Congregations urged to resist the ‘evil’ of gossip
By David Wilson
“Far be it from me to tell you what I’ve heard, but . . . ”
With that introductory quip, commission chair Rev. Ivan Gregan kicked off a long debate on one of the most unusual proposals to come before the 41st General Council — or any other General Council before it.
Commissioners were asked by Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario Conference to add the spreading of gossip to the list of evils that the church condemns, and to encourage the church to start talking about the difference between gossip and caring conversations.
Commissioners were urged to take the discussion seriously, despite the temptation to find humour in the subject and the fact that advance media reports had made light of the proposal. Some commissioners were clearly not amused by the proposal. Rev. Gerald Hobbs of British Columbia Conference complained that the definition of gossip was “so imprecise, so utterly vague,” and the theological and historical context behind it so unclear as to render the proposal meaningless. Rev. Colin MacDonald of Toronto Conference said it was “absolutely and utterly impossible for General Council . . . to legislate morality.” Added Rev. Piotr Strzelecki of Calgary, “We’re talking about regulating and mandating human interaction.”
But others saw the proposal addressing a genuine issue. “Malicious gossip is probably the main problem in the dysfunction of our Presbyteries and congregations,” said Rev. Paul Browning of London Conference. “I want The United Church of Canada to be seen as a safe place,” observed Rev. Rose Ann Vita of Hamilton Conference.
Eventually, commissioners agreed on an amended proposal that asks the church to raise awareness of the harmful effects of malicious gossip and to help congregations and their leaders develop a covenant of “holy manners.”
David Wilson is the editor-publisher of The Observer.
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Anne Bokma left the Dutch Reformed Church as a young adult and eventually became a member of the United Church and then the Unitarian Universalists. Having long explored the "spiritual but not religious" demographic as a writer, she decided to immerse herself in practices — like hiring a soul coach, secular choir-singing and forest bathing — for 12 months to find both enlightenment and entertainment.
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