SESSION 2: STATEMENT OF FAITH & ACTING IN THE WORLD
2A) Statement of Faith: Statement v. Creed
Goal: To help participants understand the nature of the Statement of Faith in comparison to older, more creedal statements and to help them practice articulating their understanding of these differences.
Facilitators: The use of the word “statement” rather than “creed” is an intentional element of our Statement of Faith. Roger Shinn, one of the foremost experts on the statement surmises that--while the terms are in some sense synonymous--”’Statement of Faith’ suggests a less rigid, less authoritarian document than ‘creed’. Perhaps it suggests also a more modest attempt to say what it is that contemporary Christians believe.” To begin this session, have everyone read at least two of the versions of the Statement together and prepare to discuss the differences and relative flexibility between the versions, while also addressing, the question of “statement” versus “creed”.
Group Discussion: Roger Shinn, former professor of Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, says that Christians “constantly try to express their faith in language, knowing that faith can never be reduced to language.” When we see these different versions of the Statement of Faith, which one speaks to you the most? How well do these statements do in expressing a belief that cannot be fully expressed using words? Do you think that the term “statement” implies more flexibility than the word “creed” or are they the same to you? What do you think the intention was in creating a statement of faith (or in some sense statements of faith) instead of a creed?
Facilitators: One of the important features of the Statement of Faith is that it spends a great deal of time dwelling on how God has acted and still acts in the world. Much in the way we say “God is Still Speaking,” the Statement tells us about God's deeds in the world and in our lives. In the words of Shinn, “God Creates, God Seeks to Save, God Judges, God Comes to Us in Christ, God Bestows the Holy Spirit, God calls us to Discipleship, [and] God Promises.” It is worthwhile taking a moment to consider the ways in which the group sees God acting in their lives and in the world around them.
Also, it is worth considering the ways in which your specific congregation engages with these acts of God. For this next set of discussion questions, it would be good to have a sense of what your church is doing in the community and abroad.
Group Discussion: The statement we read today--in each of its versions--makes claims for how God has acted--or is acting--in the world. Which of these do you see in your own life or in the life of your community? Does your congregation describe itself using any of these terms; “Just Peace, Open and Affirming, Multi-Racial, Multi-Cultural, Anti-Racist, or Accessible to All? What do you think these mean? Also, how do you see the ministries of the church manifesting these actions? Which of these actions do you experience the least? How could the church help to bring this to greater awareness?
2B) Acting in the World: The Advocacy and Outreach of the UCC
Goal: The UCC is more than the sum of its individual congregations. It also provides ways for individual members of member congregations to participate on a national and international level through the programs and initiatives of its various settings. This section is designed to help participants begin to explore this element of life in the UCC.
Facilitators: While individual congregations have service, justice, and advocacy ministries, the United Church of Christ’s national and regional settings do as well. The final session will address the structure of the UCC that helps us do these things together. Right now, however, it makes sense to take a look at the various “outward facing” ministries that we share as a denomination.
You will want to spend some time examining the various ministries found on the UCC webpage and be prepared to bring up a couple of them for further discussion. Have a way to share the web pages you examine and discuss, bringing the Wider Church ministries page up on the shared computer or on separate computers. Then begin by sharing your own impressions of the programs on the site. Think about what interests you and be prepared to share!
Group Discussion: Rev. Traci Blackmon, Associate Minister for Justice and Local Church Ministries says that “Our witness is not divorced from our discipleship.” As disciples of Jesus, who participate in a movement whose beliefs find expression in the UCC Statement of Faith, what stood out to you in the homework material addressing denominational work in the area of Wider Church Ministries? Is there anything that the UCC is doing that might attract your time and energy? Are there ways to use this material in your local church setting?
Facilitators: If time permits, close the session by watching this video together. It is a short interview between Blackmon and Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer, the General Minister and President of the UCC. It goes into Some of the background for what motivates the UCC these days. Also, it is a good lead-in to the next session about the covenantal polity and structure of the UCC.
Video Scavenger Hunt: There is a lot of “insider language” in this piece. It was partly picked for that reason. Encourage people to make a game of writing down the words that they do not understand. Then use those lists to structure the next session by finding out what each of them mean. Among the departments and staff titles, there should also be the word “covenant”. If previous discussions have gone long and you run out of time, this can easily be included in the homework for the next session.
Interview with Traci Blackmon Conversations with John: Rev. Traci Blackmon, Associate General Minister for JLCM
In our next session we will be examining the covenantal polity and structure of the UCC. In the exercise with the Traci Blackmon video, you have hopefully written down some of the terms that require definition. Share them with each other--by email if you wish--and then, for your homework, check out these parts of the UCC website and see if you can find ways to define these terms. This will help to maximize your time together in the last session!
Here are some links to help people in the research of terms and to help them get a sense of the many aspects of the UCC. These first two links--Conference and Association--vary with your location. I have included samples for reference.
Association Webpage: https://www.sneucc.org/centralma Central MA Association
Conference Webpage: https://www.sneucc.org/ So. New England Conference (SNEUCC)
Elected Officers: https://www.ucc.org/department/elected-officers/
Affiliated Ministries: https://www.ucc.org/who-we-are/affiliated-ministries/
The branches of the UCC & Wider Church Ministries: https://www.ucc.org/what-we-do/
Finally, what keeps these various institutions together is our--and their--covenant with each other. “Covenant” is a term that may need some definition as many people have many different ideas about what it means. Please take a look at “Covenant” by Jane Fisler Hoffman to get an understanding of the concept in the context of the UCC. You can read the whole thing if you wish, but if you are pressed for time, take a look at Chapters 4, 6, and 9.
Also, read this short essay about baptism and Communion in the UCC. Feel free to check out the links for further information on these two sacraments and on the UCC Book of Worship