Historic United Church of Canada General Council Opens
The longest General Council in the 97-year history of The United Church of Canada, and the first to be held virtually, opened on the PheedLoop platform on February 13. In a session that in the words of General Secretary the Rev. Michael Blair was “bathed in worship,” commissioners gathered with ecumenical, interfaith, and global partners; Elders; Youth Forum members; past Moderators; equity, facilitation, and technical support teams; as well as visitors watching by virtue of livestreaming.
Memorable in this opening session were the diverse voices from coast to coast to coast, as well as from other parts of the globe, sharing scripture and reflection on the council’s theme: “Who do you say I am?” The gathered community felt the power of scripture in a new and profound way when Shayna Jones of we are STORYFOLK sang the gospel message with incredible poignancy.
One of the ecumenical partners, the Rev. Dr. Karen Georgia A. Thompson of the United Church of Christ, reflected on Jesus by saying: “Passive Jesus is not my Jesus. My Jesus is a revolutionary. Jesus is an advocate for the poor.” Others said “Redeemer,” “Love incarnate,” “Teacher,” while another voice spoke of Jesus as “a beautiful creative active God. A gesture that says God wants to be with us and understands us and wants to accompany us as we build a better world with God.”
The Moderator of The United Church of Canada, the Rev. Dr. Richard Bott, presided over the session that also included opening procedural and consent motions and opportunities to learn the processes that will be used to sequence speakers and address proposals coming to GC44. A number of motions were removed from the consent agenda, making use of the voting process available through the online platform. In his sermon to the church preceding communion, Moderator Bott reminded the church of the call to bold discipleship, saying. “We can’t separate words and actions. Not if we are going to be integral people. Not if we are going to be disciples of Jesus…who calls all of who we are.”
The event experienced some technical problems, including the process of putting the large number of participants in online “table” groups, a glitch largely responded to with grace based on the challenges experienced in going online with church over this pandemic. There will be an attempt to gather people in these groups between now and the next session of GC44.
Addressing the council later in the session, Honoured Elder Elenor Thompson affirmed what she had seen, spoke of the challenge and value of learning, and encouraged the council to persevere even in adversity, with a view to what Jesus would do. Elenor responded to the council theme, speaking of Jesus as truth, the truth that comes when we accept ourselves as the way the Creator made us. Honoured Elder Ray Jones reflected on theme in his language, Gitxsan. Based in strong beliefs in the Creator, he described Jesus as the son of God, the son of the Creator, and encouraged the council to be committed to equity, to live side by side as Indigenous and non-Indigenous church, and to face the future unafraid.
Theological reflector Archbishop Linda Nicholls, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada and one of the ecumenical partners, shared her observations at the end of the day, affirming how the baptismal covenant was lived out through the practices, worship, and method of the opening session. She highlighted the beautiful music, diversity in video, and creative worship that held the community in reflection and commitment. Jenni Leslie, speaking for the Equity Support Team, offered similar affirmation of the intentional diversity in music and liturgy, acknowledging the way mistakes were addressed with apology, while reaffirming the need to continue striving: “We are not perfect, we will make mistakes, and we will still strive for equity and aspire to that end.”
The result of over three years in planning, and with postponement and shifts from in-person to virtual means, this General Council will continue to happen over seven months, including learning, discussion, and decision sessions. The deadline for proposals to be dealt with by General Council 44 is March 30, 2022. The deadline for Moderator nominees is June 16, 2022. General Council 44 will close with the installation of a new Moderator in closing worship held in person and online on August 7, 2022.
A recording of the opening session is available on The United Church of Canada YouTube channel.