The United Church of Christ and The United Church of Canada have both formalized a full communion agreement in a worship service at St. Andrew's United Church, Niagara Falls, Ontario.
Through the agreement, the U.S. and Canadian-based churches, both members of the World Council of Churches, agreed to "commit to living into a common vision of ministry and mission together."
On Oct. 17 they "committed to exploring the possibilities of this full communion relationship, and to finding ways of living into deeper, fuller expressions of witness that will strengthen the Church as we learn and grow together."
"What we do here is not just a fulfillment of Christ's prayer, but of our faithfulness to a gospel we know has the power to change the world," said the Rev. John C. Dorhauer, UCC general minister and president at the ceremony.
"Let this be our first step in commitment to that gospel."
'OPEN TO ALL'
Nora Sanders, general secretary of The United Church of Canada said, "We are grateful for the hospitality and fellowship we have experienced on the journey here. This celebration is open to all."
Bishop Mark MacDonald, WCC president for North America and the National Indigenous Bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada, shared a message at the service, the WCC said in a statement.
The Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, WCC general secretary, offered congratulations on behalf of the world Christian fellowship.
"The witness of the United Church of Canada and the United Church of Christ is vital today," he wrote. "Through commitment to Christian solidarity, your churches are closely identified with the whole ecumenical movement."
Tveit said, they "are models of what can be achieved when, while respecting differences, churches recognize and encourage each other's spiritual life, commitment to ministry and public witness."
The two churches formally began conversations regarding full communion in 2012.
"Full communion" means that the churches recognize each other's sacraments and ordination of ministers, allowing pastors to be called by congregations of either denomination.
This is the United Church of Christ's fourth full communion agreement and the first for the United Church of Canada, the largest Protestant denomination in Canada with some 3 million members. D
The United Church of Christ practices full communion with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a four-way Formula of Agreement with the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Reformed Church in America and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and a "Kirchengemeinshaft" with the Union of Evangelical Churches in Germany (UEK).
The United Church of Christ and the United Church of Canada are the only two Christian bodies in North America recognized as "united and uniting" churches.
The United Church of Canada came into being in 1925 as the first union in the 20th century to cross historic denominational lines.
The United Church of Christ was formed on June 27, 1957, in Cleveland, Ohio (United States) with the merger of the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches.
There are similarities between the two churches in their commitment to social justice and commitment to inclusion of diversity in sexual and gender identities, in disabilities, in theological openness and expression.
The United Church of Christ, through its predecessor bodies, ordained its first female minister in 1853, its first African-American minister in 1892, and its first openly gay minister in 1972.
The United Church of Canada first ordained women in 1936 and in 1988 declared that sexual orientation was not a criterion for determining eligibility for ordination.