The Practice and Understanding of the Eucharist in the United Church of Christ: A Practical Theological Study
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This dissertation explores the complexity of the understanding and practice of the Eucharist in the United Church of Christ as revealed in a textual analysis of the UCC Book of Worship (1986) and a qualitative study of five representative UCC congregations. Little has been written on this topic, save for several brief articles on the history of the theology of the sacrament in the two bodies that merged to form the UCC in 1957: the Congregational Christian Churches (CC) and the Evangelical and Reformed Church (E&R). This dissertation advances the topic through a practical-theological study that brings into critical conversation contemporary eucharistic practices in five congregations and a historical theological analysis of liturgical traditions in the UCC and antecedent denominations. Through this conversation, the study articulates common themes of a UCC eucharistic theology and explores implications for ongoing theology and practice in the denomination. The introduction explicates the methodology employed in this study, guided by Don Browning's work. The first two chapters present the findings of the focus group interviews and an interpretation of those results respectively. Chapter three analyzes the eucharistic liturgies in three historic books of worship used in the E&R heritage. In chapter four, two of the antecedent resources utilized in the CC tradition are analyzed. The short-lived Hymnal of the United Church of Christ, published in 1974, includes liturgies that would find fuller expression in the 1986 Book of Worship. That hymnal is examined in chapter five. Chapter six interprets the two services of "Word and Sacrament" found in the Book of Worship. Chapter seven offers a comparative analysis of the focus group findings and the theology inherent in the Book of Worship. The final chapter offers strategic recommendations for revised theory and practice. The conclusion points toward areas for further research: it propels a critical conversation around the notion of covenant, Christ's presence in the meal, and who can receive and officiate at the Eucharist. This dissertation concludes that the UCC lives within a balance of multiple, complementary theologies and challenges the denomination to make stronger connections between the meal and mission, reconciliation, and tradition.