The United Church of Christ (UCC) is a very young church with old roots. The UCC was formed in 1957 when two denominations, which previously merged, became one. These denominations, some of which go back to the Protestant Reformation, are the Congregational and Christian churches (which merged in 1931) and the German Evangelical and Reformed Church in America (which merged in 1934).
The UCC is a mainline Protestant denomination, much like the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Methodist Church, and the American Baptist Church. Our motto, taken from Jesus’ prayer for his disciples, is that they may all be one (John 17:21). This articulates the ecumenical unity for which we long. The UCC is an experiment in ecumenical unity. Our prayer is that the Church Universal will someday become one, as it was in the first century. Although this will probably never come to fruition, we can live as if it will. We do this by working with our Methodist, Disciples of Christ, Lutheran, and Catholic sisters and brothers to make the realm of God a reality in our midst.
One of the hallmarks of the UCC is our quest to seek social justice for all people. Like the Liberation theologians of the early 1970s, we believe that to truly understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ you must read it from the perspective of the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized. Christ is revealed in word, sacrament, and service.
The United Church of Christ is a denomination of firsts. A few of them are:
1620 – The Pilgrims Come to America: Seeking spiritual freedom, forebears of the United Church of Christ prepare to leave Europe for the New World. Later generations know them as the Pilgrims. Their pastor, John Robinson, urges them as they depart to keep their minds and hearts open to new ways. God, he says, “has yet more light and truth to break forth out of His Holy Word.”
1700 – Abolitionist Movement: Congregationalists are among the first Americans to take a stand against slavery. The Rev. Samuel Sewall writes the first anti-slavery pamphlet in America, “The Selling of Joseph.” Sewall lays the foundation for the abolitionist movement that comes more than a century later.
1773 – Boston Tea Party: Five thousand angry colonists gather in the Old South Meeting House to demand repeal of an unjust tax on tea. Their protest inspires the first act of civil disobedience in US history – the “Boston Tea Party.”
1785 – The First African-American Pastor: Lemuel Haynes is the first African-American ordained by a Protestant denomination. He becomes a world-renowned preacher and writer.
1810 – Foreign Missions: America’s first foreign mission society, the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions (ABCFM), is formed by Congregationalists in Massachusetts.
1839 – The Amistad: Enslaved Africans break their chains and seize control of the schooner Amistad. Their freedom is short-lived, and they are held in a Connecticut jail while the ship’s owners sue to have them returned as property. The case becomes a defining moment for the movement to abolish slavery. Congregationalists and other Christians organize a campaign to free the captives. The US Supreme Court rules that the captives are not property, and the Africans regain their freedom.
1853 – The First Ordained Woman: Antoinette Brown is the first woman since New Testament times ordained as a Christian minister, and perhaps the first woman in history elected to serve a Christian congregation as pastor. At her ordination a friend, Methodist minister Luther Lee, defends “a woman’s right to preach the Gospel.” He quotes the New Testament: “There is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
1943 – The Serenity Prayer: Evangelical and Reformed theologian Reinhold Niebuhr preaches a sermon that introduces the world to the now-famous Serenity Prayer: “God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”
1972 – The First Openly Gay Minister: The UCC’s Golden Gate Association ordains the first openly gay person as a minister in a mainline Protestant denomination: the Rev. William R. Johnson. In the following three decades, General Synod urges equal rights for gay citizens and calls on congregations to welcome gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) members.
Since 2004, the UCC has gained national and international attention for its God is still speaking campaign and the commercials that followed. Based on the Gracie Allen quote, “Never place a period where God has place a comma,” the UCC, now known as much for the comma as its traditional logo (the cross-crown-and-orb) believes, as Rev. Robinson told “the original Pilgrims,” that the there is “yet more light and truth to break forth” from God’s Holy Word. God is still speaking. Yes, God speaks to us through the pages of scripture, but God also speaks to us through prayer, worship, friends, strangers, glorious sunsets, and especially the laughter of children. God calls us “to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8).
A united church, the UCC listens to the still, small voice of the still speaking God as we seek ecumenical unity and justice for all people. Come, join us on the journey!
For more information, visit: ucc.org