Excerpt from “A History of the Michigan Conference United Church of Christ and Its Parent Denominations 1842 – 1992, by Rev. Donald A. Wenstrom
1957 – 1964
The National Union of the Congregational Christian Churches and Evangelical and Reformed Church
The United Church of Christ came into being on June 25, 1957, during the Uniting General Synod at the Music Hall in Cleveland, Ohio, when the delegates of the uniting bodies declared: “We do now, as the regularly constituted representatives of the Evangelical and Reformed Church and of the General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches, declare ourselves to be one body and our union consummated in this act establishing the United Church of Christ, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
This declaration culminated a courtship that began 20 years before in 1937 with informal conversations among leaders of the two denominations, which became more formal in 1941 when their appropriate committees were authorized to continue those conversations. After six years of meetings, much discussion, negotiations and debate, a Basis of Union with Interpretations was approved by each of the official bodies in 1949. A lawsuit within the Congregational Christian branch of the union, testing the right of the General Council to unite the churches, delayed the process of union for four years until the New York Court of Appeals removed the last barriers to union and enable the denominations to proceed toward the consummation of the union which took place on June 25, 1957.
Dr. James E. Wagner, President of the Evangelical and Reformed General Synod, and Dr. Fred E. Hoskins, minister of the Congregational Christian General Council, were elected as Co-Presidents of the United Church of Christ. During the early years of the union, the administrative transformation, the adoption of a Statement of Faith (1959), and the writing and approval of the constitution and bylaws of the UCC (1961) brought about the real consummation of the union. Wrote the Rev. Louis H. Gunnemann in his excellent book, The Shaping of the United Church of Christ:
In that period (1957-1961) an increasingly important self-consciousness about the United Church began to demonstrate itself. That, in turn, was to prove a steadying factor in the period between 1961 and 1969 in the formation of the United Church of Christ as the organizational structure was developed and tested under the growing pressures of radical social change.
Union Considered in Michigan Conference
The accomplishment of the union on the national level was only the first step for it to become a reality for the conferences and the local churches on the Congregational Christian side. In accordance with the polity of Congregationalism, each local church and conference had to vote on whether or not each would become a part of the union.
A change in leadership took place in the Michigan Conference during these crucial years between 1957 and 1962. Dr. Harold N. Skidmore was the Conference Superintendent and Registrar and from 1941 to September 1960, and led the clergy and congregations through World War II, its aftermath , and as one minister said what “might be likened unto a ‘civil war’ within Congregationalism.” The latter was referring to the years that they would lose their autonomy as congregations if they and the Conference voted to unite with a denomination whose polity was Presbyterial, instead of Congregational, in nature.
Dr. Samuel N. Oliver served as Interim Superintendent from September 1, 1960, to September 1, 1961, while a search committee sought a replacement for Skidmore. In his report to the Annual Meeting of 1961 held in Kalamazoo, Oliver stated emphatically:
Certain things have entered in to disrupt somewhat our program of unity and of giving so far as the program of the church is concerned. Furthermore, there is no use trying to sidestep it. This matter of the union has upset many of our local churches to a very great degree. May I say right here, in facing that situation as we do, that the Conference wants it understood that regardless of whether or not you have voted NO on the Constitution with reference to the United Church of Christ or whether you have voted YES or whether you refrained from voting, the Conference is still ready and willing to serve you. We want you to utilize its services in every way possible….We are not saying what you must do (to the NO voting churches). The only thing I will say is this – that the facilities that you have always used as churches of the Michigan Conference are still open to you and no one can curtail those services, other than you. It is dependent upon you as to the extent and way that you shall use.
At this same Annual Meeting, Dr. Duane N. Vore, minister of the First Congregational Church of Battle Creek, was elected Superintendent and Registrar of the Michigan Conference of the Congregational Christian Churches. The General Synod of the United Church of Christ adopted a Constitution on July 4, 1961. The Michigan Conference churches were in the process of voting for or against the union. At the Annual Meeting, May 16-17, 1962, held at South Congregational Church in Grand Rapids, it was reported that of the 220 churches within the Conference as of that date: 132 churches had voted YES on the union; 33 voted NO, they would not take part in it; 9 churches had abstained and 46 had not yet taken action. Under guidelines from the General Synod of the UCC, Conferences were asked to complete their voting in 1963. In anticipation of a favorable vote on the union, a resolution was adopted to set up a committee to work on the Michigan Conference United Church of Christ Constitution, and present it to the 1963 Annual Meeting. The Rev. Leonard Wiegel served as its chairperson. In Vore’s closing remarks in his first formal address as its new leader, he challenged the delegates about what could lay ahead:
We have opportunities for service unparalleled in our past. It is more than just the fact of large numbers of people to be drawn with Christ’s love into a new response to God. It is the challenge to touch the whole existence with a new and more effective interpreting of God’s word and purpose for us in our time.
CCC/E&R Steps Toward Union
The 121st Annual Meeting of the Michigan Conference of the Congregational Christian Churches and the 25th Annual Meeting of the Michigan –Indiana Synod of the Evangelical and Reformed Church were historic ones, inasmuch as it was at their 1963 Annual Meetings on May 22nd that the delegates of each body voted to officially become a Conference within the United Church of Christ. The setting for the unfolding drama took place for the E& R delegates at St. Paul E& R Church in Lansing. Dr. Henry G. Kroehler,, President of the Synod, announced at a joint banquet at the Michigan State University Union, that they had approved the union by a vote of 32 Synods FOR, and only 1 Synod AGAINST.
The delegates to the Michigan Conference met at Peoples Church in East Lansing for its Annual Meeting, May 21-23, 1963. They were presented with a Consolidation Agreement, which was the legal act of Union of the Michigan Congregational Christian Conference and the Michigan-Indiana Synod of the Evangelical and Reformed Church of Christ. Conference action on the Agreement required a two-thirds vote of the membership, not just those present. Ministerial members, church delegates, and members of the Board of Trustees not in the other two categories made a voting membership of 536, two-thirds of which was 357. There was an organized opposition to the Consolidation Agreement led by the Rev. Malcolm K. Burton, minister of the First Congregational Church of Pontiac.
The finally tally of the 536 total membership, of which there were 316 members present and 105 valid proxies (421 voting), was 373 in favor and 48 against the adoption of the resolution, and the Consolidation agreement was declared approved the following day by more than the two-thirds (357) votes needed.
Immediately following the above described vote, a written ballot was taken on the resolution to approve and adopt the proposed Constitution and Bylaws for the Michigan Conference of the United Church of Christ. The final results of that vote showed 362 persons in favor, and 43 against the resolution. This, too, was declared approved the following day by more than two-thirds (357) votes needed. The votes on the two-thirds requirement was indicative of the struggle that had taken place in the Michigan Conference over the union, and the need for healing among churches in the years ahead.
All officers, Board Members, Commissions and Departments were elected as interim persons for the 1963-64 conference year. The title of Duane Vore had been changed to Conference Minister, Chief Executive Officer and Resident Agent in 1962, and Henry Kroehler became Associate Conference Minister and Vice Executive Officer in 1963. Terms of these officials were made for an indefinite period, Instead of a yearly election as was previously the case.
First Annual Meeting of the Michigan Conference UCC
The 1964 Annual Meeting, held at Bethlehem United Church of Christ, Ann Arbor, May 19-21, is officially recorded as the First Annual Meeting of the Michigan Conference of the United Church of Christ. It was described as “continuing the two parent bodies, thus fulfilling the functions of the 122nd Annual Meeting of the Michigan Congregational Christian Conference and the 26th Annual Meeting of the Michigan-Indiana Synod of the Evangelical and Reformed Church.” The Rev. Ernest R. Klaudt was host minister and the Rev. Halley B. Oliver was Moderator. The Rev. Fred E. Hoskins, First Co-President of the UCC, and then minister of the Garden City Community Church in New York, gave three addresses on “The Purpose and Role of the Local Church.” The Honorable George Romney, Governor of Michigan, was also present and gave what was described in the Annual Meeting Minutes as “a powerful address on ‘The Relation of Religion and the State.’”
The position of the Michigan Conference of the UCC on social issues continued to be that of the uniting bodies. This can be seen in such resolutions adopted during that First Annual Meeting: “On Bearing Witness to Our Faith in Civil Rights, ““On a Strong Civil Rights Bill,” “On Racial Inclusiveness in Institutions, “ “On National Economy,” and “On Poverty.” Other resolutions were on “Church Vocations,” “A Free Pulpit,” “Increased Missionary Giving,” “Church Unity” and “Supporting United Church of Christ Institutions,” showing the concern of the church on these important issues.
A few statistics will indicate the strength of the newly formed Conference. As of the 1964 Annual Meeting, there were 288 churches listed in three categories: 217 that voted to be a part of the union (with a membership of 82,578), 37 that had not voted or had abstained (Schedule I with 9,728 members) and 34 that had voted “No” (Schedule II with 14, 567 members). Among the clergy listed, 305 were United Church of Christ ministers and 45 continued their status as Congregational Christian ministers. The budget for Our Christian World Mission adopted for 1965 was $715,000, of which $314,293 (46%) was for Conference work, and $400,707 (56%) was sent on for national work. This was a reduction from 60% for national, which had been the Congregational Christian practice for many years. The Conference Minister’s salary in that budget was $12,000. In addition to Vore and Kroehler, the ordained ministerial staff of the Conference included: William T. Matters (Christian Education), Frank T. Jensen (Stewardship and Mission), Arlie E. Porter (Metropolitan Mission) and Edward W. Willcox (Interim Minister of Detroit Metropolitan Association). The clerical staff included secretaries Kathryn Lohr (Conference Minister), Wilma Steeb (Associate Conference Minister), Ingrid Carroll, and soon after Dorry Wing (Christian Education) and Lera Clark (Finance). All the staff offices were in East Lansing, with the exception of Porter and Willcox and their secretary, Evelyn Brown, with offices in Detroit.
Associations of the Michigan Conference UCC
Organized: May 17, 1842
Reorganized: February 2, 1964
Organized: October 14, 1845
Reorganized: September 13, 1964
Organized: February 13, 1878
Reorganized: October 7, 1964
Organized: August 29, 1888
Reorganized: September, 1963
Organized: May 4, 1887
Reorganized: May 12, 1964
Organized: February 12, 1840
Reorganized: September 1, 1964
Organized: January 8, 1856
Reorganized: July 7, 1964
Organized: January 1, 1863
Organized: August 12, 1879
Organized: January 13, 1864
Reorganized: September 19, 1964 (As West Michigan)
Organized: June 1, 1849
Reorganized: April 26, 1964 (As Southwest Michigan)
Sault Ste. Marie
Organized: March 18, 1880