First Congregational Church of Stratford is an active member church of the United Church of Christ (UCC).
While we are part of this national church denomination, our church (and every UCC church) is autonomous. We financially support the national organization, which acts as a gathering center where all UCC church come together to discuss issues that may affect each and every individual church. Unlike other denominations, national UCC proclamations are non-binding – serving as guideposts to the thinking of the collective organization.
The United Church of Christ encompasses churches from four very distinct historic backgrounds. Our background – our congregational roots – is planted firmly with the Pilgrims of Plymouth Plantation and the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
The UCC has a proud History of Firsts: first to colonize America; first to stand against slavery; first to participate in the Civil Rights movements; and first to hold to the steadfast belief that all are created equal, regardless of any distinctions, including sexual orientation.
The First Congregational Church of Stratford is committed to the UCC beliefs, which include that God is still speaking and scripture is not limited to past interpretations; that we are all called to be ministers and participate as equals in the common worship of God; and that we are all free to believe and act in accordance with our own perceptions of God’s will for our lives.
We believe in God, Jesus Christ (the Son of God resurrected) and the Holy Spirit, who guides and brings about the creative and redeeming work of God in the world.
We believe in relationships. We believe in our relationship with God, who loves us unconditionally and who is willing to be in relationship with us if we just ask. We believe in the relationships of our human family, from whom we gain strength, support and love. We believe relationships change, growing in ways that are expected and unexpected. We believe spiritual journeys are unique and individual, and should always be nurtured.
We believe all people are welcomed to Christ’s table for communion. By breaking bread and pouring wine together, we celebrate Christ’s presence among us – and we welcome all to join us in this celebration.
We believe God calls us to help others and be good stewards of the earth’s resources. It is not enough to think about caring; we must act on our thoughts.
We believe in possibility. Our church is open to all discussions on belief, as hearing different sides of issues allows us to explore and learn. We believe "God is Still Speaking."
After nearly two years of study and prayer, First Congregational Church of Stratford voted to become an Open and Affirming church in June of 2008.
Our Open and Affirming (ONA) statement is our declaration that the church welcomes the "total identity of each person regardless of diversifying factors such as race, gender, age, sexual orientation, physical, mental or emotional challenges, ethnicity, education or economic circumstances." The church offers a "safe, physical, emotional and spiritual haven where a person’s whole self is accepted..."
While the Open and Affirming Statement recognizes all diversifying factors, most of the focus of our study was on ways First Congregational Church of Stratford embraces gay, lesbian and bisexual persons in the life of the church. Although it has always considered itself open to all, First Congregational Church wanted to intentionally welcome those who are gay, lesbian or bisexual, because, traditionally, most religions have been explicitly unwelcoming to this group.
Formed in 1957, the United Church of Christ is the result of the union of two Protestant denominations: the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church. Those of us from the New England area are probably most familiar with our Congregational roots - the Pilgrims of Plymouth Plantation (1620) and the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (1629).
The United Church of Christ, through its pioneering churches, offers a rich history of firsts within the Christian Community and our common U.S. History.
1600’s: Pilgrims leave Europe seeking spiritual freedom and set up fledgling democracies. Each congregation is self governing and elects its own ministers.
1700’s: Congregationalists are among the first to take a stand against slavery, laying the foundations for the abolitionist movement of the 1800’s. The first published African American Author, Phyllis Wheatley, is a member of the Old South Congregation.
1700’s: Our ancestral church is the first to ordain an African American minister, Lemuel Haynes. Congregationalists make the first act of civil disobedience in the United States, protesting an unfair tea tax and inspiring the Boston Tea Party.
The Old Zion Reformed Church safely hides the Liberty Bell in Allentown, PA, from the invading British who wish to melt the bell.
1800’s: Congregationalist and other Christians organize a campaign and help free the jailed Amistad slaves. The Supreme Court rules the captives are not property and the Africans regain their freedom. Another result of the Amistad trial is the formation of the American Missionary Association, the first anti-slavery society in the U.S. with a multiracial leadership.
Antoinette Brown is the first woman since New Testament times ordained as a Christian minister, and perhaps the first woman in history elected to serve a Christian congregation as pastor.
1900’s: Evangelical and Reformed theologian Reinhold Niebuhr preaches a sermon that introduces the world to the now famous Serenity Prayer:
"God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other."
The United Church of Christ is born, embracing a rich variety of spiritual traditions and believers of African, Asian, Pacific, Latin American, Native American and European descent.
The UCC’s Office of Communication organizes churches to protest an imposed news blackout on the growing civil rights movements and wins in Federal court with a ruling that the airwaves are public, not private property.
A UCC church ordains the first openly gay person as a minister in a mainline Protestant denomination. The UCC campaigns for equal rights for homosexual citizens and calls on congregations to welcome gay, lesbian and bisexual members.
1900’s: General Synod of the UCC elects the first African American leader of a racially integrated mainline church in the United States.
The United Church of Christ publishes The New Century Hymnal—the only hymnal released by a Christian church that honors in equal measure both male and female images of God.
Currently: There are over 5,600 UCC congregations with over 1.2 million members.