Fact Sheet

Penn Central Conference is:

  • A faith-based and mission organization driven by 186 congregations in covenant, consisting of about 37,000 members and 400 authorized ministers in 20 counties throughout Pennsylvania
  • Located in urban, suburban, small town and rural – Central PA from NY to MD – with a Conference office in Harrisburg, PA
  • Robust in active Outdoor Ministry through Hartman Center
  • Divided into 8 Associations
    • Central
    • Gettysburg
    • Harrisburg
    • Lancaster
    • Lebanon
    • Mercersburg
    • Northern
    • York
  • One of 38 regional bodies of the United Church of Christ
  • Governed by a Board of Directors consisting of 3 representatives of each of our 8 Associations
  • Formed in January 1963 as a merger of the Congregational Christian Church and the Evangelical and Reformed Church
  • Staffed by 8 people who work to strengthen and connect our congregations by providing support and resources

Short Course on UCC History

A Short Course in the History of the United Church of Christ tells our story beginning with our origins in the small community who followed Jesus 20 centuries ago and continuing to the present. Learn about the Reformation—a protest movement against the abuse of authority by church leaders; the rediscovery by Luther and Calvin of the Bible’s teaching that salvation is not earned, but is a gift; the epic journey of the Pilgrims from England to the shores of North America; the waves of emigration by German and Hungarian Protestants seeking spiritual and political freedom; the beginning of the first Christian anti-slavery movement in history; the 20th-century movement to reunite the divided branches of Christ’s church, and, as a result of that movement, the union of several traditions of Protestant Christianity into the United Church of Christ in 1957.

We invite you to use the Short Course for your personal study or as a resource for confirmation and new-member classes in your congregation. On every page, you’ll find links to related resources on this website, links to other resources on the Internet, and ideas about books for further study.Also recommended: Hidden Histories of the United Church of Christ.

UCC Firsts

Ship leaving Europe

1620

Pilgrims seek spiritual freedom

Seeking spiritual freedom, forebears of the United Church of Christ prepare to leave Europe for the New World. Later generations know them as the Pilgrims. Their pastor, John Robinson, urges them as they depart to keep their minds and hearts open to new ways.

Rev. Samuel Sewall

1700

An early stand against slavery

Congregationalists are among the first Americans to take a stand against slavery. The Rev. Samuel Sewall writes the first anti-slavery pamphlet in America, “The Selling of Joseph.” Sewall lays the foundation for the abolitionist movement that comes more than a century later.

Jonathan Edwards

1730

The Great Awakening

The first Great Awakening sweeps through Congregational and Presbyterian churches. One of the great thinkers of the movement, Jonathan Edwards, says the church should recover the passion of a transforming faith that changes “the course of [our] lives.”

Boston Tea Party

1773

First act of civil disobedience

Five thousand angry colonists gather in the Old South Meeting House to demand repeal of an unjust tax on tea. Their protest inspires the first act of civil disobedience in U.S. history—the “Boston Tea Party.”

Phillis Wheatley

1773

First published African American poet

A young member of the Old South congregation, Phillis Wheatley, becomes the first published African American author. “Poems on Various Subjects” is a sensation, and Wheatley gains her freedom from slavery soon after. Modern African American poet Alice Walker says of her: “[She] kept alive, in so many of our ancestors, the notion of song.”

Lemuel Haynes

1785

First ordained African American pastor

Lemuel Haynes is the first African American ordained by a Protestant denomination. In 1776, in the midst of the fight for liberty in which he enlists as a soldier, he writes a defense of the liberation of African Americans from slavery: “Liberty, Further Extended.”

James O’Kelly

1798

‘Christians’ seek liberty of conscience

Dissident preacher James O’Kelly is one of the early founders of a religious movement called simply the “Christians.” His aim is to restore the simplicity of the original Christian community. The Christians seek liberty of conscience and oppose authoritarian church government.

American Board of Commissioners

1810

First foreign mission society

America’s first foreign mission society, the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions (ABCFM) is formed by Congregationalists in Massachusetts.

Missionary boats headed to India

1812

First foreign missionaries to India

ABCFM sends its first group of five missionaries to India, including Adoniram Judson and Luther Rice.

American School for the Deaf

1817

First school for the deaf

Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet introduces sign language to North America and co-founds the American School for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut. It’s the beginning of a movement that will transform the lives of millions of hearing-impaired persons.

Supreme Court rules the captives are not property

1839

A defining moment for the abolitionist movement

Enslaved Africans break their chains and seize control of the schooner Amistad. Their freedom is short-lived, and the ship’s owners sue to have them returned as property. The Supreme Court rules the captives are not property, and they regain their freedom.

American Missionary Association document

1846

First integrated anti-slavery society

The Amistad case is a spur to the conscience of Congregationalists and other Christians who believe no human being should be a slave. In 1846 Lewis Tappan, one of the Amistad organizers, organizes the American Missionary Association—the first anti-slavery society in the U.S. with multiracial leadership.

Antoinette Brown

1853

First woman pastor

Antoinette Brown is the first woman since New Testament times ordained as a Christian minister, and perhaps the first woman in history elected to serve a Christian congregation as pastor. At her ordination a friend, Methodist minister Luther Lee, defends “a woman’s right to preach the Gospel.”

Spiritual and ethnic traditions unite

1957

Spiritual and ethnic traditions unite

The United Church of Christ is born when the Evangelical and Reformed Church unites with the Congregational Christian Churches. The new community embraces a rich variety of spiritual traditions and welcomes believers of African, Asian, Pacific, Latin Am, Native Am and European descent. Photo by George Conklin.

Everett Parker

1959

Historic ruling that airwaves are public property

Southern television stations impose a news blackout on the growing civil rights movement, and Martin Luther King Jr. asks the UCC to intervene. Everett Parker of the UCC’s Office of Communication organizes churches and wins in Federal court a ruling that the airwaves are public property.

Rev. William R. Johnson

1972

Ordination of first openly gay minister

The UCC’s Golden Gate Association ordains the first openly gay person as a minister in an historic Protestant denomination: the Rev. William R. Johnson. In the following three decades, the UCC’s General Synod urges equal rights for homosexual citizens.

Wilmington Ten

1973

Civil rights activists freed

The Wilmington Ten are charged with the arson of a white-owned grocery store in Wilmington, N.C. One of them is Benjamin Chavis, a UCC missionary and community organizer. Convinced the charges are false, the UCC’s General Synod raises more than $1 million to pay for bail.

Rev. Joseph H. Evans

1976

First African American leader elected

General Synod elects the Rev. Joseph H. Evans president of the United Church of Christ. He becomes the first African American leader of a racially integrated mainline church in the United States.

The New Century Hymnal

1995

Singing a new song

The United Church of Christ publishes The New Century Hymnal—the only hymnbook released by a Christian church that honors in equal measure both male and female images of God. Although its poetry is contemporary, its theology is traditional.

Marriage equality passes

2005

Marriage equality

On July 4, the General Synod overwhelmingly passes a resolution supporting same-gender marriage equality. UCC General Minister and President John Thomas says that the Synod “has acted courageously to declare freedom, affirming marriage equality, affirming the civil rights of same gender couples…”