Congregationalism 101

I am sometimes asked, “What is the difference between the United Church of Christ and the Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and other Protestant denominations?” My answer, “Polity, primarily.” There are important differences in the way we interpret our faith and our worship styles, but our beliefs are fundamentally alike—same God, same Bible, same Jesus, same Holy Spirit. The greatest distinguishing characteristic is polity, that is, how we govern ourselves.

The United Church of Christ is grounded in a congregational form of polity. It is basically a church democracy. In fact, the congregational way was quite influential in the formation of our nation’s government. The first Congregationalists came out of the English Reformation. The basis of their belief was the Bible and a personal relationship with God. They felt that no human authority should come between the individual and God. Each person is open to the grace of God and each is accountable to God.

These religious beliefs found corporate expression through following Paul’s concept of the priesthood of all believers. Each church relates directly to God for guidance and accountability. The members of the congregation covenant with each other for guidance and support in seeking to know God’s way. In fact, every gathered body of the denomination is a church unto its own. When our regional and national bodies meet (Suffolk Association, New York Conference, and the General Synod of the UCC) they are also guided by, and accountable to, God. This is why the local congregations do not vote on the actions of the larger bodies, nor are their actions binding on the local churches.

Practically, this means the church is us. We carry out our duties through the actions of congregational meetings and our boards and ministries. The main meeting of the year is our annual congregational meeting that will be held this Sunday, January 23, following worship. All members are encouraged to come help us be the church as we elect officers, review the 2011 budget, consider by-laws amendments and a proposal to establish a housing allowance. It is a pot-luck lunch, so please bring a dish to share.

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