United Church of Christ

The United Church of Christ (UCC) is a Protestant denomination whose presence is principally in the United States, within the Reformed tradition, and formed in 1957 by the union of two denominations, the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches.The United Church of Christ has approximately 1.2 million members of approximately 5,600 local congregations. Although similar in name, the UCC denomination is theologically, historically, and culturally distinct from the Churches of Christ, a loose affiliation of conservative congregations that arose primarily from the Restoration Movement taking place in the Southeastern United States in the 19th century. There have been difficulties of identity with confusion as to which church is which and both groups have endeavoured to enhance their own identity.




Component denominations of the United Church of Christ
The Evangelical and Reformed Church itself was formed in 1934 by the merger of the Reformed Church in the United States and the Evangelical Synod of North America:
The Reformed Church in the United States carried out the tradition of the German version of the Reformed/Calvinist movement, which some commentators have characterized as less rationalistically doctrinal than its Dutch and British Isles counterparts. The German Reformed Church employed the Heidelberg Catechism as its primary, if not sole, confession. Its roots trace mostly to 18th-century immigrants hailing primarily from areas near the Rhine River in Germany, but also from certain parts of Switzerland. The denomination had strong concentrations in Pennsylvania, northern Maryland, and eastern Ohio, but was also present in more scattered patterns in states to the west and south.
The Evangelical Synod of North America traced its roots to later waves of 19th- and early 20th-century German immigration, which settled primarily in the Midwest (especially Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan). Members of this group largely came from the Evangelical Church of the Union, which formed in 1817 as a union of the Lutheran and Reformed churches in Prussia. The group often identified as primarily Lutheran (usually depending upon a local pastor's preference and/or background), but held a mixture of both Lutheran and Reformed beliefs and practices - so much so as to prevent this group from merging with other Lutheran bodies. Evangelicals looked to both the Reformed Heidelberg Catechism and Luther's Small Catechism as their confessions (and eventually developed their own "Evangelical Catechism" for confirmation training of youth, which merged views of both).

The Congregational Christian Churches were primarily Reformed/Calvinist Congregational churches, whose congregational structure separated them from the then-theologically similar Presbyterians. This denomination was centered in New England (being the state churches of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut from colonial times until into the early 19th century). The church spread wherever New Englanders migrated, including significant numbers in the Great Lakes region of the Midwest (states like Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, etc.).
The Congregational churches traced their origins to two
colonial-era English dissenting Protestant groups: the separatist Pilgrims, who established Plymouth Colony in 1620; and the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, who landed in 1629 and 1630 and settled Boston. At the time of the 1957 formation of the UCC, several hundred Congregational churches declined to join. Most of those congregations joined either one of two alternative bodies: the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches and the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference. The latter body came into being as a result of the fundamentalist movement in the early 20th century.
A portion of the American frontier Restoration Movement known as the Christian Churches, which evolved from separate but related movements in North Carolina and Virginia, and New England, at the turn of the 19th century. This loose group comprised a number of frontier movements that broke away from the established Anglo-Saxon denominations (i.e. Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist) because they required less rigid doctrine, church governance and organization. Adherents declared the Bible (especially the New Testament) as the sole doctrinal guide and claimed "no creed but Christ." The Christian Church movement is part of the family of similar movements that generated the mainline Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denomination, the conservative independent Christian Churches, and the sectarian Churches of Christ. As mentioned above, confusion of the UCC with the Churches of Christ has caused substantial identity problems for the denomination in some parts of the United States.

Doctrine and beliefs
The UCC uses four words to describe itself: "Christian, Reformed, Congregational and Evangelical." The church's diversity and adherence to covenantal governance (rather than government by regional elders or bishops) give individual congregations great freedom in worship, congregational life, and doctrine.
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, honoring creeds and confessions as "testimonies of faith" rather than "tests of faith," and emphasizes freedom of individual conscience and local church autonomy. The relationship between local congregations and the denomination's national headquarters is covenantal rather than hierarchical: local churches have complete control of their finances, clergy and staff appointments, and theological and political position.
In the United Church of Christ, creeds, confessions, and affirmations of faith serve as "testimonies to faith" around which the church gathers rather than as "tests of faith" that rigidly describe required doctrinal belief. As expressed on 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. 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).
While not functioning as creedal or dogmatic tests of faith, these confessions and testimonies of faith place the United Church of Christ within the family of Reformation churches.

The Living Theological Heritage of the United Church of Christ a 7-volume book which spans the first century through the 20th century is included because they had impacted the shaping the UCC's theological identity.


Organizational structure
The United Church of Christ organization is considered "covenantal" and the structure of UCC organization is a mixture of the congregational and presbyterian policies of its predecessor denominations. With ultimate authority on most matters given to the local church, many see the United Church of Christ as closer to congregationalism; however, with ordination and pastoral oversight conducted by Associations, and General Synod representation given to Conferences instead of congregational delegates, certain presbyterian similarities are also present.
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" and an 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.

Local churches
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 origin, have numerous relatively-independent "boards" that oversee different aspects of church life, while others have one central "church council" or "consistory" (especially in former Evangelical and Reformed parishes) that handles most or all affairs, while still others have structures incorporating aspects of both, or other alternative organizational structures entirely.
Local churches have the freedom to hire and dismiss their own pastors and other leadership. However, unlike purely congregational groups, the association has the main authority to ordain clergy and grant 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). Local churches are aided in searching for and calling ordained clergy through a denominationally-coordinated "search-and-call" system, usually facilitated by staff at the conference level.

Links:
United Church of Christ website