Ending a relationship of more than two centuries, congregants of the Church of Christ in Yale held their last service affiliated with the United Church of Christ in Battell Chapel Sunday.
A University committee recommended the split to Yale President Richard Levin in December as part of a multi-faceted plan to reform campus religious life. Though University officials view the move as a means to meet the needs of a more religiously diverse student body, some community members have strongly opposed the change.
Opponents of the split note Yale’s historic ties to the UCC, a descendant of the Congregationalist Church whose ministers helped found the University. The 100-member CCY will now be non-denominational.
During the final service, University Chaplain Frederick Streets invited members to stand in a circle and form the customary “Lord’s table.”
“Come form the East and West, the North and South, to circle this table one last time as the resident of the United Church of Christ congregation at Yale,” he said.
Before communion, members of the Church shared blessings and expressed their feelings about the divide.
“I wish for a blessing for any person in this place, regardless of the decision they have made,” one member said.
Several congregants said they were leaving the church because of the split.
“We might come back, but never again as members,” said Rolfe Gjellstad, a librarian at the Yale Divinity School, referring to himself and his wife.
Martha Highsmith, Battell’s associate interim pastor and deputy Yale secretary, said the University’s decision to part ways with the UCC is aimed at making Battell more open to students belonging to other denominations.
“We expect more students to come,” she said. “So far the focus has been outside the University. But Battell was initially founded as a result of a student petition.”
But Charles Pillsbury ’70 — a student deacon at Battell as an undergraduate and a member of the resident congregation since 1975 — said breaking the tradition was “tragic” and “unnecessary.”
Pillsbury, a longtime political figure in the city who is weighing a run for Ward 19 alderman, said the UCC is the most diverse Protestant denomination and the church was already welcoming to a range of Yale students. Pillsbury said the University was never open to discussion regarding the decision.
But while he referred to the division as a “death” that everyone ought to grieve for, there were also those who accepted the break.
“This division doesn’t interest me,” church-goer Dawson Martin LAW ’54 said. “It was a little weird that UCC was so prominent.”
Following communion, the members of the congregation vowed to release the pastors from their duties and responsibilities towards the UCC, and to pray for them as they continued to serve the multi- denominational CCY in Battell. In turn, the pastors released all UCC members who have decided to no longer attend Battell.
Highsmith said CCY’s governing body will no longer be comprised of UCC members, but will instead be taken over by members of the Yale community. She said she predicts many current members of Battell’s resident UCC congregation will form their own group or transfer to other UCC congregations nearby.
Battell will continue holding services every morning without significant changes, Highsmith said. Although some UCC members will be gone, Highsmith expressed optimism that the church will fill with Christian students of various other denominations.
A second associate chaplain will be appointed to take charge of multi-faith activities.