This summer, one UCC congregation, First Federated Church of North Jackson, Ohio, will participate in an ethnographic study of ecumenical congregations. Ecumenical congregations, also known as multiply-affiliated congregations, possess affiliations with one or more denominations. (For more detail on the specific types and descriptions of affiliation in the UCC, check out this earlier post.) First Federated Church shares affiliation with the UCC, Presbyterian Church (USA), and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Our office has been in contact with Rev. Dr. William McDonald, Associate Professor of Religion at Tennessee Wesleyan College in Athens, TN for over a year now; and he is part of a small group of scholars engaging in this research. Once they complete the study, their findings will be published as a book. Here is a bit more detail about the project:
Sandra Beardsall, Professor of Church History and Ecumenics at St. Andrew’s College in Saskatoon, SA, Mitzi Budde, Professor and Head Librarian at Virginia Theological Seminary, Alexandria, VA, and William McDonald are undertaking a book project, tentatively titled Daring to Share: Ecumenical Congregations in the U.S. and Canada. The three believe that these cooperative parishes offer rich soil for new interpretations of being church. They hope that the book that comes out of this research will equip congregations and judicatory leaders for the formation and flourishing of such ministries. Shared ministries bring to their congregational relationship distinct histories that they treasure and present practices that they want to honor, choosing to covenant together for worship, service, mission and nurturing of faith across denominational traditions. The three want to study what these congregations have learned, and what they can teach the rest of the church, believing that these congregations have a new vision and mission strategy that will transform local practice and, perhaps, the church itself.
Beardsall, Budde, and McDonald each have lists of local ecumenical congregations they have visited or plan to visit in the near future. Ideally, each visit includes attendance and observation of the Sunday morning worship services, and perhaps also a class and/or a meeting of a leadership group. The research methodology for the book is intended to be conversational, observational, and attentive to community and context, focusing both on practices (e.g. worship, education, nurture, organization) and also theology (how the congregation reconciles denominational differences in socioeconomic contexts, missional needs, and ethical issues). The three researchers are all members of denominations with diverse histories of ecumenical engagement (United Church of Canada, ELCA, and UMC, respectively) and are members of the North American Academy of Ecumenists, an organization made up of ecumenical enthusiasts from the ranks of Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant laity, clergy, and scholars and holding an annual meeting each September.
It’s exciting that a United Church of Christ congregation will be part of this project, as our denomination has rich history and a continuing tradition of ecumenism at its core. In a few weeks, CARD will be releasing its own report on UCC multiply-affiliated congregations, based on a survey conducted last year with these churches. Stay tuned!