Episcopalian Praise for the UCC

John Shelby Spong served as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark for 24 years before his retirement in 2001.  In retirement, he has been a prolific writer and speaker.   His latest essay, “A Salute to the United Church of Christ,” portrays the United Church of Christ (UCC) as a denomination with the potential to “inspire, bring about and participate in the necessary reformation required to break the Christian faith out of its dying patterns.”  While Spong has had numerous interactions with UCC congregations over the years, his latest piece was inspired in part by recent visits to four UCC congregations: Wichita, KS (Plymouth UCC), Greely, CO (First Congregational UCC), Norman, OK (Mayflower UCC), and Hendersonville, NC (First Congregational UCC).

He concluded his remarks with the assertion that the four churches all (1) had well prepared senior clergy leadership, (2) were connected to a denomination that empowered them to be trailblazers, and (3) were engaged in extending the UCC’s progressive stances on topics of significance in the larger culture.

So to these churches and to the leadership of the National United Church of Christ, I first raise my hand in salute for your courage and your dedication. Second, I stand before you in awe for what you have meant in my life and in the life of Christianity itself. Third, I bow my head and my heart in thanksgiving for your witness to the Truth.

So What?

Consider Spong’s latest affirmation in light of his call to the UCC to embrace what he understands as its unique vocation.

  • How effectively do you believe the UCC is living into Spong’s view of its unique vocation? Is his vision similar to your understanding? If not, how do the two differ?
  • In what ways is the UCC well positioned to “inspire, bring about and participate in the necessary reformation required to break the Christian faith out of its dying patterns”?  How well do you believe the denomination is currently leveraging these strengths?
  • Share a denomination (one to which you do not belong) that you find worthy of saluting, and explain why.


Note: Spong’s Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World made my list of the top 11 books of 2011.


  1. I have attended various denominations over the past few years. I found them to be like a day in my life 20 years ago. Nothing seems to change. Even the message is like time had stood still. When it comes to “growing up in our faith,” that isn’t happening. I say most people that attend church, think the worship service on Sunday is all that is needed, with a little service during the week to satisfy them. I remember going back twenty years to a church where my husband served as pastor. We attended the adult class and they were using the study guides that my husband had purchased when he was there. Gulp! No wonder I don’t go to church.

  2. Judith, I understand your frustration but hope you will try visiting a few more congregations. There are some wonderful communities that are incredibly thoughtful and offer thought provoking educational/enrichment opportunities. On this blog you will find weekly book reviews of recently published books, which are a core component of the enrichment offerings in the parish I now serve.

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