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Don Mayer likens visions of UCC's formation with the STM

As Seattle University’s  School of Theology at Ministry (STM) celebrates its 20th anniversary, retired UCC pastor Don Mayer, who helped in its formation and taught UCC history and polity from 2001 to 2004, believes the STM embodies UCC’s founding vision.

Lynnea and Don Mayer were at a recent STM anniversary. Photo courtesy of the School of Theology and Ministry

A brochure on the Don and Lynnea Mayer scholarship fund states for him how the STM reflects that vision.

“For us, STM is a singular contemporary institutional embodiment of the theological passion in which the UCC was conceived and born,” he said.

That vision in the 1943 Basis of Union affirmed “our devotion to one God” and said, “Confronting the divisions and hostilities of our world, and hearing with a deepened sense of responsibility the prayer of our Lord ‘that they all may be one’...we do declare ourselves one body and do set forth the following articles of agreement as the basis of our life.”

Given that faith communities continue to confront “our world’s divisions and hostilities,” Don said, “the prayer that all may be one calls us to a deeper responsibility than our UCC forbears could have imagined in 1957.

“For those of us who love the UCC’s history and contemporary life, the STM is an astonishing response to that calling,” he said.

While 2017 is 60 years since the UCC’s founding, merging the Congregational Christian and the Evangelical and Reformed churches, Don sees its context in other commemorations this year.

Oct. 31 was the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Don said that date is also significant in UCC history. It was also the 300th anniversary of the imperial order in Germany that founded the Evangelical Church, one of the UCC’s four denominational roots.

Before 1817, followers of Luther (Lutherans) and John Calvin (Reformed) could not take communion together, so Reformed Prussian monarch, Frederick William III and his Lutheran wife Louise never took communion together.  After her death, he united the churches as the Evangelical Church, Don said. 

On Oct. 31, 1817, he called leaders of the two denominations to celebrate communion, bringing their own understandings to communion, but being united in communion.

Frederick William III declared: “May the promised point in time not be far away when all believers, holding one belief, one love, and one hope come to be members of one flock under one shepherd.”

German immigrants to Midwest rivers valleys in the 1830s formed the Evangelical Church of North America.

In 1934, the Evangelical Church united with the Reformed Church in the United States, to form the Evangelical and Reformed (E & R) Church, which almost immediately initiated the move toward union with the Congregational Christian Churches, he said.

Don has a personal connection to that history.  When he was two years old, his mother, Helen Mayer, went in 1934 to that convention. She was one of two women delegates elected by the Pacific Northwest Synod of the Evangelical Church.  From 1931 to 1935, his parents lived in Portland, where his father served an Evangelical mission church.

The 12 German Evangelical churches in Washington, Oregon and Idaho were served by Eden Seminary graduates who were close friends, he said.

“My parents dropped me off with my grandparents in St. Louis and went to the Evangelical and Reformed Churches Merger Convention in Cleveland,” he said.

After the E & R merger, Samuel Press, president of Eden in St. Louis, and Truman Douglas, pastor of Pilgrim Congregational Church there, had convened an congenial group of Congregational and E & R pastors.  They initiated a national dialogue, which led to the formation of the UCC, an event theologian Reinhold Niebuhr called “a landmark in American religious history.”

In 1935, Don’s family moved to the Midwest and he spent his growing years in Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin.  In his young years, he caught his parent’s enthusiasm for the time when “all would be one.” His studies at Elmhurst College, an E & R school led him to seminary. 

After graduating from Eden, Don was pastor of a new church in Mexico, Mo., followed by 14 years as pastor of  Hope UCC in St. Louis, where he also served on the Board of Education.  After a 10-year pastorate in DeKalb, Ill., and an interim in Wenatchee, Don and Lynnea began a 10-year pastorate at Eagle Harbor UCC on Bainbridge Island. After retiring in 1997, he served two interims at Plymouth in Seattle.

Don and Lynnea have been involved with the STM throughout its 20 years.

He was moderator of the UCC conference and became the conference representative to the new ecumenical theological school, which began as two institutions, the Institute for Ecumenical Theological Studies and the Catholic Theological School.  They cooperated over the years and morphed into the STM, said Don, who now lives with Lynnea at Horizon House and attends Plymouth UCC.

“The STM is recognized as a forerunner in theological education, attracting students ranging from mainline traditions, to those with a more theologically conservative background but concerned about social justice, and including Jewish and Muslim students.  Because it’s cutting edge, it pulls in grants from the Lilly Foundation,” he said.

Three years ago, Don wrote a piece, “Pterodactyly Speaking,” expressing his enthusiasm for the STM carrying into the unforeseen future hopes of Vatican II, the Blake-Pike proposal for a wider Protestant-merger, and the ecumenical movement.

“Only a diminishing few of us living fossils remember those heady days, but from every STM gathering, I come flying home—on winds of the Spirit.

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Pacific Northwest United Church of Christ News © November-December 2017



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