Faith Celebration--United Church of Christ

Have you entered my current giveaway for a wooden watch?

 Back in September I reviewed the beautiful book, Everyone Prays: Celebrating Faith Around the World by Alexis York Lumbard. As I thought about this book I began to think about how wonderful it would be to have a place to learn about the different world religions in a personal way. I talked to some of my fellow bloggers at Multicultural Kid Blogs and came up with the wonderful series that will include a giveaway of the book. Each blog participating will be sharing about their own religion and all will be linked together on January 25th at Multicultural Kid Blogs with a review of the book and the giveaway. In my part here is to share about my own religion.
Immanuel Congregational Church (Source)

I grew up attending Immanuel Congregational Church in Hartford, Connecticut. This is the church in which I was baptized and attended Sunday School. For a short while my  mother served as the Interim Director of Christian Education there. It was a church with a lot of history. It is across the street from the Mark Twain House in Hartford and I was always told that Mark Twain called it the oily cloth church because of the yellow and green tiles above the entrance. 

At Immanuel Church I learned about accepting everyone. I learned about God's love and about Jesus. In Sunday School we learned about the stories of the Bible and had fun as well. I went through confirmation class and became a member in eighth grade. I honestly cannot remember what we learned in confirmation class but do remember being taken to other churches as part of the class to make sure we were choosing the church we wanted. Then of course I was in high school and college and moved away. 
Needham Congregational Church (Source)

While in graduate school in Boston, I worked part time at a small newsletter. One of my fellow employees was leaving to become the youth group director at her church in Needham. She asked if I would help with the youth groups. It was the next church. It happened to also have congregational in its title and be a United Church of Christ (or UCC) church. At this church I worked with the youth groups and taught a couple of Sunday School classes. I was on the outskirts of it and once I moved too far away to attend weekly, I stopped going. 

My next church experience occurred after I got married. Steve and I got married by a non-denominational minister who was a best friend of a friend. Steve is Catholic. I knew I did not want to go to Catholic Church, so Steve and I visited all the Congregational churches in our town. There are two. One is a United Church of Christ and the other is a Conservative Congregational Church Conference (CCCC) church. The CCCC church has a large congregation and many activities and ministries, but no one was really friendly at the church. The UCC church was very friendly but had very few children and young families. It felt more like what I wanted for me, but I was picking a church for are future family and took into consideration the number of children. Then we happened to go by a Congregational Church in the next town one day and decided to try it. Everyone there was friendly and it felt like home. I have been going there ever since. What my church shopping experience taught me was that the conference in which the church is a member matters. So what is the United Church of Christ?

Well, the United Church of Christ combined the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Christian Churches. I believe this collaborative was in the 1950's. The Congregationalists came from the Puritans. This is part of why there are so many Congregationalist churches in New England town centers. Many of the churches date back to the 1700s if not before. I know I have been at many church meetings where we joke about how we have not let go of some of our ancestors habits.
Trinity Snowman Activity
The United Church of Christ believes in the trinity: Creator, Jesus, and Holy Spirit. We believe each person is unique and valuable. The two sacraments in the United Church of Christ are baptism and communion. Everyone who is baptized is considered to belong in body and soul to Jesus Christ. Everyone of any religion is invited to join Christ at Christ's table for the Sacrament of Communion. There is not a special age where a child can have Communion. It is up to the parent to decide and there is no special ceremony. For more on what the United Church of Christ believes check out this page.
Hazel's Baptism

All of the churches I have belonged to are what is now called open and affirming by the United Church of Christ. Not all UCC churches are open and affirming, but it is something I feel strongly about. Open and Affirming (ONA) is the way that the UCC designates churches that have made a public covenant to welcome into their full life and ministries people of all sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions. The ONA churches will perform same sex marriages, baptize a child of a same sex couple and such.  As I have stated previously on this blog, I feel all people are equal and should be treated this way. It is not a human's job to judge another human. The Bible tells us this. This is why I feel so strongly about it. But back to more on the UCC.

A UCC church typically has a Sunday morning service (some have more than one). There are some times special services for things like Christmas Eve, Good Friday or Maundy Thursday and Ash Wednesday. All the UCC churches I have been to serve Communion on the first Sunday of the month. Upon entering the church usually a person is greeted and given a weekly bulletin. This bulletin will tell the worshipers exactly what will happen when. It includes prays, when to stand-up, sit down, songs to sing, etc. It also usually has notices about things happening around the church from Sunday School, fellowship/coffee hour after church, who donated the flowers and who needs prayers. The bulletin will literally tell the worshiper all he or she knows to participate. Usually a church service starts with a welcome and then a song and a prayer (which usually includes The Lord's Prayer). Next there is sometimes a children's message (and then the kids leave for Sunday School) and another song. Then comes another prayer and the scripture reading and the sermon followed by the offering and doxology. Finally there is the closing hymn, benediction and postlude. However each church does it their own way and some Sundays may be different which is why the bulletin is necessary. 
Church Interior
Unlike the Catholic Church there is not a hierarchy in it. There are no bishops, pope, etc. The minister teaches/preaches from the Bible, but anyone can communicate with God on his or her own through prayer. There are no confessionals and the church is run by the congregation or its representation known as Parish Council. The Council is elected at the Annual Meetings when terms are up. Most UCC churches have by-laws that have seen them through for decades and for some centuries. The church is also funded only by its congregation. There is not a higher place that has money to help with anything. In fact most UCC churches support the state and national UCC offices with dues and donations. Our cross also does not include Jesus on it like the Catholic Church. The UCC also has female ministers. 

So this should give you a pretty good idea of what to expect if visiting a UCC church. UCC teaches people that God is with you always and is still at work in you. I hope you will join us on January 25 for our Celebration of Faith Around the World.