UCC Manual on Church

Posted on : Nov 7th, 2011 | By | Category: Special Events

United Church of Christ

Manual on Church

Volume I

Draft 2

January 1, 2005

Perspectives and Procedures

For Association and Local Church Covenantal Partners

 

Perspectives and Procedures for Covenantal Partners

Entering into Covenant

At some point in its history, each of the local churches that comprise the United Church of Christ entered into Covenant with the denomination. For many whose history precedes the 1957 merger, a congregational vote to become part of the United Church of Christ, or a vote to approve the Constitution signified their entry into covenantal relationship. For those from the Evangelical and Reformed Church, a vote of their Synod signified the beginning of covenantal relationship with the United Church of Christ. Local churches that came into being after 1957 entered into covenant with the United Church of Christ after careful study, discussion and a congregational vote that led to receiving standing from an Association or Conference of the United Church of Christ.

Some local churches from the Congregational Christian tradition (schedule 1 and 2 churches) are not part of the United Church of Christ but have been admitted to or continue fellowship in a Conference or an Association. Those congregations do not hold covenantal relationship with the United Church of Christ. (Constitution, Article V, paragraph 16)

Local Church Ministries has outlined a common process to guide Associations and local churches wishing to establish covenant with the United Church of Christ. The following guidelines and chart of responsibilities are revised from Considering a New Church Covenant in the United Church of Christ: A Process for Exploring, Developing, and Affirming New Relationships.

New Church Starts, or Churches in Formation, come into being in a variety of ways:

• As a project of the Association/Conference

• As a project of ecumenical partnership

• As a satellite of an established United Church of Christ congregation

• As a self-starting group seeking affiliation with the United Church of Christ

• As an established congregation seeking affiliation with the United Church of Christ.

New Churches wishing to enter covenantal relationship with the United Church of Christ need to request and receive formal standing in an Association or Conference. The Association oversees this process of guiding Churches in Formation toward standing in the United Church of Christ.

In its formation, a New Church needs to organize its life with some official documents.  These vary by state laws, but may include such items as: 501 c 3 non-profit status, a tax exempt number, Articles of Incorporation, a Constitution and Bylaws, and Officers. For guidance in securing such documents, and for collaboration in the discernment of God’s mission for the local church, New Church Starts should work closely with the Association, or Conference acting as an Association.

Associations may find the following guidelines on establishing covenant with the United Church of Christ to have bearing on their processes for churches in formation. However, this section of the Manual on Church specifically outlines procedures to guide Associations as they work with established local churches that seek affiliation with and standing in the United Church of Christ. 15

Exploring and Establishing Covenant

A local church becomes a part of the United Church of Christ by uniting with other local churches in a covenantal relationship (Constitution, Article V, par. 17). This relationship is one characterized by trust, mutual commitment, promises and the kind of shared experiences that are rooted in commitment to God. All settings of the Church—local, Association, Conference and wider church—participate in exploring and establishing this covenantal relationship, discerning God’s will together.

Responsibility of the Local Church Exploring Covenant

By the time a local church discerns its readiness to enter covenantal relationship its members should have widespread conversation, knowledge and familiarity of the identity, history, theology, and polity of the United Church of Christ. Preparation for this step will also include active participation in the life of the United Church of Christ, in as many settings as possible.

Churches should form a Covenant Development Committee in the early stages of exploration to represent the church in its contacts with the United Church of Christ, and to ensure wide participation and knowledge throughout the congregation. This group should also plan ways to introduce their local church to the Association and make its culture, traditions, and commitments deeply known and understood.

Responsibility of the Association and Conference

In the United Church of Christ, the Association and Conference play the primary role in guiding the process whereby local churches may explore and develop covenantal relationship. The Association or Conference staff or representative committee will identify a Sponsoring Church, offer guidance in organizational matters, and network the local church with consultants from the national setting of the United Church of Christ.

Responsibility of the Sponsoring Church

The sponsoring church will provide fellowship and welcome to the local church exploring covenant. The sponsoring church will nurture shared experiences which will introduce the local church to the United Church of Christ and provide opportunities for the exploring congregation’s discernment of God’s will and its development of covenantal relationships.

Representatives of the National Setting

Representatives from the Covenanted Ministries of the United Church of Christ may play a role in this process of covenantal exploration, and may be invited to participate by the Association. In certain cases a staff member from the national setting may be involved from the beginning of the exploration, working collaboratively with the Association throughout the process of exploring and entering covenant.

Establishing Covenant: Guidelines for the Process

The process of establishing covenantal relationship between a local church and an Association of the United Church of Christ has three main stages: exploring covenantal relationship, developing covenantal relationship, and affirming covenantal relationship.

The first stage is a preliminary exploration, an introductory acquaintance that helps a local church and Association decide if there is likelihood for establishing a formal relationship. Questions to consider at this stage include: What are the affinities we sense with potential covenant partners? Why is there an interest in exploring covenant with the United Church of Christ?

If both the local church exploring covenantal relationship and the Association discern there is likelihood of covenant, they enter a second stage, and agree to develop that covenant together. As with all relationships, it will take time and a wealth of shared experiences to help this covenant fully develop.

Should the development stage conclude with a request for standing, in all likelihood the final stage will be an affirmation of covenant for both parties.

Stage One: Covenant Exploration

At this stage, a local church that seeks standing in the United Church of Christ initiates contact with the Association or Conference in which it is located. Informal discussions focus on history, polity and practice, as well as the reasons for exploration and help determine whether a formal, intensive process will follow. Since a substantial initial knowledge is needed, this phase may take from six months to a year, depending on previous knowledge and the pace of the exploration. This initial acquaintance should be comprehensive enough to provide an answer to this central question: Is it likely that a covenantal relationship will result from further exploration?

As deeply and sincerely as the United Church of Christ welcomes local churches, it also recognizes the importance of discernment between potential covenantal partners. Careful preliminary discussions should reveal God’s will for a suitable relationship. Sometimes a local church and an Association of the United Church of Christ will decide to remain ecumenical colleagues but not to continue exploring covenant, at least for the present time. When this is the discernment of either partner in exploration, the United Church of Christ affirms its solidarity in Christ with all who believe, and celebrate ecumenical unity even though exploration of covenantal partnership ends at this stage.

If the discussion reveals the likelihood of a covenantal commitment, the partners move on to further develop their relationship. The local church and Association then enter into a stage of “Covenant Development.”

Stage Two: Covenant Development

During this stage the local church and the Association enter into a formal relationship. Associations may vote to grant the local church a specific status as a “Church in Covenant Development.” This status recognizes the commitment that both the local church and the Association have made to deepen and broaden their knowledge of, and appreciation for, one another.

A Church in Covenant Development is granted voice without vote at Association and Conference meetings for the duration of this stage of establishing covenantal relationship. The local church sends representatives to the meetings as an important way to develop the local church and the denomination. Typically a full meeting of an Association takes place once a year and a Conference conducts an annual meeting, so for that reason alone this phase of the process may last one to two years. Another factor that requires planning and ample time is the need to involve many members of the Church in Covenant Development, the Sponsoring Church and the Association in this stage of developing covenant. The Church in Covenant Development will want to provide means for the Association to become involved in its congregational life in ways that will assist the discernment process.

The Church in Covenant Development and the Association will remain in this relationship until both are comfortable that ample time and effort have been devoted to discerning God’s will.

Until these final decisions are made, standing remains an option, and discernment is not concluded. Throughout this stage, a positive attitude toward standing is paired with a concern to honor the time and space for a faithful discernment process.

There are two possible outcomes of this formal period of developing covenant, each of which affirms the particular nature of the covenant developed by the local church and the Association:

Determination not to seek standing. The Church in Covenant Development, the Association, or both, separately or mutually, may discern that it is not God’s will for the Church in Covenant Development to seek standing. If this determination is made, the United Church of Christ affirms its solidarity in Christ with all who believe, and celebrates ecumenical unity even though exploration of covenantal partnership ends at this stage.

Determination to make a formal request for standing. Together the Church in Covenant Development and the Association affirm that it is God’s will for the local church to seek standing in the United Church of Christ.

Stage Three: Covenant Affirmation During this stage the Association receives the formal request from the Church in Covenant Development and acts upon it. If the request is approved, the Association formally accepts the request and grants standing in the United Church of Christ to the local church. The timing of this vote will usually be determined by the Association’s meeting schedule, but will be taken within a year of the formal request.

The Sponsoring Church will be thanked for its ministry during the discernment process and may play a role in the celebration of the covenant affirmation.

The Association, with its newly received local church, will consecrate the establishment of covenantal partnership by the worship of God and in celebration of the Church’s oneness in Christ. See the Supplemental Materials section of this manual for suggested worship materials for use in planning such a service of worship.

For the whole Manual, click here.

There’s a chart on page 27 which outlines the above process.

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