On the occasion of the
90th Anniversary of
The United Church of Canada
Scripture: Psalm 138, 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Let’s take a moment to join our hearts and minds together in the spirit of prayer:
Holy One, we thank you for Jesus,
voice of the voiceless and hope of the powerless.
We thank you that in him our perceptions
are turned upside down and we see the possibilities
of the commonwealth of peace and justice
you desire for all your Creation.
Help us discern your guidance for us and strengthen us
to follow in the way of Jesus moment by moment and day by day.
Martyn Sadler, Singing A Song of Faith (adapted)
Today we are celebrating a family anniversary – the 90th anniversary of The United Church of Canada. Our lives have been enriched because of the vision, courage, and perseverance of our forebears. They knew that when members of the body of Christ work together possibilities become reality. To quote Ephesians, God’s power “at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine…” (Ephesians 3:20)
This doesn’t mean it was easy. It took twenty-six years of considerable effort and commitment, willingness to compromise and a belief that in working together we can do more good than if we work separately.
Each of the founding groups brought gifts and strengths. From the Presbyterians we inherited good order and the importance of worship. From the Methodists we inherited the wonder of music and a passion for singing. From the Congregationalists we inherited spiritual freedom and the importance of congregational choice. From the Local Union Churches in Western Canada we inherited the practice of working together for the good of the wider community.
We live in challenging and changing times. It has always been this way in the Christian Church. Toward the end of the 1st century, when the Christian community in Corinth was feeling the strain of persecution from outside forces and power struggles and disagreements from within, the apostle Paul said to them, “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 Cor. 4:13,16)
In the past ninety years the United Church of Canada has changed and evolved. Our understanding of the church’s mission has changed from being “missionaries of the Gospel” (as quoted in a prayer from the Inaugural Service of the United Church of Canada in 1925) to nurturing our faith and expressing that faith in positive action for the betterment of the wider community and world regardless of the religious affiliations of others. Rather than trying to make believers of others we focus on clarifying our own beliefs and speaking and acting on those beliefs in all the areas of our lives. Partnerships with other churches, faith traditions, and non-profit community groups are encouraged as we seek to respond to the need for healing, social justice, education, and service in our world.
As a denomination, we have made errors in judgment that are difficult to understand in our current context. Members of our church, in their efforts to evangelize and bring health and education to First Nations peoples, damaged the social, religious and cultural fabric of aboriginal individuals and nations. Reconciliation and healing are an ongoing process and one the United Church is committed to continue now and in the future.
Currently, as a denomination, we are facing the need for structural downsizing that more accurately matches the financial and human resources available. There have been ongoing consultations over the past few years and the next General Council, in August, will consider a number of proposed responses to the need for change and flexibility in our current context. These will not be easy discussions. I encourage all of us to hold our Moderator, Gary Paterson, and all the General Council commissioners, in our prayers in preparation for General Council and during the general gathering August 8-15th.
In times of change, it is easy to give way to anxiety and fearfulness. Our faith tradition teaches us there have always been challenges. We also know that with faith, courage and hard work, communities of faith that follow the Way of Christ, in word and in action have continued to exist.
When Christians in Corinth were beginning to despair that adversity would overcome them, Paul told them,
“…since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. …We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…so we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:1, 8-9, 16-17)
God calls us to face the challenges of the future with faith and courage. With this in mind I’ll close with an excerpt from, The Gates of Hope by Victoria Stafford:
“Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of hope – not the prudent gates of Optimism, which are somewhat narrower; nor the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense; nor the strident gates of Self-Righteousness, which creak on shrill and angry hinges (people cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through); nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of “Everything is Gonna Be All Right”. But a different, sometimes lonely place, of truth-telling about your own soul first of all and its condition, the place of resistance and defiance, from which you see the world both as it is and as it could be, as it will be; the place from which you glimpse not only struggle but joy in the struggle. And we stand there, beckoning and calling, telling people what we’re seeing, asking them what they see. …With our lives we make our answers all the time…it is not enough to simply speak.”