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Archive for June, 2012


                I am not being rude toward my church.  I am simply using an abbreviation to summarize my belief in the future of the United Church.  On the weekend of June 1st-3rd, I attended a Conference of the United Church.  It is not my first time to a conference; that was BC Conference in Victoria in the 1970s.  ANWC, which stands for Alberta North West Conference, is a huge area to represent: nine presbyteries from Southern Alberta to Northern Lights in the Yukon and Northwest Territory.  Ministers and lay people from every United Church in this region gathered for four days at SAIT in Calgary.  We filled a gymnasium with song, prayer, discussion, and joy.  We wrangled with constitutional issues and parliamentary procedure as we restructured our paid Conference positions to address the reality of declining financial contributions from local congregations.  I don’t think the majority of people attending the United Church have any idea of what Conference is or does.  For most of us, which includes me up to now, ANWC means a remote body that collects money from us but doesn’t have any impact on our faith.

Not true.  Not a bit.

 I used to read “IN CONTACT” in the United Church Observer to discover what was happening within our region.  I didn’t know that full-time paid positions were necessary to ensure that IN CONTACT was even written, or that Conference staff were providing support to congregations and ministers and lay people throughout the year and throughout the region. I didn’t know that Conference elected people to attend the General Council of the United Church of Canada.  Local people complain about dues to presbytery, conference, and general council.  They don’t know what they do, so they  don’t pay the fees.  They choose other priorities instead and forget their responsibilities as employers.    Presbytery and Conference seem remote, rather than the accessible and necessary structures that ensure communication and support to individual churches within its area.  Interestingly, of the 16 paid positions in Conference, all but three are filled by women.   By the end of the weekend, we passed a vote to reduce 16 positions to 8.  Three of these were full-time, others part-time.  Much of the work of Conference is conducted by over one hundred people serving on eighteen different standing committees.  Now we will need even more volunteers.  Coordination of services will be more challenging. 

Besides the major discussions and vote about restructuring (downsizing), we also passed two motions to carry forward to General Council. We asked that Diaconal ministers be given the right to administer the sacraments as part of the responsibilities they undertake at their Commissioning.  The second motion was that General Council develop strategies to take action with all levels of government, the business community and non-profit organizations to address child poverty in Canada.  A third motion, regarding boundaries of Conferences (especially ours), was defeated.

Two of the more emotional tasks of Conference are the Commissioning of new ministers, and the recognition of ministers who are retiring.  Comparing the new ministers to the retirees, I have concluded the future of the United Church is Female, Fun and Faith-Filled.  We welcomed five new ministers, all of whom were women.  We thanked the retirees, 13 men and 4 women.    This fact, more than any other, showed me what is happening in my beloved church.  We elected a new president, a passionate woman who spoke to our hearts about living and working in faith.  We are declining in numbers, but we are not disappearing.  We are more focused on mission, the mission of living our lives as Christ would have us live.  We believe in God and we are not alone.  We sing with joy of renewal and thanksgiving, and we welcome all to the table. 

Stephen Lewis said a few years ago that he believed the only way out of the mess our world is in would come from women.  He said that it is the women, especially the grandmothers,  that are persevering with hope and solutions.  He asserted men are stuck in traditional thought patterns and have forgotten to listen to their soul and higher power.  Women will lead the way.

In the fifties, most people in Canada attended church.  At that time it was part of the culture of being an adult that drove people to attend church.  For men, volunteering at a church was a good way to meet people and establish themselves in the community.  It was good for business, for church attendance  added to their credibility and reputation.  For women, the church offered community, support for children, and active volunteering in activity-based charity. Two generations ago, most women worked at home as full-time mothers, rather than work at jobs outside the home.  Families were more able to live on one salary because housing was more affordable, and the gap between rich and poor was not as large. The social gospel of justice-based initiatives impelled many United Church members into elected political positions at all levels of government. Both Catholic and Protestant churches thrived.  The 1970s saw a decline of those  churches  matched by growth of more evangelical ones. Despite the growth of those churches,  today many fewer Canadians attend  Christian churches.  Support for tithing, or even donating financially to a church, is dwindling.  Young families are not replacing the number of aging and deceased members.  Finances are tight.  Stuck with buildings that are too large for present numbers of members to maintain, congregations struggle with decisions to close, sell, amalgamate, or restructure.  It’s not an easy time.  Finances drive too many topics of discussion.  Our faith sometimes is forgotten.  The numbers of members have dwindled, but the reasons why members still attend church differ from those of two generations ago.  Church attendance no longer results in prestige within society; often churchgoers are received with skepticism and distrust of motive.  People who attend the United Church now are motivated by something much stronger than the desire for prestige.  I believe those in my faith community are driven by deeply-felt personal experiences, even though they may seldom talk about them.

At Conference, we talked – and talked.  We debated in table groups and in general session at the mikes.  We sang, prayed, clapped our hands, ate, drank, and celebrated being together.  We were not alone.  We celebrated.  For some people, it is a concern that fewer men are drawn to ministry.  For me, that doesn’t matter at all.  It’s been my experience that women have always worked harder and longer than men, with more conviction and less griping.  We manage money better and we don’t grow up with feelings of entitlement.  I truly believe, as stated above, that the future of the United Church is Female, Fun, and Faith-Filled.  We are in good hands.

 

                 

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This week I approved the proof sent from Lightning Source Inc. and  ordered a few hundred copies of my book Your Invisible Bodies: a reference for children and adults about human energy fields.   This new edition has a coloured interior, more pages, updated commentary, a table of contents, reading list, and suggestions for follow-up.  Now Lisa Francis will help me set up a stronger marketing program.  Stayed tune, and go to www.yourinvisiblebodies.com to find out more about it. Finally!

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