Following the recent announcement that the Church of Christ in Yale will become non-denominational next fall, members of the United Church of Christ have expressed disappointment and concern about the impending separation.
The CCY — begun in 1757, and a member of the United Church of Christ since 1961 — is the oldest college church in America and currently has 100 members. Rev. Sam Slie DIV ’52 ’63, the associate pastor since 1996, said the CCY — which holds its services in Battell Chapel — has always had a tight connection with the city which will be challenged by the split.
“It’s a unique tie,” said Slie, associate pastor with the CCY since 1966. “This church has a historical tie to all of Christendom, which a university creation simply will not have.”
Dianne Davis NUR ’72, the moderator for the CCY, said she does not support the separation of the CCY from the UCC, which she said has always supported CCY’s progressive positions, including welcoming students of any sexual orientation, race or class to the community.
“We can’t understand how being a part of the UCC congregation has stood in the way with whatever the University wanted to do,” said Davis, a UCC member since 1970.
University Chaplain Frederick Streets said the principal change caused by the split will be how the CCY is organized. Under the current UCC model, the church is led by a church council made up of 16 members of the congregation. The new model will still have a church council, but members will be chosen by the University.
“It’s an issue of governance,” Streets said. “Yale feels that the direction of the church should be under the University.”
Weekly worship for the CCY is held at Battell, borrowing elements from numerous Protestant faiths. From the perspective of the students, Streets said the church’s existing programs will largely be untouched.
“There will be some tweaking of the worship, but the fundamental structure remains the same,” Streets said. “We plan to increase our music offerings and to involve more University students and faculty.”
But with council members selected by the University, the CCY may lose focus on the congregation, Davis said.
“Those committed members want a voice in worship as well,” Davis said. “A University council would be very different from our church council.”
After the separation, Davis said members of the congregation may also lose control of the CCY’s $25,000 benevolence budget used to promote volunteer work in New Haven and to support programs like the Columbus House, a local homeless shelter.
Davis said the separation will weaken the connection between Yale students and community members.
“One thing that will be missing is the people who welcomed students, the ones who organize the coffee hour afterwards,” Davis said. “It’s the people who reach out to the students who come.”
Torn between his loyalty to Yale and the UCC, Slie said he feels a sense of disjuncture.
“I have a great love for this University and for this church,” Slie said. “I have been marrying, burying, baptizing, and standing by in crisis and in joy, all of these people who are Yale people, but who were people the church was concerned for.”
Until the separation of the church is official, Slie said he would like to see more communication between the Yale administration and the church council, to hopefully arrive at a compromise.
“It comes to the council as a statement of a decision which was not really shared with us, no time of negotiation, and adjustment, and possibly agreement,” Slie said. “What I’m hoping for is to negotiate something that would not quite so coldly dismiss the tradition.”
Though the CCY has officially announced the division, the church council still hopes to discuss alternatives with the Yale administration. The UCC has invited University Secretary Linda Lorimer to a congregational meeting on Feb. 13 to discuss the changes.