Beliefs of The United Church of ChrisT


EXCERPTED FROM
"A HISTORY OF THE UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST"

BY MARGARET ROWLAND POST

All Christians are related in faith to Judaism and are faith descendants of the first apostles of Jesus who roamed the world with the good news of God's love. Within five centuries, Christianity dominated the Roman Empire. Until A.D. 1054 when the church split, it remained essentially one. At that point, the Eastern Orthodox Church established its center at Constantinople (Istanbul), the Roman Catholic Church at Rome. During the 16th century, when Christians found the church corrupt and hopelessly involved in economic and political interests, leaders arose to bring about reform from within. The unintended by-product of their efforts at reform was schism in the Roman Church. Their differences over the authority and practices of Rome became irreconcilable. Protestant reformers such as Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Calvin held that the Bible, not the Pope, was sufficient authority as the word of God. Paramount was the message of Paul that persons are justified by the grace of God through faith alone. Such faith did not lead to rank individualism or moral indifference, but to good works out of love for God.

Protestantism spread throughout Europe. Lutheran churches were planted in Germany and throughout Scandinavia; the Reformed churches, originating in Switzerland, spread into Germany, France, Transylvania, Hungary, Holland, England, and Scotland.

The United Church of Christ, a united and uniting church, was born on June 25, 1957 out of a combination of four groups. Two of these were the Congregational Churches of the English Reformation with Puritan New England roots in America, and the Christian Church with American frontier beginnings. These two denominations were concerned for freedom of religious expression and local autonomy and united on June 17, 1931 to become the Congregational Christian Churches. The other two denominations were the Evangelical Synod of North America, a 19th-century German-American church of the frontier Mississippi Valley, and the Reformed Church in the United States, initially composed of early 18th-century churches in Pennsylvania and neighboring colonies, unified in a Coetus in 1793 to become a Synod.

The parent churches were of German and Swiss heritage, conscientious carriers of the Reformed and Lutheran traditions of the Reformation, and united to form the Evangelical and Reformed Church on June 26, 1934.

The Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches shared a strong commitment under Christ to the freedom of religious expression. They combined strong European ties, early colonial roots, and the vitality of the American frontier church. Their union forced accommodation between congregational and presbyterial forms of church government. Both denominations found their authority in the Bible and were more concerned with what unites Christians than with what divides them. In their marriage, a church that valued the free congregational tradition was strengthened by one that remained faithful to the liturgical tradition of Reformed church worship and to catechetical teaching. A tradition that maintained important aspects of European Protestantism was broadened by one that, in mutual covenant with Christ, embraced diversity and freedom.

On Tuesday, June 25,1957, at Cleveland, Ohio, the Evangelical and Reformed Church, 23 years old, passionate in its impulse to unity, committed to "liberty of conscience inherent in the Gospel," and the Congregational Christian Churches, 26 years old, a fellowship of biblical people under a mutual covenant for responsible freedom in Christ, joined together as the United Church of Christ. The new church embodied the essence of both parents, a complement of freedom with order, of the English and European Reformations with the American Awakenings, of separatism with 20th-century ecumenism, of presbyterian with congregational polities, of neo-orthodox with liberal theologies. HAPPY ANNIVERSARY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST!

COVENaNTED RELATIONSHIPS

At the center of who we are as members of the United Church of Christ stands two important principles. The Preamble to the Constitution of the United Church of Christ, says it this way: Paragraph # 2 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 headship of Christ over the church means that Jesus Christ defines the church and defines the way each of us as members of the Church understand our lives as Christians and the way we understand ourselves in relationship to each other as members of the Body of Christ. The paragraph above also notes that we must make the faith our own. We are not held bound to the past, but must bring alive the faith in our own generation. And it is also important to note that the two sacraments of Baptism, which joins us to Christ and to each other, and the Lord's Supper, where our relationships are nourished and strengthened, form the foundation of our community.

Another important, and perhaps the most important way we understand ourselves as church is found in the theological and biblical concept of COVENANT. Here is how the Constitution of the church describes it:

ARTICLE III. COVENANTAL RELATIONSHIPS

Paragraph 6 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 advice, 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 Biblical Idea of Covenant finds its first expression in the story of Noah (Genesis 8:20-9:17), then with Abraham (Genesis 17:1-27), and the peak of the covenanted relationship between God and humanity is found in the story of Moses (Exodus 19 -20). Biblically then, covenant speaks first to the relationship we have with God and God has with us. It also points to the fact, that this relationship carries with it mutual responsibilities and obligations. Relationships do not just happen, and unless the relationship is fostered, challenged to grow, and continually moves to a deeper level of intimacy, it remains a superficial relationship.

What are the obligations of the Biblical Covenant? From the story of Moses, the obligations revolve around two points: Obligations towards God and obligations towards each other (or towards the community). These obligations are often summarized in the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20), or in the New Testament, summarized in 2 commandments (Love God and Love Neighbor). These are not just duties that we have to perform, but rather they a re understood as "a way of life" lived in relationship with God and each other. So it is not about rules or laws to follow, but about the choices we make, because we are in relationship with each other, to define or shape our lives according to God.

What are the responsibilities we have because we are in this covenanted community? We are responsible to and for each other! This works against some of our American sensitivity to personal or individual freedom. Our freedom is tempered by the responsibilities we have to respect the dignity of others (since everyone is created in the image and likeness of God), and to care for each other (we are our brother's and sister's keeper), We have mutual responsibility to nourish the relationship and create an environment within which the relationship can grow and be continually strengthened. Because of our responsibility towards each other, we are not free to do whatever we want. In fact the biblical notion of freedom involves our being free to do the will of God and live in accord with the intent of God.

So how does this apply to the church or to our membership in church? Stay tuned for more.

WHAT WE BELIEVE

We believe in the triune God: Creator, resurrected Christ, the sole Head of the church, and the Holy Spirit, who guides and brings about the creative and redemptive work of God in the world.

We believe that each person is unique and valuable. It is the will of God that every person belong to a family of faith where they have a strong sense of being valued and loved.

We believe that each person is on a spiritual journey and that each of us is at a different stage of that journey.

We believe that the persistent search for God produces an authentic relationship with God, engendering love, strengthening faith, dissolving guilt, and giving life purpose and direction.

We believe that all of the baptized 'belong body and soul to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.' No matter who - no matter what - no matter where we are on life's journey - notwithstanding race, gender, sexual orientation, class or creed - we all belong to God and to one worldwide community of faith. All persons baptized - past, present and future - are connected to each other and to God through the sacrament of baptism. We baptize during worship when the community is present because baptism includes the community's promise of 'love, support and care' for the baptized - and we promise that we won't take it back - no matter where your journey leads you.

We believe that all people of faith are invited to join Christ at Christ's table for the sacrament of Communion. Just as many grains of wheat are gathered to make one loaf of bread and many grapes are gathered to make one cup of wine, we, the many people of God, are made one in the body of Christ, the church. The breaking of bread and the pouring of wine reminds us of the costliness of Christ's sacrifice and the discipleship to which we are all called. In the breaking of bread, we remember and celebrate Christ's presence among us along with a 'cloud of witnesses' - our ancestors, family and friends who have gone before us. It is a great mystery; we claim it by faith.

We believe the UCC is called to be a united and uniting church. "That they may all be one." (John 17:21) "In essentials-unity, in nonessentials - diversity, in all things-charity," These UCC mottos survive because they touch core values deep within us. The UCC has no rigid formulation of doctrine or attachment to creeds or structures. Its overarching creed is love. UCC pastors and teachers are known for their commitment to excellence in theological preparation, interpretation of the scripture and justice advocacy. Even so, love and unity in the midst of our diversity are our greatest assets.

We believe that God calls us to be servants in the service of others and to be good stewards of the earth's resources. 'To believe is to care; to care is to do.'

We believe that the UCC is called to be a prophetic church. As in the tradition of the prophets and apostles, God calls the church to speak truth to power, liberate the oppressed, care for the poor and comfort the afflicted.

We believe in the power of peace, and work for nonviolent solutions to local, national, and international problems. We are a people of possibility. In the UCC, members, congregations and structures have the breathing room to explore and to hear ... for after all, God is still speaking, ...

WORDS FROM THE 28TH GENERAL SYNOD OF THE UCC

UCC's overarching mission: "Continuing Testament. Extravagant Welcome. Changing Lives."

"Continuing Testament is evidenced in our Still Speaking Daily Devotionals, it's visible in our UCC seminaries and through our leaders," said the Rev. Cally Rogers-Witte, whose term is ending as executive ministries for Wider Church Ministries and co-executive of Global Ministries. "God's continuing testament is not etched in tablets forever, but written on our hearts."

Edith Guffey, leaving in her role as associate general minister of the Office of General Ministries, said, "When I think of Extravagant Welcome, I think of more than being nice to newcomers. I think of the important work that our church has been engaged in the past century - to welcome the stranger, to receive the lost, to heal the broken and to include the marginalized. Being ecumenical and interfaith is another way of expressing this extravagance."

Concluding his term as executive minister of Local Church Ministries, the Rev. Stephen L. Sterner pointed to the more than 150 "Changing Lives" videos on ucc.org.

"Some are stories of the 'I once was lost but now I'm found' genre," said Sterner. "Some are stories of global partnerships, how they have crossed borders and offered healing and hope. Some are stories about how UCC justice work has helped to make another world possible - not just in places like Washington, D.C., but in places where people find themselves struggling."

The Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo, executive minister for Justice and Witness Ministries, acknowledged that talking about the UCC's distinctiveness is not always easy for its members."But it's something we really need to get over and get to peace with," said Jaramillo, "because in evangelism, in outreach and in fundraising, the distinctiveness of the United Church of Christ does matter."

CONTINUING TESTAMENT : OUR GOD IS STILL SPEAKING

In 2004, it was concluded that there was a present and real need for genuine welcome, openness and acceptance for all within the church. The UCC responded to this call of extravagant welcome and radical hospitality with a new branding campaign to proclaim to the world that anyone could find a home in the United Church of Christ.

"No matter who you are, or where you are on life's journey, you're welcome here." To date, more than 2,500 churches have chosen to formally participate in the "God is still speaking," campaign. As that number continues to grow, the United Church of Christ continues to balance religious tradition with new ideas for religion that is relevant. The Stillspeaking Ministry continues to provide resources that enable all settings of the church to proclaim the good news of extravagant welcome. Together under one collective identity, we can enthusiastically support and proudly lift up the UCC as a welcoming, justice-minded Christian community.

At a time when religion is too often portrayed as narrow-minded and exclusive, many are raising their voices for an alternative vision:

  • Where God is all-loving and inclusive where a church welcomes and accepts everyone as they are.
  • Where your mind is nourished as much as your soul.
  • Where Jesus the healer meets Jesus the revolutionary.
  • Where together we grow a just and peaceful world.

One of the defining characteristics of the UCC is that we join in community by testimonials, not tests, of faith. Your beliefs, your understanding of God and Jesus and church are uniquely yours, as you seek and explore alongside others in community. By becoming a Stillspeaking Voice, you can pledge to share your faith journey with others.

HOW WE READ THE BIBLE IN THE UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST

While we believe that there are rich expressions of God's word in religions other than our own, for us as followers of Christ, the Bible is the great book, above all others. It is not a god itself, or an idol to be worshipped. It is God's word for us as Christians and we are called to take it seriously. We take the Bible seriously but not literally. In our tradition, we take it so seriously that we take the time to study the social and historical context in which it was written. So you will hear us talk about the history of the Jewish and Christian people, as well as the work of modern scholars. We believe that God intentionally planted the word in the middle of history and culture, and therefore that background is part of the story we need to learn. We believe in the Bible so much that we think it deserves our best questions. We believe that the Bible is the opening of a conversation in which God is still speaking. We do not think the Bible will shrivel up and die because we dare to question why it says what it does. We believe that the Bible has withstood similar questions for thousands of years and that in asking the questions together, in communities of faith, over time, we are part of a life-changing conversation that will go on forever.

We believe that the Bible is God's own holy word passed down to us through fallible human beings. We can imagine that some of what is in the Bible was a product of a particular time and place and is not what God desires for this time and place. We tread carefully in these waters, using the tools of history and the gifts of the spirit to ask the still speaking God for a word for today. We honor the word so highly that we do not take one phrase out of context and fling it around. We do not use phrases as stand-alone weapons to prove our point or to injure another person. Rather, we read the phrase as it has been nested in the text. We read the story around it. We are not afraid to notice and point out places where scripture disagrees with itself. We know that we are not the first generation to notice these things. Those who carefully put the Bible together over the early centuries wrestled to decide which books should be included and which left out. In their wisdom, they left us a collection of holy words that offer a rich variety of descriptions of God.
(Lillian Daniel, "Do We Believe in the Bible?")

UNDERSTANDING THE BIBLE

What is the Bible?

There is more than one way to answer this question! A good place to start may be to say that the Bible is a library. A literal meaning of the word "bible" is "book of books." It is 66 books for Protestants, 73 for Catholics. It divides into the 39 books of the Old Testament, which tell the story of God's dealings with Israel, and the 27 books of the New Testament, which tell the story of Jesus and the church that followed him. To call the Bible a "library" means that there are different types of literature between its two covers. There is drama, history, law code, song and poetry. There are gospels, parables, letters and more. Key to using the Bible is knowing what part of the library you are in or what type of literature you are hearing or reading. Even more importantly, a library is defined by its owner and their purpose. This library is the library of Israel and the church. It reminds Jews and Christians who they are and whose they are.

People say, "You can pretty much find anything in the Bible or prove anything by the Bible." Is there an overall unity? It's true, the Bible is diverse. It includes different kinds of literature from many different eras. There is, however, a unity to it. There is a basic story. In the Old Testament the basic story is about the Exodus and Promised Land. In the New Testament it is about the Crucifixion and Resurrection. At an even deeper level than these basic stories there is another unity. The Bible witnesses to God and what God has done as freedom-bringer and life-giver. It is a long, confusing, surprising story probably because that's the way life is. But through it all, it points to and confesses faith in God who never gives up and for whom "nothing is impossible" (Luke 1).

When was the Bible written and how?

The best guess is that the writing of the Bible took place over a span of 1,000 years, from 900 B.C. to 140 A.D. or so. Some of the Old Testament goes back long before that in its oral form. The Old Testament was put into its present form over many generations of use. It was finalized by a Council of Rabbis meeting late in the first century A.D. The New Testament was written over a much shorter time, probably about 100 years. Materials included in the New Testament were used for generations in congregations before they were finalized by a Council of the church in the late fourth century.

If the Bible was written by people a long time ago and over such a long time, how can it be so important? How can it be considered revelation?

It's true that the Bible was written by human beings. It did not fall out of the sky, nor was it discovered whole and intact in a cave. But this does not mean that it is not "inspired" or revealing of God - unless, of course, you believe that God does not speak through people and through history. It does mean that God's truth comes to us all wrapped up in the glory and goop of human life and history. But that's part of the fun!

Bible FAQs by Anthony B. Robinson, taken from: “The Bible and the United Church of Christ,” a publication of the United church of Christ.

UNDERSTANDING THE LECTIONARY

Since October we have used a modified version of the common lectionary here at Sun Lakes United Church of Christ. So is more information what the lectionary is all about.

What is a Lectionary?

A lectionary is a collection of readings or selections from the Scriptures, arranged and intended for proclamation during the worship of the people of God. Lectionaries were known and used in the fourth century, where major churches arranged the Scripture readings according to a schedule which follows the calendar of the church's year. This practice of assigning particular readings to each Sunday and festival has continued through the history of the Christian Church.

Why use a lectionary?

  • A lectionary provides whole churches or denominations with a uniform and common pattern of biblical proclamation.
  • A lectionary serves as a guide for clergy, preachers, church members, musicians, and Sunday school teachers that shows them which texts are to be read on a given Sunday.
  • A lectionary provides a guide and resource for clergy from different local churches who wish to work and pray together as they share their resources and insights while preparing for their preaching.
  • A lectionary serves as a resource for those who produce ecumenical preaching aids, commentaries, Sunday school curricula, and other devotional aids.
  • A lectionary provides a guide to individuals and groups who wish to read, study, and pray the Bible in tune with the church's prayer and preaching. Some local churches print the references to the following Sunday's readings in their bulletins and encourage people to come prepared for the next week's celebration.
  • A lectionary also shows us the relationship of the readings of one Sunday with those that come before it and after it. Within each of the major seasons of Lent, Easter, Advent, and Christmas-Epiphany, the flow of the season is reflected in all the Scripture texts, taken together as a set for each Sunday.

What is the Revised Common Lectionary?

This lectionary system is the work of two ecumenical bodies who provide resources for the churches that send representatives to them, namely, the North American Consultation on Common Texts (CCT) and, later, the International English Language Liturgical Consultation (ELLC). Responding to widespread interest in the Roman Lectionary for Mass of 1969, many North American churches undertook adaptations and revisions of it for their own use during the '70s. CCT produced a harmonization and reworking of these in 1983 on a trial basis and then revised that for publication in 1992 as the Revised Common Lectionary.

Using the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL)

Lectionaries come in two basic forms: 1. A table of readings which gives the liturgical date and the Scripture references for the texts, or 2. An edition which prints the Scripture texts from a particular translation of the Bible. The form provided by the CCT is a table of readings.

The Three-Year Calendar Cycle

The lectionary provides a three-year pattern for the Sunday readings. Each year is centered on one of the synoptic gospels. Year A is the year of Matthew, Year B is the year of Mark, and Year C is the year of Luke. John is read each year, especially in the times around Christmas, Lent, and Easter, and also in the year of Mark, whose gospel is shorter than the others.

The Pattern of Scripture Readings

The basic, weekly pattern of the Revised Common Lectionary is to provide an Old Testament reading, a psalmody response to that reading, a New Testament reading from an epistle or Revelation, and a gospel reading.

From the First Sunday of Advent to Trinity Sunday of each year, the Old Testament reading is closely related to the gospel reading for the day. From the first Sunday after Trinity Sunday to the last Sunday of the church year, provision has been made for two patterns of reading the Old Testament: a complementary series in which the Old Testament reading is closely related to the gospel reading, and a semi continuous series in which large portions of the Old Testament are read sequentially week to week.

UNDERSTANDING THE THREE-YEAR CYCLE OF GOSPEL READINGS

Themes in Matthew, Cycle A (This was the cycle of Gospel readings during 2014)

The gospel of Matthew, used in Cycle A, has two focuses. First, Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah. Second, the Kingdom, or Reign, of God is at hand. Keeping these in mind, here are some of the things that you may observe about the gospel in Cycle A.

Matthew's beautiful use of Old Testament passages helps people understand Jesus' Jewish heritage and the fulfillment of God's promises.

Matthew shows special concern for the Church. He alone of the evangelists uses the word "church." In fact, many have thought of this gospel as a type of handbook for those who would be leaders and catechists in the Church.

This gospel addresses special challenges of putting Jesus' teachings into practice in everyday life, especially when facing new times and cultures. The community from which Matthew's gospel comes was struggling to bring the message of Jesus to a new and ever-changing world. For this reason, contemporary Christians are often drawn to Matthew's gospel because they face similar circumstances.

To understand the message of Matthew's gospel, you can turn to the beginning and the end of this first book of the New Testament. There you will find Matthew's special message concerning Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. In the first chapter of the gospel, Jesus is called Emmanuel, which means "God is with us." And in the very last verse of this lengthy book, the risen Christ promises his disciples, "I am with you always."

This beautiful message comes from a gospel that was traditionally thought to have been written by Matthew, the tax collector turned apostle. Like the other evangelists, Matthew has a special story to tell, and the gospel will proclaim Jesus Christ and his message in a unique way. It contains the angel's announcement to Joseph, the story of the Magi, the genealogy of Jesus, and a beautiful presentation of the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. Of course, Matthew's gospel has even more to offer.

The name Matthew means "gift of God." It is exciting to have the gift of this gospel during the entire liturgical year in order to awaken a deeper love for Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, "God with us."

Themes in Mark, Cycle B (This will be the cycle of Gospel readings in 2015)

Mark's gospel, used in Cycle B, is the shortest of the four gospels and is considered by many to be the oldest. Just like the facet of a diamond, Mark gives a special view of Jesus and contains some very important themes. Some of these themes are:

  • knowing and preparing for the Kingdom, or Reign, of God in our lives;
  • understanding who Jesus is, not only as healer and teacher, but as the one who willingly embraced the cross for us;
  • responding to Jesus in discipleship by truly understanding him, being with him, and sharing in his mission.

In a wonderful way, Mark's gospel is filled with hope, especially for those who experience any type of suffering or misunderstanding in their lives. Mark wants us to know Jesus and to journey with him through the cross to the resurrection.

As you open and explore God's Word through Mark's gospel, listen for these key themes and make faith come more alive each day.

Themes in Luke, Cycle C (This will be the cycle of Gospel readings in 2016)

Just as the other synoptics, Mark and Matthew, Luke gives a special view of Jesus Christ and the Good News. The gospel, read in Cycle C, contains some very important themes.

  • In Jesus Christ, we have been saved as God promised in the Old Testament. This experience is one of joy and celebration.
  • The gift of God's love and salvation is for all people, no matter who they are.
  • The concern and ministry of Jesus extend especially to those in need. He reaches out to the poor, the sick, and outcasts of society.
  • Mary, the mother of Jesus, is a model of true discipleship. She has a special place in this gospel. 

The gospel of Luke is the first part of a two-volume work, the second part being the Acts of the Apostles. Christian tradition going back to the second century identifies the author as Luke, who is mentioned in Colossians 4:14, Philemon verse 24, and 2 Timothy 4:11.

Luke's polished style of writing and his ability to make the stories of Jesus come alive have made his gospel a favorite, especially for young people. This gospel, for example, contains Mary's song of praise in the Magnificat and the other beautiful stories surrounding Christ's birth. It also has the moving stories of the prodigal son, the good Samaritan, the good thief, and the disciples on their way to Emmaus.

The gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are dedicated to a person named Theophilus. This name means "lover of God." As you read Luke's gospel, think of his words as being directed personally to you, a lover of God. Listen for these key themes. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in making Luke's gospel a rich source of prayer as you open and explore God's word and make faith come more alive each day.

UNDERSTANDING THE POLITY OF THE UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST (PART ONE)

How is our church organized? How are we structured? What are the core principles that hold us together as a church? These are questions you might have asked about the United Church of Christ. Growing up in the Catholic tradition I knew that the church was backed up by Canon Law which clearly outlined the Hierarchical structure (Pope, Bishops, Priests, Deacons, Religious and Laity), and clearly stated what the values and principles were that guided the church. The United Church of Christ does not have Canon Law, but what we do have is a "Constitution and By-Laws." The word we also use is "polity" which basically means the way we (polity comes from the Latin word polis, or people) organize ourselves. So our Constitution and By-Laws describe the “polity” of our church. Each local congregation also has a similar constitution and set of by-laws that determine the way they operate.

The four churches that made up the United Church of Christ in 1957 (the Congregational Church, the Reformed Church, the Christian Church, and Evangelical German Church) basically had polities that were egalitarian and democratic in principle As the Preamble of the Basis of Union of the United Church of Christ affirm: we exist not for ourselves, but as parts of that Church, within which each denomination is to live and labor and, if need be die; and confronting the divisions and hostilities of our world and hearing with a deepened sense of responsibility the prayers of our Lord "that they may all be one"; do now declare ourselves to be one body... It is important to notice that the polity of our church is firmly rooted in the bible.

So what is our understanding of Polity?

Douglas Horton, the minister and general secretary of the General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches at the time of the union, described the polity of the United Church of Christ in this way: The UCC is Presbyterian in its legislative functions since it works through representatives of presbyters; Episcopal in its administrative system, since here it works through superintendents or episcope; and Congregational in its judicial branch, since the congregations and several groupings make their own decisions and have no judge over them but Christ and the respect they have for all...in Christ.

(Theology and Identity, 68. Quoted from Douglas Horton, The United Church of Christ, 1962. 190)

UNDERSTANDING THE POLITY OF THE UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST (PART TWO)

How do we make decisions in our church?

Within our covenanted relationship, "decisions are made in consultation and collaboration among the various parts of the structure." (Constitution, Paragraph 6) The character of this decision making process is one of respect for the other with a critical focus on listening and hearing the other in the careful consideration of advice, counsel, and the requests and needs of others. As Paragraph 6 concludes, "In this covenant, the various expressions of the United Church of Christ seek to walk together in all God's ways." Sheares also comments that this process is highly interactive with "a system of cross-initiatives and cross-influencings in a free, open and responsive relationship." (Sheares, Theology and Identity, 75)

What does it mean when we say we have a Covenant within a Covenant?

To understand the whole, one must understand the heart and in this image, the local church forms the heart of the United Church of Christ. As seen above Article 5, paragraph 9 of the Constitution states, "The basic unit of the life and organization of the United Church of Christ is the Local Church." Paragraph 10 goes on to say,

A Local Church is composed of persons who, believing in God as heavenly Father, and accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and depending on guidance of the Holy Spirit, are organized for Christian worship, for the furtherance of Christian fellowship, and for the ongoing work of Christian witness.

Paragraph 17 of Article 5 adds that the local church has,in fellowship, a God-given responsibility for that Church, its labors and its extension, even as the United Church of Christ has, in fellowship, a God-given responsibility for the well-being and needs and aspirations of its Local Churches. In mutual Christian concern and in dedication to Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, the one and the many share in common Christian experience and responsibility.In this sense each individual member in covenant with the local church and in covenant with the other members of the local church, have a responsibility to and for each other to make sure that Christian witness is happening, that Christian fellowship is being advanced and that there is Christian worship. In other words, the energy and the motivation to live in fidelity to the Gospel does not come from above or outside the local church, but rather remains within the local church. However, because of the covenant with the other components of the UCC, the local church must remain open to listening to and being engaged with other local churches, conferences, associations and the General Synod.

So what is the nature of the autonomy the local church has with reference to the other parts of the UCC?

Paragraph 18 of Article 5 notes that: The autonomy of the Local Church is inherent and modifiable only by its own action. Nothing in this Constitution and the by-laws of the United Church of Christ shall destroy or limit the right of each Local Church to continue to operate in the way customary to it; nor shall be construed as giving to the General Synod, or to any Conference or Association now, or at any future time, the power to abridge or impair the autonomy of any Local Church in the management of its own affairs, which affairs include, but are not limited to, the right to retain or adopt its own methods of organization, worship and education; to retain or secure its own charter and name; to adopt its own constitution and by-laws; to formulate its own covenants and confessions of faith; to admit members in its own way and to provide for their discipline or dismissal; to call or dismiss its pastor or pastors by such procedure as it shall determine; to acquire, own, manage and dispose of property and funds; to control its own benevolences; and to withdraw by its own decision from the United Church of Christ at any time without forfeiture of ownership or control of any real or personal property owned by it. It has to be kept in mind that the freedom and autonomy given to the local church still stands under the headship of Christ.

UNDERSTANDING THE POLITY OF THE UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST (PART THREE)

The Preamble to the Constitution and By-Laws, paragraph 1 notes that the purpose of the union of the four churches (and in a way the relationship of the local church to the other parts of the UCC), was to enable the church and its members to, "express more fully the oneness in Christ of the churches composing it, to make more effective their common witness in Him, and to serve His kingdom in the world." So while the local church has autonomy, it also is committed to the oneness of Christ, the common witness and the service of the church to the world. Does autonomy thus mean a freedom from outside interference and authority? Or could autonomy actually mean a freedom for relationship within the body of Christ and within the context of the United Church of Christ? Given the history described in the first part of this paper I am sure that there are individuals and individual congregations and churches that might stand on one side or the other of the question. Here I found Gunnemann helpful. He writes that the polity represents a "covenant of mutual accountability." Thus the covenanted relationship does have context, content and norms. It is, he writes, a "covenanted relationship delineated but not regulated by a constitution and by-laws.” In other words, there is a focus on mutual accountability or better put, "a responsible freedom that is dependent upon a voluntary assumption of responsibility essential to the life of the church in all its component units." (Gunnemann, The Shaping of the United Church of Christ, 91) So autonomy is about a responsible freedom that directs each individual and each local church "to participate in and extend the ministry of Jesus Christ by witnessing to the Gospel in church and society." (Article VI, Paragraph 20).

There are 38 conferences in the United Church of Christ. We are located in the Southwest Conference. There are 50 Churches in the Southwest Conference as of 2015.

National website: www.ucc.org

Southwest Conference website: www.uccswc.org

ABOUT THE SOUTHWEST CONFERENCE

Our Mission Statement:
Extravagantly welcoming and affirming followers of Christ called to embody God's unconditional justice and love.

No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here. Our local congregations offer a friendly welcome to visitors and newcomers. Many of our church buildings offer beautiful settings for weddings and a caring ministry to young couples. Babies are baptized as infants (we're happy to baptize young people and adults who affirm their faith and who have not previously been baptized). Children are warmly included in the life of our churches, many of which offer a children's story time during worship as well as educational programs for all ages.

Children and Youth Programs

The Southwest Conference has an active summer camping program for children and youth, as well as annual retreats for junior high and senior high. There is also an annual "Thanksgiving Alive!" service project held in different cities every year, where 150 youth from around the conference will gather to do such helping ministries as repairing low income houses, cleaning or painting a shelter for abused families, and sort food in a food bank.

Conference and Church Leadership

We welcome the leadership of both men and women - we've been ordaining women to be pastors since 1853, the first US denomination to do so. The United Church of Christ has voted at its national meeting, the General Synod, to try to become a more truly multi-cultural and multi-racial church.

Open and Affirming

The United Church of Christ welcomes all people without regard to racial or ethnic background or sexual orientation. Being in the Southwest, many of our congregations have a large number of active, interesting retired persons as well as singles and families.

Southwest Conference Staff 

Conference Minister: Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer

John serves on staff as Conference Minister. Coming to the Southwest from the Midwest, he has fallen in love with the mountains and the desert. He served on staff of the Missouri Mid-South Conference for five years after having served two churches in Missouri, each for almost 8 years.

He celebrated his 20th anniversary of ordination in June 2008, the same month he celebrated his 24th wedding anniversary. His wife Mimi and he have three children: John, Adam, and Molly. John loves baseball (a die-hard Cardinal fan), long bike rides, golf, hiking, kayaking, poetry, and good art and literature. He has his M. Div. from Eden Theological Seminary (class of '88), and a D. Min. from United Theological Seminary, having studied White Privilege and its effects on the church. He considers it an honor and a blessing to serve on staff of the Southwest Conference.

Assistant to the Conference Minister: Barbara Decker

In January 2008, Barbara was named to the position of Assistant to the Conference minister. Besides support to the Conference Minister, her position includes support work for Search and Call, Committee on Church and Ministry and the Personnel Committee. Since joining the Southwest Conference staff in 2001, Barbara has had responsibilities in almost every area of conference support work: receptionist, financial matters, support to committees and the youth program, planning the Annual Meeting--to name a few.

Barbara is a graduate of Northwest Christian College in Eugene, Oregon. Her career has been ecumenical. She has served Disciples of Christ, the Lutherans (ELCA), and an order of Catholic nuns. She is married to the Rev. David Decker, a Disciples of Christ pastor who serves the East Mesa Christian Church in Mesa. They have two grown children and one granddaughter. The Deckers are natives of the Pacific Northwest and served a Disciples congregation in Spokane, Washington, for 15 years before moving to Arizona. They have enjoyed exploring the Southwest, learning the history and appreciating the natural beauty of this area.

Office Manager: Holly Herman 

Holly Herman is currently the Office Manager for the Conference office. Her duties include financial matters, office support for the Board of Directors and several Committees, planning for Annual Meeting, office supplies and equipment, and other event planning and support.

She is retired from Citibank where she was a Vice President in charge of Commercial Foreclosed properties and Commercial Workout Loan Operations. Her previous association with the conference included membership on the Board of Directors and Stewardship Committee, six years service as Treasurer, and several years as chair of the Open and Affirming Task Force. She is also a member of the Church Building and Loan Fund board at the national UCC office. Holly is married to John Herman, pastor of Desert Palm UCC, and has two grown children and two grandsons.

CONTACT INFORMATION:

Southwest Conference United Church of Christ

917 E. Sheridan, Phoenix, AZ 85006

Office Hours: Monday-Friday 9am-5pm

602-468-3830 • office@uccswc.org

www.uccswc.org

MINISTRIES OF THE SOUTHWEST CONFERENCE

Southwest Conference Mission Planning Board Brief description of duties: The Mission Planning Board (MPB) has the responsibility to discern the shared mission of the SWC, and to test whether or not our resources are being fully utilized and wisely stewarded for the sake of that mission. It will set and maintain the long range vision, plan, and mission of the Conference and ensure that we are on track to meet our long range goals. It will meet twice a year in various locations throughout the Conference. It will be a separate and independent body from the Executive Board, not a subsidiary body. It will be comprised of a representative from every church in the Conference, the officers of the Conference, and any SWC representative serving the National structure of the Church.

Primary Purpose: To discern the mission of the SWC Meets twice a year

Tasks:

  • To discern and communicate the mission of the SWC to the EB and to all covenant partners
  • To become familiar with the mission goals of the denomination and evaluate the compatibility with our Conference goals
  • To evaluate the manner in and extent to which our resources are being brought to bear on the mission of the SWC
  • To identify what resources are currently unavailable to the Conference that might be needed in order to achieve our mission goals
  • To be aware of the extent to which our long range goals are being inhibited or enhanced by our current practices
  • To be fully aware of all assets and resources of the SWC
  • To maintain access to database of individual gifts, talents, and resources that can be called upon to fulfill our mission goals
  • To review all annual reports produced of the Conference entities and determine whether or not they are functioning to help the Conference achieve its mission
  • To determine the continued utility or need of any Committee, Board, Ministries, or Task Forces
  • To evaluate the purpose, need, and work of the Ministries Teams of the SWC
  • To determine whether or not additional Standing Committees are needed for the sake of the Conference - - - To identify for the Nominating committee the gifts, skills, and talents they feel are essential on the Executive Board
  • To serve as a liaison between the Conference and the local churches, each of which will have a representative; and to communicate directly to the local churches what is happening in the Conference and Wider Church
  • To gather twice a year in locations around the Conference for the purpose of completing their tasks
  • To make use of developing technologies to enable consistent communication throughout the year and to keep current with Conference activities.

Officers of the SWC:

  • Moderator, Rev. Lee Milligan, Casas Adobes Congregational Church, Tucson, AZ
  • Moderator Elect, Ms. Jane Cheek, First Congregational UCCPrescott, AZ
  • Treasurer, Mr. Alan Cochrane, Church of the Beatitudes, Phoenix, AZ
  • Secretary, Ms. Barbara Nordlund, Scottsdale Congregational UCC, Scottsdale, AZ

Southwest Conference Ministry Teams Brief description of duties:

Ministry Teams (MT) will be called for by the MPB, and will be formed in order that the Conference can live out its shared mission. The MTs will be open tables at which all who feel passionate about, called to, and qualified for that Ministry will be welcome to participate. The by-laws will neither stipulate what teams need to exist, nor will they assume that any team currently created will be needed in perpetuity. As the mission called for by the MPB changes over time, it will be likely that new MTs will have to form while existing ones phase out.

Primary Purpose: To enact the Mission of the Conference

Tasks:

  • Meet as needed to undertake the mission goals of the Conference
  • Develop networks of Mission and Covenant Partners whose resources can be utilized to fulfill the mission goals of the SWC
  • Facilitate and Coordinate the work of our Covenant Partners in the fulfillment of our mission goals
  • Develop a pool of available resources that can be used to accomplish our mission goals, and find creative ways both to make use of them and to empower our covenant partners to make use of them
  • Discern emerging needs and communicate to the SWC and its Covenant Partners, and recommend shared responses to those needs
  • Organize the work of the Ministry Team so that the efforts of all who are participating can be fully utilized and strategically orchestrated
  • Report to the Mission Planning Board what they are doing to fulfill the mission goals of the Conference, and whether or not there is a continuing need for the Ministry Team to operate
  • Report to the Executive Board and to the Mission Planning Board how any resources that have been allocated to them have been utilized, and what has been accomplished with those resources

Southwest Conference Executive Board Brief description of duties: The Executive Board (EB) will manage the business of the Conference. It will be comprised of the officers and five at large members. It will be a separate and independent body from the Mission Planning Board (MPB) and not a subsidiary body of the MPB, though it will take strong direction from them to ensure that the assets they manage are utilized for the purpose of our shared mission and long-range goals.

Primary Purpose: To resource the Mission of the Conference and to manage the business of the Conference, meets six times a year

Tasks:

  • Enact and maintain the policies of the SWC
  • Develop priorities consistent with the mission of the SWC
  • Oversee the work of the Standing Committees
  • Manage the property and assets of the SWC
  • Create a search committee in the absence of a Conference Minister, and hire an Interim when needed
  • Establish the budget for the SWC
  • Oversee the finances of the SWC
  • Create and maintain any Temporary Committees or Task Forces needed to do the work of the SWC
  • Determine the staffing needs of the SWC
  • Coordinate the programming of the SWC
  • Establish new churches

OUR LOCAL CHURCH IN SUN LAKES

Article 5, paragraph 9 of the Constitution of the United Church of Christ states, "The basic unit of the life and organization of the United Church of Christ is the Local Church." Paragraph 10 goes on to say, "A Local Church is composed of persons who, believing in God as heavenly Father, and accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and depending on guidance of the Holy Spirit, are organized for Christian worship, for the furtherance of Christian fellowship, and for the ongoing work of Christian witness."

Paragraph 17 of Article 5 adds that the local church has, "in fellowship, a God-given responsibility for that Church, its labors and its extension, even as the United Church of Christ has, in fellowship, a God-given responsibility for the well-being and needs and aspirations of its Local Churches. In mutual Christian concern and in dedication to Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, the one and the many share in common Christian experience and responsibility."

In this sense each individual member in covenant with the local church and in covenant with the other members of the local church, have a responsibility to and for each other to make sure that Christian witness is happening, that Christian fellowship is being advanced and that there is Christian worship. In other words, the energy and the motivation to live in fidelity to the Gospel does not come from above or outside the local church, but rather remains within the local church.

So what do we look like as a local church? Here are some references from the BY-LAWS OF THE SUN LAKES UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST (S.L.U.C.C.) that were amended and approved by the congregation on February 25, 2010

  1. ARTICLE I. MEMBERSHIP
  2. Membership in this Church is open to all baptized Christians who shall own the covenant of the Church and receive the right hand of fellowship at a regular service of worship; or in case of extra-ordinary circumstances such as illness or infirmity, on some other occasion approved by the Diaconate.
  3. Members are expected to the best of their ability to attend the regular services of worship, to contribute financially to the support of the Church, to participate in its life and work, and to evidence in their daily lives a Christian life-style.

In other words, membership involves mutual obligations and responsibilities to live out our covenant with each other.

How do we organize ourselves? Again from our by-laws:

  1. ARTICLE IV. BOARDS, COMMITTEES AND REPRESENTATIVES
  2. BOARDS. The Church shall elect the following boards:
    • The Board of the Diaconate The Board of Christian Education The Board of Mission and Service The Board of Trustees We place first our commitment to service and care of the community, then to education and then to mission and outreach. These are the priorities of our community. Finally the Board of Trustees oversees the financial obligations of the community. The other needs of our community are then addressed in the by-laws in the various committees.
  3. COMMITTEES. In addition to the Committees formed under the respective Boards, the Church shall establish the following Committees by appointment and/or election as specified for each Committee. Each of these committees shall prepare an annual budget and submit it to the Budget Committee no later than December 1st.
    • The Music Committee
    • The Pastoral Relations Committee
    • The Budget Committee
    • The Nominating Committee
    • The Church Growth Committee (Includes Publicity)
    • The Social Activities Committee
    • The Long Range Planning Committee
  4. CHURCH COUNCIL. The Church Council shall consist of the Officers of the Church and the Chairmen, or designated representatives, of the Boards and Committees established in the by-laws. Other members shall be the Chairman of the Music Committee, the senior representative to the Sun Lakes Chapel Board, the senior representative to the Interfaith Council, and not less than three (3) members of the congregation, elected at large, who are not members of a Board or Committee nor hold any other elected office. The Moderator shall act as the Chairman of the Council. The Council shall have the responsibility for the coordination of the program activities of the Church and shall have the powers of the Church between meetings of the congregation including the authority to elect delegates, and to install and ordain councils and other ad hoc interchurch bodies.