Skip to comments.Looking ahead, While United Church of Christ celebrates 50 years critics wonder if unity has morphed
Posted on 06/19/2007 4:44:12 AM PDT by siunevada
As a 14-year-old, Mary Ann Gregory marched in the parade at the first General Synod of the United Church of Christ in 1957.
The denominations joining that year to form the United Church of Christ - the Reformed Evangelical and Christian Congregational churches - initially walked in separate lines, then merged to form the tail of a Y, she remembered, a symbolic representation of the new unity.
"There was a lot of celebration because there was so much hope," said Gregory, a member of St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Westminster, of the synod gathering in Cleveland. "It was so historic."
Few foresaw the social changes that would put the UCC in the spotlight 50 years later, most notably for its strong affirmation of gays and lesbians.
This year, Gregory, a Westminster resident, plans to attend the General Synod in Hartford, Conn., where she will be recognized as an "honored laywoman" during the denomination's 50th anniversary festivities June 22.
She will be joined in Hartford by a fellow St. Paul's member, Renee Fink of Finksburg, who is an elected delegate to the General Synod, there to vote on business as well as celebrate.
Fink was part of the Atlanta General Synod committee in 2005 that recommended that the UCC endorse a resolution affirming gay and lesbian marriage.
The delegates did so, by about 90 percent, she said.
"That was a highlight, as you can imagine," Fink said. "It was a very difficult moment but ultimately a very enlightening one."
Enlightening because conservative members of the denomination spoke their minds forcefully, she said.
The passed recommendation is not binding on individual churches but was off-putting to many conservative members.
This year's General Synod, the 26th, is expected to be the largest in UCC history and has attracted such luminaries as Democratic presidential contender and UCC member Barack Obama, who will give a keynote speech.
As of May 30, more than 7,000 had registered for the biannual event, more than double those registered for the 2003 and 2005 synods.
The Hartford Convention and Visitors Bureau is now calling the national event the largest convention ever held in the city, according to a UCC press release.
Among the 10,000-plus expected at the gathering, some will be from Carroll County, including a contingent of youths going with St. Paul's United Church of Christ's assistant pastor, the Rev. Lucy Brady, coordinator of the denomination's Central Atlantic Conference youth delegation.
This year's goal has been to bring a total of 1,000 youths nationwide to the synod.
Being with 1,000 other youths will be empowering for the young people, Brady said, many of whom come from small congregations with few youths.
"This denomination will have a future," Brady said.
Gregory, who will attend as a nonvoting visitor, said she was surprised to get the laywoman recognition, for which Brady nominated her.
"I had no idea I was even being nominated," she said. "I just wanted to be there for the celebration and to see old friends."
Gregory doesn't remember much of the denomination's first General Synod but was impressed with the energy at the event.
"There was so much interest in the ecumenical moment," she said.
Hospitable to whom?
Now, the inclusion that underlaid the 1957 merger has morphed into an attitude of what the Rev. Stephen Gray of Indianapolis called radical hospitality.
This welcoming focus on gays and lesbians continues to cause internal dissent, causing conservatives to feel unwelcome.
Five of the 12 resolutions to be voted on at this General Synod involve, directly or indirectly, gay issues.
One calls for a reaffirmation of marriage as between one man and one woman. Another notes a difference between the state according gay couples legal protections and the church sanctifying same-sex relationships and requests a resolution affirming opposite-sex marriage be debated without resorting to name-calling.
Another resolution asks for reaffirming what it calls the classic and centrist theological tradition of the denomination and for the explicit welcoming of those considering themselves evangelical, conservative, orthodox or traditional (ECOT).
Yet another resolution requests that a seat on the UCC's Executive Council be reserved for a representative of a renewal group, such as Biblical Fellowship Witness, which has been critical of the leftward drift of the church.
Whether any of these resolutions gain traction is another matter.
"I hope we stay on our trajectory of support to the gay and lesbian community," Fink said.
The delegates could decide that the matter has already been laid to rest and not consider more resolutions, she said.
According to the Rev. John Thomas, president of the UCC, the denomination needs to start seeing itself less as a big tent and more as a parade heading in a certain direction and marching to a certain drumbeat.
Some of the tolerance toward dissenting groups needs to end, he said, especially if those groups are not loving and bent on pulling people out of the denomination.
And this is the same group that had such a problem affirming “Christ is Lord” a year or three ago.
We once attended a UCC service by accident. We had just moved to the area and were “church-hopping” looking for a congregation. I had visited their web site, but nothing on it raised my suspicion.
The first shock came in the form of a female minister. She was not listed on the web site, but she was there nonetheless.
The next shock was delivered by a representative from their national HQ. She was pleading the cause for greater contributions so that the UCC could pursue its agenda. That agenda was filled with political and social causes, but nary a word about Christ or the Gospel.
Next came an intentional misreading of Scripture that changed the meaning of an entire passage. Since we were the only people in the place with a Bible, we were likely the only ones who noticed the egregious manipulation of God’s Word.
The final straw came when the senior pastor led the congregation in prayer to the “father-mother god”. No kidding. In the words of that famous nautical philosopher, “That’s alls I can stands; I can’t stands no more!” We stood up and left in mid-prayer.
We had been looking for a church of Christ, and stumbled into this United Church of Christ. Words matter; and that word “united” is a huge differentiator!
After we left, I felt cheated and lied to. I felt the UCC misrepresented themselves, and ought remove Christ from their name, altogether.
“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” Galatians 6:7
How do we gain experience? By making mistakes.
Sounds like it was a real freak show!
Indeed. Experience is a collection of mistakes... hopefully someone else’s.
Now that they have completed their takeover, they are dropping the language of inclusion and want to rid themselves of everyone who does not goose step in their new ‘parade heading in a certain direction and marching to a certain drumbeat.’
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