Reverend Bonnie Steinroeder | Minister, First Congregational Church of Holliston, MA, USA
January 18-25, 2023 is the yearly celebration and awareness-building opportunity of The Week of Christian Unity. The World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity Joint Commission on the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity have shared with Graymoor the Scriptural Theme for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2023. The theme is from Isaiah 1:17, “Do good; seek justice.” The entire scriptural passage for the theme is Isaiah 1:12-18, lamenting a lack of justice among the People of God. Yet, it also promises redemption by encouraging acts of justice.
Reverend Bonnie Steinroeder is a dear friend and dialogue partner with whom we have worked together for some years. She graciously accepted to share her own tradition and insight into the crucial work of ecumenism.
On June 25, 1957, in Cleveland, Ohio, the Evangelical and Reformed Church, committed to “liberty of conscience inherent in the Gospel,” and the Congregational Christian Churches, a fellowship of biblical people under a mutual covenant for responsible freedom in Christ, joined together as the United Church of Christ (UCC). Since its inception, the UCC has sought to bring together those who wish to accept the joy and cost of discipleship with an emphasis on social justice and God’s extravagant welcome for all. The motto of the UCC is taken from John 17, “that they may all be one” which reflects the church’s desire to seek out common ground among all Christians.
The UCC is non-creedal and congregational in polity. This means that each congregation decides for itself how it will operate and that there is no appointed authority figure who can mandate what any congregation must do or believe. The UCC is, however, bound in the covenant. Members of a congregation live in covenant to care for and help one another and congregations within the UCC belong to an association of churches that hold one another accountable in matters of faith. In practice, the openness of the UCC lends itself to an inclusive model for Christian unity. Because there is no doctrine that one must adhere to in order to join, one will find a wide range of beliefs among church members.
As the pastor of a UCC congregation in Massachusetts, I am often asked how this diversity of beliefs functions within the denomination. Is it truly the case that any belief is accepted and does this promote unity or division? In my own church, I find that unity is best achieved when there is mutual respect for differing views. We are tied together through the love of Jesus but there is freedom for each person to interpret this ancient faith and the responsibility to make faith relevant for living in today’s world. This does not mean that there is never disagreement, but we strive to find consensus in the midst of disagreement in order to be faithful to our mutual covenant with God and one another.
The United Church of Christ is a relatively young denomination. It’s roots are ecumenical and that can very much be seen in the makeup of our congregations today. Our members come from many faith traditions and in general, are attracted to the liberal theology and welcoming nature of our churches. For us, Christian unity does mean that we all need to think alike but rather live out the commandment of Jesus to love our neighbor as ourselves and to recognize and affirm all as beloved Children of God.
Check out resources for this inspiring week at Greymoore Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute.