Highlights from First 2023 Meeting of General Council Executive

The General Council Executive (GCE) met virtually February 10–11, 2023. In worship woven throughout the gathering, the Moderator focused on themes from Black History Month, offering stirring music, poetry, and prayers from historic and contemporary Black leadership, drawing also on Revelation 7:9. Past Moderator the Very Rev. Dr. Richard Bott offered the land acknowledgement, reflecting on broken but continuing relationships, focusing also on hope and work, and a challenge to change. The GCE lifted regions in prayer through Prayers of the People submitted by Regional Council Presiding Officers.

The Executive structured its meeting around its generative, strategic, and fiduciary responsibilities, aligning with the framework of the United Church Call of deep spirituality, bold discipleship, and daring justice. Chair of the Business Planning Committee, Kit Loewen, reminded the Executive that generative discussion is a tool for exploration and for thinking flexibly.

The meeting applied a lens of “aspiring to equity,” encouraging interacting with Holy Manners. Aspiring to equity in the meeting means challenging the Executive to question biases, challenge assumptions, notice who is missing, value all voices, aim for equity, and live out their commitments as they strive to live out God’s call.

Highlights from the meeting include the following:

Indigenous Church

Based on decisions of the 44th General Council, the GCE approved the question and educational resources for Remit 1, the category 3 remit to regional councils and pastoral charges to discern the will of the church. The focus of this remit is an amendment to the Basis of Union that would establish an autonomous National Indigenous Organization within The United Church of Canada that will have its own mechanisms for process and structure, and is enabled to make changes itself rather than return to a remit process. The material will be available in March, and the period of study will be 12 months.

Electronic monitoring policy

The GCE approved a new policy on electronic monitoring of staff as required by provincial legislation. The policy was required whether or not there is a practice in place. This policy is intended for staff in the General Council Office and regional council system.

Development of antisemitism resources

Two regional proposals requesting an expansion of the mandate of the Joint Antisemitism Working Group will be shared with the working group as it develops resources for an educational initiative on antisemitism. The Executive voted to take no action beyond this, while acknowledging that racism manifests itself in many ways; ongoing work to address specific realities of racism is already underway, as outlined in the Anti-Racism Action Plan and the Strategic Plan.

2023 operating budget

The General Council Executive has approved a $40 million budget, which includes a $4 million deficit. $1.5 million of the budget is earmarked for the Strategic Plan. The Executive has committed to this budget as an investment in our future, living into our Call to deep spirituality, bold discipleship, and daring justice. The Strategic Plan provides an opportunity to invest in a hopeful strategy for church renewal.

In 2020 and 2021, the church had operating surpluses plus some of the largest unrealized investment gains in church history. These surpluses provide the capacity to withstand short-term deficits, enabling us to meet commitments made in the restructuring to better support communities of faith and regional councils.

As part of accepting a deficit budget for 2023, the Executive is also putting in place a process of financial strategies for the future, recognizing that multiple deficit budgets cannot be sustained. The GCE is also seeking to fully understand the complexities of what is happening in churches at the local level in a post-COVID context.

Engaging with the General Secretary and the Moderator

Following on the budget discussions, and as part of his accountability report, the General Secretary engaged the Executive in a conversation about the church’s financial future. He urged continued careful stewardship of resources, and highlighted new ways the General Council Office is working to streamline expense processes and align expenditures with the Strategic Plan.

The Moderator shared her planned work over the next months, which includes a significant number of events with youth and young adults. The Moderator noted she is meeting with a small group of people at Five Oaks this week to plan a series of events built around the idea of “human flourishing,” drawing on key ideas from the book Imaginable by Jane McGonigal. These events, with both a church and a public focus, will roll out across Canada over the next two years, and seek to enhance innovation and resilience in individuals, churches, communities, and beyond.

The Moderator is also exploring how to engage and be present to the experience of the rural church, recognizing that the majority of the communities of faith in The United Church of Canada are not urban.

The work of Mission & Service

Sarah Charters, Executive Officer and President of the United Church Foundation, highlighted the support of Mission & Service and the Foundation for the Young Black Scholars Project launched in 2020. These links lead to the finished products of their engagement in the program:

Board and Office of Vocation

The Executive welcomed Marlene Britton (Team Lead) and Norm Seli (Board Chair) from the Office of Vocation. A number of trends were shared:

  1. There are more retired people with pensions entering ministry, particularly applicants in the 65–70 age group. As more Communities of Faith (CoF) go to part-time ministry, this demographic becomes the only one who can afford to work part-time.
  2. In Quebec and Eastern Ontario, the percentage of French-speaking clergy has increased to 20 percent.
  3. There is increased diversity among candidates, except in the Atlantic provinces.

United Property Resource Corporation (Kindred Works)

After a presentation by Don Hunter and Tim Blair of the United Property Resource Corporation (UPRC), the GCE authorized the General Secretary to sign an updated Memorandum of Understanding between The United Church of Canada and UPRC. UPRC/Kindred Works is an arms-length property development company of The United Church of Canada. As well as developing housing, while often preserving a worship space for a congregation, it is also exploring models that facilitate community use and hold church properties in trust for future possibilities.

Currently, there are 20 properties in active pre-development, which will provide housing and gathering space at market and below-market prices to 8,400 people. One-third of the units is targeted below market, which means the saving to those households is estimated at $142 million over 10 years.

UPRC seeks to achieve more than a net-zero build, but rather a net-positive build, in order to give back more than is taken. The units will be built in a climate-safe manner, with an estimated 60,000 tonnes of carbon avoided in construction (equivalent to taking 15,000 cars off the road for a year). A further 7,800 tonnes of carbon will be avoided every year by constructing buildings that use less energy, don’t burn carbon on site, and incorporate clean energy (equivalent to taking 1,950 cars off the road every year).

UPRC is cultivating strong relationships with regional councils, as well as Indigenous communities and national ecumenical partners, using a variety of models to redevelop properties, sharing the proceeds with communities of faith across the country, and also providing a revenue source for the national church. Efforts to decolonize their work include partnering with Indigenous architects and Indigenous-led construction firms, as well as prioritizing Indigenous hiring and highlighting the broader history of the land being developed. UPRC is also engaging in advocacy with the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) around changing requirements to make it easier to build in rural areas.

Governance and communications

Throughout the meeting, the GCE continued to work on their governance role, using small group discussions to delve more deeply into the recommendations of the Governance Renewal Action Plan. This included reflections on how to decolonize the work of the Executive, particularly around meeting structure, location, and processes, and in relationship to the land, with guidance from the book, Our Home and Treaty Land: Walking Our Creation Story, by Matt Anderson and Ray Aldred.

Seeking to continue to build relationships as well as fulfill their responsibilities, the GCE discussed how they will continue to be accountable and what mechanisms they will use to communicate with Commissioners and the broader church.

To review the proposals and reports provided for the GCE for this meeting go to the United Church Commons, Governance, General Council Executive, GC44 Executive (2022-2025).