Visiting our partners in New York

On the way to the General Synod of the United Church of Christ (UCC) in the USA, I am visiting congregations of the UCC in New York with Church President Volker Jung and Christina Schnepel, Secretary for Development and Partnership Europe and USA. A partnership between the New York Conference of the UCC and the Protestant Church in Hesse and Nassau (EKHN) has existed since 2007.

During the Corona pandemic, many churches switched to online services and offerings. In the meantime, church members appreciate this and expect that the possibility to participate in church life from home will be maintained. Rev. J.Rebecca Pridmore tells of her weekly meeting with church members in a ZOOM conference, the spiritual and theological exchange in this round. „More church members participate in this exchange in ZOOM than in the time before Corona,“ she tells us. „Church without walls“ is the name of her congregation, where she is employed as a pastor. Initially, it was a temporary contract to accompany the congregation as it relocated again. The congregation itself has no rooms of its own and in recent years has had to find accommodation with other congregations time and again. Most recently, they were guests at a Lutheran congregation on Broadway, which they have now had to leave again because the space has become too small for two congregations. In the meantime, her congregation has found new space and hired Rebecca Pridmore on a permanent basis. The desire of the community members to have a permanent place – a home – is always a topic in the community. For lunch, she invited us to an Italian restaurant near Times Square. The place turns out to be an old church that had to be sold by a congregation and now gives home to the restaurant.

In East Harlem we meet Chris Lawrence. He is an ordained minister of the UCC and has lived in this neighborhood with his family for many years. For several years he was pastor of the small congregation „Church of the Living Hope“, an interdenominational and diverse congregation where people of different faiths and cultural backgrounds come together. All are united by the desire to strengthen mindfulness in the neighborhood, to create spaces of encounter, to stand up for justice and to care for each other. Street and neighborhood festivals are organized together. On the entrance door, the welcoming slogan reads: „whoever you are, wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here“. Rev. Lawrence feels closely connected to the concerns of Latin American base communities and the self-understanding of worker priests in the early 20th century. He himself earns much of his income as a teacher and in other professions.

Since as early as 2008, the UCC has been working on a curriculum that offers a more diverse entry into the parish ministry. Rev. Dr. Marjorie Purnine, a UCC theologian with a doctorate from Syracuse, reported on the current development of the program, which offers an alternative to university study while still maintaining high, academic standards. Online courses allow candidates to stay in the area and pursue work while studying.

„I am very impressed by the creativity in dealing with very different challenges. This also includes living community in different forms. Congregations are where people live, and understand themselves as congregations,“ said Church President Jung in an initial summary. „I am excited about the General Synod of the UCC in the next few days. The UCC is changing, as we are, in the face of secularization, which is also advancing significantly in the U.S.“

The time in New York also provided an opportunity to meet with German Consul General David Gill and visit an exhibit on the worldwide network of the Moravian Church currently on display in the foyer of the Consulate General. The conversation that followed focused on current relations between Germany and the United States, current domestic political developments in the United States and Germany, and the peace ethics debates in the context of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.

Since 1980 there has been a church partnership between the Union of Protestant Churches in Germany and the United Church of Christ. In 2007, this church fellowship between the EKHN and the New York Conferenc of the UCC was concretized in a partnership agreement. Exchange programs, mutual visits, pastoral colleges and youth camps fill this transatlantic partnership with life. The pastorate at the Bergkirche in Wiesbaden, which is currently occupied by a UCC pastor, provides an insight into the spirituality of the UCC. The UCC Partnership Committee of EKHN coordinates these regular meetings and exchanges.


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