SESSION 3 COVENANT AND THE PARTS OF THE UCC
3A) The Ministries of the UCC
Goal: To help the participants understand the various branches of the church’s national and regional settings. While it probably isn’t necessary for everyone to totally understand the structure, each person should be able to grasp that they are part of a local church that is part of an association that is part of a conference. It becomes more confusing when addressing the different branches of the national setting (represented at this time by the General Minister & President as well as the two Associate General Ministers). However, a good sense of the websites should help gain some understanding.
Facilitators: It is important for this section that you have a strong sense of the structure of the UCC. The homework resources should help with that. Most importantly, it is helpful to understand the role you Association and Conference play in the life of the church. This actually varies between Associations and Conferences (a very UCC trait). Take some time to familiarize yourself with the services of both groups (if your congregation is part of both) so that participants will have you as a resource. Do the same with national settings, explaining as you do that each of these entities is independent and speaks to not for the others.
Group Discussion: Remember your scavenger hunt from the video we ended with last time? Did you find information on the various terms you found and wrote down? Let’s go through them now...
Did this give you a sense of what the UCC is about at the national level? What other questions do you still have? Your congregation is also part of an Association of local congregations and part of a larger Conference of local congregations that contains--most likely--a number of associations. What do you know about them?
3B) Covenant: What Binds Us Together
Goal: Covenant is a hard concept to grasp in many ways. We know it when we see or experience it, but words often fail to encompass all that goes into it. The goal in this final section is to get people thinking and talking about what it means to be in covenant and to think of ways to grow and sustain the covenantal relationships in the UCC.
Facilitators: Covenant is a kind of relationship among other kinds. In addition to the reading on the subject, prepare by thinking of other covenantal relationships in your life. Many of us have partners, spouses and close friends, for example, who we have a sort of covenantal relationship with. It is also worthwhile here to consider the role of worship in instituting, maintaining, and restoring covenant. This section, in fact, has two group discussions. The first is more general and the last discussion is about worship in our tradition.
Group Discussion 1
For today you spent some time looking at the various ministries of the United Church of Christ. This can be a confusing process! Because of our Covenantal Polity, each of these ministries is independent of the other. From the General Synod (the biennial convention where delegates meet from all over the UCC) to your local church, each unit speaks to but not for the others. It can feel pretty inefficient at times. However, this ongoing conversation is one of the things that makes the UCC unique. What are the problems with a decentralized system based on relationships like ours? How do we maintain the relationships necessary to remain united?
Based on your reading, what do you think a working definition of covenant would be for you? What role does God play?
Facilitators: Discussion 1 and Discussion 2 might flow into and out of each other. The important thing is to help people pick up God’s presence in our communal life.
Group Discussion 2
Did anyone notice that we have not talked about worship and the sacraments in this course? We are now. In fact, we saved the best for last! In the UCC we recognize two sacraments--Baptism and Communion--each of them has a strong covenantal element to them. So, too, does worship, itself. One of the covenantal relationships we maintain is with each other. Another, of course, is with God. As we close this series, let’s take some time to look at where we find this covenant at work in what we have learned. Where has it been missing in our history or in our polity (how we run ourselves)? Where do we need more of the grace of God in our communal life?
Homework: Next Steps
Yes, there is homework. You and your session-mates constitute an ad hoc committee for what comes next. As a group, take some time to think about what you have learned and what you would like to do with it. Do you want to invite the Conference Minister or Associate Conference Minister to preach at your church? Do you want to participate in the UCC’s Wider Ministries? Do you want to spend more time at the local level? Or do you want to spend more time developing vibrant worship in your congregation that reflects our life together? These are just examples and the sky's the limit. Plan a simple next step and see where it takes you.