Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Letter from the Presbytery Chair

Brothers and sisters,

Well this was supposed to be the time I wrote a letter for Easter. But it is also the time I need to write a letter around the Comprehensive Review Task Group Report. I wonder if combining them will work.

Well I will try anyhow!

We are entering the holiest of seasons. The three days of the Easter weekend are the reason the Christian faith exists. Sometimes we focus on Friday and execution and oppression. Sometimes we focus on Sunday and Life that conquers Death. But the reality is that this is the heart of our story. In the face of death and violence and the world's “NO!” God responds with a resounding “YES!!!!!”, as yes that continues to echo and reverberate 2000 years later.

And so as we continue to walk the road that leads to Palm Parade, Cross, and Empty Tomb I hope you keep your eyes and ears open for God's YES. It is easy to see the cross, to see the ways we in the world say no. But watch for the yes. Even if it is only hoped for, or glimpsed in a brief second it is there.

A moment ago I suggested that we focus on Friday or Sunday. And in our liturgy and our theology I think we do. But in truth I am not sure we live in either spot. I actually think that as people of faith we live, more often than not, on Saturday.

Saturday is the in-between time. The time of uncertainty. The time of waiting. We profess the hope of resurrection but we wait for “proof” that it will happen. And some years the Saturday feeling is stronger than others.

I think of my time in Atikokan, when the mills were both closed and the plan was that the government would mothball the coal-fired generating plant. We were living on Saturday, knowing so much loss and wondering if there would be new life.

And in the United Church today I think we are living on Saturday. Uncertain about the future. Still mourning a past that may only really exist in our memories. Hoping there is new life yet to be found.

Which brings me to the Comprehensive Review report....

Earlier this month the Comprehensive Review Task Group released their report and recommendations. If you have not already done so you can find the following at :
-- the report, containing the 6 recommendations
-- the proposals that are going before General Council
-- 10 backgrounder documents
also some YouTube videos:
-- an invitation to engage in the report
-- an introduction to Recommendation #3: the 3-Court Model
-- an introduction to Recommendation #4: the College of Ministers
-- an introduction to Recommendation #6: the Funding Model
and some other resources:
-- an FAQ document
-- a bulletin insert
-- a PowerPoint slideshow

I ask all of you to read the report and the proposals carefully and more than once.  They recommend a church that will look very different from the United Church that was formed 90 years ago.

As many of you will already know we are planned to have a special Presbytery meeting on April 18th to discuss this report along with the proposed changes to Manse Fund guidelines (a copy of that document was e-mailed with the minutes from the February Presbytery meeting). At our Executive meeting this morning we decided that it was important that congregations have time to look at and discuss this report before that meeting. And so we decided to change the to April 25th. This meeting was planned to happen in Spirit River for those who wish to attend in person but that church has a major fund-raiser that day so the in-person meeting is going to happen at St. Paul's United in Grande Prairie. Because it is costly and inconvenient for all Presbyters to travel to a one-day meeting we are also making arrangements for folk to attend electronically. Details about the timing and the technical contact info for this meeting will come at a later time. Because the more connections you have to a virtual meeting mean the more possibilities for a bad connection and because it is often helpful to have more people to gather with rather than being alone in a room staring at a screen I encourage folks in close proximity to each other to gather together for the meeting.

Between now and April 25th I urge you to take time as congregations to look at the report. Some of you may want to create a Proposal to suggest changes to the recommendations. These Proposals can then be considered by Presbytery and passed on to the Conference meeting at the end of May. To aid in these congregational discussions in encourage you to look at the videos and other resources on the GC42 web-page (see address above). I also offer these questions as ways to spark discussion:
-- as you read each recommendation ask “what problem is this trying to solve?” “does it solve it?” “does it cause new problems?”
--how do you see yourself living in the church as it is pictured?
-- What, if anything, excited you about the report?
-- What, if anything, worried you in the report?
-- Is there anything for which you need more information?
-- Did the report overall, capture your imagination and excitement, or did it make you feel sad, angry or worried?
-- How will your life and church life change if the report is accepted in large part by the commissioners at GC42?

It is easy to read the CRTG report and proposals and become very angry, or very depressed, or both. There is a lot of loss that is going to happen in the next few years within the United Church. The reality is that whatever we as a denomination do with this report a lot of loss will happen anyway as we still need to gut massive amounts from the denominational budget. We can not be the church in the same way that we have been the church since 1925.

But we are an Easter people. We are those who hold a resurrection faith. There will be death and loss but there is also the promise of new life. Jesus said “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24 English Standard Version). The structures of the United Church might die (or possibly collapse altogether) but the faith continues. Where and when will we find Easter in light of the CRTG report?

I look forward (with a bit of anxiety) to our discussion on April 25th and all the discussions that will precede and will follow.

Yours in Christ,
Gord Waldie

I got Sarah to help me make a video:

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