How do we make decisions in our church?
Within our covenanted relationship, “decisions are made in consultation and collaboration among the various parts of the structure.” (Constitution, Paragraph 6) The character of this decision making process is one of respect for the other with a critical focus on listening and hearing the other in the careful consideration of advice, counsel, and the requests and needs of others. As Paragraph 6 concludes, “In this covenant, the various expressions of the United Church of Christ seek to walk together in all God’s ways.” Sheares also comments that this process is highly interactive with “a system of cross-initiatives and cross-influencings in a free, open and responsive relationship.” (Sheares, Theology and Identity, 75)
What does it mean when we say we have a Covenant within a Covenant?
To understand the whole, one must understand the heart and in this image, the local church forms the heart of the United Church of Christ. As seen above Article 5, paragraph 9 of the Constitution states, “The basic unit of the life and organization of the United Church of Christ is the Local Church.” Paragraph 10 goes on to say,
A Local Church is composed of persons who, believing in God as heavenly Father, and accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and depending on guidance of the Holy Spirit, are organized for Christian worship, for the furtherance of Christian fellowship, and for the ongoing work of Christian witness.
Paragraph 17 of Article 5 adds that the local church has,in fellowship, a God-given responsibility for that Church, its labors and its extension, even as the United Church of Christ has, in fellowship, a God-given responsibility for the well-being and needs and aspirations of its Local Churches. In mutual Christian concern and in dedication to Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, the one and the many share in common Christian experience and responsibility.In this sense each individual member in covenant with the local church and in covenant with the other members of the local church, have a responsibility to and for each other to make sure that Christian witness is happening, that Christian fellowship is being advanced and that there is Christian worship. In other words, the energy and the motivation to live in fidelity to the Gospel does not come from above or outside the local church, but rather remains within the local church. However, because of the covenant with the other components of the UCC, the local church must remain open to listening to and being engaged with other local churches, conferences, associations and the General Synod.
So what is the nature of the autonomy the local church has with reference to the other parts of the UCC?
Paragraph 18 of Article 5 notes that: The autonomy of the Local Church is inherent and modifiable only by its own action. Nothing in this Constitution and the by-laws of the United Church of Christ shall destroy or limit the right of each Local Church to continue to operate in the way customary to it; nor shall be construed as giving to the General Synod, or to any Conference or Association now, or at any future time, the power to abridge or impair the autonomy of any Local Church in the management of its own affairs, which affairs include, but are not limited to, the right to retain or adopt its own methods of organization, worship and education; to retain or secure its own charter and name; to adopt its own constitution and by-laws; to formulate its own covenants and confessions of faith; to admit members in its own way and to provide for their discipline or dismissal; to call or dismiss its pastor or pastors by such procedure as it shall determine; to acquire, own, manage and dispose of property and funds; to control its own benevolences; and to withdraw by its own decision from the United Church of Christ at any time without forfeiture of ownership or control of any real or personal property owned by it. It has to be kept in mind that the freedom and autonomy given to the local church still stands under the headship of Christ.