It is very possible that denominations don’t matter to you! Some churches claim they are non-denominational. That is code for “We are creating a new one and we don’t want you to stop coming to our church because denominations are old ways of doing church.”
First United, like most churches, has denominational ties that have given significant formation to our character and hung like an albatross around our necks. Denominationalism used to be a front sign in one’s yard that let people know exactly who you are. That reality has been significantly challenged in 21st-century religious life in the United States.
First United Church of Bloomington organizationally represents two denominations and has a wonderfully unique local flair of independence from both denominations. First United is part of the United Church of Christ, UCC and the American Baptist Churches, ABC/USA. Both denominational structures are congregationally centered. Denominational policies and guidelines serve the local church and are not in a power structure relationship to control or dominate the local congregational
setting. THAT’S A BIG DEAL!
First United has been two denominational since the 1970’s. The two groups were building sharing and discovered over time that they really were quite similar and decided to unite as one congregation. On the national level the UCC presents a much more liberal progressive stance than do most American Baptist churches. Not all UCC churches are progressive and not all American Baptist Churches are conservative. Here in Bloomington our group is very progressive on social and theological issues though we have no formal doctrines of required beliefs.
Twenty some years ago First United had a young man who had grown up in this congregation experience what he considered a call to become an ordained clergy in the UCC. He was openly gay. Our local congregation had loved him since a child and agreed to stand with him as he went through the formal process of going to seminary and being ordained. Ordination is for both denominations a local church decision that is made in a formal relationship with our denominational partners.
However, the southern Indiana Association of American Baptist Churches voted to exclude First United from membership in the Association of southern Indiana American Baptist Churches because they believed this church was wrong to consider an “avowed homosexual” for professional church leadership. First United (then First Baptist of Bloomington) had been a founding member of that Association of churches since 1824. This is one of many reasons why people have grown to distrust
First United could not belong to the American Baptist Churches/USA unless we were part of a local region or association of American Baptist Churches. First United could have just become UCC but that was not an acceptable position for this congregation to seriously consider. In 21st-century Baptist America there are regions of our country that are welcoming and affirming of the LGBTQ community. First United simply changed regions and we are now part of the American Baptist Churches of upstate New York (Rochester-Genesee) which has 68 open welcoming and affirming congregations.
Not all UCC churches are welcoming of the LGBTQ population. However, as a national denomination they are open, welcome, and affirming but local churches still get to decide for themselves all issues and polity. First United proudly represents the Open, Welcome, and Affirming segment of BOTH denominations.
Few people in looking for a church in the 21 st century are shopping by denominational identity. Our visitors that stay around the longest have a tendency to appreciate that we take the Bible seriously not literally, that we demand strong personal and social actions of ourselves, and that we believe in the priesthood of all believers and do not set our clergy up as somehow more divine than the person in the pew. First United is also strong in the teaching of the separation of church and state as well as finding the Way of Jesus that which most informs our lives while NEVER negating the faith system of others.
First United is a freedom loving highly responsible group of faith seekers who enjoy the love and the struggle that comes with being in relationship with our family of similar minded churches of our two denominational structures.