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Rev. Janet Sigurdson of Saskatchewan Conference makes a point during discussion of options for re-shaping The United Church of Canada. Photo by David Wilson

Day Four

Hump day at the 42nd General Council

By Trisha Elliott

Creating a new constitution for a denomination requires slogging. Getting mired on occasion is a given. General Council’s hump day found commissioners knee-deep in proposals and amendments to recommendations made by the sessional committee assigned to synthesize the work of a task group that examined options for a new-look church. 

Commissioners are feeling the weight of the task. At the top of the day, Joey Dearborn, a commissioner from Manitoba Northwestern Ontario Conference, pointed out that there were 21 decisions left to make and 16 hours of business time left to make them. 

Despite the fatigue settling into the room and the occasional eruption of frustration with the pace of decision-making, Moderator Rt. Rev. Gary Paterson has skillfully kept the court on track. Commissioners have tackled and set a course of action to address a number of significant issues, including: calling for an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and children, advocating for better treatment of prisoners, developing resources to help church members understand the impact of proportional representation on Canadian elections and creating educational tools to help congregants consider divesting from corporations and institutions benefiting from the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. 

Commissioners learned Wednesday that divestment decisions aimed at the fossil fuel and mining industries have drawn national media attention and praise from environmental groups, including social media shout-outs from author and activist Naomi Klein. Negative response has been equally swift. 

“Those of us in Alberta are already receiving emails and texts asking for explanations and are already very hurt,” commented Rev. David Pollard, a commissioner from Alberta and Northwest Conference in a Facebook group developed for commissioners to discuss proposals. 

The weightiest decisions before the General Council straddle the denominational home front. Aside from deciding which of 12 nominees for moderator will offer the most effective leadership over the next three years, commissioners are tasked with bridging differing ideas about how the church should be restructured, including considering changes to its legal status. So far, five of 18 pages of recommendations provided by the sessional committee dealing with restructuring have been discussed. Commissioners have shown they’re warm to some ideas and cool to others, but have not made any formal decisions. 

Despite the glut of decisions that still need to be made, Rev. Cathy Hamilton, the chair of the task group that spent two years studying options for remaking the church, is taking the work in stride: “We have made significant progress in addressing big, fundamental concepts like the size and function of the denominational council, and we have made some progress on the oversight and support issue. I’m feeling quite good about where we are at.”

Rev. Trisha Elliott is a minister at City View United in Ottawa and part of The Observer’s media team covering the General Council.

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