The United Church of Christ (a.k.a. UCC) was formed on Tuesday, June 25, 1957 at the Uniting General Synod in Cleveland, Ohio. The new denomination united the relatively young Evangelical and Reformed Church, created 23 years earlier, and the Congregational Christian Churches, created 26 years earlier. The United Church of Christ thus inherited a rich history including Calvinist reformers, abolitionists, and women’s rights activists. Since then, the UCC has been described as the most liberal yet unarguably Christian denomination. It is headquartered in its birthplace of Cleveland and currently claims about 1.4 million members in 6,000 congregations divided among 39 conferences (more on those later).
The short history of the United Church of Christ shows the denomination’s commitment to being on the forefront of social justice issues. In 1972, the denomination ordained the first openly gay man to be called to Christian ministry. It continues to dedicate much effort to be “open and affirming” of gay and lesbian Christians in its churches. In 1976, the UCC elected the first African American leader of a racially integrated mainline church in the United States. In 1995, the denomination published the New Century hymnal, the only hymnal released by a Christian church that equally acknowledges both male and female images of God.
The United Church of Christ is organized into regional divisions of conferences, usually consisting of one or more states, and associations, smaller divisions of conferences. The bi-annual meeting of the representative body, the General Synod, is made of delegates chosen by the conferences and other elected voting members. The individual congregations are self-governed in aspects such as worship, finances, and election of ministers but they exercise this freedom in agreement with the decisions made by the respective association, conference, and General Synod. This means that while the larger organization of the United Church of Christ is generally quite liberal, the individual congregations can range from “frozen chosen” to conservative evangelical theology.
All that liberal politics and autonomy can backfire, though. A joke amongst the UCC’s members is that the acronym stands for “Unitarians Considering Christ,” a quip that indicates the tendency of some members to go off the deep end of Christian theology and venture into a potential problem area of Unitarian theology. Debates on the far left of the UCC, as in many other denominations, include issues like whether Jesus was divine in the traditional interpretation of the word and how, if at all, Jesus’ resurrection defines a theology.
The logo for the United Church of Christ is a cross, a crown, and an orb enclosed within a double oval that contains the name of the denomination and Jesus’ prayer from John 17:21: “That they may all be one.” The crown atop of the cross, the basic symbol for Christianity, represents the sovereignty of Christ. The orb on which the cross sits is divided into three parts to signify Jesus’ command from Acts 1:8 to Christians that they be “witnesses in Jerusalem and all of Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”
18 years of experience as a member of the UCC