The blessing, and the curse, of the United Church of Christ is that we have an “upside down” leadership model … at least it is upside down compared to almost all other churches!
However, the UCC elders, at the time of the 1957 merger of the Evangelical Reformed Church and the Congregational Church that formed the UCC, believed that our “upside down” model was the best way to do church.
And so we are left with a polity – or practice – that gives the power to the people in the pews … to the congregation. We have the national setting, we have the Indiana-Kentucky Conference and we have the Northeast Indiana Association … but none of those entities can tell the local church what to do. Rather we are in covenant with these other settings.
They can ask, suggest, even plead, but again, the power belongs to the people in the pews and the reason for that is because those UCC elders in 1957 believed that the whole congregation taken together could do a better job of leading the church than any bishop, or district superintendent, or executive minister.
Therefore, local churches have the authority to determine their own worship style, organization, pastoral leadership, constitution and bylaws.
That is why in our local UCC church, Church Council functions at the pleasure of the congregation.
Again, the power belongs to the congregation, and the congregation alone. That is at the core of Congregational polity.
At the June 10 meeting of Council, members voted to amend our church’s bylaws to change the number of people on the Pastoral Search Committee from its current 7 to a range of 5 to 9 (the National UCC guidelines suggest 5 to 9).
Because I had left the meeting before Council chose the Pastoral Search Committee, I was not there to remind them they did not have the power to change the bylaws. Again, only the congregational body as a whole can do that.
That is why we will have a Congregational Meeting on July 1 to ask the congregation to vote on the bylaw change.
This may all seem like a lot of trouble, but the reality is that our polity is essential to who we are – both as a denomination and as a local church.
That polity, embedded in our local church bylaws, safeguards against any one person – or any one group – gaining too much control in a local church because again, we believe that the group as a whole will make the best decisions.
I hope this helps explain why we are having the July 1 meeting and at base, who we are.