June 10, 1925, the Mutual Street Arena in Toronto, representatives of the Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregationalist and Local Union Churches process in to begin a worship service. Something new is being born. Something called the United Church of Canada. (Yes we were born –or at least the delivery took place after years of incubation and labour– in a hockey arena, if nothing else that should cement our Canadian-ness.)
90 years later where are we? Where will we be for the centennial? Some might ask if we will be around for the centennial.
It has not always been easy being the United Church of Canada. Even as we were being birthed a legal battle was beginning with those Presbyterians who had decided to stay out of Union (a battle over the name of the Presbyterian church was not settled until 1939). There was a wondering if this grand experiment would work. Then there were debates over the ordination of women, over the New Curriculum, over sexuality. Add in the challenges that come with being a national body in a country with such diversity and a wide geography as Canada and there have been more than a few challenges along the way.
But let us look to the future (remembering that the future grows out of the present and the present is rooted in the past). Where are we now? Where are we headed?
To begin with a rather obvious statement, we are not the church that was formed in 1925, the church my grandparents became part of as children when the Presbyterian church in Simpson voted to join the new union. Nor are we the church of the 1950's, when my parents generation was growing up. Nor are we the church of my birth and childhood. We have changed. We have grown and contracted. We have challenged theological and social positions and moved to a new understanding of same. A few years ago then Moderator Peter Short spoke of the 3rd generation of church leadership, my generation (which really means a 4th generation is starting to come in as well). This 3rd generation faces a world my grandparents would never have dreamed of – a world we in our childhood would scarcely believe if we want to tell the truth.
AS a result of all the changes over the last generation there is a lot of angst in this United (or Untied as the most common typo would suggest) Church of ours. We finally have been forced to admit that the structures that grew up over our first few decades will not work anymore. We have been forced to admit that the “Golden Age” of the 1950's might have been more an aberration than a future promise.
And so change is on the horizon. This summer the General Council will hear a series of proposals that will dismantle and rebuild the United Church we have known. And then we will start to figure out how to be the church in a new way. A smaller way. A (hopefully) cheaper way. A (again hopefully) more missional way focused on reaching out and sharing what we have to offer instead of assuming we have a place in people's hearts and minds.
Looking at statistics and reports from the church it would be easy to despair. It would be easy to say all is lost and start the palliative care. And in some places palliative care is the current option. But I continue to have hope.
God is still at work here. God is still stirring up hearts and souls. In the end the way we are the community of God is not important. We may like it. We may be invested in it. But in the end it is the fact taht we are the community of God that matters. WE may do it in very different ways, Our parents and grandparents might not even recognize it as the church they knew. But God is still calling us together. God is still challenging us to share the Good News of life hope and love.
I learned this week that the sermon text at that arena 90 years ago was “except a kernel of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”. What needs to die that we would continue to be fruitful as a congregation? As a denomination? As the gather residents of the Kingdom of God?
And, remembering that we are people who profess resurrection, who profess that “In life, in death, in life beyond death we are not alone” are we ready to let things die that we might have life and bear fruit?