The United Church of Christ (UCC) came into being in 1957 as a merger between two Protestant denominations, but whose history goes back to the Pilgrims and Puritans of Massachusetts. We pride ourselves in being a “united and uniting” denomination. Each local UCC congregation is autonomous, yet we come together in covenant with other UCC congregations in regional associations and conferences. The Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ (MACUCC) consists of 400 congregations and is the largest Protestant denomination in the commonwealth. At the same time, the UCC seeks to be broadly ecumenical, promoting cooperation between denominations and has adopted as its motto, “That they may all be one,” which was Jesus Christ’s high priestly prayer on the last night of his life as he gathered with his disciples in the upper room. No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome at Park Congregational Church.
Some other beliefs that characterize the UCC are:
“Testimonies of faith rather than tests of faith”
We do not have any creeds, confessions of faith, or doctrinal statements that are binding on our membership. Though such statements of faith have been used by Christians down through the ages, and are still used in individual UCC congregations, we do not impose any of them as requirements for membership in Park Congregational Church. We “affirm 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” (from the Preamble of The Constitution of the United Church of Christ).
“There is yet more light and truth to break forth from God’s Holy Word”
This is at the heart of the UCC’s “God Is Still Speaking” campaign. Though the Bible is the primary source for understanding our Christian faith, we are not bound by past interpretations of biblical passages for living the Christian faith today. We always remain open to new insights from God for living faithfully in our particular historical context today. The Word of God is found in the Bible most clearly, but it is also found in creation at large, as many biblical writers themselves have stated as well as many of the historic Protestant Confessions of Faith.
“The priesthood of all believers”
All members of the UCC are called to minister, not just the pastor. Every Christian has direct access to God through Jesus Christ. Though recognition is given to those who have received special training in pastoral, theological, and educational functions, every Christian is called upon to be a ministering servant of Jesus Christ.
As members of Christ’s Body, we are free to believe and act in accordance with our individual understanding of the Christian faith and life. In addition, the membership of Park Congregational Church in our communal faith agrees to live in a loving, covenantal relationship with one another. And the same goes with our Association, our Conference, and the national setting of the UCC. The pronouncements of General Synod, which is the highest deliberative body of the UCC, are not binding on individual congregations or members of the UCC. General Synod speaks “to” the churches, not “for” the churches.
Significant “firsts” of the UCC and its predecessor denominations:
In 1624, founded the first public schools in the American colonies in Plymouth, Massachusetts, out of a desire that everyone should be able to read the Bible.
In 1636, founded the first institution of higher learning in the colonies, Harvard College.
In 1700, became the first mainline denomination in the colonies to take a stand against slavery.
In 1785, became the first mainline Protestant denomination to ordain an African-American to the Christian ministry, Lemuel Haynes.
In 1810, organized the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, the first foreign mission agency in North America.
In 1833, founded the first institution of higher learning to open its doors to women, Oberlin College in Ohio.
In 1840, became the first united church in American history when the German Lutheran and German Reformed denominations merged to form the Evangelical [Protestant] Synod, having been separated for three centuries.
In 1853, ordained Antoinette Brown, the first woman ordained to ministry in the modern era.
In 1972, ordained the first openly gay person into the Christian ministry, Bill Johnson.
In 1985, voted to become “Open and Affirming” to gay and lesbian persons, the first mainline denomination to do so, welcoming their gifts into the ministry of the church, following the lead of the Massachusetts Conference of the UCC, which voted to become “Open and Affirming” a year earlier.
In 2005, voted to accept gay and lesbian marriages, the first mainline denomination to do so.
These decisions were ahead of their time, often controversial, and not everyone in the denomination agreed with them. Some today still do not. But the UCC covenants with all its members to affirm and respect the freedom of its individuals and congregations to take divergent positions. The UCC seeks to remain a united church in the midst of its diversity. This is a core value within the life of the church.