The ability to articulate the diverse histories that comprise the UCC and understanding the concept of covenant.
- An understanding of the concept of covenant and how it informs the nature, purpose, and polity of the United Church of Christ.
- The ability to articulate diverse histories that comprise the United Church of Christ, to situate them in the broader evolution of faith traditions and to relate them to the theology, polity, and practices of the Member’s local church, association, and conference.
- The ability to explain and work within the current polity of the UCC and its denominational structure, and to describe the covenantal relationships among the General Synod, national setting, conferences, associations, and local congregations of the UCC.
From its inception, the Congregational Church set the standards for the political and social organization of the local communities (then called Townships). As a Congregationalist denomination, the UCC still holds these same principles. Every congregation is its own township, and the members of the church all have the right to vote on the polity and changes made within the local congregation. This also holds true to the larger UCC denomination as delegates from each local congregation meet with members from their conferences (such as the Southeast Conference of the United Church of Christ) to determine which delegates hold voting power for larger denominational issues. Like the earliest days these members must be in good standing within the local congregation to hold these positions.
The Cambridge Platform is another concept that I find that the UCC still holds to. Per the Cambridge Platform, “Christ was the head of the church; the congregation, independent of outside interference, had the right to choose its own officials. The office of the civil magistrate was subject to recognition by the church. Churches were to preserve communion with one another in mutual covenant with Christ.”
The Christian movement brought to the UCC the spirit of the “Open Table” by which all are truly welcomed to participate in the Eucharist meal, such that even Jesus himself would not turn away anyone from the meal due to his or her status of baptism. Thanks be to God that we still hold true to this principle. For in this way, individuals can meet the risen Christ for the first time at the table. This movement also confirmed that Jesus is the head of the church and the Bible is a sufficient rule of faith and practice, which are both important factors in the Christian faith today. This is also the movement that would be the first to allow for the ordination of women into ministry; a practice that the UCC still holds true to. Higher education was also a standard set by the Christian movement that the UCC still requires of those seeking ordination.
Our Reformation roots remind us of the power of scripture and of the fact that Christ alone is the head of the church. We have full access to the scriptures to study, challenge, and use them as a guide to the Christian life. This movement also gave us a new way to view the sacrament of the Eucharist. In the UCC we view the Eucharist as an act of “remembrance” rather than “transubstantiation” (in which the blood and body of Christ are literally present in the elements).
The Evangelical movement gave us a sense of what it means to live a moral Christian life. This life is not a life of total abstinence but rather a life based around a moral compass. Hence, we no longer hold to the strict rules of no card playing, drinking, or dancing (like my Pentecostal roots), but rather strive for balance.
My UCC understanding of covenant began to take shape on the day I joined Kirkwood UCC. At KUCC we have two types of covenants by which one can belong. KUCC is composed of people who, by declaring a desire to be in either a congregational covenant, or a faith covenant, or both, commit to an ongoing covenant relationship with each other, KUCC, and God. A person in congregational covenant is committed to being a full part of the life of the congregation by investing time, talent, service, and financial resources, and by being in prayer with and for KUCC. A person in faith covenant believes in and chooses to follow Jesus the Christ, will celebrate and participate in the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion, promises to grow in the grace and knowledge of God, three in one, and promises to be a witness of God’s love in the world in word and deed. All persons who are or shall be in covenant with KUCC are thereby in covenant with the United Church of Christ. These covenants can be traced back to our Congregationalist traditions and traditions that are still practiced today. Like the vows I made to pledge myself to my husband when I wed him, I pledged myself in covenant to KUCC when I joined the church through both the congregational and faith covenants. On that day, I not only joined KUCC, but also the UCC.
The structure of the United Church of Christ begins with the local church, followed by Associations, then Conferences, and finally the General Synod. The bond that holds this structure together is their commitment to each other to put Christ first as the head of the Church. In this commitment, they come together in covenantal relationship with one another. In this covenantal relationship, they begin to walk hand in hand together as the full Body of Christ. In making decisions they consult and collaborate. They listen, hear, consider advice, council, and honor request of each other in full respect and honor working and ministering to do God’s work in the church and in the world. In this covenantal relationship, everyone is welcome and invited to the table.
In the United Church of Christ, the Local Church is the basic unit of life and organization. I think it is safe to say that the Local Church is the backbone of the UCC. The Local Church is a body of believers who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and believe in the triune God. These believers are accepted into the Local Church in one of three ways; baptism and confirmation or profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, reaffirmation or reprofession of their faith in Jesus Christ, or a letter of transfer or certificate from other Christian churches. Everyone is welcome in the UCC as the slogan, “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here,” indicates.
Associations are bodies that are organized around a geographic area. The Constitution and By-laws of the UCC determine what provision they provide to Local Churches. These provisions include its own method for securing financial support. A concern with the welfare of all Local Churches in its territory in assisting Local Churches in unusual difficult times. They offer assistance, guidance, and encouragement to New Local Churches. This, along with the Conference they receive Local Churches into the UCC, covenant with members of the UCC to discern God’s call to ministry (MID’s), ordain, commission, and licenses qualified candidate. They grant standing as a covenantal relationship with ordained, licensed, commissioned ministers, and persons with ordained ministerial partner standing. They certify, transfers, terminates ordained ministerial standing, ordained ministerial partner standing, commissioned partner standing and licenses. They install Ordained Ministers and persons with ordained ministerial partner standing. Offers covenants with licensed ministers, commissioned ministers, and the local churches to which they are called. They grant privilege of call and leaves of absence; reviews and disciplines Ordained, Commissioned, and Licensed Ministers and persons with ordained ministerial partner standing. They also verify that an Ordained Ministerial Partner has demonstrated knowledge of, and appreciation for, the history, polity, and practices of the United Church of Christ. Last but not least they receive and act upon business that is referred to them by the their Local Churches, their Conference, the General Synod, and the other Covenanted Ministries. In other words, they do a lot for the Local Church. With all this work that they do, they also elect officers and either elect or appoint committees as necessary to carry out business in its work with the Conference and the General Synod. So, if the Local Church were the basic unit of the UCC, I would argue that the Association is the glue that keeps the unit together.
Like the Association, a Conference elects’ officers, and elects or appoints committees as needed to carry out the work and business of the General Synod. But their work differs slightly from that of the Associations. Unlike the Association, the Conference provides names when they are requested to the General Synod Nominating Committee, chooses delegates and alternate delegates to the General Synod per the Constitution and Bylaws, receives from the Local Churches their contributions for Our Church’s Wider Mission, and keeps record of it. They also consult with the General Minister and President, or his/her designee to reach an agreement on a dollar or percentage amount of the undesignated gifts for Our Church’s Wider Mission to be retained for its own support. Each month the Conference retains the amount needed for its own support, and then forwards the balance on to the treasury office of the nation office. Like the Association, a Conference provides other duties to help further strengthen the Local Churches witness and that of the UCC. As such, they coordinate the work and witness of the Local Churches and Associations, render counsel to Local Churches and ministers in situations calling for help beyond their own resources. They also render an advisory service to Local Churches and ministers regarding pastoral placement, establish and maintain Conference offices, Conference centers, institutions, and other agencies needful to its growth and welfare, sponsor in-service training for ministers, and conduct conferences, retreats, clinics, and workshops. With an attempt to live out our mission to be a uniting and united church, the Conference works to maintain interfaith and ecumenical relationships with other Christian churches and fellowships to advance mutual understanding and cooperation.
The General Synod consists of chosen delegates from conferences, thirty members of each board of directors of the four covenanted ministries, and ex officio delegates. The General Synod is the representative body of the UCC and provides coordination in the structure of independent entities. They meet every two years to carry out the work of the UCC. In this work the General Synod provides for financial support, calls and elects officers of the denomination, nominates and elects’ members of boards of directors, establishes and maintains the UCC’s national headquarters, receives and disburses funds contributed for the support of the UCC and its covenanted ministries, and determines ecumenical and interchurch relationships. The Executive Council acts for the General Synod interim, consists of members named by the Synod plus representatives of covenanted ministries and other UCC bodies and groups. Its work is to coordinate and evaluate the work of the UCC. It is responsible for policies related to the church’s mission in its national setting, including health of the covenanted ministries in relationship with one another and their accountability to the General Synod, supports the church’s spiritual and financial health, performs corporate functions of the Office of General Ministries, facilitates the General Synod’s business, and is a focal point for planning and budgeting. General Synod gathers the whole diversity of the UCC together in celebration, worship, and to conduct the business of the UCC.
The General Synod helps to keep the UCC true to its foundation of being based on “Covenant” relationships that are all welcomed at the table. Several years ago, a resolution was brought to the floor to have General Synod meet every four years instead of two. After much debate, this resolution did not pass. It was argued that the General Synod needs to be meet every two years to stay abreast of the needs of an ever changing and challenging world, and to be on the forefront as an Ecumenical leader in theological issues along with social justice needs. This debate helped me recognize the importance of the General Synod in holding the UCC to its foundations.