Council Considers Church's Purpose, Priorities
Presumed consent for organ donation, climate change, and the place of the 20 articles of faith in the Basis of Union are just a few of the issues commissioners will be considering as they gather for The United Church of Canada’s 40th General Council in Kelowna, British Columbia.
Close to 400 commissioners from across Canada will consider 173 proposals covering a range of subjects at the week-long gathering. More than 300 guests, observers, youth, children, staff, and volunteers will support and enrich the meeting, which is being held on the campus of the University of British Columbia Okanagan.
Beyond the specific issues before them, commissioners will also spend time reflecting on the church’s purpose and priorities in these changing times. The theme of the meeting is “down to the potter’s house,” from the scripture “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words” (Jeremiah 18:1). Moderator David Giuliano says he hopes the theme will inspire commissioners to “imagine how we are being shaped as a community of faith, how we are being called to respond to Christ in the world.”
Two papers have been circulated throughout the church over the past few months to aid these reflections. “Called to Be Church” invites the people of The United Church of Canada to consider prayerfully the vision and purpose of their church. “The State of the Church” presents a picture of where the United Church stands, both demographically and financially.
“We know we are in the midst of being transformed by God,” said Michelle Slater, Chair of the Council’s Agenda and Planning Committee. “Now we are called to go down, to listen, and to respond to what new possibilities are emerging.”
“As we move forward as a church there will be some letting go of attachments to who we have been,” Giuliano wrote recently in an e-mail. “We are gathering to discern the ways our community is being shaped. Discernment always first involves recognizing and releasing personal agendas and solutions in order to make space for God’s Spirit.
“Perhaps every General Council senses that they are on the cusp of some great transformation,” Giuliano added. “That said, I am convinced that, as church, we are indeed living in liminal [transitional] times. As a community of faith we have lost our special status in society and are increasingly pushed to the margins of our culture. The good news is that perhaps, from this new vantage, we will be increasingly free to live the gospel in more radical ways, unencumbered by shackles of Christendom.”
Commissioners will also be invited to experience what it means to become an intercultural church, an invitation that was first extended in 2006 at the 39th General Council in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
“Intercultural is not a substitute for ‘ethnic,’” said the Rev. Michael Blair, Executive Minister of the United Church’s Intercultural and Diverse Communities in Ministry Unit. “Rather, it is a whole way of being church together that goes beyond ethnicity, race, culture, and language. In an intercultural church, no culture dominates another.”
A highlight of General Council will be the election of a new Moderator, the United Church’s spiritual leader. There are six nominees: three from Ontario, two from Manitoba, and one from British Columbia. The election is scheduled for Friday, August 14, followed by an installation service on the evening of August 15.
Throughout the week, commissioners will be holding in their prayers the thousands of British Columbia residents who were evacuated from their homes due to forest fires, as well as the dedicated firefighters who are battling the blazes.