Prepared for Use by the Commission on the Welfare of the Union Church (no date)
THE UNION CHURCH AND THE CHANGING AGE
The settlement of America and in particular of Pennsylvania began the process of “the changing scene”. From the time our Pennsylvania German ancestors chopped down the first trees and out of hewn logs built their rude homes, change has been a part of our American way of life. Now with the building of great highways, huge shopping centers and in some areas entire new communities the rate of change has accelerated.
Our forefathers were pioneers. They left the shores of Europe to establish new homes in a strange land. Today we often look backward and long for the days of the pioneers. In fact, in the church, we often try to keep all things exactly as they were in the day of the pioneer. Our fathers would be disappointed in us. They would want us to be pioneers in our own day as they were in theirs. They not only accepted change in life, but they brought about change. The disappearance of the wilderness and the appearance of villages, towns and cities were directly the result of their work.
In the middle seventeen hundreds in the midst of developing of Penn’s Woods, the German Lutheran and Reformed settlers began to form and build the Union Churches that we know today. There were few pastors available and the German immigrants were poor. The faith that was kindled in their hearts in the Fatherland was strong. They brought along with their Bibles and catechisms the desire for worship and education in the faith. Soon small congregations gathered together in the crossroads communities. A pastor visited every four to eight weeks.
Soon the people discovered that if they had a common house of worship they could afford to build one. They also discovered by attending each other’s services they could worship twice month rather than once a month. The Union Church, then, was born out of economic necessity rather than out of a sense of mission that the Lord has wanted us to be one church. Each denomination brought its own catechism and tradition.
The small congregations grew stronger and ministers became more plentiful. Some union Churches began to dissolve that each might call its own minister and reach out to a community where population was slowly but surely growing in numbers. Others have maintained the union to this day. They have found that it is cheaper to share a building and in most cases share a pastor with two or more congregations of the same denomination.
Scientific advance has brought rapid change in the life of the people of Pennsylvania which is unique in that it has aided in the increase of an already large production of farm produce, and yet at the same time has made the state an urbanized industrial area which leads the country in manufacturing. All this has occurred as the nation has passed from the age of the gasoline engine through the atomic age to the space age. While seemingly the church has changed little, there are many town and country churches, however, that have met the challenge of change by making adjustments in parish boundaries and in the ministry to the community through ecumenical cooperation.
Pennsylvania has increased in population from 10,498,012 in 1950 to 11,319,366 in 1960. The increase from 1960 to 1970 is expected to be even greater. In this period of expansion the membership of most Union Churches has not increased with the population growth.
On the American scene the church has been the institution most reluctant to change. Systems, methods, and ideas in many cases are as they were generations ago. One often hears the statement, “If it was good enough for my grandfather, it is good enough for me.” The present generation needs to recover the spilt of the pioneer. Our grandfathers and great-grandfathers would not have made the “good enough” statement. They felt the methods of the day were not good enough. Therefore, they left their homeland and sought a new life in a new land. They looked forward and not backward. They call us to look forward.
Change is a vital part of the Christian faith. Our Lord has said, “Put off the old man and put on the new.” Indeed, His resurrection was to new life. We look to a pioneering ministry not based on economic necessity for the Union Church, but rather for a ministry unto newness of life through the risen Christ who is the head of the church.
COMMISSION ON THE WELFARE OF THE UNION CHURCH
Change which had become a pattern for American life accelerated greatly after the Second World War. New factories, new highways, new people and in some areas even new communities increased the pressure on the Union Church to submit to change. Potential members began to pass the Union Church and seek the active program of the one denomination church rather than adjust themselves to an alternating schedule for worship, a church school that may change its curriculum every two or three years, and a limited schedule of lay activities.
To help pastors, councils and consistories who then, even as now, faced changes that at times seemed overwhelming, representatives of synods of the Lutheran Church and the Evangelical and Reformed Church, now United Church of Christ, met in Reading, Pa. on April 13, 1945 and formulated six principles for the Union Church. On November 23, 1948, following an open meeting of pastors and laymen of both denominations which took place at Red Church near Schuylkill Haven on November 4, 1948, “The Commission on the Welfare of the Union Church” was formed.
The purpose of The Commission is to study the life and work of the Union Church so that there can be offered counsel and guidance for administration, worship, long-range planning and interdenominational relationships. To this end The Commission has provided for consultants who work directly with the congregations through a study committee. The Consultant for the Eastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Lutheran Church is the Rev. Fred S. Blank, Assistant to the President of the Synod and for Central Pennsylvania Synod of the Lutheran Church, the Rev. Martin L. Tozer, D.D., Director of Home Missions. The Consultants for the United Church of Christ are the Rev. Earl R. Marks, Assistant Conference minister of Penn Northeast Conference, the Rev. John C. Shetler, D.D., Assistant to the Conference Minister of the Pennsylvania Southeast Conference, and the Rev. Richard H. Whitney, Assistant to the President of Penn Central Conference.
As of January 1, 1968 there were 149 Union Churches in Pennsylvania and Maryland. They are divided among the Lutheran Synods as follows: Eastern Pennsylvania Synod 98, Central Pennsylvania Synod 45 and Maryland 6. The distribution among the United Church Conferences is as follows: Penn Northeast 54, Pennsylvania Southeast 44, Penn Central 43, Penn West 2 and Central Atlantic 6. Approximately 40% of these churches are in process of negotiation with the consultants.
The consultants enter into negotiations with a Union Church upon invitation of the council or consistory and the first meeting for the purpose of explaining the work of The Commission is a joint meeting of the council and consistory. The consultants do not come to tell a congregation what to do, but to assist and guide the local representatives in their own study, and planning. Consultants are always available to discuss any Union Church situation with pastors, official boards or congregations even though a study committee may not be in process. Union Church negotiations normally take from two to four years.
WHAT ARE THE ALTERNATIVES BEFORE A UNION CHURCH?
There are several alternatives before all Union Churches at all times. When consultations on the welfare of the Union Church take place, these must be considered. They are:
1. Make no change. Maintain the status quo.
2. Make some minor change and/or adjustments). For example – each congregation conduct a worship service every week; make improvements) in the Christian Education Program; adjust the charge or parish alignment; etc.
3. Enter into a self-study using forms prepared for the Union Church. Each congregation’s study committee prepares its own self-study and shares findings with the study committee members of the other congregation. The study committee discusses the implications of the findings at a regular meeting.
4. Dissolve the union relationship.
a. One congregation dissolves in order for its members to unite with the denomination of the other congregation. This makes possible a new congregation of one denomination. The Lutheran Church in America and the United Church of Christ have an understanding whereby the equity rights are transferred from the dissolving congregation to the new congregation by the Conference or Synod, without financial consideration. At times there may be an imbalance in a particular area but across the state and over a longer period of time balance is maintained. This balance may be not only in the number of congregations but also in the number of members in the congregations. The dissolution of one of the congregations in one area will be matched with the dissolution of a congregation of the other denomination in another area.
b. One congregation dissolves, moves out, and erects its own church building. When church relocation is involved, it is important to secure proper approval by the Conference or Synod and the Pennsylvania Council of Churches to assure adequate planning for overall community churching and elimination of unhealthy competition.
c. One congregation dissolves and unites with another of the same denomination nearby.
d. When two Union Churches in close proximity are involved, by mutual consent both congregations can consolidate so that one congregation of each denomination results. This can be effected by one of two (2) methods:
(1) Consolidation within a building – the members of one congregation unite with the congregation of the other denomination. The congregation changing denominational affiliation must dissolve so that consolidation can take place. This can be considered anywhere within the area of the Synod or the Conference involved.
(2) Consolidation within the charge or parish – members maintain their denominational affiliation, but transfer their membership to the building in which their denomination assumes full responsibility.
e. One congregation may disband, permitting its members to assume membership with a congregation of their choice.
HOW IS A UNION CHURCH STUDY COMMITTEE FORMED?
Constructive work for the welfare of the Union Church can be accomplished best through a study committee. This committee, properly authorized by the consistory and the council meeting separately, is the only group in a Union Church authorized to deliberate upon and make recommendations for the welfare of that Union Church.
HOW DOES THE STUDY COMMITTEE OPERATE?
The study committee is comprised of three persons from each congregation named as regular members of the study committee; one person from each congregation named as the alternate study committee member; and the pastor of each congregation. The study committee meets only when the consultants for The Commission on the Welfare of the Union Church are present. All persons should be in attendance, but only three (3) have right of vote, namely, the study committee members. Pastors and consultants have right of voice but not of vote.
Alternate study committee members have right of voice at all times, but vote only if one of the regular study committee members is absent. Alternate study committee members should attend all meetings to keep abreast of study committee de-liberations. Study committee membership is not limited to consistory and council members, but at least one member of each denomination on the study committee ought to be a member of the official board of that congregation at the time of his appointment. Members of the study committee are appointed for the entire period of discussions. If the study committee recesses at any time, membership does not expire but continues with the resumption of discussions.
Whenever a Union Church agrees to engage in study of its situation, it is wise not to make any major change or renovation until the results of the study are complete.
WHAT IS THE POWER OF THE STUDY COMMITTEE?
The only authority the study committee has is to engage in study of the union situation and make recommendations to official boards. The study committee is to be alert at all times to participate in responsible area planning and to make suggestions for the same to the official boards. Minutes of all the study committee meetings are recorded by one of the consultants while the other conducts the meeting. These roles alternate from meeting to meeting. A quantity of the minutes is mailed to each pastor (or designated person) for distribution to each member of the study committee and official board of that congregation. The consistory and the council are to discuss each set of minutes and give either approval or disapproval of recommendations as required. Council and consistory should not take action which limits the freedom for study and discussion by the study committee prior to the presentation of recommendations from the study committee. When congregational action is required, it is sought after recommendation is made by the study committee and majority approval is given by both the consistory and the council.
HOW ARE DECISIONS MADE?
Minutes of the study committee do not contain references to individuals and/or their comments relative to discussions.
Usually there are no motions since all action in the study committee is by common consent. Thus, any proposal arising out of the study committee is a union proposal. Neither consistory nor council should offer a proposal, since this would merely encourage discrimination and later might bring reproach to someone who was sincere in raising questions, issues, or suggestions.
All remarks made in the study committee meetings must be treated as confidential.
WHAT IS EQUITY?
Equity is the valuation placed on the total union church property, excluding the cemetery and personal property of either congregation, such as hymnals, vestments, literature, etc.
WHY SET EQUITY?
There are numerous, related, significant reasons why equity should be set on the Union Church property. If any renovation or building is contemplated, equity could determine whether such added expense is wise. At the same time it could serve as the base or the starting point, if renovation or building are decided upon, for future determination of equity. Equity is not market value. Neither is it insurance or replacement value.
The Union Church property normally is of value onlv to two groups, namely, one or the other congregation in the union arrangement. If any decision on dissolution is ever contemplated it is wise to agree on equity first. Agreement on equity may reveal what our forefathers volunteered for the Union Church property and what we in our generation have contributed toward it. Setting of equity may be the means whereby the boundary lines are clarified, the deed located and verified, and misunderstanding of financial support and records clarified, approved, or brought to a mutually, agreeable basis.
HOW IS EQUITY DETERMINED?
Experience has taught the Commission one successful way of establishing equity. It begins with a small group, the study committee, comprised of three members from each congregation.
Each member of the study committee is instructed to prayerfully, and conscientiously seek the figure that in his opinion he and his congregation would be willing to give or receive as his congregation’s share in the equity of the Union Church property.
The figure submitted is a figure on the total equity. Obviously each congregation owns one-half of the property and shares one-half of the equity. It is emphasized that the figure submitted is on a BUY or SELL basis. Either congregation should be willing to BUY or SELL on the approved equity.
Following careful instruction and after each member of the study committee has had adequate time to be prepared and permission having been granted by the council and the consistory, the study committee proceeds to set equity by one of several acceptable methods. Normally, we proceed as follows: Each member of the study committee puts his figure on a separate slip of paper. There will be six figures. The consultants gather the figures, add them, average them, and present the average figure. No one ever knows the individual figures submitted except the consultants.
If one or two figures are entirely out of line with the other figures. that is, extremely high or low, the consultants reserve the right to eliminate those figures.
The equity must first be approved by the study committee.
It is then presented to council and consistory for approval and then to the congregations, each one acting on the recommendation separately.
HOW LONG DOES EQUITY CONTINUE?
Usually equity is set for a five year period, however, an appeal for reconsideration can be presented at any time by either congregation. Up until that time when dissolution actually occurs the equity is considered a “gentleman’s agreement. Up until that time it is not a legal, binding agreement.
Ordinarily, however, if the economy of the nation continues in its present trend there is no need of reconsideration for as building costs rise the depreciation on the old building also increases. We believe under present normal circumstances, costs balance depreciation.
WHEN SHOULD EQUITY BE ESTABLISHED?
The consultants strongly stress that before either congregation in a union relationship makes a decision about its future that equity be approved. Human nature being what it is, we all prefer to buy at the lowest price and sell at the highest price.
Therefore, if either congregation has determined to buy or sell before equity is set, it will be more difficult to arrive at a fair equity figure. If you intend to continue to discuss your union relationship and meet the challenge of the changing day, then be sure to consider equity early in the discussions.
A congregation is a legal entity and acts as a body. Therefore in Union Church procedures the votes of each congregation are taken within the separate and distinct meetings of each congregation and are counted separately by respective representatives of each.
Each congregation has one vote (“YES” or “NO”), approval or disapproval, on each particular recommendation.
The vote is determined by a simple majority of those present and voting unless otherwise specified by the constitution and bylaws of the local church. A simple majority vote of approval by the members of one congregation means the recommendation has passed for that particular congregation. Approval must be given by both congregations of the Union Church for a recommendation to be approved on union matters. If one congregation disapproves, then the recommendation does not carry for the Union Church. If disapproval does occur, then the procedure of education and voting may be repeated when feasible.
COMMUNICATION WITHIN THE CONGREGATION
After the study committee is appointed the question arises, “How do we keep the congregation informed?” Immediately all sorts of rumors will spread through the congregation and the community. No method or system has yet been discovered in all of history to curtail or ban gossip.
Nevertheless, there are several ways to avoid uncontrolled rumors. When a study committee is approved and appointed, announcement of the same should be made by spoken word, bulletin and/or letter in each congregation in a similar way and, if possible, on the same Sunday. It would be helpful if the announcement in the bulletin in each congregation could be of the same wording. Explanation of what a study committee is could be made to the congregations. From the time of the appointment of a study committee, attention could be called to the fact that it is meeting, studying, and that just as soon as an agreement is reached or a proposal is to be presented, the congregations will be informed.
But, here’s the rub. Nothing specific can be reported to the congregations until a recommendation, approved by council and consistory, is. to be made to the congregations. For this reason minutes of all study committee meetings are recorded. Enough copies are always supplied for members of council, consistory and representatives of Conference and Synod. In this way each of them can be kept abreast of the discussions and at monthly meetings each group can be informed. Thus two-way communications, to some degree at least, can be maintained.
But people can be impatient. Some will think after the first meeting of the study committee all problems have been solved.
The truth is that negotiations on the average take from two to four years until a solution is reached. It is urgent, therefore, that meetings of the study committee be announced to the congregations and that the official boards read and discuss the minutes.
Normally the pastors are responsible for the printing of the church bulletin and the distribution of the minutes. By mutual agreement they can do much to satisfy the people with the news that can be shared. It is when people hear nothing of the proceedings that alarm and verbal reaction fill the vacuum.
If, and when, a recommendation is presented to the congregations, usually two congregational meetings are held in each congregation: one for discussion and one for voting. The consultants are present at their respective congregational meetings.
One of the consultants normally prepares a sample letter announcing and informing the memberships of the meetings. The same letter is to be mailed to both memberships on the same day.
If any action in the proceedings warrants the engaging of an attorney, one attorney will suffice; never engage two. The attorney’s chief task is to put into proper legal language that to which both congregations have already agreed.