We’ll begin today’s reflection, not with a story or a prayer, although what we are about to do reflects both prayer and story, as well as an affirmation of faith. Please rise, as you are able, and say with me A New Creed which is printed on the back of your bulletin.
We are not alone, we live in God’s world.
We believe in God:
who has created and is creating,
who has come in Jesus,
the Word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new,
who works in us and others
by the Spirit.
We trust in God.
We are called to be the Church:
to celebrate God’s presence,
to live with respect in Creation,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
our judge and our hope.
In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us. We are not alone.
Thanks be to God.
“We are not alone. Thanks be to God.” These are powerful words of affirmation, encourage-ment and celebration. Important words to remember on this 87th Anniversary of the formation of the United Church of Canada. If you were to ask me to recite A New Creed from memory I would probably stumble in places if my memory did not serve me well. But, saying it together in community carries me and I remember. I remember not only the words of The United Church Creed (as it is also known) but also the dedication and perseverance of a new union of faithful followers of Christ. I remember and I have renewed faith in the present and hope for the future.
Eighty-seven years ago, June 10, 1925, was the Inaugural Service of a new Protestant denomination called The United Church of Canada. Brought to birth through an Act of Parliament, the union of two thirds of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, the Congregational Union of Canada, and the Methodist Church of Canada, was the culmination of years of negotiation, compromise and faithful and dedicated service. A Brief History of the United Church of Canada, posted on the United Church website says, “It was the first union of churches in the world to cross historical denominational lines and hence received international acclaim. Impetus for the union arose out of the concerns for serving the vast Canadian northwest and in the desire for better overseas mission.”
The writers of the United Church’s foundational union document, known as The Basis of Union, knew that theology and doctrine would need to be reflected in language that evolves with time. Thomas Kilpatrick, a member of the Doctrine Sub-Committee, wrote, “Let it further be noted that this doctrinal statement makes no claim to infallibility or finality. The substance or essence of the Christian faith is here, communicated to believing men by the Word and Spirit of God, and received by them in loyalty and humility. …Creed revision is the inherent right, and the continual duty, of a living church. This is our “Confession of Faith”. We are conscious of limitations and inadequacies in the intellectual form of our statement. It will be the duty of those who come after us to find a more fitting intellectual expression for the unchanging and inexhaustible truth of the Gospel.” (Thomas B. Kilpatrick, Our Common Faith, Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1928, pp.63-64)
There have been many changes in theological expression, worship and ministry practices in the United Church of Canada since 1925. For example, in 1936 the first woman was ordained in the United Church. In 1940 a new Statement of Faith was approved by the 9th General Council of the United Church of Canada and was utilized widely until well into the 1970’s. A New Creed was approved in 1968 and revised in 1980, changing the exclusive language, “Man is not alone; he lives in God’s world…” to “We are not alone, we live in God’s world…” and revised again in 1994, to include, “to live with respect in Creation”. Most recently, in 2006, A Song of Faith, was approved by the 39th General Council of the United Church, after six years of consultation and revisions, “to provide a verbal picture of what the United Church of Canada understands its faith to be at the beginning of the 21st century.” (Our Words of Faith, pg. 19, United Church of Canada)
The United Church Crest, the signature design of our church, was approved for official use in 1944 by the 11th General Council. In 1980, a French translation of “The United Church of Canada” – “L’Église Unie Du Canada” – was authorized by General Council to be added to the Crest.
Currently, there is a proposal that will be brought to the 41st General Council August, 2012 that recommends the addition of words and colours reflective of First Nations. Much work and consultation has been done in the preparation of this proposal. I was impressed with the rationale and proposal in a presentation at the BC Conference General Meeting last weekend. The proposed changes are that the four colours: red, white, black and yellow, that are common to First Nations across the country, replace the blue background behind the symbols on the UCC Crest. The other proposed addition is the inclusion of the words, “All My Relations” (in Mohawk) that, if approved would sit alongside, “Ut Omnes Unum Sint” (Latin, “that all may be one”).
The United Church of Canada began its history as a “reformed and reforming church” in the reformed tradition of Christian churches. We have also always sought to be a “united and uniting” church that has worked hard at reconciliation and healing, inclusion and equality, with a broad welcoming and all encompassing faith.
We live in challenging and changing times. It has always been this way in the Christian Church. Toward the end of the 1st Century, a zealous Christian named, Paul, wrote letters to fledgling Christian communities who were struggling to survive persecution from outside their communities of faith and power struggles and disagreements from within. In the Epistle reading for today (2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1) Paul says, “But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture – ‘I believed, and so I spoke’, – we also believe, and so we speak…So we do not lose heart.” (2 Corinthians 4:13,16)
It is crucial to stay connected with our brothers and sisters in faith throughout the centuries and in our current context so that “we do not lose heart”. In our United Church context in the Kootenays, it is important to stay in touch with the “wider church” at regional Presbytery gatherings, BC Conference, and with the work of the General Council. Attending Presbytery and Conference general gatherings is required of all United Church ministry personnel and, although at times I grumble about the travel and time involved to attend, I always come away with a renewed appreciation for our gifted and dedicated members and feel energized by the worship, study and work that we share together. Such was my experience at the most recent BC Conference General Meeting last weekend. I was reminded of the importance of remembering our collective story as a people of faith and sharing our individual joys, concerns, struggles and celebrations. I was particularly energized by the theme, “Tides of Change”, and the theme presentations as well as engaging worship that was multi-generational in leadership. But, as engaging and stimulating as all of that was, what I found most deeply moving was the recognition and storytelling of those beginning their ministry in the United Church, those retiring from active ministry positions, and those who have died since we last gathered as a Conference whose lives of service we remembered and for which we gave thanks. Remembering the past, being grounded in the present, being open and responsive to Christ’s spirit in our midst so that we can be guided by God into an unknown future is what we are about as a Church.
We, members of the United Church of Canada in the twenty-first century, like our forefathers and foremothers, do not always agree with each other on every topic of church governance, theology and worship practices, or the many other aspects of the ministry that we share together.
So, it is especially important to remember the many things we hold in common such as a deep and abiding faith and trust in God, commitment to following the way of Jesus Christ, cherishing the traditions of the past and delighting in the always present Spirit of God who enlivens our faith and ministry in the present and enables us to imagine a vision of the future
for our church that is rich in love, faith, hope, courage and vitality.
We are not alone.
Thanks be to God!