Why Is the United Church Still Needed?
“What difference does it make in your life or in your community to be part of The United Church of Canada or to be a Christian? Sometimes I worry that we’re not being clear that it makes a difference,” Paterson said August 7 as delegates began to gather on the Grenfell Campus of Memorial University and at the Corner Brook Civic Centre.
In a wide-ranging interview, Paterson spelled out why he thinks the United Church, Canada’s largest Protestant denomination, is needed.
Over the next week, 356 commissioners from 13 Conferences will face a heavy load of reports and proposals that could define the church and change a governing structure that has been in place for its 90-year history.
Paterson sees the United Church as the place where people are called to think for themselves and to ponder theological questions about how God works in the world. Commissioners will be called to worship throughout the Council, which starts the evening of Saturday, August 8.
The Moderator has travelled the country during his three-year term and has seen United Church people making a difference in food banks, providing shelter for homeless people, and seeking solutions to issues of poverty and injustice. But he said he also recognized that the United Church no longer attracts a great deal of attention in the media or the halls of power.
“One of the huge challenges facing us is that we have fewer resources and minimal political clout. We’re not going to move the power people, but neither did they in the first century. So what does that look like?” he asked.
About 90 of the 190 proposals that will come before commissioners deal with the recommendations of the Comprehensive Review Task Group. These recommendations call for changing the way the church is governed, simplifying church structures, and opening up new ways of being the church.
A quick scan of the other proposals shows that passion for social justice is still burning.
Delegates will deal with proposals to direct the church Pension Board to sell its shares in Goldcorp over alleged environmental and human rights violations at the company’s mine in Guatemala. Another proposal calls for Canada to sign the Arms Trade Treaty, and there are several proposals related to seeking a just peace in Israel and Palestine.
Topics of other proposals include a revised model for the status and roles of church leaders and quorum requirements at church meetings.
Paterson, the first openly gay leader of a major religious denomination, has spoken passionately about acceptance and celebration of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community.
There is a proposal that the church adopt a three-year program of dialogue and reconciliation with the LGBTQ community in the form of a living apology.
The proposals before the 42 General Council are complex, and Paterson acknowledged that there is a lot of hard work in the days ahead before he hands off the Moderator’s job to one of 12 nominees who will be elected the night of Thursday, August 13.
His approach to the arduous agenda is simple: “Pray.”
But the week also includes Sabbath time. On one afternoon commissioners can head out on local excursions and on another evening, they’ll be hosted at a “kitchen party” at a local high school.