UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Cause for celebration?

It's been 20 years since the United Church's decision to admit gays and lesbians into ministry. But the anniversary is a non-event for young people.

By David Wilson

During the annual meeting of Maritime Conference in Sackville, N.B., this spring, I chanced upon a group of young United Church musicians chatting with an older delegate. It was a perfect time to act on a hunch.

“Can any of you tell me why this summer is significant for The United Church of Canada?” I asked. Blank stares all around. I tried again. “It’s the 20th anniversary of something.” More stares. The older person flashed me a knowing smile. I cut to the chase. “It’s the 20th anniversary of the United Church’s decision to admit self-declared, practising gays and lesbians into the ordered ministry.”

“That was 20 years ago?” asked one of the musicians. “I was four years old then.” Does it figure into your understanding of the church? “I know it happened but I never think about it.” Do others your age? “Hardly anyone.”

Hunch confirmed. The 1988 decision and the turmoil that attended it may loom large in the collective memory of those of us who are old enough to have been there, but for the generation born as the drama was unfolding, it barely registers. On one hand, that’s unfortunate. The 1988 decision was a watershed moment for the United Church. An understanding of the past always helps when you’re setting a course for the future — or trying to make sense of the present. Listen closely and you’ll hear the aftershocks of 1988 still rumbling from time to time.

On the other hand, the ambivalence of young people toward the anniversary may simply mean that the ideals of 1988 are the reality of today — that young people who have grown up under the United Church’s inclusive policy on sexuality and ministry take it as a given that any qualified person who discerns a call to ministry should be allowed to become a minister. For them, The Issue has become a non-issue. Those who campaigned for that policy a generation ago should celebrate, not lament, the fact that 1988 is greeted with a shrug a generation later. It’s a dream fulfilled.

As Larry Krotz points out in his column this month, young people today are not the same as young people a generation or two ago. In the United Church this means that youth are less likely to embrace ideologies or attach labels to themselves or others. They seem to come hard-wired with a strong sense of justice, a passion for the planet and deep convictions about what it means to live in a truly inclusive community of faith. They will need to draw on all of those instincts as they confront the formidable challenges that lie ahead of them, both globally and closer to home.

The United Church’s policy on sexuality and ministry is hardly a cure-all for the world’s ills, or even for the ills of the United Church itself. But as young United Church people engage those problems — and believe me, they will — future historians will correctly point to 1988 as a turning point in the journey of the church that helped to shape them. And they will also correctly observe that the most important legacy of 1988 is not division, but hope.

As in years past, this issue of the magazine combines both July and August. When we resume monthly publishing in September, watch for stories on North Ireland’s troubled generation, and outstanding young people in the United Church. Beyond September: praying outside the box; the changing world food balance; giving church a second chance. 
Author's photo
David Wilson is the editor-publisher of The Observer.
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image

Editorials

David Wilson%

Observations

by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image

Society

July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots

World

June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.

Justice

June 2017

Undocumented

by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.

World

June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.

Society

April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart

Society

March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image