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What it means to be UCC

Published 9:15 pm, Friday, February 8, 2013
  • FORUM ON FAITH: Rev. Laura Westby, pastor of the First Congregational Church on Deer Hill Ave. in Danbury, Monday, March 8, 2010. Photo: Carol Kaliff, ST / The News-Times
    FORUM ON FAITH: Rev. Laura Westby, pastor of the First Congregational Church on Deer Hill Ave. in Danbury, Monday, March 8, 2010. Photo: Carol Kaliff, ST

 

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One of the things I love about my current family of faith, the United Church of Christ (UCC), is the way it seems to attract people from a range of religious backgrounds.

It is not uncommon for a UCC congregation to have within it persons who have been Roman Catholic, Presbyterian or Baptist. It is not unusual for the membership to include people raised in evangelical churches, Unitarian congregations and secular homes.

One of the other things I love about the UCC is its embrace of what Brian McLaren, a brilliant observer of the spiritual landscape, calls "a generous orthodoxy."

A "generous orthodoxy" is a way of living the faith that is open to the possibility that the Holy can be experienced in mysterious and compelling ways across the theological spectrum. Many of our churches are hundreds of years old, and Christianity is even more ancient, but we try to remain open to the possibility that God is still speaking in new and surprising ways.

My own spirituality is good example of this. I was born into the Roman Catholic Church and married into the UCC. My morning devotions include elements of embodied prayer I learned from Muslim colleagues and my yoga teacher. I am studying meditation using a Buddhist resource.

In my leadership of UCC churches, I am free to bring all of these experiences to bear on my ministry and worship leadership. But perhaps the thing I like best about the UCC is the way in which it views everyday life as the place where the Divine can be encountered.

The whole world is our monastery and our whole lives are our worship. We are encouraged to approach the way we parent our children, the way we spend our time, the decisions we make in the voting booth and the grocery store as spiritual practices.

We believe that if our faith is to have any meaning, it must be lived out in all the areas of our lives.

To the best of our ability, we try to live the way Jesus did, embodying the Creator's love for all creation through acts of ordinary kindness and radical hospitality. This is the reason why so many UCC congregations open their doors to 12-Step groups, welcome LGBT folks into full participation in the church and provide support to groups involved in social justice. We follow the One who came to serve sacrificially and reaching out to those in need is part of our DNA, and so we are passionate about ministries of service.

Many UCC churches have Congregational roots. Many still include the word "congregational" in their names.

In part, this is because the power and responsibility for decision-making rests with the congregation. But the deeper truth is that we experience God most often in the formal and informal gatherings of the community of faith.

We feel it as we reconnect during coffee hour and potluck suppers.

We find God in soup kitchens and homeless shelters.

We sense it as we work and learn and are challenged together.

In all of these ways, those who participate in a UCC congregation experience the transforming power of the God who creates community and invites all to embody the Divine presence in the world.

The Rev. Laura A. Westby is interim pastor at the First Congregational Church of Bethel. She can be reached at 203-743-1877.