This week’s blog post is by Rev. Malcolm Himschoot, MESA Minister for Ministerial Calls and Transitions.
Ecumenism is based on Jesus’ prayer “that they may all be one” from Christian tradition. Practicing ecumenism includes dialogue and sometimes coordination between different branches of Christianity’s family tree. “One vine, many branches” – from Orthodox to Pentecostal churches. Internal ecumenism describes the case when various members of the Body of Christ, from different lineages, find each other inside of one communion.
In the United Church of Christ – across congregations, members, ministries, and ministers – diverse denominations of origin are not difficult to find. More detail was desired about this internal ecumenism among UCC authorized ministers: those providing leadership in the ministry of Word and Sacrament.
United Church of Christ denominational procedures guide Committees on Ministry in granting UCC authority, with oversight, to ecumenical ministers: either temporary Dual Standing, or a permanent shift through Privilege of Call.[i] An important distinction is that Dual Standing is granted for the period of time that a minister is serving a particular UCC congregation, while Privilege of Call is a status that allows the minister to fully enter the UCC’s search and call process eventually to serve multiple UCC settings. Privilege of Call implies that a minister upon receiving their first UCC call will relinquish standing with oversight from their home denomination. At that point a minister receives Ordained Ministerial Standing in the UCC – a form of standing that lasts over time. More information on these processes is detailed in Manual on Ministry.
Denomination-of-origin data for Dual Standing and Privilege of Call was not rigorously kept in searchable records until last year. In the fall of 2018, conferences who enter data in the UCC Data Hub were asked to initially record information on every Privilege of Call or Dual Standing minister, by returning a prepared spreadsheet. Spreadsheet information was then used to populate a new field added in each minister record, called ‘Denomination of Origin.’
For the new field to lend quality data to reports going forward, the United Church of Christ Ecumenical Officer vetted a pre-populated list of denominations. For all ministers, including those who now hold Ordained Ministerial Standing, this field will hold historical data of up to one other denomination that ordained the minister.
In June of 2019, a query was run to pull out this information from the UCC Data Hub by the Center for Analytics, Research and Data (CARD). The resulting report showed how many UCC ministers, of what type of standing or status, came from which denomination.
The report included 31 denominations representing 353 ministers. It specified how many ordained ministers held “Dual Standing,” how many held “Privilege of Call” status, and how many had “Ordained Ministerial Standing” with sole oversight in the UCC. The number of clergy per denomination ranged from 1 – 84.
Out of 9,837 total ordained ministers in the UCC,[ii] those with a denomination of origin are probably still under-reported in this year’s data. For example, among 85 ministers with Privilege of Call, who all necessarily have a denomination of origin, the recorded data did not identify the denomination of origin on 27 of these ministers. If that ratio is representative, then 353 ministers included in this report represents approximately two-thirds – a healthy sample – of those UCC ministers with ecumenical affiliation.
Mainline Protestant Denominations
The highest number of clergy listed in the report, 84, came from the Presbyterian Church-USA. Of these, 72 (with Dual Standing) retain their standing in the PC-USA through the provisions of Formula of Agreement.
The next-highest number of clergy, 54, came from the American Baptists, of whom 33 (with Dual Standing) retain their primary oversight in their home denomination. American Baptists had the highest number of clergy who permanently moved their standing to the UCC: 21.
From the United Methodist Church, 46 clergy are listed, including 26 (with Dual Standing) who retain UMC affiliation. United Methodists had the second-highest number of clergy who permanently moved their standing to the UCC: 20.
From the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 24 clergy are listed, including 16 (with Dual Standing) who retain ELCA affiliation through the provisions of Formula of Agreement.
From the Reformed Church in America, 16 clergy are listed, including 13 (with Dual Standing) who retain RCA affiliation through the provisions of Formula of Agreement.
The Formula of Agreement applies to ELCA, PC-USA, RCA, and UCC churches. Despite its allowance for reciprocal standing for ministers over time, some Formula of Agreement partner clergy have chosen to be UCC ministers and to fully relinquish affiliation with their denomination of origin: 12 PC-USA, 8 ELCA, and 3 RCA clergy, respectively.
The fewest clergy from mainline denominations on the list came from the Episcopal Church: 2.
Black Protestant Denominations
From the National Baptist Convention, 7 clergy are listed, including 3 with Dual Standing.
The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries had 1 clergy listed, none with Dual Standing.[iii]
Transnational affiliations and affiliations across US territories are included in the data report. The Congregational Christian Church of American Samoa has 16 clergy in the UCC with Dual Standing. The Evangelical Church of Germany (EKD) has 2 clergy in the UCC with Dual Standing. The Church of South India and the Micronesian Churches (Marshallese Chuuk Ponhpei) each have 1 clergyperson in the UCC with Dual Standing. The United Church of Christ in the Philippines has 3 clergy in the UCC with Dual Standing, plus 1 clergyperson who has changed their standing entirely to the UCC.
Southern Baptist origin was noted for 11 clergy on the list, including 3 with Dual Standing.
Church of the Brethren origin was noted for 8 clergy on the list, including 5 with Dual Standing.
Metropolitan Community Churches origin was noted for 8 clergy on the list, including 1 with Dual Standing.
Independent origin was noted for 6 clergy on the list, 5 of whom were listed with Dual Standing.
Unitarian Universalist origin was noted for 7 clergy on the list, 3 of whom retained Dual Standing.
Roman Catholic origin was noted for 4 UCC clergy on the list, none with Dual Standing.
Mennonite origin was noted for 3 clergy on the list, 2 with Dual Standing.
Assemblies of God origin was noted for 2 clergy on the list, 1 with Dual Standing.
Based on recent reporting on Dual Standing or Privilege of Call ministers in the United Church of Christ, a wide spectrum of ecumenical diversity is represented. Above findings document 353 ministers who hold, or who did hold, ministerial standing with oversight in 31 other denominations or traditions.
[i] A special agreement for Ordained Ministerial Partner Standing between the UCC and two specific denominations, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Canada, is another example of ecumenism through the sharing of ministers, but is not the subject of this research paper.
[ii] Statistics show that only 4,628 of these ordained ministers are active compared to retired or unclassified. Meanwhile Dual Standing or Privilege of Call status presumes active ministry. For more information on UCC ministers overall see https://www.uccfiles.com/pdf/2019-UCC-Statistical-Profile.pdf.
[iii] Because The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries has a unique relationship with the UCC beyond denomination-to-denomination agreements, and because procedures vary, TFAM data on ordained ministers is a place for further research.