Overview of the United Church of Christ Denomination

Faith leaders unite at United Church of Christ
Rev. Dr. Traci Blackmon of United Church of Christ and other faith leaders prepare to deliver the 'Higher Ground Moral Declaration' to RNC, July 11, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.

Angelo Merendino / Stringer / Getty Images

The United Church of Christ, one of the most progressive denominations today, formed through the merger of two established Christian traditions. The church holds the belief that God still speaks to his followers today. Before being elected President of the United States, Barack Obama was a member of Trinity United Church of Christ on the south side of Chicago, led at that time by the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr.

United Church of Christ

  • Also Known As: UCC
  • Known For: Progressive Protestant Christian church denomination formed in the United States in 1957 through the union of the Evangelical and Reformed Church with the Congregational Christian Churches.
  • Prominent Founders: Robert Browne, William Brewster, John Cotton, Anne Hutchinson, Cotton Mather, Jonathan Edwards.
  • Founding: 1957, in Cleveland, Ohio
  • Headquarters: Cleveland, Ohio
  • Membership: Nearly 1 million members in more than 5,000 congregations in the United States.
  • Leadership: John C. Dorhauer, General Minister and President; Traci D. Blackmon and Karen Georgia A. Thompson, Associate General Ministers.
  • Purpose Statement: "To love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and our neighbor as ourselves."
  • Vision Statement: "United in Christ's love, a just world for all."
  • Mission Statement: "United in Spirit and inspired by God's grace, we welcome all, love all, and seek justice for all."

The United Church of Christ was formed in 1957 in Cleveland, Ohio, with the merger of the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches.
Each of those two components resulted from earlier unions of church traditions. The Congregational Churches trace their roots to the English Reformation and to Puritan New England, while the Christian Church had its beginnings on the American frontier. The Evangelical Synod of North America was a 19th-century German-American church prominent in the Mississippi Valley. The Reformed Church in the United States, of German and Swiss heritage, was initially made up of churches in Pennsylvania and surrounding colonies in the early 1700s.

Today the United Church of Christ takes in nearly 1 million members in more than 5,000 churches in 44 North American states, with the highest concentrations on the east coast and in the Midwest.

Governing Body

The General Synod is the representative body of the UCC, composed of delegates chosen by the Conferences. The organization is divided into Associations and Conferences, determined by geographic areas. According to the United Church of Christ constitution, each local church is autonomous and none of its functions or government may be modified by the General Synod, Associations or Conferences.

Notable Ministers and Members

Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, Barack Obama, Calvin Coolidge, Hubert Humphrey, Andrew Young, Howard Dean, Cotton Mather, Harriet Beecher Stowe, John Brown, Thomas Edison, Thornton Wilder, Theodore Dreiser, Walt Disney, William Holden, John Howard.

Beliefs and Practices

The United Church of Christ borrows from Scripture and Tradition to express its core beliefs. UCC stresses unity within the church and a unifying spirit to heal divisions. It seeks unity in essentials but allows for diversity in nonessentials, with a charitable attitude toward disagreement. The unity of the church is a gift from God, UCC teaches, yet diversity is to be accepted with love. To permit variety in expressing faith, the United Church of Christ urges testimonies of faith instead of tests of faith.

New light and understanding are constantly being revealed through interpretation of the Bible, says the United Church of Christ. All members of the UCC are equals as the priesthood of believers, and though ordained ministers have special training, they are considered servants. Individuals are free to live and believe based on their interpretation of God's will for their lives, but individuals and churches are called to enter into loving, covenantal relationship with Associations, Conferences, and the General Synod.

The United Church of Christ practices two sacraments: baptism and holy communion. A progressive mix of Christian history and evolving theology, the UCC distinguishes itself from other denominations in its belief that God is "still speaking."

As a result of their acceptance of diversity and evolving theology, the United Church of Christ has become a liberal and often radical faith movement. At Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. generated nationwide controversy for criticizing white American society and for presenting an award to Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam.

Sources

  • The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed. rev., p. 1672).
  • “The United Church of Christ.” https://www.ucc.org/about-us_short-course_the-united-church-of-christ