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Major overhaul of United Church recommended

March 2015

After two years of intensive study and consultation, the Comprehensive Review Task Group is recommending major changes to The United Church of Canada to revitalize and nurture a range of ministries, simplify governance and administration, and enable the church to live within its resources.

“We believe God is doing a new thing and is calling us to change dramatically so we can participate fully in God’s mission,” explains the Rev. Cathy Hamilton, chair of the task group. “Our current organizational structure is simply not sustainable from the point of view of either our volunteers or our finances.”

“We have consulted broadly across the church and are recommending six significant changes in the way the church operates and in its priorities. We feel these changes would carry the church into the 21st century and open us up to new possibilities and ministries,” Hamilton added.

On April 28 at noon, task group chair Hamilton and members Lauren Hodgson and Beth Symes are scheduled for a final informational webinar on the report “United in God's Work” before it goes to the church 42nd General Council in August.

The full report is available on the 42nd General Council website.

A key recommendation is that the church commit to an initiative tentatively called “Chasing the Spirit” to renew its spiritual centre, just as the Spirit renewed the disciples through the Pentecost experience.

This recommendation reflects the task group’s belief that the purpose of streamlining church structures and processes is to enable vital ministry in the world.

To that end, it recommends committing significant resources—10 percent of annual givings to the Mission and Service Fund—to supporting new ministries and new forms of ministry.

The task group is also recommending that:

  • The church place a high priority on building relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people based on mutuality, respect, and equity, and that the church continue to live out its apologies to Aboriginal people.
  • The church reduce its governance structure from four courts to three councils, with the denominational and regional councils focused on providing support and services to communities of faith. Communities of faith would include congregations as we know them, as well as other forms of Christian community.
  • A College of Ministers be established to accredit, oversee, and discipline ministers. All ministers serving in paid positions would be members of the College, and it would be governed by a board composed of equal numbers of ministers and laypersons.
  • A working group of ministers be struck to study the concept of an association of ministers that would offer support to and foster collegiality among ministers.
  • The church spend only what it receives and reduce its spending from 2015 levels by at least $11 million. Communities of faith would pay an annual assessment that would cover governance and support services, while donations to the Mission and Service Fund would fund only ministry and mission activities, such as global mission and outreach ministries.

The 42nd General Council will discuss and make decisions about the task group’s recommendations and any additional proposals when it meets August 8‒15, 2015, in Corner Brook, Newfoundland.

In the spirit of consultation that has been the foundation of this work, people across the church are encouraged to read the report and discuss it this spring in their congregations, presbyteries, and Conferences.

The United Church of Canada makes its decisions in community and has processes through presbyteries and Conferences for additional proposals to reach the General Council this summer. The task force is asking that proposals be sent through those normal processes.

“We see this as the work of the whole church and know our recommendations would change the church significantly, but we heard over and over again that we should be bold and transformative,” adds the Rev. Hamilton, “We think God is doing a new thing, and the church needs to respond to that call to live out God’s mission in Canada and the world.

The 41st General Council, which met in Ottawa in August 2012, directed that a seven-member task group be established to examine the vision and circumstances of The United Church of Canada and recommend alternate models that will enable the church to sustain its faithful leadership in God’s world. Rev. Cathy Hamilton of Lachute, Quebec, has chaired the task force. Moderator Gary Paterson has served as an eighth member.

The task force, with the help of 150 facilitators and group leaders, had conversations with more than 600 United Church faith communities in 2013, representing every Conference, with representative voices from rural, town, suburban and city settings.

Through these conversations, the task group heard:

  • A clear understanding that our church needs to change.
  • A strong sense of denominational identity as an open, welcoming and justice-seeking church
  • A yearning to share that identity more clearly and publicly .
  • A desire for governance that is both simpler and more effective.
  • A desire for more autonomy while retaining connection to the wider church.
  • A recognition of various forms of worship and being church.
  • Access to advice, training, resources and support when needed.
  • A recognition that technology will become increasingly important to the church’s mission.
  • A desire for support and training for clergy via a collegial community.

The task group is using the term “communities of faith” to recognize that United Church people increasingly are gathering in a variety of ways to worship, learn, and serve. These communities take, and will continue to take, many different forms.

Some will be congregations as we currently know them, while others will look quite different; some will have buildings, and some will not.

The scope of inquiry and participation has set the stage for some major discussions and decisions at the coming General Council about the future structure and governance of the United Church.

As General Secretary Nora Sanders said when the task force was convened: “Everything is on the table."

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