Review of church operations and structure could lead to sweeping changes
By Mike Milne
Faced with an aging, shrinking membership and eroding national church finances, United Church leaders meeting in Ottawa this week decided to name a special task group to spell out the denomination’s vision and propose new ways of operating and working.
General Council voted to ask its Executive to name a five- to seven-member task group by the time it meets this fall, to “look at all significant aspects of the organization and operations of The United Church of Canada in all its courts.”
The first and perhaps hardest of the group’s tasks will be figuring out how to eliminate one of the church’s four courts, now including congregations, Presbyteries, Conferences and General Council. A proposal to eliminate Presbyteries failed to pass a church-wide vote 10 years ago. But as the General Council’s finance chair Don Hunter told commissioners Sunday, “We can’t afford the structure we have.” The review should provide “an opportunity to look at our processes to make them slimmer, faster and clearer,” he added.
Commissioners voted unanimously in favour of the review, but were told clearly by general secretary Nora Sanders that some of the church’s work will not survive.
“Comprehensive review doesn’t always mean bad news,” said Rev. Cathy Collins Barker of Windsor, Ont. “It means tension, but one of the things we have to remember is that without a vision, we as a church will perish. When there are things let go, new hope rises.”
Over the next three years, the church will be consulted and asked for input on new models for church governance and staffing. The review task group will report regularly to General Council Executive as well as General Council commissioners.
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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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