Ann Naylor reflects on the 41st General Council of the UCC, August 11-18, 2012
“You are doing well, relatively speaking, but you need to muscle up because the hardest sprint is yet to come and it’s not optional for this church.”
(Marie Wilson, Commissioner, Truth and Reconciliation Commission, August 17, 2012 address to the 41st General Council of The United Church of Canada)
These words were spoken specifically about the responsibility of the United Church to work for justice for survivors of Indian Residential Schools and for reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. I take them very seriously. Beyond that specific context, I believe these words hold truth for many aspects of the life and work of the United Church brought to focus during the meeting of the General Council, at which I was present for the last three days.
Many of the reports and Proposals addressed the serious challenges that face the church as we struggle to be faithful – to, in the biblical words that formed the theme of the Council, “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God”. (Micah 6:8). Informal conversation and formal discussion and debate concurred with this assessment of the work that lies ahead.
In the face of the challenges and impending changes that we anticipate with excitement, dread, curiosity and resignation, there was much frustration. A process intended to maximize participation and facilitate open discussion too often had us mired in details and suppressed the sharing of convictions, opinions, questions and the listening so desperately needed by the church. Still, there were glimpses of new life, moments of hope.
Leadership from people who have participated in CCS programs:
At least . . .
- 24 diaconal ministers – or 13% of active diaconal ministers – were present in a representative or leadership role;
- 7 additional people present had participated in the Leadership Development Module or a full year of study in the CCS program;
- 5 CCS grads were present as visitors;
- 29 diaconal ministers were present at the General Council meeting – which is more than 10% of all diaconal ministers, active, retired, or retained on the roll;
I witnessed these folks providing significant leadership – prophetic, facilitative, passionate, respectful leadership. I observed, and participated in, heartfelt reflection in the UC diaconal Facebook community in response to a question posed by a diaconal commissioner about a Proposal affecting Diaconal Ministers.
Efforts to uphold our commitments as a church to:
- Right relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people;
- French ministries;
- Global partnerships;
- Becoming an intercultural church.
Sharing Responsibility for being a faithful community:
- patient, prayerful leadership from people in designated leadership roles
- respectful interventions by commissioners, calling the Council to live as a genuinely conciliar church
- fifteen people willing to serve the church as Moderator, inviting the Council into prayerful discernment about its needs and vision
- children and youth inviting us all to do what we can to make a difference in our world (Please consider supporting Jordan’s Principle, Shannen’s Dream, First Nations Caring Society Witnesses
- youth forum representatives speaking boldly about the demands of life and faith and the places from which they derive hope
Significant actions included:
- approving a new crest, reflecting the presence of Aboriginal peoples in the church from its earliest days;
- approving an amended report on Israel/Palestine Policy, including a boycott of goods produced in the occupied settlements;
- celebrating the spirit-filled, passionate, gentle, courageous leadership of outgoing Moderator, Mardi Tindal;
- electing a visionary, prophetic, gracious, theologically and biblically grounded openly gay Moderator, witnessed by his life partner who, in 1988, as a newly ordained minister, was not accepted into settlement in any pastoral charge in the UCC;
- acknowledging the courageous leadership of members of the LGBTTQ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Two-Spirited Queer) community and our heterosexual advocates whose passion and persistence through years of exile, the “giants on whose shoulders we have stood” (barb janes, GC41, August 18) led us to this place of celebration as a church.
We are doing well. Relatively speaking. But we need to muscle up. The hardest sprint is yet to come. It isn’t optional for the church.