There is a good deal of talk about churches entering a “post-denominational” era, but evangelical congregations in the United Church of Christ (UCC) are doing more than talking about this prospect. Many of the evangelical UCC churches are increasingly finding many of the services once provided by their liberal denomination elsewhere — from hymn books to ordination committees, according to The Witness (Winter), the newspaper of the Biblical Witness Fellowship, an evangelical UCC renewal group.
Popular interdenominational evangelical hymn books, such as “Praise and Worship,” have replaced the need for denominational hymn books. New organizations that bring churches together, such as the Evangelical Association of New England, and Churches United in Global Mission, are providing such connective services as pastoral recognition, education, pension or health insurance options and referral networks.
The article makes it clear that while these associations may be replacing denominations for many conservative UCC churches, they do not usually provide these congregations with a new identity. “In fact, most if not all of these associations will assume that participating churches will retain their historic denominational affiliation. It will be a both/and rather than an either/or alternative.” While the UCC churches may be most involved in creating new ties because of their strongly congregational nature, these alliances are creating a new kind of ecumenism. The Evangelical Association of New England (now called Vision New England) has 3,000 member churches from 80 denominations increasingly working together in mutual ministry.
The organization is facilitating a new alliance between evangelicals and Catholics in New Hampshire, as well as convening multi-denominational “ecclesiastical councils” of respected pastors throughout New England for mainline churches to ordain members of their own congregations. Churches that participate in such movements as Promise Keepers have formed new “strategic alliances.” In Modesto, Calif., churches and individuals involved in Promise Keepers started to call themselves the “Church of Jesus Christ at Modesto.”
Some churches in that city even began to change their signs to read, for example, “First Baptist — The Church at Modesto.” The “Modesto model” has been widely circulated and discussed in many other areas,” the article says.
(The Witness, P.O. Box 102, Candia, NH 03034-0102)