Global Ministries Board, a joint instrumentality of the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), based in Indianapolis, Indiana. WCM is sometimes referred to as the United Church Board for World Ministries, the historic successor to the Congregationalist American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions and the E&R affiliated Board of International Missions The current Executive Minister for Wider Church Ministries is the Rev. Rev. Jim Moos.
- Justice and Witness Ministries (JWM) is responsible for ministries related to economic justice, human rights, justice for women and transformation, public life and social policy, and racial justice. In addition to its offices in Cleveland, JWM also maintains an office on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. The current Executive Minister for Justice and Witness Ministries is Rev. Traci D. Blackmon. JWM also maintains an office called "Minister for Children, Families and Human Sexuality Advocacy" that promotes the Our Whole Lives sex education curriculum.
The Pension Boards of the United Church of Christ (PB-UCC) operates the employee benefits systems for all settings of the United Church of Christ, including health, dental, and optical insurance, retirement annuity/pension systems, disability and life insurance, and ministerial assistance programs. The Pension Boards offices are located in New York City, where the headquarters of all UCC national bodies had been located prior to their move to Ohio in the early 1990s.
The Insurance Board is a nonprofit corporation collectively "owned" by the Conferences of the United Church of Christ. It is run by a president/CEO and a 19-member Board, with the full corporate board consisting of Conference, Region and Presbytery ministers as well as laypeople. The IB administers a property insurance, liability insurance, and risk management program serving the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church(USA), and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) churches and related entities.
United Church Funds (UCF), formerly known as The United Church Foundation, provides low cost, socially responsible, professionally managed Common Investment Funds (CIFs) and other trustee services to any setting of the United Church of Christ. United Church Funds' offices are also located in New York City.
U.S. civil rights movement
Everett Parker of the United Church of Christ Office of Communication—at the request of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.—organized UCC churches during 1959 against television stations in the southern United States that were imposing news blackouts of information pertaining to the then growing U.S. civil rights movement. The UCC later won a lawsuit that resulted in the federal court decision that the broadcast air waves are public, not private, property, a decision leading toward the proliferation of people of color in television studios and newsrooms.
The UCC national body has been active in numerous traditionally liberal social causes, including support for abortion rights, the United Farm Workers, and the Wilmington Ten. The pro-life ministry in the UCC is done by the United Church of Christ Friends for Life group.
Churches in the UCC can solemnize same-sex unions. The resolution "In support of equal marriage rights for all", supported by an estimated 80 percent of delegates to the church's 2005 General Synod, made the United Church of Christ the first major Christian deliberative body in the U.S. to endorse "equal marriage rights for all people, regardless of gender," and now is the second largest Christian denominational entity in the U.S. supporting same-sex marriage (after Presbyterian Church (USA)). The resolution was one of 32 actions by General Synod and other national bodies, beginning in 1969, which support civil rights for LGBT citizens and urge their full inclusion in the life of the church. The UCC's Open and Affirming movement, funded by the UCC Open and Affirming Coalition, is the largest LGBT-welcoming-church program in the world with more than 1,100 congregations and 275,000 members.
On April 28, 2014, the UCC filed a lawsuit against the state of North Carolina for not permitting same-sex marriage; this lawsuit is America's first faith-based challenge to same-sex marriage bans. In the lawsuit, the church argues that prohibiting same sex-marriages violates the freedom of religion, as the ban which would prohibit these unions would force ministers in favor of same-sex marriages to not act on their beliefs.
Same-sex marriage is not supported by some UCC congregations, although the practice is rapidly gaining ground. Opponents included the Iglesia Evangelica Unida de Puerto Rico (United Evangelical Church of Puerto Rico) which voted by a 3–1 margin to withdraw from the UCC after the 2005 General Synod vote. The Biblical Witness Fellowship, a small conservative evangelical organization within the denomination, opposes the denomination's growing support for same-sex relationships.
United Church of Christ was recognized in the Apology Resolution to Native Hawaiians. In the Resolution, Congress recognized the reconciliation made by the UCC in the Eighteenth General Synod for their actions in overthrowing the Kingdom of Hawaii.
Statement on the relationship between Israel and Palestinians
United Church of Christ General Synod XXV also passed two resolutions concerning the conflict between Israel and Palestinians in the Middle East. One calls for the use of economic leverage to promote peace in the Middle East, which can include measures such as government lobbying, selective investment, shareholder lobbying, and selective divestment from companies which profit from the continuing Israel-Palestine conflict. The other resolution, named "Tear Down the Wall", calls upon Israel to remove the separation barrier between Israel and the West Bank. Opponents of the "Tear Down the Wall" resolution have noted that the wall's purpose is to prevent terrorist attacks, and that the resolution does not call for a stop to these attacks. The Simon Wiesenthal Center stated that the July 2005 UCC resolutions on divestment from Israel were "functionally anti-Semitic". The Anti-Defamation League stated that those same resolutions are "disappointing and disturbing" and "deeply troubling". In addition to the concerns raised about the merits of the "economic leverage" resolution, additional concerns were raised about the process in which the General Synod approved the resolution. Michael Downs of the United Church of Christ Pension Boards (who would be charged with implementing any divestment of the UCC's Pension Board investments) wrote a letter to UCC President John H. Thomas expressing concern "with the precedent-setting implications of voted actions, integrity of process and trust."
The United Church of Christ, along with the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, created the Our Whole Lives curriculum (commonly known as OWL), which is a lifespan, comprehensive, inclusive, and developmentally appropriate sexuality education program. Our Whole Lives includes modules for Grades K-1, 4-6, 7-9, 10-12, and for Young Adults and Adults. The Our Whole Lives curricula are secular. Congregations who use this program often also use "Sexuality and Our Faith" for the age level they are offering. Sexuality and Our Faith are separate manuals which bring in the UUA principles and scripture used in the UCC to support our teachings. The curriculum is based on guidelines provided by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.
"God Is Still Speaking," identity campaign
At the 2003 General Synod, the United Church of Christ began a campaign with "emphasis on expanding the UCC's name-brand identity through modern advertising and marketing." Formally launched during the advent season in 2004, the campaign included coordinated program of evangelism and hospitality training for congregations paired with national and local television "brand" advertising, known as the "God is Still Speaking" campaign or "The Stillspeaking Initiative." The initiative was themed around the quotation "Never place a period where God has placed a comma," and campaign materials, including print and broadcast advertising as well as merchandise, featured the quote and a large "comma," with a visual theme in red and black. United Church of Christ congregations were asked to "opt in" to the campaign, signifying their support as well as their willingness to receive training on hospitality and evangelism. An evangelism event was held in Atlanta in August 2005 to promote the campaign. Several renewal groups panned the ad campaign for its efforts to create an ONA/progressive perception of the UCC identity despite its actual majority in centrist/moderate viewpoints. According to John Evans, associate professor of sociology at University of California, San Diego, "The UCC is clearly going after a certain niche in American society who are very progressive and have a particular religious vision that includes inclusiveness...They are becoming the religious brand that is known for this."
The church's diversity and adherence to covenantal polity (rather than government by regional elders or bishops) give individual congregations a great deal of freedom in the areas of worship, congregational life, and doctrine. Nonetheless, some critics, mainly social and theological conservatives, are vocal about the UCC's theology, political identity, and cultural milieu.
Criticism over same-sex marriage
Following the decision of General Synod 25 in 2005 to endorse same-sex marriage, the UCC's Puerto Rico Conference left the church, citing differences over "the membership and ministry of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Christians." A number of conservative congregations also ended their affiliation with the denomination after the decision in favor of same-sex marriage.
Barack Obama and the UCC
A controversy arose over U.S. President Barack Obama speaking at UCC gatherings, but the IRS found that the UCC had adhered to the prohibition against churches campaigning for political candidates.
In 2007, longtime UCC member Barack Obama (then a Democratic Presidential candidate) spoke at the UCC's Iowa Conference meeting and at the General Synod 26. A complaint filed with the Internal Revenue Service alleged that the UCC promoted Obama's candidacy by having him speak at those meetings.
Barry Lynn, an ordained UCC minister and the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, stated that although he personally would not have invited a Presidential candidate to speak at the meetings, he believed "the Internal Revenue Service permits this to happen." The church had consulted lawyers prior to the event to make sure they were following the law and had instructed those in attendance that no Obama campaign material would be allowed in the meeting. Nevertheless, in February 2008, the IRS sent a letter to the church stating that it was launching an inquiry into the matter.
On February 27, 2008, in an open letter to UCC members, Rev. John H. Thomas announced the creation of The UCC Legal Fund, to aid in the denomination's defense against the IRS. While the denomination expected legal expenses to surpass six figures, it halted donations after raising $59,564 in less than a week.
At the time of its formation, the UCC had over 2 million members in nearly 7,000 churches. The denomination has suffered a 44 percent loss in membership since the mid-1960s. By 1980, membership was at about 1.7 million and by the turn of the century had dropped to 1.3 million. In 2006, the UCC had roughly 1.2 million members in 5,452 churches. According to its 2008 annual report, the United Church of Christ had about 1.1 million members in about 5,300 local congregations. However the 2010 annual report showed a decline of 31,000 members and a loss of 33 congregations since then. The decline in number of congregations continued through 2011, as the 2011 Annual Report shows 5,100 member churches. As of the 2014 Annual Yearbook of the UCC, membership is listed as 979,239 members in 5,154 local churches.
Membership is concentrated primarily in the Northeast and Midwest. Pennsylvania, a bastion of the German Reformed tradition, has the largest number of members and churches. As of 2000, the state had over 700 congregations and over 200,000 members. The highest membership rates are in the states of Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, situated in the heartland of the American Congregationalist movement.
The United Church of Christ has a highly educated membership, with 46% of members holding graduate or post-graduate degrees. Only Episcopalians (56%) and Anglicans (60%) ranked higher. The church also claims a disproportionate share of high-income earners.
United Church of Christ institutions
Officially related educational institutions
- Andover Newton Theological School (Newton Centre, Massachusetts)
- Bangor Theological Seminary (Bangor, Maine) - Closed for degree programs in 2013.
- Chicago Theological Seminary (Chicago, Illinois)
- Eden Theological Seminary (Webster Groves and St. Louis, MO)
- Lancaster Theological Seminary (Lancaster, Pennsylvania)
- Pacific School of Religion (Berkeley, California)
- United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities (New Brighton, Minnesota)
Colleges and universities
These 18 schools have affirmed the purposes of the United Church of Christ Council for Higher Education by official action and are full members of the Council.
- Catawba College (Salisbury, North Carolina)
- Chapman University (Orange, California)
- Defiance College (Defiance, Ohio)
- Dillard University (New Orleans, Louisiana)
- Doane College (Crete, Nebraska)
- Drury University (Springfield, Missouri)
- Elmhurst College (Elmhurst, Illinois)
- Heidelberg University (Ohio) (Tiffin, Ohio)
- Huston-Tillotson University (Austin, Texas)
- Illinois College (Jacksonville, Illinois)
- Lakeland College (Sheboygan, Wisconsin)
- LeMoyne-Owen College (Memphis, Tennessee)
- Northland College (Ashland, Wisconsin)
- Olivet College (Olivet, Michigan)
- Pacific University (Forest Grove, Oregon)
- Piedmont College (Demorest, Georgia)
- Rocky Mountain College (Billings, Montana)
- Talladega College (Talladega, Alabama)
- Tougaloo College (Tougaloo, Mississippi)
Historically related educational institutions
Historically related seminaries
- Hartford Seminary (Hartford, Connecticut)
- Harvard Divinity School (Cambridge, Massachusetts)
- Howard University School of Divinity (Washington, DC)
- Interdenominational Theological Center (Atlanta, Georgia)
- Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico (San Juan, Puerto Rico)
- Union Theological Seminary (New York, New York)
- Vanderbilt University Divinity School (Nashville, Tennessee)
- Yale Divinity School (New Haven, Connecticut)
Historically related colleges and universities (Council for Higher Education)
"These colleges continue to relate to the United Church of Christ through the Council for Higher Education, but chose not to affirm the purposes of the Council. Though in many respects similar to the colleges and universities that have full membership in the Council, these institutions tend to be less intentional about their relationships with the United Church of Christ." (from the United Church of Christ website)
- Beloit College (Beloit, Wisconsin)
- Carleton College (Northfield, Minnesota)
- Cedar Crest College (Allentown, Pennsylvania)
- Fisk University (Nashville, Tennessee)
- Franklin and Marshall College (Lancaster, Pennsylvania)
- Grinnell College (Grinnell, Iowa)
- Hood College (Frederick, Maryland)
- Ripon College (Ripon, Wisconsin)
- Ursinus College (Collegeville, Pennsylvania)
- Westminster College of Salt Lake City (Salt Lake City, Utah)
Other colleges and universities (historically related, currently unrelated)
These colleges and universities were founded by or are otherwise related historically to the denomination or its predecessors, but no longer maintain any direct relationship.
- Dartmouth College (Hanover, New Hampshire)
- Elon University (Elon, North Carolina)
- Harvard University (Cambridge, Massachusetts) — was founded by Congregationalists, but sided with the Unitarians in their 1825 breakaway.
- Yale University (New Haven, Connecticut) - was founded by Congregational ministers in 1701 and its chapel was officially affiliated with the UCC in 1961, but discontinued the affiliation in 2005 to be more welcoming to other faiths
- Chamberlain College of Nursing, formerly Deaconess College of Nursing (St. Louis, Missouri)
- Rollins College (Winter Park, Florida)
- New College Florida (Sarasota, Florida)
- Oberlin College (Oberlin, Ohio)
- Pomona College (Claremont, California)
- Tohoku Gakuin University (Sendai, Japan)
- Whitman College (Walla Walla, Washington) — briefly associated with the Congregational Church in the early 1900s
List of prominent UCC churches
- Cathedral of Hope (Dallas) - the largest church in the United States with a primary outreach to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Local membership exceeds 4,000 people, though the church claims over 52,000 worldwide constituents.
- Old South Church in Boston is one of the oldest congregations in the United States. It was organized in 1669 by dissenters from the First Church in Boston (1630). Notable past members include Samuel Adams, William Dawes, Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Sewall, and Phillis Wheatley. In 1773, Samuel Adams gave the signals from the Old South Meeting House that started the Boston Tea Party. During the Unitarianism controversy of the early 19th century, Old South was the sole Congregational Church in Boston that remained Trinitarian.
- Plymouth Church Seattle - is an historic congregation located in downtown Seattle. Plymouth is known for its history of advocacy for social justice, its music program and its creation of programs to serve the homeless, such as Plymouth Healing Communities and Plymouth Housing Group.
- Riverside Church - an interdenominational American Baptist and UCC church in New York City, famous for its elaborate Neo-Gothic architecture and its history of social justice. It was built between 1927 and 1930 with support from John D. Rockefeller. Harry Emerson Fosdick was its first minister. Other famous former ministers include William Sloane Coffin and James A. Forbes.
- Trinity United Church of Christ, Chicago - a predominantly black church located in south Chicago. With upwards of 10,000 members, it is the largest church affiliated with UCC. It was pastored by Rev. Jeremiah Wright until early 2008. It is now pastored by The Rev. Otis Moss III.
- Zion United Church of Christ - formerly known as the High German Evangelical Reformed Church and founded in 1762 in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Zion UCC is sometimes known as the Liberty Bell Church. In 1777, eleven bells were brought there from Philadelphia for safe‑keeping during the Revolutionary War. Those bells included the State House Bell, now better known as the Liberty Bell.
- First Church of Christ, Congregational (Springfield, Massachusetts) - is a historic church at 50 Elm Street in Springfield, Massachusetts. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. The church is within the Court Square Historic District.
- First Congregational Church of East Longmeadow - . It is the oldest church building in East Longmeadow, and houses its oldest congregation
- First Church Congregational (Methuen, Massachusetts)
- First Church of Christ, Congregational (Farmington, Connecticut)
- Union Congregational Church (Worcester, Massachusetts)
- Pilgrim Congregational Church (Worcester, Massachusetts)
- South Parish Congregational Church and Parish House
List of famous UCC members
This section lists notable people known to have been past or present members or raised in the United Church of Christ or its predecessor denominations.
- Daniel Akaka – Former U.S. Senator from Hawaii (Democrat)
- Max Baucus – Former U.S. Senator from Montana (Democrat)
- Jon Corzine – Former Governor of New Jersey (Democrat)
- Howard Dean – Former Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, former Governor of Vermont (Democrat)
- Jim Douglas – Former Governor of Vermont (Republican)
- Mills Godwin – Former Governor of Virginia
- Bob Graham – Former Governor and U.S. Senator from Florida (Democrat)
- Maggie Hassan – Governor of New Hampshire (Democrat)
- Judd Gregg – Former U.S. Senator from New Hampshire (Republican)
- Hubert Humphrey – Former Vice President of the United States
- Jim Jeffords – Former U.S. Senator from Vermont (Independent)
- Bob Kerrey – Former Governor and U.S senator from Nebraska (Democrat)
- Mark Kirk – U.S. Senator from Illinois (Republican)
- Barack Obama – 44th President of the United States of America (2009–Present)
- Robert Orr – Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations
- Sally Pederson – Former Lieutenant Governor of Iowa (Democrat)
- William Proxmire – Former U.S. Senator from Wisconsin (Democrat)
- Kwame Raoul – Senator in Illinois State Senate (Democrat)
- George Smathers – Former Democratic Senator from Florida
- Washington Gladden – early leader in the Social Gospel and Progressive movements
- William H. Rehnquist – Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
- Julian Bond – Chair NAACP (2004–2008)
- Walter Brueggemann – contemporary theologian, poet, and UCC minister, retired professor at Columbia Theological Seminary
- William Sloane Coffin – Late Presbyterian/UCC minister and activist; 'pastor, prophet, poet'; former Chaplain at Yale University and Senior Pastor of Riverside Church, New York City
- Common – Rapper, recording artist, member of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.
- Donald Hall – United States US Poet Laureate
- George Heartwell – Mayor of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
- Roger Johnson – CEO of Western Digital and head of the General Services Administration under President Bill Clinton
- Dean Koontz – American writer and author. Raised UCC, now is Catholic.
- Barry W. Lynn – UCC minister and executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State
- William "Bill" McKinney – Former president of Pacific School of Religion.
- Sherrill Milnes – Operatic baritone
- Bill Moyers – Journalist and host of PBS current affairs program Bill Moyers' Journal
- John Williamson Nevin – notable 19th-century theologian
- H. Richard Niebuhr – notable 20th-century theologian
- Reinhold Niebuhr – notable 20th-century theologian
- Leonard Pitts – Nationally syndicated Pulitzer prize–winning (2004) columnist
- Jackie Robinson – Major League Baseball player for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and first African-American to break baseball's "color barrier".
- Marilynne Robinson – Pulitzer prize-winning (2005) author of the novel Gilead
- Alex Ross – Comic book writer and artist. Son of UCC minister Clark Norman Ross.
- Philip Schaff – notable 19th-century theologian
- Max L. Stackhouse – public theologian and professor at Princeton Theological Seminary
- Jeri Kehn Thompson – wife of Law & Order star and former U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Fred Thompson
- Paul Tillich – notable 20th-century theologian
- Meredith Willson – popular composer of "The Music Man", raised in First Congregational of Mason City, Iowa; longtime member of Westwood Hills Congregational, Los Angeles.
- Andrew Young – Civil rights leader, ordained UCC pastor, and former member of Congress, UN ambassador, and mayor of Atlanta, Georgia
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Testimonies of faith rather than 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.
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Next in size and historical importance is the United Church of Christ, which is the historic continuation of the Congregational churches founded under the influence of New England Puritanism. The United Church of Christ also subsumed the third major Reformed group, the German Reformed, which (then known as the Evangelical and Reformed Church) merged with the Congregationalists in 1957.
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1961 ABCFM merges with Board of International Missions to form the United Church Board for World Ministries (UCBWM)
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