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!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Thomas and Sinkford

Thanks to a rather unpleasant cold/flu contracted by my wife, I was able to attend the discussion between Bill Sinkford (President, UUA) and John Thomas (General Minister, UCC) held at Andover Newton last night. I am glad I got to go. It was very interesting, indeed. I was particularly pleased by how intelligent and thoughtful they were. I wasn't surprised, of course, but it is nice to know that our collective movements are so well represented.

Did I agree with them entirely? Of course not! First of all, they didn't always agree with each other. They are separate associations for a reason. Second, we wouldn't be good congregationalists if there wasn't some sense of well-meaning discussion and debate. Still, in the midst of the friendly banter and good natured ribbing, serious topics were discussed and some common ground was found.

I asked them a question about United and Federated churches, soliciting their thoughts about how we can play a role in the dialogue between the two institutions. I thought the answers gave some food for thought and will think on them further. Rev. Thomas brought up one of the potential pitfalls of churches like ours which is that in an effort to get along, the church can--instead of being a place of discussion and growth--become a rather whitebread institution. after the presentation I had the chance to chat very briefly with him and he elaborated a bit. He used the term "non-descript" to describe churches like this and I share his concern. United churches
have the opportunity to be the most exciting, broad and dynamic. It is sad when we go the other way and become more comfortable than helpful.

During the conversation I realized that this is a risk that we at Eliot need to be aware of. In some ways we are doing well. We have multiple orders of service for Holy Communion, for example, that reflect the various traditions that we call home. One is adapted from the UCC Book of Worship. One is from a UU hymn book used by our past minister, Walter Kring. Another comes from the Iona Community and serves to honor our ecumenical status. This one was popular with my predecessor, Michael Boardman. Finally, there is one that I put together that is used on special occasions (Maundy Thursday, World Communion Sunday, etc). The first three are rotated through the months. In addition, I try to balance lectionary-based sermons with more thematic styles. Of course in all cases the Bible plays a central role.

In other ways we could do better in honoring our specific traditions and the Congregational Way as a whole. Sometimes we use our designation as a "community church" as an excuse for ignoring our historical roots. This, of course, doesn't make sense necessarily as there are plenty of Churches in both the UUA and UCC who use the same designation. It is a descriptor, after all, not a third and distinct tradition.

Interestingly, when I first came to Eliot I tried to avoid (and was asked to avoid) using specifically "UU" and "UCC" readings and themes. Now I am being asked to do just the opposite. I think this reflects a greater comfort with my ministry (as I have mentioned here before, I have Dual-Standing) and an increased interest--particularly among newer members--in exactly who and what we are as a congregation.

The fact is, while there are many distinct differences in both theology and culture between the two organizations, we have great deal in common. In particular, we approach the world and our faith in similar ways. It will be interesting to see how our conversation develops at Eliot Church. Certainly the leaders of our movement provided an excellent example.

Last Thoughts:

Here are some random links to Community churches affiliated with either the UUA or the UCC (there are plenty of others)...

Community Church of New York, Community Church of Boston (both UU)

Fairfax (CA) Community Church, Arlington Community Church (also in CA) (both UCC)

Peperell (MA) Community Church (both UUA and UCC)

...and a couple other churches named "Eliot"

Newton, MA, Roxbury, MA

Finally, there was apparently some concern in certain quarters that this meeting was a prelude to merger. I just have to say that the fear is unfounded...