Monday, 9 March 2015

United Church looking at a radical renewal

How does a church renew itself?

In the case of the Roman Catholics, they elect a new pope. Pentecostals pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit. Anglicans issue a new Prayer Book. The United Church strikes a task force.

Three years ago, the United Church did just that, realizing that old structures and ways of doing church no longer worked and something new had to be explored.

The result is the report of the Comprehensive Review Task Group, which has just released it’s report for the church’s General Council this summer.

The report is, in many ways radical. It presents a new model for doing and being the United church. To the 10,000 or so people in Grey and Bruce who claim affiliation with the United Church, it will mean we won’t be your grandmother’s church any more.

There are five key recommendations. Some have more impact than others.

The first is to spend 10% of the giving to the Mission and Service Fund on supporting new ministries and new forms of ministries. The Mission and Service Fund would no longer be spent on church governance and support, but just on mission.

The second proposal is to set Aboriginal ministries as a church priority, to be maintained insofar as possible from the Mission and Service Fund.

The third idea is to completely change the existing governance structure of the United Church with something new.

Communities of faith (who might not be congregations at all) will have the power to call and terminate ministers, buy and sell their property and control their own funds. They would be places where faith is nurtured and inspired to serve the world.

There would be regional bodies which support communities of faith and a denominational council which would meet once every three years with representative from across the church. It would have a small executive.

There would be a College of Ministers, which would be similar to professional regulatory colleges for teachers, doctors and lawyers. It would set standards and act as a disciplinary court.

An association of ministers would be encouraged, to nurture collegial support among those in ministry.

Finally, funding for the new structure would come primarily from assessments to communities of faith. It is suggested that this would mean an increase of 25% over current governance assessments.

The national church’s budget would be cut be between $11 million and $13.8 million by 2018. This would mean staff cuts in the national office of up to 50%. The church would only employ staff it could pay for. The sharing of financial resources between congregations across the country would encouraged.

The best summary of the situation the United Church (and many other organisations) find themselves was said recently by The Rev. David Ewart in the United Church Observer.

“The simple fact is that Canadians are not going to church like they used to. In fact, Canadians aren’t going to synagogues, mosques, temples or Kiwanis either. Volunteer membership organizations of all types are declining. Attendance decline is not a problem that can be fixed. It is simply a reality to which we must respond.”

As the report itself says, “The goal of the Comprehensive Review is not to return to the mid-20th century when churches and Sunday schools were bursting at the seams as the general public proclaimed Jesus as Lord and our denomination wielded significant spiritual and moral influence in Canadian society. Our future lies in the spirit of the Pentecost—in being smaller, more agile, and innovative; in listening to the Spirit as we go out into our communities to build relationships and work for equality and justice; and in offering a variety of faith experiences that may not look a lot like church as we know it.”

It’s going to be an interesting journey.

Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.