Sacred Place is a new church based in Rancho Cucamonga. We first gathered in June of 2019 at Jasper Elementary in Alta Loma. The launch team spent more than two years casting the vision of what would become Sacred Place with the first half of 2019 listening to the Spirit for where a vision of justice, inclusion, and family was needed most. We are not alone in our work to create a just world in the Inland Empire, Southern California, or across the United States. As a new church start in the Eastern Association of the Southern California Nevada Conference of the United Church of Christ (often called the UCC), we have the support of 135 other churches in SoCal + Nevada and thousands more from Hawaii to Maine.
Being part of a denomination like the UCC is different from being part of a lot of other denominations which have bishops or prescribed rules and beliefs. We have autonomy and are free to make our own choices and share our own beliefs. We are independent but in relationship with the different denominational structures through mutual support and understanding.
Our mission to create a just world where ALL are included in the family of God, one Sacred Place at a time requires all of us to work together. Each and every day we have to look at our actions to see if they create or work against justice. In each choice we make, are we including or excluding other? Our understanding of the Kingdom of God is being united in God’s love as one family together.
To talk about the United Church of Christ, we have to way back to the 16th-century. Martin Luther—along with many others throughout Europe—ushered in what became known as the Protestant Reformation. This permanently bifurcated the western Christian church into two halves: the Roman Catholic Church, and Protestantism.
While the Roman Catholic Church is unified under the authority of the Pope, Protestantism has no central authority and is made up of hundreds, if not thousands, of different denominations. Some of the denominations are nearly identical, some are as different as can be!
Sacred Place is affiliated with the United Church of Christ, a mainline Protestant denomination. The UCC was formed in 1957, born out of a merger of two Protestant denominations which were rooted in Reformed, Evangelical, and Congregational traditions. Prior to 1957, our history can be traced back to one of those original streams: the Congregational Church. You still see some UCC churches keep their historical “Congregational Church” names despite the merger having happened over 60 years ago!
Today, the UCC has approximately 5,000 congregations throughout the United States. There are 135 of those in Southern California and Southern Nevada. Each individual church has “local autonomy” to hire their own clergy (pastors) and make their own statements of belief. With this welcomed plurality, there are often tangible differences regarding specific Christian beliefs and practices among UCC churches. Even so, we all work together in a spirit of covenant, despite occasional differences.
Sacred Place is partnered or affiliated with several other groups or collectives working to create justice, inclusion, and family in our world. We are not alone in our journey of planting a new, inclusive church.
Sacred Place is a partner of W/, a collective of churches exploring in theologically progressive spaces. As the lead church planting team of Sacred Place, Pastor Matthew and Alison are a part of Launchpad Partners, a network of leaders starting and growing inclusive faith communities. Sacred Place is also an Open & Affirming church; the Open and Affirming Coalition of the United Church of Christ advocates for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community in the UCC, and supports UCC churches as they seek to grow their welcome to the LGBT+ community.
Saying we have a single set of beliefs is a bit of a misnomer. There is a joke amongst people who know the United Church of Christ well that if you’ve seen one UCC church, you’ve seen one UCC church. We have neighboring congregations in Claremont, Pomona, Ontario, and San Bernardino. Each of us does ministry in very different ways, yet we support each other as friends doing the work of justice in the places where it is needed most.
We welcome diversity in all of its forms. You’ll find we have people with varying political ideologies, life experiences, and spiritual journeys, yet we all agree that no one should be told they don’t belong in God’s family because of who they are. We don’t require you to believe any specific theology or recite any specific set of beliefs; we’re what scholars call “non-creedal.” That doesn’t mean we water down the Gospel, or don’t deal with difficult topics, quite the opposite in fact. We allow our pastor the freedom to share his reflections and convictions and each of us is invited to decide for ourselves how to respond.
Most of us identify as progressive in one way or another, but even the word progressive means lots of different things in Christianity. So instead of using a broad term, I’ll talk about some of the things that you may notice or hear when we gather.
The Bible is very important to us in its entirety. We spend time with both the Hebrew and New Testaments. We do our best to make ourselves aware of the original context and audience of each passage of Scripture. There are a lot of different forms of writing which make up the Bible. The letters traditionally attributed to the apostle Paul, for example, were written to specific churches which were dealing with specific, deeply contextual situations. We can’t just apply the exact same thing in the exact same way to our modern context. We have to understand how the 1st century world is like and unlike the 21st.
Another example of the literary nature of the Bible is found in the three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Each of them tells the story of Jesus in a slightly different way. Though they overlap a lot, there are some differences. A big reason why the differ is that each Gospel writer wrote for a different audience. Matthew’s writing focuses heavily on Jewish prophecy because he was writing for a Jewish audience. Luke was writing for a more secular audience and he talks more about the long trajectory of who God is and continues that narrative into the book of Acts.
The Bible does indeed reveal to us a lot about who God is. It’s a beautiful book of poetry, history, letters, and even an apocalyptic text. It was written by authors who had a story to tell from their perspective, and we treat it as such. We don’t reduce the Bible with literalism or reduce the way God is revealed to its 56 books.
We also try to balance the Patriarchal context in which the Bible was written with a modern egalitarian view of gender. We try to use mixed language to describe God. Our God has both motherly and fatherly characteristics. We don’t usually rewrite Scripture to remove the use of Father. I will regularly use the word Lord to talk about God. It’s a title which was used in Scripture to represent the word Yahweh, the name of God which was too holy to even write on paper. So when we see “The Lord” in Scripture, it should be read as the name of God. I have no business changing that.
I tend to apply more feminine language especially when talking about the Holy Spirit to be more diverse in my use of pronouns. God does not have a gender, but the English language doesn’t deal well with gender neutral words despite our best efforts. We try to be inclusive without being too awkward. A lot of music uses masculine language for God, we make changes when we can, but when that use is specifically about Jesus we usually leave it as written.
If you’re still reading, I’m glad you made it this far. Not all of this will be important to everyone, but we want to be transparent about who are and what to expect. We talk a lot about intentionally including the LGBT+ community. As a group historically left out of the Church, we know that those who identify as LGBT+ need a specific welcome for them to trust that we will accept and affirm them without trying to change them. We believe that all people are created by God to be exactly who they are. We don’t discriminate based on gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, or any other thing which might be used to call us different or “other.” In fact, we work very hard to break down those barriers our society places between us.