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General Council lays off 16 staff

Youth and young adults portfolio is among the positions cut

By Mike Milne

The United Church of Canada has laid off 16 staff members at its head office, part of a cost-cutting measure to reduce its 2011-2013 budget by $9 million. Another seven staff switched units or had their work hours reduced.

Six of the departing staff were in General Council Office’s Communities in Mission unit: two were working in renewal and community development; two in French ministry; one support staff person was let go; and Rick Garland, the youth and young adult program co-ordinator was also laid off.

Young people from across the church rushed to the Facebook page of national youth staff Rick Garland to express concern and support over his layoff, while Conference youth workers and campus ministers voiced surprise at the move.

Calling the decision “shocking,” British Columbia Conference youth and young adult minister Doris Kizinna said, “I’ve heard the General Council name youth and young adult ministry as a priority. But then to cut the main staff person is a concern. . . . People are wondering, ‘What the heck?’”

A large national youth gathering, Rendezvous 2011, is being planned for next August and is a large part of the youth and young adults staff person’s workload. 

“It doesn’t seem to be the right message to be sending to The United Church of Canada, which said one of the top priorities is youth and young adults,” says Martha Martin, a diaconal minister, campus minister at Dalhousie University in Halifax and General Council Youth Forum volunteer.

Former campus minister Rev. Tom Sherwood of Ottawa, who is currently studying the spirituality of young adults as a McGeachy scholar, called for an explanation of the decision. “I don’t understand it, I’m angry, frustrated and very confused.”

General Council General Secretary Nora Sanders said the remaining staff person for youth, young teens and children, Amy Crawford, will take over more responsibilities in the area of youth and young adults for now and that “a broader and longer-term strategy” would be put into place later. “Over time, it will be more clear to other staff and volunteers.”

In the area of French ministry, which lost two program-level staff, the new Montreal-based staff leader, Rev. Darla Sloan, says the francophone constituency was more surprised and concerned last year after learning that the distinct French ministry unit was becoming part of a larger Toronto-based staff group. As for the French ministry staff losses, says Sloan, “We know we have to do things differently. But we’re not sure what shape that will take. But that’s part of being a community of faith.”

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