I am a parish minister currently serving the Eliot Church of Natick MA. Eliot Church is a Community Church affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ. Any statements made and postions held in "Unity," however, are solely mine(of course, they may be used with appropriate atribution). Therefore if you disagree, please do not blame the church!

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Central Association

Last Sunday I went to the Annual Meeting of my Local UCC Area Association (Central Mass.). When I arrived there, I didn't know what to expect. As a minister in fellowship with the UUA I am more familiar with the way that these things are done among Unitarian Universalists. Of course, it was very much the same sort of thing. There was much bustle and confusion as folks got to where they needed to be. There were a few tables promoting various wares and programs like "God is Still Speaking," a program designed to promote the UCC to the world at large (It is very interesting... Watch for it!). Also, of course, an extensive business meeting and by-law review that ended just before I thought my back would give out from all the sitting still.

However, it was the United Church of CHRIST, so our worship (with communion), our hymn sing and even the language people used in conversation sounded more traditional than I am accustomed to hearing at events like this. It was not unwelcome. In fact, I was pleased by the spiritual richness of the environment and by the openness of people who see themselves walking with God every day. I am sure on bad days they may not see their walk quite as clearly, yet there was a great and holy spirit in the room (Holy Spirit?) that seemed to lift all hearts.

The theme of the day had to do with Ecumenical Shared Ministries of the UCC--Places like the Eliot Church. Through a series of circumstantial events, I ended up representing the Unitarian Universalists during the worship service. Also present were district officials from the United Methodists, the American Baptists and, of course, the UCC. When we were all introduced the minister of the church we were meeting in said "and representing the UUA we have our own Rev. Adam Tierney-Eliot."

It is the "our own" that caused me to pause then and to relate this story now. The pastor knows me and know that I am, in fact, from the UU "side" of the tradition. Yet, to him and to the assembled delegates I am as much a part of their tradition as the other. The others were dignitaries, I am a part of that group.

I bring this up because I have heard, lately, that many folks doubt that a congregation can truly be both and equally affiliated with the UCC and UUA. The same suspicion may exist for other ecumenical structures as well. I believe that, if we follow Jesus' example and teaching of radical welcome, there is no other way be. I was pleased and proud to be there and to be involved in the UCC programs and initiatives. I am just a proud of my UU connections. The Eliot Church recieves support from both and Eliot, I hope, will continue to increase its support for them.

Basically, it all comes down to the attitude of the leadership (including the minister). A congregation of this sort needs to work to maintain balance and not become just a slightly more interesting version of one denomination or the other. It must also work to keep from becoming a self-centered "hermit" church, lacking in mission to the "outside" world. It also needs to remain open to a diversity of opinion and be patient with denominational structures that were not designed to accomodate ecumenical groups. If the leadership values and maintains its connections, then the rest of the congregation will as well. That is when the true internal (meaning inside the church) dialogue can begin. However, that only comes after a lot of external communication with the clusters, districts, and national organizations that constantly push and prod us in various directions.

The benefits are great, our connections give us a voice and a presence that we could only dream of alone. Just as we grow by knowing each other in Eliot Church, we are stretched by our connections elsewhere. In this way we can grow in mission and in spirit.