I was raised Congregationalist. For those of you wondering what that is: "Congregationalism is a church of the pilgrims, the historic faith of America and a church of the Reformation. In 1957, the majority of Congregational churches merged with the Evangelical and Reformed Church to form the United Church of Christ." (Congregationalism, http://plymouthchurch.us/id19.htm.) IÂ’m in good company; famous Congregationalists include Walt Disney; Thomas Edison; John Hancock and a dozen more signers of the Declaration of Independence; our second President, John Adams; and Presidential candidates Howard Dean and Barack Obama, just to name a few.
I grew up believing that it was acceptable, even laudable, to question, to discuss, to seek our own understanding of God, and even to disagree respectfully. IÂ’d forgotten, until this morning, how much of that belief was influenced by the minister of the church where I grew up. Apparently, Howard Dean has come under a lot of flack for switching to this "newfangled, leftist, hippy denomination." Newfangled? IsnÂ’t this the faith that helped to found this country? I guess by international standards, the United States itself is pretty "newfangled." And notions like "freedom of religion," and "church autonomy," and "separation of church and state" are pretty "newfangled." And theyÂ’re calling Barack ObamaÂ’s UCC church "something like a cult" because it promotes solid, positive values in the Black community?? Politics is a dirty business - sometimes, itÂ’s even laughable. The UCC is hardly a cult, just because its members are older and its numbers have dwindled. In fact, given that most cults require their members to share in a rigid belief system that is outside the mainstream norms, IÂ’d say the UCC is about as un-cult-like as it gets.
I always thought most members of the Congregational Church looked incredibly old - not at all likely to go for anything "newfangled." (I was pretty sure some of them stepped directly off the Mayflower when it first arrived in the new world.) Growing up, I never thought of the church as being particularly "liberal," but what did I know? I didnÂ’t go church-hopping for comparison until I was in college. (And, like most children, I also thought my parents were "strict." Wrong on both counts, as it turns out.) I was surprised, when my son and I began attending the UCC church on our side of town, that the minister was a woman - and that sheÂ’s younger than I am! I shouldnÂ’t have been surprised; the way I was raised, it was more surprising to me to learn that women in the ministry were rare or that some denominations refused to ordain them. Growing up, it never occurred to me that there was anything I couldnÂ’t do, or would be barred from doing, because I was a woman.
Now thatÂ’s liberal. Welcoming everyone, embracing the idea of equalityÂ… Apparently, the UCC commercials you'll find on YouTube werenÂ’t aired on national television, except as part of news stories covering the fact that they werenÂ’t being aired - which only ensured that people flocked to places like YouTube to see what all the fuss was about. While the UCC has always been about social justice and service to the community, this is the first time IÂ’ve thought of the UCC as edgy and daring. I never thought of myself as newfangled, leftist, or hippy, but I like it. Not all other denominations are exclusive, but one woman said, during a new member orientation one Sunday at my church, "The church I used to go to taught that you had to believe a certain way, their way, or you could leave - and donÂ’t let the door hit you on the way out."
Anyway, donÂ’t worry about Dean or Obama. Being UCC members, theyÂ’d be the first to tell you to do the research, think it out, discuss the issues, and make your own decisions when it comes time to vote.