(This material is adapted from the United Church of Christ website stillspeaking.com.)
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 open to new ways. God, he says, "has yet more light and truth to break forth out of his holy Word."
Congregational churches in colonial Massachusetts adopt the Cambridge Platform. A forerunner of the U.S. Constitution, it affirms the freedom of congregations that are independent, but bound together by ties of love and mutual support.
Forebears of the UCC were the first mainline church to take a stand against slavery in the year 1700. Samuel Sewall, a Puritan, speaks out against slavery and writes the first anti-slavery pamphlet in America, The Selling of Joseph . Sewall, a far from perfect figure from our history, laid the foundation for abolition that would come 150 years later.
No tax on tea! That was the decision on December 16, 1773, when 5,000 angry colonists gathered at the Old South Meeting House to protest a tax and started a revolution with the Boston Tea Party. Built in 1729, the Old South Meeting House was the largest building in colonial Boston, and provided a stage for the drama of the American Revolution. African American poet Phillis Wheatley and statesman Benjamin Franklin were members of Old South's congregation. As a meeting place and a haven for free speech and assembly, Old South Meeting House has been in continuous use for over 250 years. Read about Old South radical congregation and its role starting the Boston Tea Party.
Phillis Wheatley was the first Black woman to be published in London. Her book, 'Poems on various subjects, religious and moral ' consisted of 39 poems. She was bought as a slave in Boston Massachusetts aged seven and was immediately segregated from the other slaves and taught to read and write. She also became a member of Old South Church in Boston. Within a couple of years she was reading the bible and by the age of thirteen she had begun to write her own poetry. She came to England in 1773 with the son of her mistress. While in England in she was afforded celebrity status and was introduced to high society. Benjamin Franklin visited her, and the Lord Mayor of London presented her with an edition of Milton's 'Paradise Lost'.
From the fall of 1777 to the summer of 1778 the patriots of the American cause hid the Liberty Bell, which had been smuggled up from Philadelphia just ahead of the British Army, under the floor of the second Zion Church.
Lemuel Haynes would become the first African American person to be ordained to preach in a mainline Protestant denomination and the first to receive an honorary Master of Arts degree.
Dissident preacher James Acaule 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. Acaule writes that "any number of Christians united in love, having Christ for their head . . . constitutes a church."
Organized the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, the first foreign missionary agency in North America.
UCC Congregationalist forebears work to free the Amistad captives. A multi-racial Amistad committee is formed to care for, educate and free the captives. John Quincy Adams takes the case before the Supreme Court. Sengbe Pieh learns to speak and write in English enough to defend himslf and speak to the Supreme Court.
A meeting of pastors in Missouri forms the first united church in American history--the future Evangelical Synod. It unites two Protestant traditions that have been separated for three centuries: the Lutherans and the Reformed. The Evangelicals believe in the power of tradition, but oppose inflexibility in worship and practice. "Rigid ceremony and strong condemnation of others are terrible things to me," one of them writes.
Theologian Philip Sclaff scandalizes the Reformed churches in Pennsylvania when he argues for a "Protestant Catholicism" centered in the person of Jesus Christ. The sacrament of Holy Communion--in which Christians are united through Jesus to each other in love--is at the heart of Scoffs revival.
Ordination of Antoinette Brown, the first woman ordained to ministry in the modern era.
Congregationalist Washington Gladden is one of the early leaders of the Social Gospel movement--which takes literally the commandment of Jesus to "love your neighbor as yourself." Social Gospel preachers denounce injustice and the exploitation of the poor. In 1897 he writes a hymn that summarizes his creed:
"Light up your Word: the fettered page from killing bondage free.
Light up our way: lead forth this age in love's large liberty.
O Light of light! -- within us dwell, through us your radiance pour,
that word and life you truths may tell, and praise you evermore."
Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr proposes a union of his Evangelical Synod with the Reformed Church--an idea that at first is greeted with derision. "Perhaps the idea is a wild one," he writes again nine years later. But divided churches in North America are beginning to move toward each other. In 1931 the Congregational and Christian churches unite. In 1934 Niebuhr's "wild idea" becomes real when the "Evangelical and Reformed Church" is formed.
Reinhold Niebuhr preaches a sermon that introduces to the world the now famous Serenity Prayer: "God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be
changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other."
The union of The Evangelical and Reformed Church with the Congregational Christian Churches to form the UCC in 1957 was the first and only time two completely separate Christian traditions would unite to form a single denomination.
Dr. Everett C. Parker, head of the UCC Office of Communication asked Andrew Young to arrange a meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King. Young’s work with voter registration was funded by the UCC. Knowing that Parker was a broadcaster, King told Parker "Please try to do something about the television stations." At that time TV stations across the South literally blocked any transmission that showed people of color as equals, told news about discrimination or showed King’s marches. Viewers would see a sign that said, "Sorry Cable Trouble." Parker and UCC members documented the injustice, challenged station owners before the Federal Court of Appeals and won. The courts made the historic ruling that the airwaves were public property and that local communities had a voice in the way airwaves serving their communities were managed. The proliferation of the faces of people of color in media today is the direct result of that decision; in fact, the presence of the public voice of all colors and interests in many regulatory matters is directly related to this historic UCC victory.
Charles Cobb pushes, General Synod to take a stand and powerful civil rights resolutions.
General Synod voted that social justice be considered along with security and yield in its investment of funds.
The UCC ordains the Rev. William R. Johnson--the first openly gay person in history to become a Christian minister. Six years later, the first openly lesbian minister, the Rev. Anne Holmes, is ordained. From the 1970s on, General Synod supports equal rights for homosexual citizens, and calls on congregations to welcome lesbian, gay and bisexual members.
The UCC General Synod becomes impassioned about the plight of farm workers and charters a plane to fly delegates to Coachella Valley as a public witness in support of Cesar Chavez.
Wilmington 10 . Convicted on charges of firebombing and racial turmoil, the Rev. Benjamin Chavis, and others, now known as the Wilmington 10, were arrested and charged with burning a white-owned grocery store in Wilmington, NC. Chavis was sent to Wilmington, NC by the United Church of Christ as a racial justice worker -- sent to help an oppressed African-American community overcome racial intolerance and intimidation. Amid charges that allegations against the Wilmington 10 were false, the UCC General Synod became outraged at the treatment of one of its own; it raised more than $1 million in bail to free the Wilmington 10. Chavis spent 4.5 years in prison before his conviction was set aside in1980. The UCC recovered its bail, plus interest.
The Rev. Joseph H. Evans is elected UCC president. He becomes the first African American leader of a predominantly European-American mainline church in the United States.
Voted at General Synod to monitor-- but also support -- genetic engineering and technology.
The Rev. Dr. Paul Sherry, national president of the Cleveland-based United Church of Christ, apologized in person to Hawaiians for the role of UCC forbear mission worker involvement in the overthrow of Queen Lili'uokalani's monarchy in 1893 and pledged redress. The redress was in three parts: One is in terms of monetary redress. Second is in terms of the return of lands. Third is in-kind contribution or redress. The monetary portion of the redress plan was divided into three parts: $1.5 million dispersed to 60 native Hawaiian churches, which were part of the Hawaiian Evangelical Association, while $1 million went to the Pu'a Foundation and the $1 million went to the Association of Hawaiian Evangelical Churches, which has a membership that includes the 60 Hawaiian churches. The plan states the awards are not necessarily an admission of guilt by the UCC, but a reaching out to heal the hurt in the Hawaiian community. In 1993 Congress and President Clinton also formally apologized for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii.
UCC established non-hierarchical leadership model for national setting and calls a collegium of officers to lead the denomination.