Federated and community?

Later. Some revisions made.
There are two kinds of church with membership in the UUA that come across as odd to those unfamiliar with the concept: federated churches and multi-denominational community churches. Because they have multiple loyalties, they have a reputation to being aloof to denominations, making them that much less visible to those whose cares are more denominational.

Federated churches are communities of differentiated churches (they have their own membership rosters) that work together as a single congregation. Sometimes (but in practice, rarely) the constituent churches can be teased apart; sometimes they still have multiple buildings. (Which is why the United Church, Winchester, New Hampshire — of Winchester Profession fame — can sell its old Universalist building as the anchor for a new Universalist Heritage trail.) Because each constituent part has its own membership roster, there is almost always a majority and a minority party in federations. I’m sure this is stable in some places, but I can think of two federated churches that have dumped/lost/let-die-out its UCC and NACCC part respectively. But I’m guessing that Unitarians and Universalists are usually the one to loose because we don’t produce enough (Christian) clergy to be viably settled in them. A bunch of these are at the bottom of the UUA size list, though this might not be obvious. First Universalist Church, Hiram, Maine looks like a tiny (five-member, tied for smallest with the UCC-federated First Church in Deerfield, Mass.) unfederated church, but its minister is the same as the thirty-five member NACCC-affiliated Hiram Community Church. And this is the part I love: the Universalist Church keeps its own post office box. Adam, can you explain this phenomenon?

Multi-denominational community churches — as Adam also knows, as he pastors one — are essentially single churches; one roster, one budget — that’s a member of two or more denominations. Some were formerly federated churches, though there was a time after WWII when new ecumenical new starts were planned to be multi-denominational (none surviving that I know of that were Universalist or Unitarian, except with each other.) Usually, for UUA purposes, the reported number is the denomination fraction of the total membership.

As far as I know, the denominations and fellowships with which there are federations or community church arrangements are:

  • American Baptist Churches USA
  • Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
  • National Association of Congregational Christian Churches
  • United Church of Christ
  • United Methodist Church

Did y’all expect that?

Author: Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

11 thoughts on “Federated and community?”

  1. the American Baptist church is a little bit of a surprise I suppose. Although every Babptist Church I know of seems to be congregational in structure. While the other 4 are generally considered liberal or at most mainstream churches, even the “American” family of Baptist Churches is generaly considered pretty conservative.

    Isn’t there a Federated UUA / Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) in Orlando? I thought I read that somewhere. The MCC has quite a few dual or multi denominational churches itself.

    What really surprises me are the myriad of “other Churches” that UUs allow to rent thier space. I have heard and read of nearly every denomination from Assembly of God to Community of Christ congregations renting/sharing worship space to and from UUs.

  2. The American Baptist-with (and UCC-with) federated church is, for the record, First Church in Sterling, Massachusetts. Members also have the option of joining “interdenominationally.”

    The legendary MCC-UUA church start in Florida might be a confused allusion to a new start — bless me but I can’t find the website — that was UUA-International Council of Community Churches-affiliated. I don’t know if or how it developed.

  3. The American Baptists are a very mixed bag, compared to the Southern Baptists. Where I live, the closest American Baptist church is First Baptist Church of Cumberland, Indiana. This church is quite liberal, was the church which ordained the liberal Christian author Jim Mullholland, presently has a gay pastor, and has been celebrating same-sex unions for at least the last 10 years.

    Do not neglect the left wing of the American Baptist community. That said, there has been a rise in conservatism among American Baptists, with a number of their liberal churches then leaving for the decidedly liberal Alliance of Baptists (the Alliance is where liberal Southern Baptists fled after the fundamentalist take-over of the Southern Baptist Conference).

    The federated UUA / MCC church, while totally plausible, is completely mythological… like a unicorn or the Loch Ness monster. Such a church is often spoken of by people whose sister’s boyfriend’s gay brother goes there… but that church is never in reality seen on film.

    The MCC actively discourages multi-denominational churches through its policy that MCC member congregations pay 15% of their income back to the national MCC. This anti-ecumenical attitude may be changing though. There is a new UCC/Disciples/MCC church in Berkely, CA. But to the best of my understanding, this is the only such church in the MCC family, and it is considered quite experimental.

  4. Ah, the Alliance of Baptists: my neighborhood denomination. (Their offices are, like, three blocks from my apartment.) If I hadn’t been baptized as a child — and if my theology was closer to Free Church — I might be with them.

  5. Thanks Scott, I know I read something about ian UUA/MCC church somewhere. I also cannot find the website which leads me to believe they never got it off the ground and/or they affiliated with a less restrictive denomination.

    As for MCC churches and their polity, of that I have no idea having never been a member of one,
    I can say that both of the two MCC churches I have visited considered themselves progressive churches and even
    listed the 8 Themes from The Center for Progressive Christianity as part of their liturgy.

    They where both more liberal and ecumenical than a few UCC churches I have been in, going to lengths to make everyone feel welcome, they where even excited to find i was a visiting Unitarian Universalist.

  6. Scott – I believe that the other American Baptist – UUA church is First Parish in Bolton, MA (which is UUA, American Baptist, UCC). The recently defunct Old Brick Church (not to be confused with the nearby Old Brick Meetinghouse) in East Montpellier, VT was a Universalist-Baptist church.

    -Derek

  7. Hey There!

    Interesting chat about interesting ongregations! Sadly, I do not have much to add. I know that some of the “federated” churches in Maine and elsewhere will keep a separate box for all the mail that comes from the UUA! Otherwise it becomes too much to handle at times. Also, in many fo the federated churches with low UU membership, there aren’t all that many folks interested in the UU portion and this is a way to symbolically show some level of cohesiveness.

    The Sterling church, incidentally (and I owe their minister $7) has four categories of membership. There is one for each denomination and one for people to just be members of the church and not affiliate otherwise. This is quite a popular category I understand…

    Scott has it right on, by the way, as far as Eliot Church is concerned. We were founded in 1828 on the sight of John Eliot’s mission to the Praying Indians (hence the name). In 1859 or somewhere around then, a Trinitarian Congregationalist church was built a few doors down and across the street. The split doesn’t appear to have been contentious at all, with the first minister of the trinitarian church being ordained in the Unitarian building (the Unitarian minister preached the sermon, actually). Also, they were both called “The Eliot Church”! With this level of freindliness, it seemed logical to “federate” in 1945 and then “merge” in the ’90s.

    The biggest problem we face right now is how to be involved with both the UUA and the UCC. As with most community churches, most members don’t usually give either movement a whole lot of thought…

  8. Thanks Adam — and Derek, did you notice a parent body of the current First Parish of Bolton was Quaker, even if isn’t in fellowship that way today. Makes one wonder how the UCC connection came in.

  9. I do find that fascinating. Quakers almost never go in for ecumenical congregation partnerships. There end up being arguments about water and wine… I’d be curious how Bolton eventually dropped its affiliation with New England Yearly Meeting (presumably the FUM end of it, and not the FGC or Wilburite ends). All 3 Quaker bodies merged (around 1950 maybe?) to form a single New England Yearly Meeting.

    There is a federated Quaker-Disciples church here in Indiana. And there are occassional Quaker-Congregationalist partnerships in New England (although all of those are presently dormant). The Quaker meeting in Fort Wayne merged its Sunday School with the one at Plymouth UCC.

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