The Preamble to the Constitution and By-Laws, paragraph 1 notes that the purpose of the union of the four churches (and in a way the relationship of the local church to the other parts of the UCC), was to enable the church and its members to, “express more fully the oneness in Christ of the churches composing it, to make more effective their common witness in Him, and to serve His kingdom in the world.” So while the local church has autonomy, it also is committed to the oneness of Christ, the common witness and the service of the church to the world. Does autonomy thus mean a freedom from outside interference and authority? Or could autonomy actually mean a freedom for relationship within the body of Christ and within the context of the United Church of Christ? Given the history described in the first part of this paper I am sure that there are individuals and individual congregations and churches that might stand on one side or the other of the question. Here I found Gunnemann helpful. He writes that the polity represents a “covenant of mutual accountability.” Thus the covenanted relationship does have context, content and norms. It is, he writes, a “covenanted relationship delineated but not regulated by a constitution and by-laws.” In other words, there is a focus on mutual accountability or better put, “a responsible freedom that is dependent upon a voluntary assumption of responsibility essential to the life of the church in all its component units.” (Gunnemann, The Shaping of the United Church of Christ, 91) So autonomy is about a responsible freedom that directs each individual and each local church “to participate in and extend the ministry of Jesus Christ by witnessing to the Gospel in church and society.” (Article VI, Paragraph 20).
There are 38 conferences in the United Church of Christ. We are located in the Southwest Conference. There are 50 Churches in the Southwest Conference as of 2015.
National website: www.ucc.org
Southwest Conference website: www.uccswc.org