Consultation on Church Union

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Consultation on Church Union
Cocu logo.jpg
FocusEcumenism, Mainline Christianity
  • North America
OriginsSermon by Eugene Carson Blake in 1960
Area served
North America

The Consultation on Church Union (COCU) was an effort towards church unity in the United States, that began in 1962 and in 2002 became the Churches Uniting in Christ. It was a significant part of the Christian movement towards Ecumenism. This effort can be seen in the context of the worldwide ecumenical attitude that was manifested in the 1948 formation of the World Council of Churches, the 1950 formation of the National Council of Churches, the 1957 formation of the United Church of Christ, and the formation of the Roman Catholic Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity during the Second Vatican Council (which occurred from 1962 to 1965). The original task of COCU was to negotiate a consensus[1] between its member denominations (originally the Protestant Episcopal Church, the Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, and the UPCUSA).[2]


On December 4, 1960, Eugene Carson Blake, the stated clerk of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., on the invitation of Episcopal Bishop James Pike, delivered a sermon at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, in which he proposed the creation of a Protestant "superchurch."[3][4] In response, the UPCUSA's General Assembly, approved an overture at its General Assembly meeting to work together with the Protestant Episcopal Church in order to invite the Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ to explore the concept of union. The Episcopal church accepted the invitation. Representatives from the four churches met in Washington, D.C. in 1961 and proposed a first official meeting of the churches for the following year at the College of Preachers and Wesley Theological Seminary. It was at that 1962 meeting that the group, which had come to include the Presbyterian Church in the United States, the mainline "Southern Presbyterians", first called itself the "Consultation on Church Union."[5] The first churches to be invited to join COCU beyond the first four were the International Convention of Christian Churches (Disciples), the Polish National Catholic Church, and the Evangelical United Brethren Church, which later merged with the Methodist Church to form the United Methodist Church. All North American churches were invited to send observers.[6] At the next meeting, in 1963, the Disciples of Christ joined, and it was decided to stop sending individual invitations and instead simply accept applications. 16 other churches attended the 1963 meeting as observers.

Time magazine reported that a meeting in Dallas in May 1966 produced a timetable for merger that called for "creation and ratification of a union plan within 13 years, followed by some 30 years of federation during which a constitution will be prepared."[4] Among delegates from the eight churches then involved were Methodist theologian Albert Outler, Episcopal bishop Robert Gibson of Virginia, and United Church of Christ minister David Colwell. By 1967, ten churches (including two pairs, Presbyterian and Methodist, which later merged) were members of the Consultation:

The 1970 Plan of Union[edit]

Despite intense negotiations, membership of the denominations overwhelmingly rejected the "Plan of Union" when it was proposed in 1970.[7] Much agreement was reached on the first six and a half chapters of the proposal ("From Unity to Union," "What it Means to be God's People," "To Be Members in This Community," "The Living Faith," "This People at Worship," and the first half of "To Be Ministers of Christ."), but when specifics of ministry came up, there was significant disagreement.[8]

In 1972 after the devastation caused by Hurricane Agnes in the Wilkes-Barre, PA/Kingston, PA area, the Methodist Church and Presbyterian Church, one block apart in Kingston, considered the wisdom of spending so much money to reconstitute two expensive buildings. Quickly the discussion moved from "Should we merge?" to a discussion of "Is there any reason we should NOT merge?" The pastors talked with denominational leaders and worked on a plan after chatting extensively with COCU in Princeton, NJ, and receiving excellent direction for their idea. In October, 1973, the new entity came into existence: The Church of Christ Uniting in Kingston, PA. More information can be obtained from The Church of Christ Uniting, Market Street, Kingston, PA, 18704.


A key phrase associated with COCU was “catholic and reformed” (later, “catholic, evangelical, and reformed”). With the failure of the Plan of Union that had become clear by 1972, COCU turned in 1973 to negotiating "intercommunion", whereby each member church would retain its own autonomy and identity, while recognizing the validity of the rites, membership, and ministry of the others and accepting them as true churches. This proposal, submitted to the churches in 1979, was titled "The COCU Consensus: In Quest of a Church of Christ Uniting."[9] It was one part of a three part proposal; the other two parts were first published as "Covenanting Toward Community: From Consensus to Communion"[10] and later republished with revisions in 1989 as "Churches in Covenant Communion."[11]

Episcopal structure[edit]

The proposal contained in "Churches in Covenant Communion" was to be done on the historic episcopal model of bishop, presbyter and deacon. The document was approved by seven churches: the ICC (1989), the CME church (1994), the Disciples of Christ (1995), the AME church, AMEZ church, UCC, and UMC (1996).[12] However, the Presbyterian Church USA was unwilling to implement some of the changes to its internal rules that this model would require and had concerns over the role of elders (presbyters), and the Episcopal Church did not feel able to participate at the time, having concerns about the role of bishops (episcopacy).[13] It was then proposed that intercommunion be established without a resolution of the ministry issue. It was stated that "full reconciliation of ministries, as well as resolution of any remaining challenges, is a goal we seek to accomplish and proclaim by the time of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2007."[14]


After forty years of talks, COCU voted (in 1999) to dissolve in 2002 and to reconstitute itself as Churches Uniting in Christ (CUIC).[15]


  • Blake, Eugene Carson,"A Proposal Toward the Reunion of Christ's Church," preached in Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, CA, 4 December 1960.[16]

COCU produced several ecumenically developed texts:

  • The Principles of Church Union
  • A Plan of Union for the Church of Christ Uniting,
  • Mutual Recognition of Members in One Baptism,
  • In Quest of a Church of Christ Uniting
  • The COCU Consensus
  • Covenanting Toward Community
  • Churches in Covenant Communion
  • Lenten booklets such as Liberation and Unity,
  • the COCU liturgy of the Lord’s Supper,[17]

Notable people involved in the COCU effort[edit]


  1. ^ While the term "merger" is widely used to describe the set of COCU proposals, it was rejected in general because of its relation to corporate culture. Moede, Gerald (1985), The COCU Consensus, Baltimore, MD: The Consultation on Church Union, p. vii
  2. ^ Lahutsky, Nadia (Winter 2003). "The Union of Christians and Disciples in 1832 and COCU/CUIC". Discipliana. 63 (4): 113–127. ISSN 0732-9881.
  3. ^ Blake, Eugene Carson (4 December 1960). "A PROPOSAL TOWARD THE REUNION OF CHRIST'S CHURCH". Archived from the original on 3 September 2015. Retrieved 24 August 2012.
  4. ^ a b Staff (13 May 1966). "Ecumenism: From Handholding to Engagement". Time Magazine. Retrieved 15 August 2012.
  5. ^ Hunt, George, ed. (1963). Digest of the Proceedings of the Consultation on Church Union for 1962 and 1963. Fanwood, NJ: Consultation on Church Union. p. 2.
  6. ^ Hunt 1963, p.6.
  7. ^ Moede, Gerald (1985), The COCU Consensus, Baltimore, MD: The Consultation on Church Union, p. 1
  8. ^ Moede, Gerald (1981), Oneness in Christ, Princeton, NJ: The Consultation on Church Union, p. 11
  9. ^ Moede, Gerald (1981), Oneness in Christ, Princeton, NJ: The Consultation on Church Union, pp. 12–13
  10. ^ Covenanting Toward Community: From Consensus to Communion, Baltimore, MD: The Consultation on Church Union, 1985
  11. ^ Churches in Covenant Communion, Princeton, NJ: The Consultation on Church Union, 1989
  12. ^ Lahutsky, Nadia (Winter 2003). "The Union of Christians and Disciples in 1832 and COCU/CUIC". Discipliana. 63 (4): 120. ISSN 0732-9881.
  13. ^ "Presbyterians endorse CUiC principles". Christian Century. 117 (4): 500. 3 May 2000. ISSN 0009-5281. Archived from the original on 4 October 2013. Retrieved 22 August 2012.
  14. ^ Lahutsky, Nadia (Winter 2003). "The Union of Christians and Disciples in 1832 and COCU/CUIC". Discipliana. 63 (4): 122. ISSN 0732-9881.
  15. ^ Lahutsky, Nadia (Winter 2003). "The Union of Christians and Disciples in 1832 and COCU/CUIC". Discipliana. 63 (4): 120. ISSN 0732-9881.
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-09-03. Retrieved 2012-08-12.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  17. ^