In Appreciation Of. . .
As I have been reviewing some of the founding documents of the United Church of Christ, particularly the Congregationalist strain, in preparation for a presentation on History for the Shenandoah Association Institutes, I have been particularly appreciative of the insights of our ancestors in faith. In particular, I am thankful of the polity of our church.
One month ago the United Church of Christ met in Baltimore in General Synod 17. Delegates – some men, some women, some clergy, some lay, some youth – all selected and elected by their respective Conferences back home, gathered as church to consider the issues of the day and the direction of the UCC for the next two years. Approximately 3,000 delegates acted on behalf of 914,871 (as of fall 2017) members representing 5,032 (as of fall 2017) churches. There business ranged from hot topic justice concerns to the nitty-gritty of how and who will govern the denomination.
Back in the late sixteenth century Robert Browne began writing and putting his writing into practice as he gathered a church in Norwich, England. His writings went against all the acceptable ways churches were organized and governed. His thoughts became known as the “Congregational Way.” First and foremost he reminded all who would hear him that Christ was the Head of the Church – not a king, or queen, or bishop, or pope, or patriarch. He also spoke about equality between “regular church folk” and their pastors. No one was above anyone else.
These ideas took hold and expressed themselves in those Pilgrims and Puritans that settled the Colonies and who are our ancestors in faith. Congregational framework meant both a freedom from imposition of will from a higher authority, and living together in a covenant relationship one with another. These fundamental ideas took shape in the founding of our nation and the relationship of the three branches of government one with another.
From the very beginning the governing body of the church designated those among themselves to make decisions and act on their behalf. In the beginning those people were only men, only full communicative members of the church, and only men of high integrity and morals. They were given the historic, biblical, names of officers of the church – elders and deacons. They were subject to the will of the people because they were voted in and could be voted out. While holding office it was their responsibility to make responsible decisions based on the best facts they could get. But also, in addition, they were to make decisions prayerfully, paying attention to the qualities and teachings of Jesus as Head of the Church. In those meetings, they were the church gathered.
Every once in awhile, it is good to remember that the church is not a business. The church is not a civic organization. The church is not political party. The church is God’s people gathered. The church is God’s people choosing to bind themselves together in a relationship of trust and faith. The church is the Body of Christ to do what Jesus did when he walked the shores of Galilee – proclaim the Love of God, usher in the Realm of God on earth as it is in heaven, focus always and forever on the sacredness of life – each person and all the world(s) around us. Our meetings, our classrooms, our worship services, our fellowship time together are to be formed by Jesus. We forget that sometimes. Today I am thankful for the witness of our ancestors to remind us of the responsibilities of living in covenant with one another, the people gathered as church.
Grace and Peace