After the devastation and diaspora of Hurricane Katrina the pastors and members of Central UCC and St. Matthew UCC returned to the greater New Orleans region. We began the spiritual and physical rebuilding of our lives, our churches and homes, and our city supported by our faith and the prayers and generosity of many churches and individuals. St. Matthew UCC and Central UCC shared their resources and talents, and prayed, rejoiced, grieved, worshiped and served the greater community together.
Now, after four years of joint worship and fellowship, a period of joint pastoral ministry and a time of working with a called interim pastor, St. Matthew UCC and Central UCC do bind ourselves together in Christian love, and do promise to serve God through His grace as best we are able, to seek the Way of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and to live as brothers, sisters and children of God through the power of the Holy Spirit and the living Word of our sacred Scripture.
WHEREAS, Central UCC and St. Matthew UCC are congregations seeking to answer the call of Jesus Christ to love and serve God, our neighbors and all creation;
WHEREAS, Central UCC and St. Matthew UCC are non-profit religious corporations in good standing with the Louisiana Secretary of State, and each is a member in good standing of the New Orleans Association of the United Church of Christ, South Central Conference;
WHEREAS, both Central UCC and St. Matthew UCC are churches possessed of long and beneficent histories of Christian life, teaching, education, worship and social justice and both are desirous of continuing this powerful history into the future;
WHEREAS, Central UCC’s sanctuary and facilities on Bienville Street were rendered unusable due to Hurricane Katrina and continue to require significant repair while St. Matthew’s sanctuary and facilities on Carrollton Avenue did not suffer such significant damage and have been used by the two congregations since Hurricane Katrina;
WHEREAS, the experiences of Christian fellowship and rebuilding since Hurricane Katrina have led Central UCC and St. Matthew UCC to seek ever closer ties with each other in an effort to live out and to be true to the foundational proclamation of the United Church of Christ:
“That they may all be one.”
WHEREAS, Central UCC and St. Matthew UCC fully acknowledge and seek to understand and to learn from each other the differences in race and history that have acted to keep them apart, but are convinced that the power of God’s love and Christ’s mission to reconcile all of creation unto God shall not be denied or overcome;
WHEREAS, Central UCC and St. Matthew UCC declare their deep desire that the churches and buildings formerly known as St. Matthew Church on Carrollton Avenue and Central Congregational Church on Bienville Street become the home of a new congregation and that neither of the former congregations shall possess or claim entitlement to a greater right to its use and enjoyment than the other.
WHEREAS, Central UCC and St. Matthew UCC earnestly desire that there be no guest and no host congregation and that from this day forward there is to be one congregation known as Central St. Matthew United Church of Christ taking up residence in God’s house from which it shall spread God’s justice and love throughout the City of New Orleans and beyond;
NOW, therefore, Central UCC and St. Matthew UCC declare and covenant with one another to jointly serve God and all persons working through the framework provided by this New Covenant:
A New Covenant
The existing Covenant expires on September 16, 2009. It shall continue until this new, stronger covenant is adopted no sooner than October 2009 and no later than January 1, 2010.
There is strong theological support for us to move from the existing Covenant to a “New Covenant.” We find no Biblical support for separation but we do find strong Biblical support for a strong covenantal relationship. There is strong denominational support within the story of the United Church of Christ’s founding and life for a transition from our existing Covenant to this New Covenant that proclaims: “That They May All Be One”.
Our New Covenant formally unifies our two congregations in all significant ways except for ownership of certain described church property. Our New Covenant will decrease complexity, add stability, and make Central St. Matthew, UCC, a church that is attractive and with the grace of God, capable of seeking and calling a settled pastor with vision and faith to lead us into our new life together.
Our New Covenant testifies to the core of our new relationship. It is not detailed or specific in many areas. Rather, it is the first necessary step to be taken to allow our two congregations to begin working together on a clear path towards unification. If adopted by the congregations voting separately, this New Covenant will provide the framework within which work toward unity will proceed.
Our New Covenant shall allow for the creation of new by-laws, a new governance structure, and financial unification to take place in stages according to an agreed upon schedule.
Our New Covenant incorporates the goals and visioning work completed by the two congregations over the summer and fall of 2008.
Key provisions and understandings of our New Covenant and the relationship it forms are:
– The St. Matthew property and church buildings and the Central Congregational property and church buildings are now the home of a new congregation and neither of the former congregations possesses or is entitled to a greater right to their use and enjoyment than the other. There is to be no guest and no host congregation. There is to be one congregation taking up residence in God’s house.
-The name of the unified congregation shall be agreed upon and shall be the only name used on the buildings, (except for the carved in stone “St Matthew … ” above the sanctuary) signage, letterhead, phone listings, Internet address, and all other such public manifestations of the identity of the church.
– A governing council consisting of equal representation from both congregations shall be formed. The governing council shall consist of ten members, five (5) members selected by the Central Congregational congregation and five selected by the St. Matthew congregation. The governing council of ten members will choose a president and vice president from its members. Initially, the president and vice president will be one from Central and one from St. Matthew. The presidency will alternate between a former Central member and a former St. Matthew member for the first 2 years; thereafter, the two leadership posts, as well as membership on the governing council, will be open to all members of the unified Central St. Matthew UCC congregation.
– A single committee and governance system will be formed to meet the needs of the Central St. Matthew congregation. * Initially, committee membership will be balanced between members of Central Congregational and St. Matthew. After one year, membership in all committees will be open to all members of the unified Central St. Matthew UCC congregation.
– All finances shall be unified. Income and expenses shall be combined and shared and an appropriate, unified committee or board formed by Central St. Matthew UCC shall be charged with making decisions and managing resources regarding the financial life of Central St. Matthew UCC.
– Ownership of real property at the time this New Covenant is adopted shall not be changed or affected by the New Covenant. Though title to real property shall not change, an appropriate committee formed by Central St. Matthew UCC shall make decisions as to use, maintenance, and support of all property and facilities jointly.
-Ownership of endowments received before the date of this New Covenant shall not be changed or affected by this New Covenant. Central’s claim to funds from the UCC for hurricane recovery work on the Central sanctuary and buildings on Bienville Street and North Tonti Street shall remain intact. All endowments, gifts, and bequests received after the New Covenant is adopted shall be accepted in the name of Central St. Matthew UCC. Decisions as to the use of endowments, gifts and bequests consistent with their terms shall be made jointly. The terms of specific endowments, gifts, and bequests will be honored and if the donor so specifies, may be used to benefit specific property owned by Central or St. Matthew.
– New By-laws will be drafted to reflect and implement conditions as outlined by our New Covenant.
– A search committee shall be formed to seek a settled pastor to serve Central St. Matthew UCC. The search committee shall be composed so as to fairly represent all segments of Central St. Matthew UCC.
– It is expected that all of the steps listed above will be taken as soon as possible after this New Covenant is adopted.
-Our New Covenant will be for a term of seven (7) years to assure our new called pastor that she/he has ample time to work and grow with a unified congregation under the New Covenant. At the end of the seven year period, the two formerly independent congregations will have been together for at least ten (10) years and we firmly believe we shall know where God is leading.
-Our New Covenant may be modified, changed, amended or extended at any time, in response to the will of God, or to our new discernment of ways to achieve God’s call to unity, or changing circumstances, by a 60% majority vote of the governing committee recommending that the matter be voted on by the membership of the Central St. Matthew, U.C.C., as determined by the then existing by-laws.