The United Church of Christ represents one of the most significant products of the ecumenical movement in the 20th century. It traces its origins to the union of two mainline Protestant denominations at a meeting in June 1957. At that meeting, delegates voted to join the Evangelical and Reformed Church with the Congregational Christian Church. Both of these bodies were the result of previous unions of earlier denominations. In 1931, the Congregational Churches had united with the Christian Church, and in 1934, the Evangelical Synod of North America had united with the Reformed Church in the United States. All four of the original denominations arose from the traditions of the 16th century Protestant Reformers and trace their beginnings to immigrants who came to North America seeking religious and/or economic freedoms.
The basic unit of the United Church of Christ is the congregation. The UCC constitution, adopted in 1959, is very explicit: "The autonomy of the local church is inherent and modifiable only by its own action. Nothing . . . shall destroy or limit the right of each local church to continue to operate in the way customary to it." While every UCC congregation affirms the primacy of the Scriptures, the doctrine of justification by faith, the priesthood of all believers, and the principle of Christian freedom, local congregations for the most part observed the liturgy and theological positions they had before the merger, and continue to do so. Each congregation has its own constitution and works in covenant with other congregations of the UCC to conduct its Christian witness activities. As a result, the worship experience with one UCC congregation may not be the same as with another.
Local congregations in a geographical area are grouped into associations. Consisting of ordained ministers and elected lay delegates, each association assists needy congregations; receives new congregations into the UCC; licenses, ordains, and installs clergy; adopts its own constitution, by-laws, and rules of procedure.
Associations are grouped into conferences, again by geographical area. Conferences coordinate the work and witness of its local congregations and associations; render counsel and advisory service; and establish conference offices, centers, institutions, and other agencies. Conferences also adopt their own constitutions, by-laws, and rules of procedure.
The General Synod is the highest representative body of the UCC. It coordinates denomination-wide ministries and recommends theological positions to be adopted by individual congregations. It meets biennially and is composed of conference delegates and representatives of the Covenanted Ministries. An Executive Council is elected by the General Synod to act for the synod between meetings.
Twenty-nine colleges and universities are related to the United Church of Christ, six of which are historically African-American. The UCC makes social justice a high priority in its Christian witness activities.