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

Church beyond the borders

Are we ready to consider new visions and the big changes that go along with them?

By David Wilson

We produce and deliver this magazine with a combined operations and editorial staff of nine regular employees. With a work force this small, getting the job done demands a high degree of organization and scheduling. We can’t leave much to chance.

But sometimes chance comes calling, and the result is better than anything we could have planned. Two features in this issue are a case in point: an essay by Vancouver writer Christine Boyle (“The United Church diaspora”) and our annual reader survey. Each of them evolved separately and were never intended to run in the same issue. But due to an unforeseen scheduling change, they appear together — and couldn’t be more complementary. Both start with the assumption that The United Church of Canada is on an irreversible path toward change, and both invite you to think creatively about it.

Christine Boyle is a 28-year-old community organizer in Vancouver with an academic and work record that would be remarkable in someone twice her age. She also has deep roots in the United Church. In her essay, she introduces us to several young adults like her who have the United Church in their DNA but rarely, if ever, darken the door of a church. Boyle argues that the church needs to do a better job of connecting with them — not by inviting them to come to the church, but rather by asking them if it’s okay for the church to come to them. Underpinning her essay is the idea that a United Church with more relaxed borders is no less Christian than a United Church with rigid ones. Just different.

I think she’s on to something. I am continually struck by how many young and middle-aged adults who have little or nothing to do with congregational life still think of themselves as United Church people and conduct their lives according to a set of values they are happy to characterize as United Church. I’m sure you know people like this too. Demographic researchers say there could be as many as three million of them across Canada. It’s almost as if they’re a subsidiary denomination — the United Church Beyond the United Church.

Through smart, passionate and deeply committed people like Boyle, the church beyond is making its presence felt more and more. It’s happening at a time when financial, demographic and cultural conditions are forcing change on the church, whether it wants it or not. While some may mourn, Boyle and others celebrate the inevitability of change as an opportunity for the United Church to engage more of its “own” people by redrawing its borders.

This brings me to our 2013 reader survey. We couldn’t have asked for a better companion piece to Christine Boyle’s essay if we tried. The survey asks you to think ahead 12 years from now, to 2025, when The United Church of Canada marks its 100th anniversary. What do you think will become of your congregation? What would you like your congregation to become? The survey covers things like membership, buildings, leadership, worship style, community engagement — as many bases as possible. We hope it helps you to focus your individual thinking, and we also hope it helps to foster a climate of creative give-and-take across the church.

What kind of picture will emerge? A church that wants to preserve what’s best about the United Church today? Or a church that’s ready to consider new visions and the big changes that go along with them? Something in between? I can’t say. But I can say this: the schedule on my wall says you’ll be able to read the survey results and analysis in September. Around here, that’s as good as a promise. 

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