This week I’d like to pass along the letter from the President and General Minister of our denomination. In it you will find a little Evangelical and Reformed history that you will find interesting and informative. I hope you enjoy John’s message and further appreciate our heritage as UCC’ers! - Pastor Leigh
Members and friends of Penn Central Conference -
While on vacation two weeks ago, I drove with my wife into the small town where my ministry began. There it was, on the hill overlooking the farms that surrounded it: Zion Evangelische Kirche.
After a few minutes of quiet reminiscing, we drove out of town on the dirt roads to the cemetery nearby. Two women, sisters, were buried side by side there: Alma Tauscher and Elsie Jungermann. They were confirmed in that church in 1916, the last two from that church to do so in the German tongue. Alma would go on to serve 40 years as a missionary to India. Elsie would become one of the last two surviving Deaconess sisters.
While at Zion, I came to know the true spirit of the Evangelical and Reformed piety that manifested itself in both the irenic faith and missionary zeal that both Alma and Elsie embodied.
Children of German immigrant families, our E and R ancestors found worship to be a time of quiet and dignified praise of the God who helped them endure hardship, saw them through the challenges of life with blessings abundant, and whose grace alone was sufficient. They knew that the piety they embraced also required of them an outpouring of love, offered in gratitude, that would enable them to feed the hungry, heal the sick, care for the widow and orphan, and shelter the homeless.
Alma and Elsie embodied that irenic pietism with lives in service to the world.
Through the years, that quiet pietism and irenic Evangelical and Reformed spirit remain evident in the denomination it birthed: the United Church of Christ. In the spirit of a Lancaster Seminary or an Elmhurst University we find the ever-present curiosity of an early and abiding E and R faith. In the over 400 mission agencies associated with the Council for Health and Human Service ministries we find that passion for mission. In the rich liturgical traditions instantiated in our Hymnal, in the Book of Worship, and in movements like Mercersburg we see the quiet passion for dignified worship. In camp settings all over the country, in ongoing curricula written for our confirmands, and in ongoing Sunday School classrooms we see the commitment to raise up disciples from among the children and youth.
Perhaps most significantly, though, we are the United Church of Christ because of the early impulses that the German reform movement evidenced towards ecumenism and unity. In November of 2017, I had the honor of speaking in worship at the Berlinerdome for the 200th anniversary of the Prussian Union that birthed the Evangelical Kirche in the motherland of Germany. The desire to unite was something the German immigrants of the mid-19th century brought with them and shared with the earlier migrant families from the Reformed tradition. Naturally, they then became the E and R church; and as naturally the United Church of Christ. That they may all be one was their default mode – and we are today because they were thus yesterday.
I join you in celebrating not just the rich heritage of our E and R ancestors, but the way that heritage continues to define and shape the present and future of a church and a mission now entrusted to us. May our own irenicism, piety, curiosity, and desire to be one be as strong and evident as theirs. That, in partnership with the abiding Holy Spirit of the living God and risen Christ, will be sufficient to move this Church forward into the new and next generations.
Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer
General Minister and President
United Church of Christ