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Introduction: The UCC and Ecumenical Mission

March 26, 2007

That All May Be One...So the World May Believe
50 Years of Global Mission Practice and Thinking in the United Church of Christ
Study Guide

INTRODUCTION
The UCC and Ecumenical Mission

From its beginnings as a union church to its continued identity that seeks to be a church that is united and uniting; multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-racial; just peace; open and affirming;  and accessible to all  in order to serve a "Still Speaking God," the United Church of Christ has embodied a commitment to integrate church and mission.   In the introduction to the series of the Living Theological Heritage of the United Church of Christ, Barabara Brown Zikmund notes that "The United Church of Christ was created out of a mid-twentieth century ecumenical passion to heal the divisions of the Christian church."[1] The commitments brought into that union from the four predecessor denominations and the multitude of diverse groups that form the heritage of the United Church of Christ, center on mission in the broad sense of that term.  The editors of the "Outreach and Diversity" volume of the Living Theological Heritage claim that contemporary outreach attitudes and activities are a coalescence of common strands in the merging traditions.  "In fact, the merger of these quite different denominations may have been possible only because they shared similar histories and theologies of outreach." [2]

By its history and identity, the United Church of Christ is ecumenical in the way it engages in mission.  All four merging denominations were charter members of the Federal Council of Churches in the United States. Members of these churches experienced opportunities for global commitment and cooperation through early twentieth century ecumenical movements of the International Missionary Council, the Life and Work Movement and the Faith and Order Movement. In 1948, the Life and Work Movement and the Faith and Order Movement came together to form the World Council of Churches with the stated purpose to "call one another to visible unity in one faith and in one eucharistic fellowship, expressed in worship and common life in Christ, through witness and service to the world, and to advance towards that unity in order that the world may believe." [3]

In 1961, the Third Assembly of the World Council of Churches at New Delhi, India affirmed that unity is "God's gift and our task" and that the church is called continually to make its essential unity more visible in fellowship, witness and service.  At the same Assembly, the International Missionary Council merged with the World Council of Churches to structurally demonstrate the integration of church and mission.  This has been embraced to the extent that to call something "ecumenical" today often reminds Christians of the unity and mission of the church all over the world. [4] [Summaries of ecumenical mission conferences of the International Missionary Council help give context to the formation of the WCC in 1948 and the integration if the IMC and WCC in 1961.  http://wcc-coe.org/wcc/what/mission/hist-e.html].

The United Church of Christ has been intimately involved in all of these ecumenical bodies and efforts.  The "birth" of the United Church of Christ in 1957 was an embodiment of contemporary ecumenical discussions on the nature of visible unity that that stressed structural unity.  The United Church of Christ is one of several union churches throughout the world that were thus formed.  Leaders in the United Church of Christ also served and continue to serve in leadership of World Council of Churches and National Council of Churches bodies.  The depth to which the United Church of Christ in its own union in 1957 identified with the goals of the ecumenical movement is parallel to the World Council of Churches' Constitution use of  the words of Jesus' prayer in John 17 "That all may be one...that the world may believe."  The logo adopted to express UCC identity shows the cross and orb as integral to the world surrounded by the words from Jesus' prayer.

Following the merger that created the United Church of Christ in 1957, the United Church Board for World Ministries was officially established in 1961 as a merger of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions of the Congregational Christian Churches, the Board of International Missions of the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the service agencies of  both denominations, the Evangelical and Reformed Commission on World Service and the Congregational Christian Service Committee.  It continues the legacy of the 1812 Charter that formed the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.  This 1961 merger was an important step in drawing together the church and mission  so that mission was seen as the responsibility of the church as a whole,  not only of interested individual Christians working together.

Almost as soon as the 1961 merger forming the United Church Board for World Ministries was consummated, joint action for mission between the global mission bodies of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ became active. Emerging out of common ecumenical and missional commitments, the Division of Overseas Mission of the Disciples and the United Church Board for World Ministries sought ways to work together and began to explore a possible administrative merger of the agencies.  Joint area offices were created and joint missionary appointments were made with common global partners.  The formation of the Common Global Ministries Board in 1996 structurally committed the two churches to joint programming and budget decisions.  With the restructure of the United Church of Christ in 2000, the Common Global Ministries Board became an integral part of Wider Church Ministries.

"That All May Be One...So the World May Believe"
50 Year of Global Mission Practice and Thinking in the United Church of Christ

The study materials in this booklet are intended as a resource to help you identify and interact with major emphases in global mission thinking and practice that these structures embodied during the first fifty years of the United Church of Christ.  It presents connections between the wider ecumenical movement and the United Church of Christ, in particular through the instrumentality of the United Church Board for World Ministries and the later Common Global Ministries Board of the UCC and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Five primary mission foci are presented to help you examine mission emphases during these past 50 years.  They are:

  1. Missio Dei (God's Mission)
  2. God's Mission in the World - "The Church in Mission is the Church for Others"
  3. Toward More Mutual Relationships in the Global Church
  4. Mission as Economic Liberation and Cultural Identity
  5. Mission as Reconciliation

Notes

Appendix

The foci are woven together in different ways at different times, pulling in new strands and putting others to the side at  times.  Most of the emphases highlighted here appear in some way in earlier as well as later documents, demonstrating their continued interrelatedness.  This study is an attempt to pull apart the strands to examine them individually; to highlight their connections in the past; and to examine them in light of today's context.  The hope is that this resource will aid in visioning mission for the future.

 Next Section: Missio Dei (God's Mission)

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