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Rev. Cathy Hamilton of Wentworth-Nord, Que., chaired the task group assigned to develop proposals for reforming the structure of The United Church of Canada. Photo by David Wilson

Day Two

Massive structural changes may be too much to handle in just one week

By Mike Milne

If they didn’t know it already, General Council commissioners meeting in a Corner Brook, N.L., hockey arena learned Monday that making massive structural changes to a 90-year-old church is messy work. And that it may take more than a week-long meeting, replete with worship, celebrations, moderator elections and unrelated business, to finish rebuilding The United Church of Canada.

Evidence arrived at noon when a much-anticipated report was delivered by a 16-member sessional committee that had worked for six days — and until 3 a.m. that morning — trying to find pathways to consensus between a far-reaching task group report and many suggested alternatives.

After two years of consultation and meetings, General Council’s nine-member Comprehensive Review Task Group submitted a carefully crafted 36-page report and seven clear proposals last spring. 

The sessional committee’s report, though, was a disorganized amalgam of the task group report plus suggestions gleaned from about 100 proposals and 142 pages of responses from across the church. Called “a working document” it was 18 pages of strike-through deletions, underlined additions and suggested actions. 

“Sometimes the collective will and wisdom was easy to discern,” said the committee’s co-chair Rev. Larry Doyle of Courtice, Ont. Other times, not so easy.

Commissioners, who discussed the committee’s suggestions in table groups, will likely vote later this week on some of those altered proposals. Others may have to wait for further study or delayed implementation.

Recommended for adoption: a ministry development program called “Chasing the Spirit” funded by 10 percent of Mission and Service Fund givings; continued funding and support for the Aboriginal Ministries Council; and a three-level governance system consisting of communities of faith, regional councils and denominational council, but with many changes from the task group’s proposal.

A proposed college of ministers was rejected outright. The sessional committee said proposals and submissions suggest nothing be done, but proposed that General Council instead establish a “national office of vocation” responsible for training and accreditation standards as well as discipline and formal hearings for ministry personnel. 

While the task group had envisioned more autonomy for congregations, especially in areas of property and ministry personnel decisions, the sessional committee’s altered proposals would give regional councils the right to set policy around property transactions and “the distribution of such proceeds.” It would also ensure regional involvement in “recruiting, choosing, calling, appointing and covenanting with ministry personnel and other staff.”

On “the burning question” of the number of regional councils, Doyle said, “We can’t answer it. . . . We simply need more information; more work needs to be done.”

The sessional committee suggests commissioners adopt a funding model for General Council that uses the M&S Fund for ministry and mission, with other costs covered by assessments to be paid directly by congregations. But a task group would look into the formula that would be used to calculate those assessments.

Proposals that would speed up church-wide votes and other tactics to implement many proposed changes in a timely fashion were referred to Council’s business committee.

That same committee has to find enough agenda time this week for Council to consider and vote on the proposals. 

Mike Milne is The Observer’s senior writer.

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