Reflections on 30 Years of the UCC Musicians Association
By Jayson R. Engquist, Founding President
In the early 1990s, I invited a small group of Connecticut UCC musicians to begin discussing the possibility of founding a national UCC denominational musicians' organization. Hoping to foster collegial relations and to share experiences and commingled knowledge, we began to meet.
I was involved for some years with another denominational association (The Association of Anglican Musicians for Episcopalian Musicians) and found how nurturing and helpful their annual conferences were to the membership. Hearing about other already established denominational musicians' groups (i.e., Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists), I searched and was surprised to find no corresponding group in the UCC. I was working in a UCC congregation in Weston, CT, and I reached out to other nearby UCC musicians. We met regularly for over two years and decided to incorporate formally.
As many of you know, Connecticut is one of the New England states requiring every town to have a functioning Congregational church to establish a town charter. As a result, a Congregational Church exists in almost every municipality in Connecticut. Larger cities may have two (or more) Congregational churches. Most of these congregations decided to join the United Church of Christ during a merger in the 1950s, which included Evangelical & Reformed churches, Congregationalists, and a few other denominations. Some congregations decided against the union and, as "holdouts," remained outside the UCC. The autonomous nature of the UCC polity allows for "control" of each congregation to remain with the leadership of each church rather than in a diocese or denominational synod. This is perhaps one reason we didn't have a formal musicians' group before the 1990s!
Here is a list of UCCMA founding musicians who met in the early 1990s.
The inaugural summer conference happened in 1998 at the Trinity Conference Center in West Cornwall, Connecticut. It was a beautiful spot on a river, offering beautiful accommodations and event venues. This initial conference was well-attended, with about 75 musicians taking part.
The UCCMA board decided to plan for a biennial conference (every other year) on the "odd" numbered years. This tradition has continued until today. It is gratifying to see how UCCMA has grown to include members in almost every state with a diverse membership from many congregations, continuing to offer biennial conferences in all parts of the country.
Early on, we developed a board leadership system and suggested a 3-tier presidency (with specific term limits). The president would serve for two years, with the "immediate past president" serving an additional term to provide continuity and a "vice-president elect," in training, to serve as the next president. In addition, several other board members, each having a different focus (i.e., membership, conferences, education, finances, etc.), were elected at the biennial conferences.
In the late 1990s, The United Church of Christ's National Office in Cleveland (The Rev. Arthur Clyde) invited UCC musicians to be a part of a national musicians group holding conferences (for several years) on the even years. There was some confusion about our group and the "official" group since they were both launched at about the same time. Our UCCMA was a grassroots effort started by church musicians themselves. The national leadership created the UCC Musicians National Network in Cleveland. Both groups agreed to work together to avoid conflict with programming and conference offerings. The "Network" has since dissolved. The UCC Musicians Association now exists as our denomination's sole national musicians' group.
Our UCCMA Presidents include:
For more about the history of UCCMA, read this archive article written by Bryan Kirk in 2005 for the journal. It describes in more detail the first ten years of UCCMA. Bryan Kirk was a founding member and served on the first board of directors as the treasurer. ■
UCCMA Founding President, Jayson R. Engquist, is a Minnesota native. He holds several sacred music and organ performance degrees from Yale University's School of Music and St. Olaf College.
Engquist worked in Connecticut and New York for many years and is now semi-retired. He has played and directed in several faith communities during his career: Lutheran, Episcopal, Reform Jewish, and United Church of Christ. He currently plays at two synagogues and a church in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, where he lives with his husband, David Winkworth.
LOOKING BACK – 30 YRS.
The first 22 years of Worship, Music & Ministry in print.