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Practicing Holy Manners for 20 years

At the 37th General Council in 2000, The Very Reverend Dr. Marion Pardy, then newly nominated United Church Moderator, spoke of Holy Manners in her nomination speech. At the 38th General Council, three years later, she introduced the model as a new way of interacting and connecting, especially over topics and issues that were particularly divisive. 

Twenty years later, the United Church is still observing Holy Manners as a model to conduct dialogue and discussion among its leadership and congregations. The General Council Executive uses a litany written by the General Secretary, Rev. Michael Blair, which is based on Holy Manners to guide their meetings. 

Holy Manners comes from Gil Rendle’s Behavioural Covenants in CongregationsA Handbook for Honoring Differences (Alban Institute 1999), which taught modern congregations how to live creatively together despite differences of age, race, culture, opinion, gender, theological or political position. Essentially, Rendle explains how to grow by valuing differences rather than trying to ignore or blend them.

During the 38th General Council, Dr. Pardy asked the commissioners to consider this list of Holy Manners in their proceedings, which said, “We will:

  • keep God at the centre of everything we do;
  • each speak for ourselves;
  • speak for a purpose;
  • separate people from problems;
  • allow for full and equitable participation;
  • attend to others carefully without interruption;
  • welcome the conflict of ideas;
  • take a future orientation;
  • demonstrate appreciation;
  • honour the decisions of the body;
  • commit to holding one another to account when we do not keep our holy manners;
  • keep the discussion at the table;
  • be mindful of our body language;
  • check in about good use of time;
  • allow the quiet people to speak, with an invitation to speak; and
  • sincerely say what we really feel.”

In short order, Holy Manners was adopted and became a resource for the conduct of meetings by subsequent General Councils and their executives; further, it was adapted for use as a resource by all councils and church bodies. Dr. Pardy made extensive use of the term during her time as Moderator.

“What changed mostly, from my perspective, was that ministerial personnel and church members began to take notice,” says Dr. Pardy. “I noticed that many people resonated with ‘holy manners’ and that we, indeed, needed a good dose of holy manners in our life together as faith communities, especially in our decision-making bodies in local congregations as well as in the wider church.”

The introduction of Holy Manners didn’t mean the discourse was less contentious around deeply held convictions and causes, Dr. Pardy says. Sometimes the commitment to welcome the conflict of ideas and to separate people from problems were the hardest to honour. And to hold each other to account when holy manners weren’t exercised. 

“Unholy manners are unacceptable in a community of faith,” she says. “The chair/facilitator and each member of a group are responsible to name and call to account those who do not use Holy Manners, and to do so in respectful ways.”

There are a number of versions of “holy manners,” including a shortened version that gets used during GCE meetings and beyond. Holy Manners has been adopted by other denominations, specifically the Anglicans and Lutherans. Even though it’s been in use for 20 years, its relevance has not diminished. Dr. Pardy believes that effective parliamentary procedure, with its variations, is an expression of Holy Manners. 

"It may be confusing to the rest of the world, but for The United Church of Canada, a diversity of views and practices within our denomination is the norm, rather than the exception. And this is where the challenge to our "holy manners" becomes a particular matter of concern,” says Dr. Pardy, adding that while change may be inevitable and often necessary, we must exercise a sense of humility, recognizing that we are able to grasp, at best, only glimpses of the truth. This helps us "to relate compassionately to those most affected by change and to those who resist change."

“How do we live together, faithfully, in the midst of diverse opinions, that can stigmatize and hurt individuals and groups on all sides of the question?" she asks. “There is a huge disconnect and inauthenticity in our call to the world for ‘daring justice,’ if we, then, act the opposite in our decision-making processes in that call. There are not quick, instant, easy answers to what is just.” 

She adds, “The process requires Holy Manners of all of us, so that we model – by the way we relate to one another in our decision-making – what God requires of us ‘to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with our God’ in our church and in the world.” 

For minutes and summaries from the 44th GCE meetings, please go to United Church Commons /Governance/General Council Executive/GC44 Executive (2022-2025).

REMINDER: The annual General Council meeting will be held online on Oct. 21. Guests are welcome to join the meeting. 


Holy Manners Litany
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