Ray Jones of Hazelton, B.C., addresses commissioners about proposed changes to the United Church crest on Sunday, Aug. 12. Photo by Mike Milne
Commissioners vote to change church crest and update doctrinal statements
By David Wilson and Mike Milne
In a decision that was literally symbolic as well as figuratively so, The United Church of Canada took action to redress an old injustice against Aboriginal people during the first full day of its 2012 General Council meeting in Ottawa.
Commissioners gathered at Carleton University overwhelmingly voted to change the United Church’s official crest and revise the introductory sections of its book of rules to acknowledge the presence and spirituality of Aboriginal people in the church.
The move capped three years of work by a task group founded after the General Council in 2009, when commissioners in Kelowna, B.C., voted to start the process of bringing Aboriginal people into the church’s founding documents and symbols.
Task group member Ray Jones of Hazelton, B.C., told commissioners in Ottawa that the church’s predecessor denominations operated about 65 Aboriginal churches at the time The United Church of Canada was formed in 1925. Members of the Aboriginal churches were excluded from the consultations that led to church union, said Jones, as well as discussions several years later that resulted in the creation of the church crest.
Acknowledging that the United Church meets on land first occupied by indigenous people, the new crest approved by General Council replaces a blue background with yellow, black, red and white —the four traditional colours of indigenous medicine wheels. It also adds the Mohawk phrase Akwe Nia’Tetewá:neren (translated as “All my relations” ) to complement the church’s existing Latin motto, Ut omnes unum sint (“That all might be one”).
The United Church crest is used on everything from official church letterhead to coffee cups. General Secretary Nora Sanders told commissioners the new crest will be phased in to spread out the cost of switchovers.
Changes to the crest may not be finished yet. Several commissioners pointed out that the new crest does not acknowledge the Evangelical United Brethren, a small and mostly Ontario-based denomination that joined The United Church of Canada in 1968.
The decision to adopt a new crest was one of several proposals concerning the church constitution considered by commissioners on day two of the 41st General Council. In another decision, commissioners decided to add three modern statements of faith to the United Church’s Basis of Union, which acts as its constitution.
Although the year-long study process that preceded a church-wide vote last spring was “like a root canal” to some congregations, said Rev. Arlyce Schiebout, “what resulted was a spiritual experience that was even deeper than expected.”
Chair of the United Church’s theology committee, Schiebout said adopting the three faith statements — the 1940 Statement of Faith, the 1968 New Creed and the 2006 Song of Faith — as doctrine doesn’t mean United Church members have to sign on to a specific set of beliefs. Like the earlier doctrine section of the Basis of Union, the added statements are considered to be “subordinate to Scripture” as the basis for church beliefs.
Schiebout also told commissioners the vote indicates the church’s commitment not only to outline its beliefs but also “to give expression in our time and in meaningful language for our day to the . . . truth of the Gospel.”
David Wilson is the editor-publisher of The Observer.
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