CCS Correspondents at General Council

We’ve invited a few of our CCS alumni and friends who are currently attending the United Church General Council (August 8-14, 2015 in Corner Brook, Newfoundland) to send us their impressions.  What we got was in-depth and insightful.

Plenary hall at the UCC General Council.  (photo from http://www.gc42.ca
Plenary hall at the UCC General Council. (photo from http://www.gc42.ca

Reflections from General Council:

  • Day 1 – Catherine Gutjahr
  • Day 2 – Keith Simmonds
  • Day 3 – Karen Thorne
  • Day 4 – Heather Sandilands
  • Day 5 – Laura Fouhse
  • Day 6 – Russell Mitchell-Walker
  • Day 7 – Ken Delisle

Day 1 of GC42 – Catherine Gutjahr

Catherine Gutjahr (photo: Vicki McPhee)
Catherine Gutjahr (photo: Vicki McPhee)

Day one of General Council and there is anticipation and excitement in the cool crisp air here at Corner Brook, Newfoundland. People have gathered from all across the country. For many this is our first time to a General Council (it is for me), for others it is the first time visiting The “Rock”.

Today was a day of people arriving and getting settled. Of course for many of the commissioners, organizers and staff the work of GC42 started long before today. Many of us met in our conferences, presbyteries informing ourselves and discussing the various proposals in particular the various proposals in the Comprehensive Review. For the past few weeks commissioners have been sharing thoughts and concern on the GC42 Facebook page. At the DUCC gathering this spring a great deal of our time was spent examining the proposals that will most impact diaconal ministry; in particular the Comprehensive Review, One Order of Ministry and Competency Based Training. A number of diaconal ministers continued these conversations as we met over the dinner hour. Of special interest and concern to many of us is some of the details the One Order of Ministry proposal.

If I had one thought to describe today, it would be that day one was a day of community building, both informally and intentionally. We began to build community as we greeted and reconnected with friends and colleagues. We began to build intentional community as we shared words of covenant in our table groups. And we began to share in sacred space as we worshiped and shared communion together. All of this set up an atmosphere that remind each of us that we are part of an important community called to be the church.

As I end this day, I look forward to the possibilities and creativity that this GC42 brings.

– Catherine Gutjahr, Diaconal minister

UCC Moderator Gary Paterson. (photo from www.gc42.ca)
UCC Moderator Gary Paterson. (photo from www.gc42.ca)

Other Thoughts on Day 1:

Ken Delisle: The pilgrimage has ended. The pilgrims have arrived. Joyful, exhaustive, hopeful, thankful and blessed we gather in a holy lace to share the holiness of ourselves. God was here before us and is with us and in us and will be here when we leave and in us as well.

We sang, we worshipped, we ate, we shared ourselves with strangers and old friends and friends of long standing. The laughter unites us as does the music. We anticipate the challenge ahead. To listen to the holiness of place and person.

We are awe struck by what we bring. May we become unstuck in words, thoughts and deeds. The community is ready.

So be it.

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Day 2 of GC42 – Keith Simmonds

Keith Simmonds (photo: Vicki McPhee)
Keith Simmonds (photo: Vicki McPhee)

“Let Us Mis-spell United Until We’re Untied.”

Those words, from the updated closing dialogue/twin monologue/slam poetry piece, of a Scott Douglas play (‘Maybe One: A theatrical history of the United Church’) echoed a theme that wove through the day.

Moderator Gary Paterson’s opening worship danced out joy and concern in poetry, scripture and song. The worship/report/reflections/prayers of the Comprehensive Review Task Group, the reports of standing committees, the theological reflection and the play itself, reminded us of the knots of concern we’ve tied and untied, together.

Next up, Nora Sanders the Executive Secretary, gave her report which focused on the good work done by staff and committees over the past three years. She also gave an honest account of the problems created in a church that wants to do everything but has less and less resources with which to do anything. To paraphrase her: ‘We have left some things undone because we could not do them. We will need to know your priorities before we go, because, no matter what passes here, we will not be able to do all of it. Give us your top three out of ten.’

I wondered when we’d tied our staff and committees to structures. Why hasn’t this work been given to the whole church to take on? Who would ensure the need is known, how would it be done? There are still a few hundred thousand of us, surely we can find a way together. Why are we tied in this knot of incapability?

Something to ponder over the Alvin Dixon memorial run. I ran with a minister from BC, and, on the downhill run back to the finish line, reflected with her on loosening up anxieties over sermon preparation. Preparing, reading, researching, reflecting, thinking about the people who would hear the message and leaving things unfinished, uncertain until the Spirit enters in and has its way. After cool down and shower, back to the hall to listen.

Gary Paterson took the stage again, this time for his own accountability report. Laying out memories of 3 years as moderator. Memories held in Spirit, in gifts presented, shawls knitted and meals consumed. Memories of youthful energy, of events along the path of reconciliation, of churches closing and voices raised in song and worry. Memories of worship and work being carried out across the country, and with partners beyond our borders. Memories of praying and being prayed for. Realizing that other traditions and approaches to God have something to teach all of us. Wondering who would carry on in the important work of the church, who would care for the children going hungry every day? He turned, of course, to poetry.

In “The Skylight” by Seamus Heaney, he evoked the images of an oppressive ceiling being opened up despite the best and worst protests of the narrator. I was reminded of his opening reflection, three years ago in Ottawa, where he wove a picture of a thick roofed church being worn into a ‘thin place’ by God’s relentless sanding. He ended by thanking our church for beginning to untie the knot of hetero-sexism (my word, not his) that would have held him out of this ministry for which he is so clearly gifted, called and equipped.

Standing Committees now took their place, highlighting reports. Letting us know about governance, about programs enacted that are meant to free up processes, invite and enable people hearing a call in ministry, support and train folk in leadership, and encourage and develop activities with youth. We heard about the Stewardship toolkit website, about Edge’s call for innovative social enterprise, about the Skylight Festival and many other signs of light and promise in the church. About good work, well done, by many, many people throughout our communities.

We also heard about the new compensation guidelines for ministry personnel which now incorporates housing allowances into salary and bases pensions on the total amount. Ministers in urban centres (where housing is high) will receive more pension income than ministers in rural areas (where housing is low). In the new formula, some pensions will actually decrease. I wondered about the outcome for rural pastoral charges who may have even more difficulty attracting ministers. Raising the question from the floor, I was told that had been considered, the committee didn’t think it would be much of a problem, but will pay attention to outcomes.

Next on our agenda, a worship led by the Comprehensive Review Task Group. A diverse group of folk experienced in the ways of the church, but with enough youth and difference in background to bring fresh perspectives to ground that’s been tilled a few times before. I came away feeling as if the proposals they put before us were intended to loosen us up, free us from knots generations in the tying. To allow us to flourish where we are able and end with dignity and testament, where we are not. We will begin to attend to their report and the (over 90) proposals it spawned tomorrow.

The Theology and Interfaith group highlighted their report next. We were called upon to pay attention to upcoming work on Physician Assisted Suicide (in particular the worry about becoming a culture that rids itself of ‘inconvenient persons); A theology of disability (we build ramps, install elevators, make print larger, and still only ‘get’ about 15% of what is truly happening for folk in our churches), a theology of land (we are asked to comment on the question in Israel and Palestine and realize we have not thought fully about Aboriginal people who are the keepers of the land in our country, and our place as the settlers who occupy it), and more thought on the subject of adoption. The committee will continue ongoing dialogue with the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches, the former mainly on perspectives on ministry, the latter on ecological and justice issues.

A diaconal minister asked the committee if conversations with the Anglicans (with whom his congregation shares a building, along with the Lutherans) considered a proposal (before us in the next few days) to “Ordain” diaconal ministers. Would the Anglicans accept Ordained diaconal ministers as equivalent to Anglican Priests? The response was: yes.

Our theological reflector shared a brilliant riff on the online controversy over the term “Chasing the Spirit” chosen by the Comprehensive Review Task Group for a fund meant to seed new ministries of all sorts in the church. We were led through a dialogue that exposed our penchant for getting bound up in terms we knew were ‘real’ (we’ve all tried to catch the spirit in any number of ways, through many weird and wonderful permutations) while ignoring the knowledge in the vain attempt to appear somehow above the whole thing. Our reflector encouraged us to, instead, realize that the Spirit was with us all the way through, right beside us in the chase. Knowing that, we might, instead, loiter with the Spirit. Loiter in the coffee shop, over conversation, loiter in the seniors home open to a life of teaching, loiter in the hospital, open to a Spirit of care and holy conversation, loiter under the bedsheets, open to memories and images of day gone by and day to be. Loiter with the Spirit that is with us always and all time.

Dinner let in time for conversations with friends and new friends. Then back to watch, in amusement and thoughtfulness, Scott’s play and its new ending. Powerful stuff. Good reminders. We have been here before, on the point of change and some, as the Comprehensive Review Task Group reminded us in their reflection on Ezra 3:10-13, some of us are dancing and singing, and some of us are stomping and weeping. Are we open to the Spirit that is with us, are there skylights in the thin places, is room being made at the table, can we share out the gifts and clear the paths for those responding to the insisting voice of love alive and active in the world? Where am I in that?

How does my response further the cause of more love, more justice and more beauty on the earth? Let me mis-spell united, until I am untied.

– Keith Simmonds

Scene from Maybe One? (photo from www.gc42.ca)
Scene from Maybe One? (photo from www.gc42.ca)

Other Thoughts on Day 2:

Ken Delisle: We gather wrapped and wrapping each with the sacredness of self. We hear the words of hope and celebration, pain and reconciliation in words of work done and not done by leaders, by community, by paid and unpaid as we sing the joy of being. Being self, being more, being Spirit, being light, being challenge and being humbly proud.

From near, far, across the nation, the continent, the oceans, the denominations, we are here to be, to breathe, to learn, to share, to weep, to celebrate, to remember, to challenge and to breath again.

Today we heard accountability reports and celebrate 90 years; 12 nominees and the work of The Comprehensive Report Committee and met the Sessional leaders still not ready to report after 5 days of meetings. But the Spirit is growing.

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Day 3 of GC42 – Karen Thorne

Monday August 10th was the third day of GC42 and my first full day in attendance as a Visitor. I had arrived the previous evening after a speedy 71/2 hour trip by car from St. John’s in order to get here before dusk and the increased risk of a close encounter with moose on the highway. I’d been a commissioner to GC39 in Thunder Bay and GC 40 in Kelowna, so I was familiar with these meetings and was aware that folks had likely already shared experiences of awesome worship, thought-provoking presentations and opportunities to build community together. In Diaconal ministry there has always been a concern for building community, for listening and getting to know those who are on the margins of society, those who have been less known or understood, those who have been on the edges and less visible. Like the message of the MV song, “Draw the Circle Wide,” it’s a joyful thing when we acknowledge one another and build relationships that are kind and just. With General Council always being a sort of “movable feast” it is wonderful when we can go and meet one another where we are, in our own contexts. The last time GC meetings were held in this province was in 1964 and I’m delighted that we’re able to welcome our church at this time to our geographic home and to this place that is sometimes described as being the “eastern edge” or the “far east” of North America.

Day 3 began with worship that was a rich meditation in word, song and dance based on the biblical story of the Israelites time in the wilderness just before their crossing of the Red Sea. We were invited to hear again the challenge of God: “Get moving! Be daring! Let us GO!” Describing the church as needing to become more “agile” fascinated me. During the telling of the biblical story we had seen embodied the transformation from the moments of anxiety on the verge of first steps, to the lightness and joy of having moved through the time of challenge, dancing with the Spirit, past the fear and obstacles. It was a visual demonstration of how agility involves attentiveness and lightly placed steps. It was also a reminder of how energizing and joyful it can be once the decision has been made to let go, to not hold back any longer, and to move forward. What might an “agile” church in action look like, I wondered?

During the morning session and also for part of the afternoon the Sessional Committee presented its recommendations in followup from those made by the Comprehensive Review Task Group. Their task was to assist the members of the General Council by seeking to discern and identify the common threads of values of the church being expressed through the proposals as well as in the CRTG report itself and to take seriously people’s questions and suggestions for how things might work best as we move forward. This was a big task to do in a very short time frame. In their gentle way of presenting their report, respectfully, bit by bit, allowing time for table-group discussion, and reminding us once again of the nine core principles identified in the CRTG Report which bind us together as church, I thought that I saw some light-stepping of carefully placed feet, which made me smile.

The day included presentations by all those nominated for Moderator, presentations by the Aboriginal Ministries Council, as well as introductions, words of welcome and a couple presentations by representatives from the broader global church community. It was good to hear that these ecumenical partners and friends from other denominations would be available throughout these meetings and that they were welcomed to offer their wisdom and insights in individual conversations and as part of these meetings. One representative spoke warmly to the court about the United Church and how innovative we are. I especially felt a sense of solidarity and friendship when he offered a simple word of wisdom: “You cannot walk alone. And even if you can, you should not.” How lovely too, to be able to welcome these friends to visit and get to share a bit more of who we are with them into our gathered church “home”. In a time of much change and challenge for all our churches and for our world, it seems very important to be open to take the time to build and strengthen those relationships such as these within the much broader context of people of faith and good will – Christians and people of other faiths too – from around the world.

All in all, it was a rich and full day, strong with a sense of the Spirit with us, and pride in being the church that we are, with many moments of blessings.

– Karen Thorne

Ecumenical and International visitors at General Council
Ecumenical and International visitors at General Council (photo: www.gc42.ca)

Other Thoughts on Day 3:

Ken Delisle: The day was a day of gifts. We received the gift of the sessional report that completed its work on the start of the 6th day of meetings and design. Creation, genesis, a seed, a gift of words and goals as a guide and a piece of shared wisdom. Six areas of future design and structure, filled out over 3 years by a committee of prophets and visionaries, followed by 90 proposals, ideas, wisdom, experiences, fears, hopes leading us to yes or no or maybe as recommendations come forth – for tomorrow.

Today we hear the Spirit in our hearts as we meditate on that gift.

So many more gifts – cousins from other faiths – Christian and not; from other lands and other languages sharing their Spirit and dreams and they mix with yours. Which is mine? Which is yours? Which is ours? Or are they all the same? The diversity of creation in human forms celebrating the colours, the sounds of the Spirit’s breath carried in and around us.

12 more gifts, 12 more disciples, 12 people prepared to be Moses to lead us, moderately, from the now to the then, not knowing what the then is, where the land of promise lies and how many oasis’, places of rest, will there be as we travel? Will they out number the places of grumbling? of Sin? How does one choose which Spirit to follow when all 12 shine bright with rainbows of talent and call?

And then the youth taught us and shared their lessons and their Canadian wide travel visions. They saw God, they saw love, they saw compassion and daring and all that we are and hope to be as a community of followers and believers and doers of the Word.

We sang, we danced, we ate, we celebrated, we prayed and we chatted and we talked. Words were made flesh by flesh bearers and dry, dead bones rose in a glorious rattling of sinew and tambourines.

We are here with our God.

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Day 4 of GC42 – Heather Sandilands

Heather Sandilands
Heather Sandilands

“Today’s the day!” I thought. Today’s the day when ante on the potential for fur to fly goes up. Commissions day. A day of proposals so numerous, and many so similar in tone, the words begin to blur. A day when wondering if my reflections and feelings about an issue that is before another Commission are shared by someone else…or am I only one? The day I dreaded: will I share my experiences and use my voice? or am I going to defer to the will of others and not use my voice? (For those of you who know me, you will understand the dilemma as, sometimes, I do both far too often.) My mantra: Trust the God. Trust the Body. Trust the Process.

Apparently I was not the only one with that fearful dilemma.

Worship began with singing, and on the dais was an enactment of a tug-of-war, a rope with a heart in the middle, gently going back and forth between the two sides. It was a wonderful, wordless reminder: all of us here have God as our Team’s Anchor, all of us want to enact policies of justice and peace, and the Holy Mystery is often found in the space between us. The song that began worship was “Listen to the song of my heart: I will not forget you, I will not abandon you.” I was spoken to: Listen. To the song of MY heart. Mine, not only yours.

Our ecumenical reflectors offered wisdom that echoed this theme: do not be afraid, find me among those who are marginalized, find me in acting towards justice.

And so we did in Blueberry Commission. We listened with respect, even when we disagreed we spoke (at least publically) with respect. We agreed that, as a country, we need to listen with respect to the families of aboriginal women and girls who “have been disappeared” and murdered; we supported the call for a National Inquiry into the murders and disappearances of these women. We agreed – but not unanimously – that, as a Church body, we need to step back from stating a preference of seeing a 2-state solution to the division of the “Holy Land” and instead to affirm the right of self-determination for both Palestinians and Israelis and encourage them to continue to find a solution that fits their situation. We agreed that we, as a Church, must increase the resources so that we as individuals and in our institutions continue to partner with voices for peace and encourage those in our communities of faith to learn more about the situation in the “Holy Land”, to understand its complexities and to support those who are – on the ground there – working for a just peace. after much conversation on divesting from companies which profit from the illegal occupation by Israel of the West Bank and Gaza, we decided to Take No Action regarding direction on divestment instead choosing to uphold that this work is being done in other areas and in other project-groups. We agreed to support a Living Apology project to those persons of sexual and gender diversity, including but not limited to LGBTT2Q persons; another action following on that same principles is to support institutionally those Progressive Evangelicals who find themselves without a building to worship and learn in and to work in partnership for them to feel affirmed.

It was a full day.

And we were reminded, at the beginning and end of the day, that when we feel the most pressed for time to “get it all done” is precisely the time that we need to stop and pray. Our closing worship experience was to explore a variety of spiritual practises – from music to iconography, body prayer, breathing prayer, and more – an invitation to root ourselves more deeply in the grace of God and the Life of Spirit that we know as followers of Jesus.

It was good that we did, because as I lay me down to sleep there is no fur on my clothing or chocking my breathing. We listened with respect, and worked with respect, and experienced an amazing grace. We are not alone (in our thoughts or fears or hopes), God is with us. Thanks be.

– Heather Sandilands

Voting at General Council (photo: www.gc42.ca)
Voting at General Council (photo: www.gc42.ca)

Other Thoughts on Day 4:

Ken Delisle: We aren’t grumbling Moses. Well, maybe a little.

We heard more voices of prophets from our distant cousins and their homes. We worshipped and headed into the holy place, a Comprehensive and Tasking place, we wanted and dreaded. Who are we to be? Where does the Spirit call us? Too many questions and fears and yet hope. But we could take no more now. We celebrated community with food and moved in new ways to new topics. The holy place left awaits our return.

We then divided the blessed work and gathered in the name of Mother Earth’s native berries – blue, partridge and bakeapple. Each was the whole community and prayed and debated and words came and left and we moved – motions and future and people and church to new holy ground. But in the dusk, in the setting sun, we found you clearly again. Yes, you Yahweh, were there hidden in anxious words, and counted pages and challenging questions.

But we were invited to leave our centre of meeting and to go to a new place where we found you in story and in silence – in art, in writing, in poetry, in smudging, in bells, in song, in icons, in crosses, in water, in light and in true colours of setting sun over mountains, ocean and land. We were touched by you again as we touched you.

And this day that you have made, ends in the hold of your hand as the gift of sleep descends and re-creates us for a newly created day.

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Day 5 at GC42 – Laura Fouhse

Laura Fouhse (photo: Vicki McPhee)
Laura Fouhse (photo: Vicki McPhee)

Several months ago I was invited to part of the youth forum leadership team for General Council. I was honored to be asked and thrilled to say yes.

In February a handful of youth from each conference, along with the planning team, leaders, music folks and Moderator Gary Paterson gathered to (1) select the youth pilgrims who would travel across Canada this summer and (2) prepare for General Council 42.

Gathering again this week for youth forum has felt like coming home. I am often in awe of how quickly the bonds of friendship build among the youth and the enthusiasm in which they greet one another after being apart.

However, while it is the energy, enthusiasm and fun that youth offer that is most often held up as valued gifts, it is their wisdom, compassion and love for our church that has stood out for me.

Earlier this week the youth led us through our closing worship. Throughout the week they have participated in table group conversations, commissions and plenary sessions. Many of them have courageously spoke at the microphone asking important questions, offering their wisdom and reminding the challenging the court on our love of wordsmithing… calling us to get on with the important work rather than fussing about the details.

“The future of the church is in good hands” is the common mantra. Many folks have expressed their appreciation for the presence of the youth. But the youth assert that they are NOT the future of the church, they are the NOW. They certainly are. I can’t imagine this court without them… the spontaneous dance parties, the wisdom offered at the mics and in table groups, the important intergenerational conversations… so very important to the work we are doing today.

And, of course, there is the fun. After a long day of intense conversations and LOTS of sitting, the youth gather in their space to debrief and unwind. I hear the expressions of frustration at how long things seem to take. I hear their fear that we aren’t getting enough done and the impact of this on the future of the church. But more than anything I hear HOPE and JOY and just a deep LOVE for this church. It is a breath of fresh air at the end of the day and I am so grateful for their presence both in the church and in my own life.

– Laura Fouhse

Other Thoughts on Day 5:

Ken Delisle: Thank you Creator. Today was all about gifts. I received more than I could ever have expected when dawn rose from the east calling us to a new day of joy, challenge, community and surprises. Breakfast with a lost and found friend nourished spirit and corporal beings. A laugh and a smile strengthen the soul. Worshipping we felt one, we felt unity and spirited and whole.

But oh so soon, the gift of language wasn’t gifted with grace. There were harder works and lost meanings and divergentways. We tried to be present, to listen, to support but time was pressed and impatience rose.

Then we circled. We were called by 1st Nations to dance into a circle holding hands and over 500 formed a circle within a circle. The circle was wide but space was short. And then the teaching of wholeness and health and the gift of tobacco. Then more than teaching. We each received the sacred gift. I have never received such a gift. It was a humble honour, receiving it and knowing what it means to the first 2 legged creatures on this island. It was made even more sacred and the community held it our common hands and blessed it by our warmth and hearts. Enough, away, I have a sacred gift from a sacred people in a sacred place.

But the Holy Joker teased me with more. We left our concrete floors and chairs and scattered to places of rafting or shopping or hiking or zip lining or learning or resting. I was called by the Spirit to the Bay St. George Mi’kmaq Cultural Centre where the circle waited to be filled.

We were gifted again with smudge and sharing the peace bid and songs! Drums and voices – The Healing Song, The Strong Woman’s Song, The Strong Man’s Song, The Song for Residential School Survivors, The Grandmother’s Song. OH my heart was strangely warmed! And a feast of Mother Earth’s gifts – moose, cod, salmon, potato (and Chocolate). Then the Talking Circle – a gift of it’s own. But more gifts. Stories of faith, pain, healing, tears and tears again and hugs and heartbeats beating the drum of life.

Then rest. A gift of slumber and healing, renewing strength and vision. Perhaps the Sacred One will send a vision.

I rest and I hope.

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Day 6 at GC42 – Russell Mitchell-Walker

Russell Mitchell-Walker (photo: Vicki McPhee)
Russell Mitchell-Walker (photo: Vicki McPhee)

Worship this morning had an experience of the challenges of working to be intercultural as the Scripture was read in French and the English projected on the screen turned out to be the wrong scripture! We have noticed that the screen operator may not know French as the slides did not seem to move when they needed to the last few days. As we become more bilingual as a Council it will be important to seek out resources to have simultaneous translation. It is a costly venture. The preacher brought us a message from the gospel story of Jesus telling the rich man to sell everything he has, give it to the poor and follow me. Are we able to let go of what’s holding you back? Be Brave!

I wonder if we are brave enough to take this scripture seriously as a church. What would it look like to sell what we have and give to the poor? Or when we sell what we have, like a church building that has closed, put the money in trust for ministry needs for the church and community? There are congregations who would like to sell their property and redevelop, but in places like Saskatchewan it is not financially viable to do this. But a trust fund/ministry fund from other sales may allow such possibilities to happen.

Following worship we held in prayer and support, those in our communities who are concerned about the decision to divest from Fossil Fuels. The moderator named that in these types of stands we take there are no winners or losers. We are encouraged not to demonize one another or corporations and to hold one another in love, that there is oneness in our diversity.

The rest of the morning was spent reflecting on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and hearing from Commissioner Marie Wilson and Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Perry Belgarde. It began with a video on the United Church apology. I have become very aware recently that because I was at General Council in 1986 when the Apology was made, I find myself very emotional when I hear it – it is like I am transported back to that powerful moment as we walked down the hill to gather with the First Nations people of the church where the Moderator, Bob Smith read the Apology. As I heard a First Nations woman talk about the shame she felt to be an ‘indian’ and forgiving people for putting her in residential schools, I wondered, can we forgive ourselves as a church?

Marie Wilson talked about many aspects of her experience including finding ways to walk each other home – that many First Nations people just want to go home and do not feel like they have a home. She called us to bring an end to the real two solitudes in Canada and talked about prophecy – it’s not about predicting the future but is a divine utterance of what is important to the present.

Perry Belgarde among many things said “there are many roads to the creator, I just tell people to get on one!” He encouraged us to work to address the gap between the quality of life for aboriginal communities and the rest of Canada. It is costly to all of us and as we approach the election in the fall we are all encouraged to engaged the candidates with questions of how they are going to address reconciliation and the recommendations of the TRC.

Before breaking for lunch we moved into the first ballots for moderator, which carried on throughout the day. Each time we prayerfully prepared, and moved to the polling stations and voted. Each time we prayed for those who were dropped off the ballot, giving thanks for offering their leadership and knowing that they will continue to offer valuable contributions to the church in other ways. In the end the crowd erupted to joy as it was announced in French we had a new “moderatrice” (the French feminine for moderator) Jordan Cantwell of Saskatchewan! The young woman at my table said it is a great statement we have made – Jordan is younger, a dynamic leader with a great forward vision for the church. John Young, the other candidate on the ballot, moved to make it unanimous.

Moderator candidates at the United Church General Council (photo: www.gc42.ca
Moderator candidates at the United Church General Council (photo: www.gc42.ca

Before getting to the work on the Comprehensive Review, the first part of the afternoon was spent, with relationships with other global denominations. We were presented with the background to the Full Communion proposal with the United Church of Christ, USA. One of the UCC-US staff introduced herself as a representative from our cousin church! A video was shown which ended with the UCC-US court shown singing O Canada, after they approved the proposal. We began singing along, rising to our feet and continued to sing to the end, as the video ended. Then, just after we had sat down, someone spontaneously began singing the Star Spangled Banner, before we had even voted to approve it! There was a question about the reference to ordained ministry, and concern that Diaconal was not mentioned but were assured that it has been discussed and will continue to be part of the agreement of mutuality, with ordained intending to include Diaconal, and a commitment that the language will be changed down the road. We did approve it unanimously, to great applause and joy! We are now family! We learned that the UCC-US has three tenants or values: Continued Testament (that we continue to receive the Word from God), Extravagant Welcome, and Changing Lives. This agreement means we can share ministers, resources, and potentially mission work here and abroad.

We also approved a mutual agreement with the UCC in the Philippines and the Presbyterian Church in Korea. This means that we can share ministers across the denomination and may open up possibilities for United Church congregations in Canada looking for ministers from these denominations.

We then continued with the work on the Comprehensive Review, working through the Regional council roles and descriptions, and we are in the midst of what to do with the College of Minister proposal. That work will continue tomorrow. We also worked on the One Order of Ministry report, proposing that all ministry personnel, including Diaconal and Designated Lay Ministers be ordained. This was a beginning conversation which will continue tomorrow but initial comments lead to the possibility that it could be referred to the next GC to allow more time for the church and particularly the Diaconal community to review and discuss it more closely. There were concerns whether the certificate of ordination received by Diaconal ministers, would be considered valid by our ecumenical partners, especially for chaplaincies and shared ministries. There was also concerns that The final version of the report was not out soon enough before Council for the DUCC (Diakonia of The United Church of Canada) to study it fully.

The Theological reflection at the end of the day from Karen Georgia Thompson of the UCC-US shared with us some of her favourite music from the week. We have been singing a song Do we Dare? That speaks to living our faith boldly, as we take steps to move into a new way of being in our structure and mission. Colour Outside the Lines, enourages us to open ourselves up to what God is calling us to do. Do we Dare? Be Bold! May it be so!!

– Russell Mitchell-Walker

Karen Georgia of the United Church of Christ (photo: www.gc42.ca)
Karen Georgia of the United Church of Christ (photo: www.gc42.ca)

Other Thoughts on Day 6:

Ken Delisle: You called us, O Holy One, to labour in the fields and we laboured today. Not in fields but in the arena of words and thoughts – and prayers. You did not leave us but sometimes in the windstorm of sage wisdom and rephrasing the question and chaos, you were lost (or were we the ones lost?)

But, you widely inclusive and ever-pushing Builder of stronger communities, we CELEBRATED with “first cousins we never met”. we are a united and uniting church and today we united with the United Church of Christ USA and formally became full communion talks with the United Church of Christ Philippines and the Presbyterian Church in Korea. We are kin, cousins, siblings and you rejoiced when we rejoiced for your church is uniting – that all may be one.

What a day! Laughter, song, celebration, anthems (national) and prayer.

And Holy wisdom you guided us today to new leadership and vision. From 12 prophets and lights, one was called to venture forth with us to the new day yet to dawn. Jordan Cantwell will be our moderate leader and seeker of your word and wisdom to share with us and to challenge us and to encourage us dare and to move one more step and another and another towards the wholeness you desire for all of your creation.

And yet there is unease of work not done and words often repeated and fears of shutting our words that must be spoken.

We are a strange lot, but you love us.

One more day and the work must be done or we will head into another storm leading us to where? But, again, where it takes us, you are there. We need a pillar of fire, not for our eyes but for our vision.

We are not alone. We are together. Push us to complete the work you gave us so that we may dance from here, rejoicing with you.

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Day 7 at GC42 – Ken Delisle

Ken Delisle (photo: Vicki McPhee)
Ken Delisle (photo: Vicki McPhee)

You, Holy Joker, you! Dancing in the desert? Who could have known? Well, you, of course. But your two legged creation, we were a bit slow to catch the trick.

Our worship moves us and we hope moves you. Today our call began with the words of a veiled woman, a Muslim praying with us, leading us, gathering us, and we were truly united in your Awesome Names! Other tongues helped us remember who you are and what we are called to do.

And more words and words and words as moved through a report so hard to Comprehend. But you strengthen us and pushed us and you laughed with us and we made it. It took only 5 days to do the 18 pages that changes our way of being, of doing, of breathing Spirit into our mortar and bricks and gatherings. But You are always there. We are not alone in what we dream and hope will be.

And more celebrations in the midst of hard times of word-smithing! Our cousins from Korea and our cousins from the Philippines joined with us and we sang and signed papers and embraced and prayed and praised.

And then to One Order of Ministry, of which we were not of one mind or one order. But we knew the gifts you offered in the three forms – a trinity of ministry – ordained, diaconal and lay designated. Do we make the three one or is the one three? So we will talk. The motion passes and there will be materials created and offered for study for two years.

Are You pleased? We hope so for we will talk about how we can serve you – the one full of awe and mystery that we can never truly unravel.

After our feast we return. We had talked and smoothed the words of the 18 page sessional report and together had consensus on the words. Now we would do it all again as motions, as legal language of amending amendments would come into play and all who were not happy with the consensual words would be ready.

And you, God of surprises and humour and teachings, did a new thing. You lived your words and proved them true – “Behold I knew a new thing” and we didn’t see it! When all was ready and in place, you went AHA! I told you so! No more long winded breath but one motion, an omnibus movement and all was done!

All but the rejoicing and then the good byes. We sang and payed and celebrated the gifts of Gary Paterson as he turned his role over to Jordan Cantwell. And we saw your gifts, your blessings, your joy in her being and beaming.

One more feast of bread and wine and we leave to take the news to our homes, our nation, to nations we covenant with and to the world seeking your Spiritual Presence in whatever form, other than the Spirit in religious form.

We know you are there with them and with us and with our four legged brothers and sisters and in all of creation. Today we changed our world. This week we changed your world.

May it be so. May these actions take us one step closer to the world you desire, full of justice, peace, equality and laughter. Laughter heals the foolishness we live and we live as fools for you.

You bless us and we say, “Thank you. So be it.”

– Ken Delisle

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From Everyone at CCS: Thank you so much, Catherine, Keith, Karen, Heather, Laura, Russell, and Ken, for the depths of your reflections and for helping us connect to the happenings at General Council.