Saturday, November 26, 2005

Two Days of Reflecting

I have been doing a lot of reflecting since #2 son, Rob, returned to New Mexico Friday. I would like to say that those reflections have been centered, but they haven’t been: my mind has been like a shotgun going from subject to subject—not speedily or erratically, but in a linear “this connects with this” manner.

For example…

Last night I came across some of the pictures taken in 2001 when Rob and Dawn celebrated their 5th wedding anniversary and I drove to Texas to officiate the renewal of their wedding vows. The photos weren’t in great shape, but they did bring back what are now bittersweet memories.

Officiating Marriage Vows Renewal, 2001

That photograph reminded me of how much I miss performing liturgical duties. So when I came across photos of the 11-year pastorate I had at St. John U.C.C. in Cannelton, Indiana, I spent time reflecting and remembering.

with family and friends on the steps of St. John UCC, Cannelton, IN

Being president/moderator-elect of the Kentuckiana Association of the United Church of Christ is, for me, a demanding and rewarding avocation. Yet it isn’t the same as pastoring a congregation. I went into this year’s term as president with my own self-identified objectives. However, then time spent in preparing for the transition into the new Bylaws that become effective on January 1, 2006, forced me to shelve several of those objectives.

As I look to the future in my limited, non-prescient way, I anticipate that those objectives may well remain on the shelf. The association Bylaw changes that required so much time in the past year are replaced by changes in the Indiana-Kentucky Conference’s structure.

If that were not enough, there is now the conflict within the United Church of Christ over this past summer’s General Synod. My reflections carried me to that this afternoon. On the same day that we in the Kentuckiana Association held our fall meeting at which I was elected moderator for 2006, one of our congregations voted to leave the Association and the United Church of Christ.

Thinking of the dynamics of the conflict, an hour or so ago I drafted the following and posted it on the Association Yahoo Site that I moderate:

As president of the Kentuckiana Association and moderator-elect, I am moved to share the following with you.

Thursday I was reflecting upon our history going back to 1620 and the Pilgrims of Plymouth Plantation. That, of course, led me to contemplate where we are at the present moment and where we are going.

Throughout our early history, a number of splinter groups and subgroups came into being as a result of various conflicts. Eventually we came to realize that it was better for all concerned to work together and allow descent that it is to fight and fragment. Thus, the "unofficial" motto of the UCC came into being: In essentials unity, in non-essentials diversity, in all things charity.

We are again in one of those times of conflict over what I consider to be non-essentials. I began to address this conflict in more detail when I realized that the words I was writing have already been written. Thus, I was going to share this URL with you and ask that your read them (again) for yourselves:

However, knowing that I follow fewer than 40% of the URLs people give me, I have copied the words for you below. I only ask that you take a moment to scan/read them as a reminder of who we of the United Church of Christ are. They may be worth again sharing with your congregations.

Nicholas L. Temple,


What is the United Church of Christ?

The United Church of Christ came into being in 1957 with the union of two Protestant denominations: the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches. Each of these was, in turn, the result of a union of two earlier traditions.

The Congregational Churches were organized when the Pilgrims of Plymouth Plantation (1620) and the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (1629) acknowledged their essential unity in the Cambridge Platform of 1648.

The Reformed Church in the United States traced its beginnings to congregations of German settlers in Pennsylvania founded from 1725 on. Later, its ranks were swelled by Reformed immigrants from Switzerland, Hungary and other countries.

The Christian Churches sprang up in the late 1700s and early 1800s in reaction to the theological and organizational rigidity of the Methodist, Presbyterian and Baptist churches of the time.

The Evangelical Synod of North America traced its beginnings to an association of German Evangelical pastors in Missouri. This association, founded in 1841, reflected the 1817 union of Lutheran and Reformed churches in Germany.

Through the years, other groups such as American Indians, Afro-Christians, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, Volga Germans, Armenians, and Hispanic Americans have joined with the four earlier groups. In recent years, Christians from other traditions, including the Roman Catholic Church, have found a home in the UCC, and so have gay and lesbian Christians who have not been welcome in other churches. Thus the United Church of Christ celebrates and continues a broad variety of traditions in its common life.

Characteristics of the United Church of Christ

The characteristics of the United Church of Christ can be summarized in part by the key words in the names that formed our union: Christian, Reformed, Congregational, Evangelical.

Christian. By our very name, the United Church of Christ, we declare ourselves to be part of the Body of Christ—the Christian church. We continue the witness of the early disciples to the reality and power of the crucified and risen Christ, Jesus of Nazareth.

Reformed. All four denominations arose from the tradition of the Protestant Reformers: We confess the authority of one God. We affirm the primacy of the Scriptures, the doctrine of justification by faith, the priesthood of all believers, and the principle of Christian freedom. We celebrate two sacraments: baptism and the Lord's Supper (also called Holy Communion or the Eucharist).

Congregational. The basic unit of the United Church of Christ is the congregation. Members of each congregation covenant with one another and with God as revealed in Jesus Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit. These congregations, in turn, exist in covenantal relationships with one another to form larger structures for more effective work. Our covenanting emphasizes trustful relationships rather than legal agreements.

Evangelical. The primary task of the church is the proclamation of the Gospel or (in Greek) evangel. The Gospel literally means the "Good News" of God's love revealed with power in Jesus Christ. We proclaim this Gospel by word and deed to individual persons and to society. This proclamation is the heart of the leiturgia—in Greek, the "work of the people" in daily and Sunday worship. We gather for the worship of God, and through each week, we engage in the service of humankind.

What we believe

We can tell you more about the United Church of Christ with the help of seven phrases from Scripture and Tradition which express our commitments.

That they may all be one. [John 17:21] This motto of the United Church of Christ reflects the spirit of unity on which it is based and points toward future efforts to heal the divisions in the body of Christ. We are a uniting church as well as a united church.

In essentials unity, in non-essentials diversity, in all things charity. The unity that we seek requires neither an uncritical acceptance of any point of view, nor rigid formulation of doctrine. It does require mutual understanding and agreement as to which aspects of the Christian faith and life are essential.

The unity of the church is not of its own making. It is a gift of God. But expressions of that unity are as diverse as there are individuals. The common thread that runs through all is love.

Testimonies of faith rather than tests of faith. Because faith can be expressed in many different ways, the United Church of Christ has no formula that is a test of faith. Down through the centuries, however, Christians have shared their faith with one another through creeds, confessions, catechisms and other statements of faith. Historic statements such as the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Evangelical Catechism, the Augsburg Confession, the Cambridge Platform and the Kansas City Statement of Faith are valued in our church as authentic testimonies of faith. [See Faith for the complete texts of some of these testimonies.] In 1959, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ adopted a Statement of Faith prepared especially for congregations of the United Church. Many of us use this statement as a common affirmation of faith in worship and as a basis for study.

There is yet more light and truth to break forth from God's holy word. This affirmation by one of the founders of the Congregational tradition assumes the primacy of the Bible as a source for understanding the Good News and as a foundation for all statements of faith. It recognizes that the Bible, though written in specific historical times and places, still speaks to us in our present condition. It declares that the study of the scriptures is not limited by past interpretations, but it is pursued with the expectation of new insights and God's help for living today.

The Priesthood of All Believers. All members of the United Church of Christ are called to minister to others and to participate as equals in the common worship of God, each with direct access to the mercies of God through personal prayer and devotion.

Recognition is given to those among us who have received special training in pastoral, priestly, educational and administrative functions, but these persons are regarded as servants—rather than as persons in authority. Their task is to guide, to instruct, to enable the ministry of all Christians rather than to do the work of ministry for us.

Responsible Freedom. As individual members of the Body of Christ, we are free to believe and act in accordance with our perception of God's will for our lives. But we are called to live in a loving, covenantal relationship with one another—gathering in communities of faith, congregations of believers, local churches.

Each congregation or local church is free to act in accordance with the collective decision of its members, guided by the working of the Spirit in the light of the scriptures. But it also is called to live in a covenantal relationship with other congregations for the sharing of insights and for cooperative action under the authority of Christ.

Likewise, associations of churches, conferences, the General Synod and the churchwide "covenanted ministries" of the United Church of Christ are free to act in their particular spheres of responsibility. Yet all are constrained by love to live in a covenantal relationship with one another and with the local churches in order to make manifest the unity of the body of Christ and thus to carry out God's mission in the world more effectively.

The members, congregations, associations, conferences, General Synod, and covenanted ministries are free in relation to the world. We affirm that the authority of God as revealed in Jesus Christ and interpreted with the aid of the Holy Spirit stands above and judges all human culture, institutions and laws. But we recognize our calling both as individuals and as the church to live in the world:

To proclaim in word and action the Gospel of Jesus Christ.To work for reconciliation and the unity of the broken Body of Christ.To seek justice and liberation for all.

This is the challenge of the United Church of Christ.


  1. I didn’t think I’d read all of that when I first looked at it. I did though, Thank you for posting it.

    You don’t look like I expected in your white robe.

  2. I can understand you missing your liturgical duties. My husband struggles with that thought when he thinks of leaving the church.

    This is a difficult time of year. I'm glad you are writing about your reflections. Sometimes being off center is just what we need to bring us back to center, even if it takes longer than we hope or expect.

  3. Abbey: Thank you for reading all of it! Uh… how did you expect me to look in my white robe, which is called an “alb”?

    Roger: Cannelton is on the Ohio River in southern Indiana next to Tell City.

    Punkmom: I greatly enjoy creating and leading liturgies. In my present role I seldom have the opportunity to do that.

    Yes, this is not an easy time of the year in many ways. I have been keeping a spiritual journal for many years in those “blank” books one can buy; I now have more than 19 of them filled. My entries in those journals are much different than what I blog; however, at times the overlap. I find it strange that when I experience extreme stress, journaling is one of the first spiritual disciplines I cease. There is a story about that that I may put up as a blog post. Thanks for reminding me.

  4. ex-Louisville Guy Retired in TucsonMonday, November 28, 2005 1:18:00 AM

    I am glad you posted this. It is a good reminder of who we of the United Church of Christ are called to be. As you know, we are having similar problems in Arizona, although I am amazed that here in this Republican state church people are much more liberal and accepting than many in the Midwest.

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  6. Thanks for reminding me/us of this post. It bring back memories.