Symbolic of their common work toward unity and reconciliation, representatives from six Christian denominations jointly served Holy Communion to a congregation filled with worshippers from a diverse body of Christian communities here last week.
Churches Uniting in Christ (CUIC) kicked off its January 28–30 plenary with opening worship and a celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Held at St. Peter African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, the host church, the worship service accentuated the group’s historic and ongoing commitment to work together to be change agents in the world.
Also significant during the group’s meeting was its decision to “reaffirm our mutual recognition of ministries and ask each communion to celebrate it in a national/general gathering; encourage national, regional, and local joint liturgical celebrations that lift up our one shared baptism and the call to ministry we share; … [and] encourage a commitment to including CUIC representatives at ordinations and installations.”
“Regardless of how we name ourselves denominationally, we all claim a common brotherhood and sisterhood through Jesus Christ,” said Bishop Teresa Snorton with the Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church and the newly elected president of CUIC.
“It’s very important that an organization like CUIC be ready to lead the way in helping the faith community express a message that offers hope, a message that continues to do as scripture says: be an advocate for justice and be ones that work until righteousness rolls down.”
CUIC member churches are the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church, the International Council of Community Churches, the Moravian Church (Northern Province), the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is a partner in mission and dialogue.
Leading the way by CUIC means both working as an organization to address critical issues such as racial injustice and shifting from an inward focus as individual member communities.
Focused work groups, dialogues among the various denominational heads, plenary discussions, Bible study, and worship all provided venues during the gathering for CUIC to do the challenging work necessary to “lead the way.”
“One of the most exciting work groups we had was on white supremacy and the Christian identity of white supremacy groups, and that was facilitated by the Southern Poverty Law Center,” said the Reverend Robina Winbush, CUIC past president and director of ecumenical relations for the PC(USA).
“It began an excellent conversation in not only who and what white supremacy groups are, but also how our churches need to begin to counter that and respond, whether it’s in our teaching or our preaching or our curriculum, to build community and counter the radicalization particularly of young white men.”
Other work groups focused on “Racial and Social Justice Formation in Action,” “Youth and Young Adult Alliances,” “Signs of Reconciliation: Tools for Local CUIC Congregations to Come Together,” and “Changes in Ordained Ministries with CUIC Churches.”
CUIC was particularly challenged to shift from its inward focus and move beyond its seats of comfort and privilege in a sermon by the Reverend Waltrina Middleton, associate for national youth event programming with the UCC.
Entitled “Repairers of the breech, where have all the prophets gone,” Middleton’s sermon “challenged us to reclaim our prophetic voice, and to realize that the church can no longer continue to be dismissive, disrespectful, and unconcerned with those who are on the margins of life and who are dealing with the brunt of racism in our communities,” Winbush said. “She challenged us to be prophets who are committed to the healing and the transformation of the world.”
Snorton said in many ways the communities that are members of CUIC “have had the luxury of having an inward focus. But the intensity of what’s happening in the broader culture almost is like a new call, a call to come out from the places where we have found comfort and security and where we have a sense of knowing what we are doing.”
CUIC must now “face a context where we may not know what we’re doing, but if we trust God, we trust that God will lead us in the direction that we need to go,” she said. “And the real beauty of CUIC is that we don’t do that alone. We do it together as the body of Christ.”
Joining Snorton in CUIC leadership for the next two years are Abraham Wright with the International Council of Community Churches, vice president; the Reverend Hermann Weinlick with the Moravian Church (Northern Province), secretary; and the Reverend Karen Georgia Thompson with the United Church of Christ, treasurer.