A key element of the restructured United Church of Canada took clearer shape in mid-January, when General Council’s boundaries commission released its interim report. Complete with maps locating current pastoral charges, it sketches out 17 new regions to replace Conferences and Presbyteries.
Only Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador remain within their former Conference boundaries. Other Conferences have been split in two, including British Columbia, Alberta and Northwest, and Maritime.
With their own governing councils, regions will form part of a new three-council structure, intended to simplify governance and reduce costs and volunteer time. The structure was approved in church-wide votes last June and will likely be finalized when General Council meets in Oshawa, Ont., in July. An overarching denominational council will continue most functions of General Council, while individual communities of faith (mainly current pastoral charges) will have their own councils.
In a webinar used to introduce the report and field questions, commission chair Rev. Andrew Richardson of Summerside, P.E.I., said the number of regions (more than the original range of 12 to 15 set by general secretary Nora Sanders) was based on geography, relationships among faith communities, capacity to fulfil regional responsibilities, and culture — including language, theology and history.
The Indigenous church is not included in the proposed regions. The boundary commission is honouring a request from the Caretakers of Our Indigenous Circle to allow the Indigenous church to undergo its own process to determine its relationships within the new church structure.
Pastoral charges, Presbyteries and Conferences had until the end of January to formally request boundary changes. The most likely to do so was British Columbia Conference, where the Executive and several Presbyteries and pastoral charges passed motions opposed to the division of the Conference into a coastal and an interior region.
The decision-making commission will release its final report — likely with revisions — on March 15.
Richardson said General Council’s staff remit implementation team will deal with regional staffing and funding, but warned, “It’s not business as usual. . . . We are headed for some very different ways of doing things in the church.”
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