This week marked the 41st General Conference of the United Church. The secular media was reporting on this event well in advance because not only did they have some interesting motions to pass but also because the United Church once having been the main Protestant church in Canada is facing issues of decline, relevancy and orthodoxy.
At the conference, the delegates voted to:
publicly oppose the Northern Gateway pipeline.
to boycott products from Israeli settlements.
It also approved specific theological principles or core values to guide the United Church. These include that the United Church:
* holds scripture as foundational
* is called into being by the Holy Spirit as the Body of Christ and recognizes that those who come to the church do so through the invitation of Christ, and must be welcomed with the radical hospitality of the reign of God
* lives with respect in creation and asks how all of its decisions will affect the flourishing of creation
* is part of God’s mission in the world and asks how each of its decisions will promote or obstruct God’s mission
* seeks equity and justice
* is a church that values partnership and whole world ecumenism, seeking out collaboration with people beyond the church in areas of common concern
It also voted to make Gary Paterson it’s new moderator. This will be newsworthy in the secular media because Rev. Paterson is openly gay, and becomes the first openly gay moderator of the United Church. Larry Doyle, a UCC blogger, suggests that Rev. Paterson’s sexuality was not an issue as the voting body attempted to discern, instead, “He was simply discerned to be the right person for this time.”
The question that I wonder about is what does the election of Rev. Paterson mean for the conservative churches in the United Church? After many of the conservative churches left in 1988, there were several that stayed in the denomination to be salt and light. Will that still be the case, or will the denomination see their numbers shrink even more with the withdrawal of a contingent of its conservative members?
Indeed, what is the future of the United Church?
Historian Kevin Flatt is releasing a study (co-authored by David Haskell) that suggests that “The United Church of Canada has become so well-known for its take on social issues that it is in serious danger of losing its identity as a Christian denomination and in the process aggravate an already steep decline in attendance.” And yet, when the issue of the future of the United Church has come up in the past, current moderator Mardi Tindal has been largely dismissive of suggestions that the church is dying.
I hope to have an interview with a UCC pastor in the next week or so. Stay tuned!