Highlights from May 2023 Meeting of General Council Executive

The General Council Executive (GCE) met virtually May 12‒13, 2023. The Moderator welcomed David Leyton-Brown, a long-time member of Richmond Hill United Church, and retired Professor of Political Science, Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies, and College Master at York University. He is also soon-to-be former president of Shining Waters Regional Council. David was elected to fill the vacant position on the GCE.

Each day the GCE began by committing to Equity Aspirations (About Anti-Racism webpage > Downloads) and the practice of Holy Manners. The meeting was grounded in worship. On the first day, the Moderator led worship, reflecting on Job 37:1‒13; on the second day, the Moderator focused on issues related to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Highlights from the meeting include the following: 

Strategic Plan: First-quarter review of Operational Plan

Jennifer Henry, Executive Minister of Organizational Development and Strategy, noted the milestone of reaching the first quarter of the Operational Plan for 2023. The Strategic and Operational plans give clarity and energy to the direction of the General Council Office. Updates can be found on The United Church of Canada website.

Jennifer noted that this year of reporting creates a baseline in some key areas that can be used for comparison in subsequent years. She also reported on exciting uptake at the regional level in engaging with the Call and Vision, and in planning efforts, particularly where an existing strategic plan does not currently exist. 

Iridesce: The Living Apology Project

Iridesce: The Living Apology Project was launched in 2017 as a collaboration between the General Council Office and Affirm United/S’affirmer Ensemble and led by the Iridesce Working Group. The working group submitted its report, noting that it is time for an apology from The United Church of Canada as a whole to the Two Spirit and LGBTQIA+ community.

The report made four recommendations that outline ways the General Council can support the Two Spirit and LGBTQIA+ communities moving forward, including

  • addressing sustainability and support for ministries that want to be fully inclusive
  • opportunities for recognizing advocates within the church
  • support for 2S-LGBTQIA+ clergy
  • an official apology through intentional action

GCE received the report and directed the General Secretary to enable action on the workplan, including setting up a group to draft the apology and developing a memorandum of understanding with Affirm United/S’affirmer Ensemble.

Hope bequest

At $9 million, the Lloyd Hope bequest is the second-largest ever received by the national church. An equivalent amount was bequeathed to Fallowfield United, close to where Mr. Hope lived. The GCE agreed to continue the policy of allocating 50 percent to the Foundation and the other 50 percent to supporting reconciliation efforts and Strategic Plan initiatives.

Land trust

A proposal to create a land trust for church properties that are surplus or in need of redevelopment to create housing (including affordable housing) was approved. The properties could then continue to serve the wider community and support the future ministry of the United Church. The business trust structure for surplus properties would protect the charitable status of each regional council but also allow for professional real estate management of the properties.

At the national level, the GCE authorized the General Secretary to transfer national properties of The United Church of Canada (two or three properties in total) to a land trust if it is advantageous and within existing approval amounts.

300 Bloor St. West, Toronto

After a presentation by Erik Mathiesen, Executive Officer of Finance, the GCE confirmed that The United Church of Canada will sign a 15-year lease with Bloor Street United Church and sub-leases with the national office of the Anglican Church of Canada and The Presbyterian Church in Canada. All three denominations are committed to sharing space in 2026, subject to final lease negotiations.

Engaging with the General Secretary and the Moderator


Flourishing: Bold Ideas, Daring Connections

As part of broadening engagement and hosting change-making conversations under key Strategic Plan priorities, the Moderator will be hosting a series of events across the country for the next two-and-a-half years, taking place fall 2023 through spring 2025. These events will include public lectures and workshops, theological symposia, church workshops, a national book club, and a leadership academy.

General Secretary

The General Secretary invited reflection in small groups on three scenarios around budget decisions for next year. The scenarios included eliminating the deficit over a two-year span, “pulling the band-aid off” through faster deficit elimination, and an approach that is less focused on deficit reduction and more focused on longer-term change. Four questions guided each of the groups: 

  1. What questions are emerging for you?
  2. What are we missing?
  3. Can you live with a budget that is reflective of the scenario?
  4. What would be a bold, faithful approach?

While no decisions were made, discussion converged around some key perspectives:

  • Decisions must take into account challenges facing communities of faith and regions, including recent experiences of restructuring.
  • Decisions cannot jeopardize our capacity to be church together.
  • Time needs to be given for the Strategic and Operational plans to take root, particularly the Growth initiative.
  • We need to support efforts to develop evangelism across the church in a manner consistent with our denominational commitments.
  • Any reductions should be aligned with the current plan and strategic in nature rather than “across the board” cuts.
  • Creative discussions are needed on cost sharing between denominations and across the church.
  • Decisions needs to be linked to the long term Vision of the church and not simply a tweaking of the status quo.

The work of Mission and Service

Sarah Charters, President of the Foundation and Executive Officer of Philanthropy, noted that some communities of faith are engaging with the Your Generosity Matters videos in a consistent way and seeing an increase in support for Mission & Service giving. She highlighted Grace United Church in Gananoque, Ontario, which has increased its contributions to the Mission & Service Fund every year for the past five years. 

Governance and communications

A discussion session gathered the perspectives of each GCE member on the ongoing challenges and opportunities around communicating GCE decisions.

Decolonizing the work of the GCE

GCE members continue to prioritize continued conversations and actions around decolonization. The Moderator related the words of someone who had clarified the difference between decolonization and reconciliation: “Decolonization is the method by which we work towards reconciliation.”

The sub-committee working on decolonizing the GCE asked members to consider tangible and public action about decolonization, noting that the action should not just be symbolic but also an element of transformation.

Creation of a Governance Committee

GCE agreed in principle to transform the current Business Planning Committee to a Governance Committee that would focus more deliberately on governance goals and supports and continue the work of the Workflow Task Force. Terms of reference will be brought back to a subsequent meeting, and governance policy review is anticipated. 

Celebrations and transitions

The Moderator offered words of congratulation to

  • the General Secretary, who was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Divinity from Vancouver School of Theology
  • Rev. Dr. Teresa Burnett-Cole, member of the GCE, who received her Doctorate of Liturgical Studies from Victoria University, Toronto
  • Jennifer Henry, Executive Minister for Organizational Development and Strategy, who received her Diploma in Denominational Studies from the Vancouver School of Theology and will be ordained on May 28

The Moderator shared that GCE member Marlene Lightning has resigned from the committee because of external circumstances. A process of review and recruitment will be conducted by the Nominations Committee.

To review the proposals and reports provided for the GCE for this meeting, go to > Governance > General Council Executive > GC44 Executive (2022-2025) > Meeting Documents > 2023-05-12-13 GCE.