About the United Church of Christ
A united and uniting church
The United Church of Christ (UCC) was formed in 1957 by the merger of the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the General Council of Congregational Christian Churches. Both of these denominations had themselves come into existence through prior mergers: the Congregational Churches and Christian Church merged in 1931 to form the Congregational Christian Churches; the Reformed Church and Evangelical Synod of North America merged in 1934 to from the Evangelical and Reformed Church.
The UCC is a distinct and diverse community of Christians that come together as one church to join faith and action. We serve God in the co-creation of a just and sustainable world. We are a church of firsts, a church of extravagant welcome, and a church where “…they may all be one” (John 17:21).
Since 1957, the United Church of Christ has been weaving God’s message of hope and extravagant welcome with action for justice and peace. Together, we live out our faith in ways that effect change in our communities. The UCC’s many “firsts” mean that we have inherited a tradition of acting upon the demands of our faith. When we read in Galatians: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”—a demand is made upon us. And so we were the first historically white denomination to ordain an African-American, the first to ordain a woman, the first to ordain an openly gay man, and the first Christian church to affirm the right of same-gender couples to marry. We were in the forefront of the anti-slavery movement and the Civil Rights movement. Our response to the demands of our faith is woven into the history of our country.
A church of extravagant welcome
Today, we continue to change lives throughout the world. We work alongside more than 200 mission partners. We labor ceaselessly to fight injustice, in the United States and abroad. We instill our vision into our youth and young adults, forging leaders who will imagine new dreams. And we sustain and develop church leaders, pastors, and our local churches to live their faith in exciting new ways. We believe in a God that is still speaking, a God that is all-loving and inclusive. We are a church that welcomes and accepts everyone as they are, where your mind is nourished as much as your soul.
We are a church where Jesus the healer meets Jesus the revolutionary, and where together, we grow a just and peaceful world.
A church of firsts
1620 | Pilgrims seek spiritual freedom
Seeking spiritual freedom, forebears of the United Church of Christ prepare to leave Europe for the New World. Later generations know them as the Pilgrims. Their pastor, John Robinson, urges them as they depart to keep their minds and hearts open to new ways.
1700 | An early stand against slavery
Congregationalists are among the first Americans to take a stand against slavery. The Rev. Samuel Sewall writes the first anti-slavery pamphlet in America, “The Selling of Joseph.” Sewall lays the foundation for the abolitionist movement that comes more than a century later.
1730 | The Great Awakening
The first Great Awakening sweeps through Congregational and Presbyterian churches. One of the great thinkers of the movement, Jonathan Edwards, says the church should recover the passion of a transforming faith that changes “the course of [our] lives.”
1773 | First act of civil disobedience
Five thousand angry colonists gather in the Old South Meeting House to demand repeal of an unjust tax on tea. Their protest inspires the first act of civil disobedience in U.S. history—the “Boston Tea Party.”
1773 | First published African American poet
A young member of the Old South congregation, Phillis Wheatley, becomes the first published African American author. “Poems on Various Subjects” is a sensation, and Wheatley gains her freedom from slavery soon after. Modern African American poet Alice Walker says of her: “[She] kept alive, in so many of our ancestors, the notion of song.”
1785 | First ordained African American pastor
Lemuel Haynes is the first African American ordained by a Protestant denomination. In 1776, in the midst of the fight for liberty in which he enlists as a soldier, he writes a defense of the liberation of African Americans from slavery: “Liberty, Further Extended.”
1798 | ‘Christians’ seek liberty of conscience
Dissident preacher James O’Kelly is one of the early founders of a religious movement called simply the “Christians.” His aim is to restore the simplicity of the original Christian community. The Christians seek liberty of conscience and oppose authoritarian church government.
1810 | First foreign mission society
America’s first foreign mission society, the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions (ABCFM) is formed by Congregationalists in Massachusetts.
1812 | First foreign missionaries to India
ABCFM sends its first group of five missionaries to India, including Adoniram Judson and Luther Rice.
1817 | First school for the deaf
Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet introduces sign language to North America and co-founds the American School for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut. It’s the beginning of a movement that will transform the lives of millions of hearing-impaired persons.
1839 | A defining moment for the abolitionist movement
Enslaved Africans break their chains and seize control of the schooner Amistad. Their freedom is short-lived, and the ship’s owners sue to have them returned as property. The Supreme Court rules the captives are not property, and they regain their freedom.
1846 | First integrated anti-slavery society
The Amistad case is a spur to the conscience of Congregationalists and other Christians who believe no human being should be a slave. In 1846 Lewis Tappan, one of the Amistad organizers, organizes the American Missionary Association—the first anti-slavery society in the U.S. with multiracial leadership.
1853 | First woman pastor
Antoinette Brown is the first woman since New Testament times ordained as a Christian minister, and perhaps the first woman in history elected to serve a Christian congregation as pastor. At her ordination a friend, Methodist minister Luther Lee, defends “a woman’s right to preach the Gospel.”
1957 | Spiritual and ethnic traditions unite
The United Church of Christ is born when the Evangelical and Reformed Church unites with the Congregational Christian Churches. The new community embraces a rich variety of spiritual traditions and welcomes believers of African, Asian, Pacific, Latin American, Native American, and European descent.
1959 | Historic ruling that airwaves are public property
Southern television stations impose a news blackout on the growing civil rights movement, and Martin Luther King Jr. asks the UCC to intervene. Everett Parker of the UCC’s Office of Communication organizes churches and wins in Federal court a ruling that the airwaves are public property.
1972 | Ordination of first openly gay minister
The UCC’s Golden Gate Association ordains the first openly gay person as a minister in an historic Protestant denomination: the Rev. William R. Johnson.
1973 | Civil rights activists freed
The Wilmington Ten are charged with the arson of a white-owned grocery store in Wilmington, N.C. One of them is Benjamin Chavis, a UCC missionary and community organizer. Convinced the charges are false, the UCC’s General Synod raises more than $1 million to pay for bail.
1976 | First African American leader elected
General Synod elects the Rev. Joseph H. Evans president of the United Church of Christ. He becomes the first African American leader of a racially integrated mainline church in the United States.
1995 | Singing a new song
The United Church of Christ publishes The New Century Hymnal—the only hymnbook released by a Christian church that honors in equal measure both male and female images of God. Although its poetry is contemporary, its theology is traditional.
2005 | Marriage equality
On July 4, the General Synod overwhelmingly passes a resolution supporting same-gender marriage equality. UCC General Minister and President John Thomas says that the Synod “has acted courageously to declare freedom, affirming marriage equality, affirming the civil rights of same-gender couples…”