UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Quality leaders, inspired supporters

By Samantha Rideout

Where can you find 40 influential faith leaders in the same place, each one overseeing a Bible study on his or her area of specialty? That would
be Facebook.

The social media group Rock the Bible started off at Carleton Memorial United in Ottawa last spring as an online Bible study for congregation members who couldn’t commit to another evening away from home. It quickly grew into a countrywide forum with over 1,750 members.

On each of the 30 days of June, a different writer (and sometimes a special guest) posted his or her thoughts on a biblical topic and led participants in a discussion. Part of the significance of Rock the Bible was how it connected participants from across the country with leading thinkers: church people in rural Manitoba could exchange ideas with former moderator Very Rev. Lois Wilson in Toronto; folks from Newfoundland could talk about faith and politics with Ottawa journalist and former MP Dennis Gruending, and so on.

Perhaps the impressive calibre and increasing reach of the church’s current leaders is the reason why the majority of survey respondents believe it’s important for future leaders to be highly skilled as preachers and worship leaders, as well as formally trained in the theology and practices of The United Church of Canada. However, when it comes to other aspects of congregational life, they think the minister should have some help. Pastoral care, outreach, faith formation and attracting new members are all seen as shared responsibilities by more than three-quarters of survey takers.

“Shared leadership is important, no matter what kind of an organization you are,” says Barb Taylor, a 67-year-old member of Trinity United in Elmira, Ont. “If the minister can’t delegate, he or she will end up burning out — I’ve seen it happen.”

If we need more hands to share the work of leading the church, where will we find them? It’s no secret that there’s a shortage of new seminary school graduates, not only in the United Church but also in other Canadian denominations. One alternative source is the laity: non-ordered leaders of various types and titles have

always been a part of United Church operations, and there’s no reason to think this will change going forward.

There’s also a small but steady trickle of worship leaders who were trained in other Christian traditions but who now affirm United Church theology and practice. Their origins are as diverse as Christianity itself: last year saw ministers admitted from the Baptist Convention, the Moravian Church, Presbyterianism, the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and the Reformed Church in Southern Africa. The survey results suggest that they were welcome: 88 percent of respondents are at least somewhat comfortable with the idea of leaders coming in from another denomination, and over half say they’re “very comfortable.”

To reassure those with doubts, new United Church minister and former Catholic priest Rev. Jeff Doucette says, “There’s a lot of homework done on admission candidates. It’s not a question of being desperate and taking anyone at all.” Doucette was trained and evaluated by the United Church for two years before officially joining its ministry — although

his connection to his congregation was far more immediate. “It felt like home to me,” he says of his first time visiting Dunbarton-Fairport United in Pickering, Ont. “Those folks had me at hello.”

He didn’t feel welcome, by contrast, in Catholic churches after leaving the priesthood six years ago. Doucette’s departure wasn’t prompted by scandal, nor was he in a relationship when he applied for dispensation (although he was feeling profoundly lonely at the time, and is now happily married). Even so, “just going in to take a seat with the laity wasn’t easy,” he says, “because people would ask about my past and make all kinds of assumptions.”

Doucette thinks he’s a better United Church minister than he was a priest since he disagreed with Rome on such topics as LGBT rights and the ordination of women. “Hopefully, those of us who are joining the United Church really want to be here. I know I do.” All the more so, he says, because he finds it exciting to help lead the denomination during a time of challenge and change. “My personal struggles have shown me that only God knows what’s going to happen. Our role is to try our best, and hope.”



Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Interviews

Courtesy of Pixabay

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Promotional Image

Editorials

Jocelyn Bell%

Observations: It’s a long road toward full equality for women

by Jocelyn Bell

'It’s a wonder that we continue to see male ministers as normative and attach shame to female ministers’ biology and sexuality.'

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Playing by Heart

by Observer Staff

United Church music director Kara Shaw was born prematurely, became almost totally blind and was later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Today, the 28-year-old showcases her unique musical ability, performing piano on local and national stages.

Promotional Image

Faith

May 2018

Toronto church builds interfaith friendship

by Vivien Fellegi

Faith

May 2018

This parent found no support for her autistic daughter — and decided to change that

by Kieran Delamont

Suzanne Allen talks about raising a daughter on the autism spectrum and bringing all autistic girls together

Faith

May 2018

Church retreat helps first responders with PTSD

by Joe Martelle

Interviews

May 2018

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Ethics

May 2018

Pregnant in the pulpit

by Trisha Elliott

Ministers who take a maternity leave still face discrimination in their own congregations

Interviews

May 2018

The two words Rev. Cheri DiNovo wants to hear from the United Church

by Alex Mlynek

The Toronto minister talks about her disappointment over the church’s silence when she officiated the country’s first legalized same-sex marriage 17 years ago – and why she wants an apology.

Promotional Image